Source: The American Approach
I am back from the United States where I spent around 3 months as a exchange student at Case Western Reserve University’s management school in Cleveland, Ohio. Its been 3 weeks since I landed back at XLRI and I just cannot stop thinking of the wonderful time I had in the US. These three months were arguably the best period of my life. It was amazing to roam around almost every weekend to different parts of the country and visit some of my dream destinations. I covered 11 states in 10 weeks and my American neighbors used to tell me that I have visited more parts of US than an average American would in their lifetime! It wouldn’t have been possible without my good friends across the US who used to invite me to spend the weekend at their place and take me around.
There are many takeaways from the trip apart from the sightseeing memories. I made quite a few good friends (Americans, Chinese, Brazilians, Russians and of course Indians) and learnt a lot of good stuff from them. Academically too, it was one of the best periods of my life. (I have never got so many A’s in a single semester all my life!) Learning became enjoyable again after a long time, Professors and class discussions were very insightful and engaging and some of the business concepts will stay in my mind for a long time.
In this post I would like to talk about what I feel is a major difference between America and India. Strong institutions, law enforcement, transparency are quite different between the two countries but what surprised me is how Americans approach learning and working and how its vastly different from how Indians work.
During my stint at the business school, I had a chance to work with different teams and interact with many other students. What surprised me is the emphasis on learning with minimal regard to external consequences. People are intrinsically focused to continually improve their knowledge and skills. The entire education system encourages them to learn for the sake of self development and nothing else. Not for prestige, not for rankings and not to get a good job or admission into a top university. There are no stigmas associated with failure simply because success and failure are not well defined as it is in India. Sundar Pichai during his recent trip to India wonderfully put it : “People in the US especially Silicon Valley wear ‘failure’ as a badge of honor”. Its all about improving yourself and trying out new things.
This was a very liberating experience for me. Coming from a place where there are so many metrics to define acceptable levels of performance in the society, it was refreshing to experience and learn simply for the sake of learning ! I think this allows you to realize your full potential and enjoy the process. Unfortunately, in India there are strong metrics defined by the society that simply categorizes a person into different blocks. This creates a motivation to perform out of fear and not out of desire. It doesn’t allow you to realize your full potential and in the process miss out on real learning or trying out new things.
That’s all I have now. Feels great to be back blogging !
Answer by Vishnu Vaidyanathan:
I passed out of NIT Trichy in 2014 and I am currently pursuing my MBA in XLRI Jamshedpur. I believe that the quality of learning is the most important thing that determines the performance of the institute.
The main issue which stops NIT from being a top 3 institute is not the quality of infrastructure, attendance regulations, or the quality of faculty. It is the lack of motivation. From students and some teachers. Learning takes a hit. Students and Alumni will acknowledge this. For others, why I say that lack of motivation is the major issue will be clear as you read along.
To improve this, I would like to suggest some simple systems that need to be put in place. Here at XLRI, every course has an Assurance of Learning Goal which is met by following simple systems. These can be replicated in NIT as well.
1) Make the evaluation more comprehensive and continuous: Presently, the grading system is heavily centralized on two cycle tests and one end term. Students feel that classes are a waste of time because you need to spend only a couple of nights before an exam to score decent grades. Ultimately, a semester long course is learnt in 5 days: 4 days while preparing for the cycle tests and 1 day for the end term. As someone else said, similarities with past years Question Papers also help a lot. To avoid this, term projects, presentations, open ended group assignments should be introduced for a more comprehensive learning. When I had to prepare presentations or submit a term paper initially here, I was amazed at the thoroughness and depth of learning required to complete them. Term projects will also help the students realize new areas of interests and will favor them in internship / higher studies applications.
2) A detailed course agenda outlining session wise plans: There have been cases where teachers have taught semester long courses in only 3 or 4 classes. No one knows what to study. Students are given the exam materials before the exam and cram them the night before the test. Such courses do not offer any learning value and saps the motivation of students. Instead, teachers should declare the session wise agenda for the semester outlining the topics to be covered in every session. This will improve the accountability of teachers and we as students know what to expect and can prepare accordingly.
3) Strict but transparent evaluations: I do not agree with the current system of low pass grades, additional supplementary exams etc that tilt the scales heavily in favor of students. These will actually de incentivize the students particularly those who want to “just pass”. This should change. It is the institute’s duty to ensure that all students take part in the learning process. However, all evaluations should be made available to the student along with the system of evaluation.
4) Training programs for Research/ MTech Scholars:Frankly, I think it is unfair to use a catchall term like “Poor quality of faculty” as a problem. A major chunk of the full time faculty are quite competent and communicate well. As I said before, sometimes it is the lack of motivation from the teacher’s side that make students feel the quality of faculty is not good. Having said that, there is a large scope for improvement for the M.Tech / Research scholars who teach the B.Tech batch. The institute can arrange for training programs to make them better teachers.
Date: 17th Feb 2014
Venue: Hotel Aashraya, Bangalore
The process consisted of 2 rounds: a group discussion followed by a personal interview.
Group Discussion Topic: Is IPL a Tamasha Cricket?
The time allotted was 20 mins. I did not speak at all in the first few minutes but I managed to interject with some decent points in the middle. I tried to steer the conversation instead of explicitly taking a stand initially. A brief summary of my points made are as follows:
- What does tamasha mean in this context? Is it the quality of cricket or the non-cricket activities. I said that in this context, the quality of cricket should be considered for the discussion.
- How it has actually benefited Indian cricketers: domestic cricketers being exposed to higher levels of competition, easing their transition to international cricket, making cricket as a serious career choice for youngsters.
- How it has made international cricket more exciting: batsmen taking more risks, bowlers being more innovative to contain the run scoring and the rising number of results in test matches
- Scams are a part and parcel of any major sporting event.
We were then asked to present our conclusions individually. I concluded by saying that ultimately people watch cricket because they like to watch quality action on the field and not to see celebrities on TV. If IPL is a tamasha then cricket fans would stop watching it. Ultimately, its upto to the IPL council to ensure that the quality of cricket is not compromised. Otherwise, IPL will indeed be a tamasha.
I was the first t be called for the ensuing Personal Interview.
Panel: 3 professors: P1, P2 and P3.
The italics represent my thoughts or the reaction of the profs at that time.
P1: So Vishnu, tell me about yourself.
P2: You are still studying? Has a surprised look on his face.
Me: Yes sir
P2: What about the campus?
Me: Did he mean campus placements or campus in general(life, food, environment)? Sir, I am placed at SAP Labs.
P2: Then why do you want to do an MBA now?
Me: Sir, I would not want to risk by taking these competitive exams later on. Now that I have cleared it, I hope to do an MBA now.
P1: Well, we believe that XAT is the fairest exam in this country. You know, fairer than CAT, GMAT and others.
Me: Yes sir, but there is heavy competition.
P1: Ah, competition is there. That I agree
P2: So why do you want to do an MBA?
Me: Sir an MBA would give me a lot of advantages.
P2 cuts me: Well, what are those advantages? That’s what we want to hear.
Me::An MBA would improve my decision making skills, it would provide me with networking opportunities, help me to tackle a variety of problems..blah.
P1; What do you mean when you say networking?
Me; Sir, when I interact with people with different skills, I can learn a lot of things.
P1: Do you know where Jamshedpur is?
P2: So, you must be aware of our CM Naveen Patnaik
Me; Hmmmm he is the CM of Orissa sir.
Me; Yes. Thank God he didnt ask me the current CM of Jharkand
P1: Have you heard of Tata Nagar?
Me: Ummm no sir. P1 Looks quite surprised
P1: So what other B School calls have you got?
Me: IIMA and IIM Indore.
P2: You must have got interview calls from the new IIMs too right?
Me: Yeah, I got a call from IIM Trichy but I am not eligible to attend the interviews. Could not find a better word at that time
P2:Eligible?? What do you mean?
Me; Sir IIM Trichy takes the interview scores from one of the old IIMs to give their final offers.
P2: So among these schools which would you choose, what strategy would you adapt?
Me: Sir, I will talk to my seniors who are in these B schools to get a clearer picture.
P2: You know persons in each of the schools you have mentioned??
P2: But people will say that their BSchool is the best no?
Me: Sir, since I would be talking to them separately I can weigh their objective opinions relative to each other.
P1: If you get Ahmedabad, then toh you are going there!
P1: So lets say you are travelling from Trichy to Ahmedabad and Jamshedpur? Which of them is shorter? What all states do you cross when you travel from Trichy to Ahmedabad.
Me: I think Trichy Jamshedpur will be shorter. I make a V like shape on my hand. Say Ahmedabad and Jamshedpur are on the same horizontal level. But Trichy to Jamshedpur is a straight line.
P1: Do you think that IIM Trichy should take the interview scores from old IIMs? Lets say you want to join IIM Trichy over Ahmedabad, would you prefer attending one interview at IIMA or would you like to attend Trichys interview?
Me: Sir, I would prefer to attend Trichys inteview. My interview performance might not be the same on 2 different days, element of chance minimised. Talked a bit more on this, P1 wanted me to explain more points but I couldnt.
P2: Okay, are you good with current affairs?
P2: Recently there was a diplomatic meet on Syria, whats happening there?
Me: Was quite confident on this. Talked about Shia Sunni sectarian conflict, Assads role, Arab spring etc. Profs quite convinced.
P2: Jasmine revolution was it..the first arab spring movement? Has a skeptical look
Me: Yeah Jasmine in Tunisia
P2: You know there has been talk about whether the French model of democracy should be adopted in India.
Me: Yeah I agree. If you see the recent Delhi elections, Kejriwal managed to get just 27 percent of the vote share yet he managed to become the CM. What it effectively means is that although 73 percent of the people didnt vote for him he still became the CM. Explained clearly about this. Read about this just a few days back. Everyone convinced.
P1: Give me five uses of this water bottle.
Me: Thinking for some time. P2: Atleast tell one reason na.
Me: It can be used a flower vase! Nothing else came to my mind.
P1; Ahh thats quite good. What else?
Me: in 3rd standard mode. Sir candle, pen stand. Laughing like crazy inside my mind.
P2: Let me ask you a math question. If I toss 99 balls and they turn up heads, whats the probability that the 100th coin will turn up as a head?
Me: Sir, if its a fair coin it is half. The previous events dont matter. Each toss is an independent event
P3: Suddenly comes in. So as long as the coin is fair its half?
P1: Who is your role model?
Me: Gandhi..blah.. Essentially I told that I like people who disprove conventional beliefs and succeed, used the word ‘iconoclast’ in between
P3: The word you used? Whats it again? Do you know its root?
Me: Iconoclast Sir. I dont know the root, I only know its meaning.
P3: The way your talking shows that you are not confident at all.
Me: Smiling sheepishly. Yes sir, this is my first interview. I am quite nervous.
P1: Thats ok.
P2: What are your interests?
Me: I like to read about behavioural economics. Standard economics theory does not talk the impact of psychology in economics…
P2; Cuts me..No in standard economics also we take into account human behaviour…Anyway continue
Me: Explained. Talked about books I have read.
P3: If you have read the black swan then you should have answered the math question properly.
Me; Fumbling. But sir…
P3:GO read it again.
P1: Okay Vishnu. Thank you. You may leave. Take your file!
When we don’t meet our expectations or the targets we set to achieve; we are often told to take solace in the fact that failures are a stepping stone for success. We are reminded to introspect ourselves and find out where we went wrong so that we would not repeat the same mistakes again.
However, our successes are always met with adulation and praise and we are made to feel that we have done everything right. As a result, we often fail to introspect and ignore the role of chance that might have played a part in our success. Rarely do people ask us to introspect when we surpass their expectations.
Consider India’s recent Champions trophy triumph. We only talk about how well India played in the tournament and how they deserved to win the cup. But it was actually a couple of minutes of English self destruction in the final that gifted India the cup. Of course, they did play well to get to the final but on another day India could have been on the losing side and we would immediately find a host of reasons for their loss. But for us a victory overshadows all the small mistakes which (un)fortunately did not have to play a major role.
The major reason why we dont ask others to introspect in their moment of glory is that we are bothered only about the final result and not the process leading to that outcome. We dont ask a kid who gets a perfect score on his class test, if he had skipped certain portions but was lucky not to see them on his test paper. A full score means he is a prodigy: No further questions please.
Another reason is that we are afraid to ask someone to take some time to think about his success. We feel that it would roughly translate into something like “Sorry pal, you dont deserve this. You were very lucky” which project us as a jealous person.
In the end, it is upon us to ensure that we don’t overestimate our capabilities or underestimate the role of chance since it is a failure to introspect after a success which often causes our next defeat
On a recent Emirates flight to Dubai from India, I was surprised when I was asked where I was flying to by the flight attendant. Not the kind of question you would expect while flying any carrier to its hub. Equally surprising was her reaction when I replied Dubai. Shortly afterwards, upon landing at Dubai, the inflight TV screens displayed the flight schedules and gates of other Emirates departing flights which was interesting considering that other flights generally would showcase the sights and sounds of the particular destination.
While these incidents may have caused any passenger to feel unwelcome at Dubai, they subtly explain the reason Emirates is a hugely successful Airline. Emirates is the worlds biggest airline in terms of passenger traffic and operates over 300 flights daily to around 100 destinations from Dubai.
This, however, does not necessarily imply that the success of Emirates is due to Dubai being a major global city where people from all over the world live and work. This is hardly the case. A majority of these passengers use Dubai merely as a transit destination while flying Emirates. Its success relied on providing an alternate route, through Dubai, for connecting major destinations.
The rise of Emirates and the establishment of Dubai as its hub has primarily depended on the superior connectivity at competitive fares it provides. Better connectivity implies more destinations and more flights.
Consider this, Emirates operates around 30 odd daily flights from India and 80 odd to the US. A single stopover at Dubai would suffice to get you from Ahmedabad or Trivandrum to Dallas. Far more convenient than changing 3 or 4 different flights. Emirates also is increasingly preferred for travel between major cities even though direct flights exist between them like London- Bangalore or New york – Sydney. This is because Emirates offers much cheaper fares and a transit at Dubai would also split a tiring long haul journey.
Emirates has also benefited from Dubai. Its ideal location serves as a great connectivity option since roughly around three-quarters of the world are within a 8 hour journey from Dubai. Also, its fantastic airport provides a seamless transit path to your flight unlike some of the congested European airports where departures can be nightmarish. Add to this, Emirates also offers attractive packages for stay in Dubai which can also serve as a holiday appetizer en route to more exotic destinations.
Though Emirates has virtually plotted its own path to success, it has also benefited from a lack of noteworthy premium carriers in the Asia- Africa region. This has led to Dubai becoming an alternative hub for thousands of Indian, Chinese and African passengers whose national carriers are no match to Emirates in terms of quality and service.
But the path ahead might be tricky with rivals Etihad and Qatar Airways growing quickly. Their services are excellent too; Qatar was awarded the 5 star airline tag by Skytrax(Emirates is a 4 star airline).Their hubs; Abu Dhabi and Doha respectively, enjoy the same geographical advantages as Dubai and their airports, undergoing massive redevelopment may outshine Dubai’s in the near future.