Thursday, November 23, 2006

Learning Management

If you have read "Managers not MBA" by Henry Mintzberg, maybe what I'll say makes sense. To be quite frank, I haven't learnt anything about management in the past one-and-half years of MBA courses. I've learnt loads about business, most of them I was unaware of. But, nobody has taught me management itself. Perhaps, what Mintzberg says has some merit. Because most of the faculty in b-schools don't have prior _proper_ work experience ( I don't consider consulting as proper workex), it is interesting to speculate who indeed _can_ teach management. Which also brings me to the question: can it indeed be taught ? and how ?

The faculty and PhD research in b-schools stress on publications, statistical validity and other scientific methods. Well, for all I care, you can throw all that stuff to the bin. All nice theories and all assuming that people are rational. I take real exception at someone calling me rational - I'm only rational in that, I try to rationalise everything that I do !

My b-school has only taught me business. It didn't teach me management - yeah, maybe a bit of time management and self-management. But I understood that the most important of all - managing people cannot be learnt by learning Organizational Behavior or HR. Nothing can prepare me for what I'm going to face in real life.

I'm grateful for my ExtremeBlue summer internship at IBM. I literally learnt management there, and against the right sort of guinea pigs too - tech interns (sorry guys - Karuna, Apoorv, Shekhar ;-). I learnt all the tricks, to cajole, to empathize, to confront, to fight, to argue, to blackmail, to back-out, and when to do what. I learnt to cut through bureaucracy to get the job done. I learnt to push my work, to drive my project despite odds. I learnt that there is a fine line between micro-management on one hand, and hands-off policy on the other. You are given the people who are there, and not who you want. It is like saying "here are these people, it is your business to get the work out of them".

My prior workex did help me in tackling problems. I started with communication and forced my team-mates to communicate with each other. I also had to force the mentors to communicate with each other. I had to take ownership of the project, and then start tackling people to get it done. I made lots of mistakes, but I tried to do a good job. I think I did, hopefully, others think the same too.

Some don't want to get into management - they want to get into business, like investment banking, etc. Probably because, they think they were forced into taking what they didn't either for engineering stream or their job. That's ok, and expected. Others want to get into management, because they want to be bosses. If you are lucky, you won't ever work under them.

I think b-schools shouldn't pretend to teach management - they can't. They are trying, and they are failing. You have to learn that on your own. As my neighbour told me yesterday (he too is an MBA), an MBA only opens the door to the next job, after that, it is how you handle people that takes you anywhere.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I recently read the report that a prominent b-school wants to groom students on playing golf, because that the easiest way to catch the boss' ears. Now that there is a pioneer, I suppose within a few years, golf would become a part of standard b-school curriculum.

My reaction is somewhat mixed: it is a combination of amusement, horror, and sickening disgust. Definitely not positive. I don't have anything against this particular institution, but I really do oppose this idea and whoever concocted this in the first place. When I worked as a software developer, the rules that I learnt were pretty straight-forward: be open and transparent; if I can't do something, admit it; being professional means, ensuring that the work gets done and being frank and objective about my abilities, and good communication solves half of the problems. If you are good, you get work suited to your skills, talent and experience. Life was very simple.

The people I used to be with, were somewhat derisive about "suits" and their system of ethics. The belief among us was that they'd do anything to get to the top. Euphemistically, it is called "networking" - we used to call it "a$$ kissing". The principle has become unfortunately institutionalized and nice slogans have been concocted to demonstrate its effectiveness - they say "it is not what you know, it is who you know" that matters. And converts think because it is such a cliche, it must be right. Yeah, right.

Golf is a game. I'd play a game because I enjoy it. But, playing it solely to garner favours is akin to pimping oneself. I know, that is a pretty strong statement. And yet, that is exactly how it sounds to me. I hope I'll never need to stoop to that level. If someone requires me to play golf with him/her just to catch their ear, well, such a person doesn't deserve to be my boss. I'd never respect such a person. I'd probably work _with_ such a person as far as professional obligations go, but beyond that I'd avoid him like plague.

I wonder how it ever passed the muster of the Senate or whoever approves such courses. How were they convinced ? Whatever were they thinking of ? At this rate, is it any wonder that in most of the companies, it is the middle management that is responsible for politics and bureaucracy ? What's next ? A 6-credit course on "right way to booze" ? After all, top business honchos prefer to strike a deal over a drink ...

I've said before that ethics can't be taught in b-school. This only strengthens that argument.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The news channels

I've always been a news buff, and the short vacation at home in Bangalore gave me an opportunity to keep myself abreast of the developments. BBC has become a pay-channel and hence it has disappeared. That's a tragedy, really, I really loved BBC. CNN is as boring as ever. Two new channels are on air - News Now from Times and CNN-IBN.

My erstwhile favourite, NDTV 24x7 has become quite boring. While it has come a long way from the "News Tonight" on DD Metro some 10 years ago, the quality has come down significantly. The same stories get aired every hour throughout the day, as though in an endless loop due to bad code. Compared to what they are airing, CNN-IBN has far better content - probably due to the CNN connection. I really can't believe that in a country the size of India and with variety and diversity unmatched in most of the world, the TV networks still have to peddle stale content. NDTV would rate as sell in my opinion.

I think it is important to think of news channels as agents of content delivery, instead of agents of content creation. For instance, CNN-IBN uses content from CNN, and content contributed by "Citizen Journalists" - a really good idea. I hope that they've resolved all the copyright issues. I hope NDTV too gets into something similar soon - the content is really that pathetic.

Good news with the situation is that it can't get any worse. So, things would be better the next time ...

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Boring cricket

Watching the ICC Champions Trophy matches, I felt a sort of total detachment. Just look at the mostly empty stands to know what spectators think of the match. I've never talked to any of the cricketers but I don't think that playing to an empty gallery is going to enthuse the players. The idea of spectator entertainment is so low in the priority list of ICC that a mini-world cup like Champions Trophy is a boring 1 month affair. This religious worship of the game is what compels players to play domestic cricket with huge stadia with only the officials as spectators. This religious worship of the game is what compels ICC to gag the players and forbid them from expressing their views ...

One of the oft-repeated comments from the cricketers and the ICC is that the game is supreme and bringing disrepute to the game has been fined heavily as if that is tantamount to treason. I think that is a ridiculous concept. Any game or sport that doesn't care about the spectators is doomed. Even an intense and quiet game like chess can be beautiful to watch. I remember waking up during night in my highschool days (in 1995 ?) to watch Anand v/s Kasparov world championship match in World Trade Center. Even a cricket test match can be very absorbing at times.

If I am investing a significant amount of time to watching a game, I expect to be suitably compensated with entertainment. Players are also performers and entertainers. They exist for the sake of entertaining the audience. ICC power politics, deliberately provocative umpiring (Darrel Hair, anyone ?), excessive advertising, massacre of the minnows and frequent test matches (!) are what causing disrepute to the game. It is time ICC starts looking in the mirror to identify the culprits.

While I think that Sony Max's "Extraa Innings" (did I miss out an additional 'a' in the 'extraa'?) is getting more sillier by the day, the good news is that someone is thinking of TV audience. I hope that the trend continues.

A game can never be higher than the purpose it is supposed to serve.

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Patents and self-pity

I'm not a fan of cribbers (unless it is me who is doing the cribbing !). But if someone complains again about excessive patenting, I'm going to scream. The problem is those who crib about patenting either have no solution to offer, or the solutions they offer are so infeasible that it is better that they keep their mouths shut. Other than creating awareness about a problem, they have no role, except be a pain in the a$$.

People who *do* can solve the problem. People who only talk, are the problem. Take the instance of Richard Stallman. GPLv2 is a great piece of work, while GPLv3 is stupid. GCC, Emacs and friends were the products of FSF's initial work, and they are good. They actually did some work ( though I don't agree with the biases embedded in the licence text). Though I think GPLv3 is stupid and probably the result of self-delusion, atleast the FSF has done something (even if it was some 2 decades ago) to the society. The principle behind GPL, that of copy-left, is really genius - using the very provisions of the ocpy-right law to turn it over its head, to change the rules of the game. I guess we can be grateful to Stallman and FSF, atleast for that. Notwithstanding my disagreements about GPLv3, if anybody can rightfully complain about copy-rights, IP laws and DMCA, it is Stallman. He has done something, and despite that, if he is still facing problems, then that needs to be addressed.

I guess some such thing is required for the patents. To use the provisions of patent law to turn it over its head. Call it anti-patent if you like. And unlike copy-right, a patent can be invalidated quite easily - all that you have to demonstrate is prior art. That is the what an anti-patent will do. Anti-patent is a patent like paper that details an idea and all the extensions of it. What I'd like to do is to have a website (like the USPTO, or the bugzilla) where all the "anti-patents" and patents are listed. The beauty of it is this: an anti-patent doesn't belong to anybody and hence, it legally cannot infringe with a patent even if it technically does. So, potentially, anybody with any damn idea can create an anti-patent and get it listed. If there is a prior patent for the same idea, no loss to anyone. If not, nobody will get a patent on it. If I can't or don't want to be the sole beneficiary of an idea, there is no reason why someone else should be. Actually, this would also benefits companies that rely on patents - prior art search will be far easier.

If you have an idea, then better make money out of it while you can or simply publish it. Everyone will benefit in that way. If you don't like patents, better do something about what _you_ can. If it doesn't work, then speak about it.

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