Saturday, January 22, 2011

Resets are Perceptual Wonders

This post has taken time in my mind for a complexity that spans a time-scale, if you will. It spans my childhood, adolescence, youth and middle-age. And then it relates to another’s too. That another is Dr. Zafar Iqbal, a most liked teacher of Marketing on the DePaul campus in Chicago. ( ). An interaction in December 2010 in Pune, India prompts such a post. We were both reminiscing the times since we schooled and went into our tribulations of the rat race. I was the more determined of the two, stepping out of the conformist ‘engineer’ or ‘doctor’ moulds parents of our generations desired we become. I took to the Humanities – Sociology, Political Science and Settlement Geography and Geo-Politics being my favorite subjects. Also remember how the University of Pune granted me 106 on 100 for a paper in Logic and Epistemology! Zafar took to a regular ‘engineering’ course, only to realize mid-stream that he had to resolve what Karl Albrecht may today describe as the Popeye Point. ( “A "Popeye experience" is a sudden decision to break out of a troublesome life situation and start doing what's best for you. It usually involves some period of continuing dissatisfaction, and a feeling of being stuck and unable to muster up the determination to make the change.”

“The BPO ship is sailing fast…so fast that it is not worth the hassle for foreign companies to come to India . And real innovation in India has yet to happen…” said Zafar who visits India every 6 months over the last few years. Pride and anger are the two strongest perceptions he experiences with the variety of people he meets in India as part of his teacher role. Pride in the way certain things are progressing in India - airports, road-dividers, foot-paths, coffee-chains; frustration over the scams and corruption all over India. “Economic agenda, Rural agenda, Secular visions– potent for the long-term and mediators of economic progress”, he says – “I feel a sense of confidence, a sense of can-do that has never happened in independent India”. I said “A sociological trend is happening too – you’ve come from Chicago, yesterday a junior from school dropped in from Singapore, my TISS batch-mate dropped in from new Jersey. What went right that we do this today?” “It is the social network need” he says. That prompted me to recall “Well, let me tell you of a family that came up to dine in a restaurant in Goa the other day. Seeing me and my son Allan dine in a corner, they ask – have you dined here before?” …a little later “Are you from Sri Lanka?” I ask, sensing such an accent as I may've heard on the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) in childhood. “No, we’re from South Africa”, said the family who wanted to visit Puttuparthi, a place for spiritual solace, not too far from Bangalore. That to me was another genre of migrants, making the long trip after generations of settlement in South Africa.  

Reminded me of another migrant scholar, Sheena Iyengar, a name that surprisingly was not known to Zafar.  ( So why do we make the choices we do? Huh? Resets – we experience them differently at our personal levels than the large scale at which Richard Florida experiences them as a phenomenon of rising from economic depressions ( ).  Looking toward the future, Florida identifies the patterns that will drive the next Great Reset and simultaneously reshape virtually every aspect of our lives—from how and where we live to how we work to how we invest in individuals and infrastructure, and how we shape our cities and regions. Florida shows how these core elements, when taken together, will spur a fresh era of growth and prosperity, define a new geography of progress, and stimulate surprising opportunities for each of us. These forces include:
  • new consumption patterns and new assumptions about “ownership” that are less centered around houses and cars,
  • new forms of infrastructure that speed the movement of people, goods and ideas
  • a radically altered and much denser economic landscape organized around megaregions that will drive the development of new industries, jobs and a whole new way of life.
We’ve weathered tough times before. They are a necessary part of economic cycles, giving us a chance to see clearly what’s working and what’s not. Societies can be reborn in such crises, emerging fresh, strong and refocused. Now is our chance to anticipate what that brighter future will look like, and take the steps that will get us there faster.

In all of this we figured, the normal citizen in India gives up his or her identity for the sake of keeping up with others’ expectations. One sixth of humanity that are in India alone could inflict such lasting impacts on their progeny, that sure sources of originality and contribution are probably kept suppressed. Another classmate whom I visited asked my son just two days before I met Zafar “Why don’t you take up sports? Next time I see you I want you to take up some sport, like your father and me. I still take my son for a run”…Then he says ”We’re going to give all exams for medical college entrance next year 2011. We’ll be busy with that”… "Excuse me, did you say we?” “Yes, we (father and son) prepare together”. And I saw his teen-aged son and defensive mother squirm as if waiting on me to pounce on the overbearing father. “In my profession” I told Zafar, “I tend to come to terms with such after-effects, of suppressed ‘wills’ and lack of ‘inspiration' as if stuck on the road to life at the workplace”. Zafar reciprocated with recent learning from many others that went like this - “When I was twenty years old I always worried of what other people thought about me. Now that I am forty, I don’t give a damn of what others think of me, and like I heard from a sixty year old ‘Others don’t even care about me”. That is when you realize others were not thinking of you all along!” Some perceptive angle this one!

So what happens to the student generations of today who’re exposed to the media that precipitates the effects of the scams and the exposes? “They’re going to spill out from such repression and take on the world... If you’re engaged, you can’t fear it. If you fear it, you had it…” We agreed too that there’s a whole range of migrants from rural India taking to urban retail and mall jobs oozing with optimism about their own abilities. They’re not exposed to the trials and sacrifice of their earlier generations and their reality is startlingly different. Perception again!

I reflected “What happens to the entrepreneurial generations today is the challenge of job creation, business modeling, identifying future leadership talent and sustainable economic development”. Zafar responded “A tripod of forces is at play. One is supply-side infrastructure that spurs local demand like in China. Then there’s Japan and Korea that are export led manufacturing models. India’s recent spurt has been Information Technology led. Its real problem is the rural 700 million, where the current 200 million have to scale their contributions to. That is the tipping point. Rural credit got to be managed well.”

And what about USA? Zafar seemed to touch a passionate theme “Never underestimate USA. They’ve always reinvented themselves. India is only learning to do so. American children think more globally today than they ever did. Indian children need to do so soon..”. And so it went until I seemed to come to a Popeye point most companies face in India. “How do companies plan for the long-term?” Zafar quickly summarized what his wise students surmise when they visit India “Indian success is premised on short-term deal-making. They’re not thinking beyond 2-3 years. If you notice, everyone wants to exploit you as if tomorrow would never come. The porter, the shop-keeper, the real-estate agent..." Maturation on that front is a question mark today. “The concern is that even sustainability is not more than a few measures on environment friendliness. Sustainability of corporations themselves is eclipsed by short-termism?”

I recall mentioning that none of us imagined the India we live in today, when we were in school! Conscious leadership is probably the reset awaiting us into the future. Institutions that reflect second and third-order learning will have the edge. Or so we thought 25 years after schooling from Pune.