Age Compression

It is interesting how the real life and reel life always collide. I mean we all know that cinema or a lot of serials (not the saans bahu crap) are a reflection of the popular culture and they show the trends or in many cases suss out the trend in its infancy and push it forward.

So why am I talking about this? Couple of days back there was an episode of Boston Legal (have become a big fan of the serial) about this very sexually overt doll for 6 year olds and it described this whole age compression theory of how toy manufacturers propagate the kids to look at toys which really are not meant for their age. It did make me wonder about how right that theory is. When NFS (Need For Speed) mentions 12+ or 15+ or 18+ on the jacket, it, in a very subliminal way, is provoking the kids. Now Boston Legal episodes are obviously a rerun since this particular episode is from 2007 season… so whats the connection.

It is what happened at Modern School in New Delhi last week. The kind of language that was used by 6th graders during the bullying. Extremely sexual and violent…

So where do 11-year-old kids learn this from… Environment and access brought about by the digital connect. As parents, we like to believe that we are monitoring our kids to make sure that they are brought up in the right way. Sure we are… but somewhere some parents are not doing it right and those kids become a big influence on others around them. Ever seen a guy jumping the red light with his kids in the car? Ever seen a guy making his young child sit with him in the driver’s seat and manage the steering wheel? That really is the beginning of the end actually..

Digital connect has also led to the end of innocence. There will be millions who will turn around and tell me that internet has also led to a lot of awareness and how the kids of today are so well-informed and how they check what the kids do on the net… Really? do you??

We are so clueless today about what is happening with our kids. We live in a state of denial and yet when you look around, you see kids doing stuff which we as kids didn’t even know. Sure some of it is good and has led to kids being geniuses but like all things in life, it’s the taboo that titillate and tempts and makes the kids want to experience and catches their attention…

That episode of Boston Legal in 2007 was reflecting what was happening in US back then. And it resonates with what is happening in this country now and where we are headed.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this or will we also go through the cycle of degradation before getting back on our feet…

Only time will tell if the foundation of our culture is strong enough to withstand the onslaught of the western decadence that led to moral corruption of the west.. I think the foundation will collapse. For the simple reason that what we project as a strong value foundation is so hollow.. tolerance and value system that has not been followed by people of this country ever.. these are just nice sounding words…

Age compression is here to stay and we in our busy lives do not have the time or we even know how to manage this turbulence…

Innovation Culture

Yesterday while discussing something with a friend, the conversation veered to innovation and lack of innovation in India. Now this post can either be criticized for running down so many good things that India has done (and all criticizers are requested to name at least one Indian innovation to prove the point… I will actually compile the list and put it up as my acceptance that I was probably wrong) or people would turn around and say its a matter of perspective and how innovation can be viewed.

A quick hunt for definition on Webster’s Online Dictionary throws up the following:

1. A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation.[Wordnet]
2. The creation of something in the mind.[Wordnet]
3. The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.[Wordnet]
4. The act of innovating; introduction of something new, in customs, rites, etc.[Websters]
5. A change effected by innovating; a change in customs; something new, and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites.[Websters]

I believe that over a period of time these definitions have evolved. To me innovation is a product or a service or even a custom that was introduced for the very first time.

The very first radio was an innovation. The first ever TV was an innovation. Walkman was an innovation. First automobile was an innovation (though there is a conflict in my mind if it can be so or the first ever horse drawn cart was the innovation). The point here is something that happened for the first time. Everything else that followed was an improvement on the initial idea. LED TV today is the result of constantly seeking ways of enhancing the experience. The basic benefit is viewing images on a screen.

Now notice all the above examples. None of them happened in India. While talking about innovations, my friend mentioned Mr Narayanmurthy and Mr Premji and I was quick to differ. Infosys or Wipro did not invent anything. They took advantage of changing global dynamics and a dearth of qualified people and started addressing the service economy of the west at a cost which was ridiculously low in comparison to what the western world was paying their employees. Did they innovate? Did they come  up with an idea that impacted a mass market? I don’t think they did.

Aamir Khan’s character in 3 Idiots makes a very valid point when he talks about our education system. Our education system is geared to churn out worker bees. It is drilled into our head in every class that we must follow what is being taught. Any deviation leads to deduction in marks. As an aside, in US, almost every year the spelling bee contest is won by an Indian because we are so good at mugging! I have caught snippets of the contest and I wonder if those kids would even know the meaning of the complicated words that they are spelling out. More important how many people would use such arcane words in daily communication. I have heard enough of people mentioning that the intellect level and knowledge of Indians in US is way ahead of kids of american origin. And how our syllabus in India is so complete. And the point being?? Where does it lead us? Education in India like I mentioned is about producing worker bees. Emphasis is on “job oriented courses” or courses that can get a person to become an engineer, a doctor or an MBA. Where is the course or emphasis for a student to explore… to try out things… to break the convention and indulge in independent thinking?

And it is no wonder that we carry this very blinkered and rigid thinking into our work environment (stands to reason after the education we have had). We follow company policy… rules and regulation… structure and working culture of the organization. Because we all want to succeed and move up the heirarchy. (That is the whole point of our existence… to move up the ladder). Any employee who dares to think different or go against the stream… well there would be enough examples that can be cited by readers of this post. Conventional wisdom is held up as the way to go and woe befell anyone who questions that in an organization. “Not on our time or our money buddy”

Conventional wisdom says that Unilever advertising would strictly follow a certain format because it is well reasearched format. Hmmm anyone has ever tried to see how things can be if the set pattern was not followed? Conventional wisdom says that a telecom company looking for a certain position in marketing would only look at a telecom professional (supposedly you want a person who would hit the ground running and would have knowledge of the market… but hell.. that person would be like frog in the well who would not have any new ideas!)

Prime Time on TV is supposed to be 9 PM. Thats conventional wisdom. Now how did that come about. I know there would be tons of research to support the fact. So there we have every channel vying for that time slot to put up there best programs. I say break the mold! If you are good enough as a program.. you will get viewers!

If India needs to truly be a global leader… then there has to be transformation of huge proportions that is required in our mindset. We need to innovate rather than peddling minor improvements in technology or a process that already exists. And we have to understand that an innovation is truly an innovation which can impact a large population. Getting businesses to perform better or improve efficiency of an organization are small ideas aimed at benefitting that particular business or an industry for making more money. Think big ideas… and more importantly run with the ideas. Failures, if they happen… they happen because the people around you have not removed the excuse of conventional wisdom from their sub conscious.

The Business of Education

In  country like India where quality education is a dream, where Government only makes allocation in every budget without the impact ever visible, the business of education is turning out to be a very profitable proposition.

The amount of advertising on TV, the number of courses on offer by various institutes every day in the newspaper suggest that there are enough people who have figured out education sector to be their gravy train. After all, when universities churn out graduates like a factory and quality educational institutions are so few, there would always be consumer (most cases suckers) who would fall for the “career oriented courses”, “100% placement”, “earn while you study” tag lines.

Education has become all about numbers… about filling up seats…

There is no institution which is really a brand (not talking about IITs or IIMs or some of the leading management colleges). There are various educations societies catering to every possible course. Admission is easy (money talks)… And we keep churning out average students who form the work force at lower levels… students who had joined the course with stars in their eyes… six months into the course, reality bites and they settle for finding jobs that would be just enough to pay back all the money that was spent on going through the course.

I believe that there is enough opportunity for some to create a brand in this sector. (and no the brand is not about having full classes)… it is about reputation, quality and ethics… We only have to look at the IITs and IIMs to know that they have  become world class institutions by being providers of ‘quality’ education. Getting in is tough… passing out is even tougher… which should be the hallmark of every good institution.

Now that private sector is getting big in education, investments need to be made into building infrastructure, by working hard on building reputation (having the perfect backend in place) and connecting with the entire gamut of stakeholders – students, parents, corporates… the eco-system should accept and vouch for the quality rather than self praise and promise of a great new career as a carrot. Simple Mantra – do not look at “profits” for first 3 years… create an environment where profit would become a natural corollary to the efforts put in. Like in any other business, invest in building a brand before reaping the rewards

Not only are lives of a whole generation at stake (and generations to follow) but also the well being of the country, if it has to become a global powerhouse of talent.