Missing data in IIMB Alumni Directory

Recently, I got a mail from the IIMB Alumni association asking me to contact batchmates who are not part of the association mailing list. The objective of the mail was to ensure that every alumnus is registered with the association and can be reached for whatever purpose. Among other things (including exhorting us to mail our class mailing lists, etc.) the mail contained statistics of the number of students in each graduating batch and the number of students who are not part of the alumni mailing list.

The pattern in the proportion of people not on the mailing list was quite interesting so I thought I’ll share it here:

IIMBAlumni

For the earlier graduating batches, you can see that the proportion not on the mailing list is very high. And then there are two deep drops, one in the mid-nineties and one around the turn of the millennium. The latter I would associate with all students having a valid email ID at the time of graduation which would have allowed them to be reachable and be part of the alumni association. The former also would be associated with penetration of email.

What is also interesting is the bump around 2010 – while the enrolment rate up to the batch of 2009 seems to be pretty good, something seems to have gone wrong after that. The enrolment rate for the batch of 2010 is as bad as that for 2002, which is quite bizarre! Wonder if the alumni association messed up, or if there were some technical glitches around then or if for some particular reason that batch hated IIMB so much that they didn’t register!

All in all, though, a very interesting dataset.

Day 1 of teaching at IIMB

As I had mentioned yesterday I’ve started teaching at IIMB. Some thoughts after day 1.

  • The sweetener (idli-vade-chutney) at SN refreshments is awesome but leads me to take a route that is heavier on traffic than the more optimal route (via Sanjay Gandhi and East End). Too many school buses and office cabs that move haphazardly make it less than a pleasant drive
  • My car was again waved past at the IIMB gate. No questions asked. I’m still not sure how they do it every time to my car, given there is no insignia on it! I don’t believe that they remember the car from when I was a student!
  • IIMB has a new classroom complex and I “inaugurated” one of the classrooms there. It’s quite nice, students set out in a wide U format which I quite like. The projector takes HDMI input which is awesome!
  • The class started off rather quietly. I had to put on my sarcastic side and helpfully mention that “there is still time left to drop this course”. Participation picked up after that.
  • For an 8 am class, no one slept, which I take as an achievement! But then it is the first day of the term. Maybe they’ll learn as they go along
  • There were zero objections when I put up my “pie charts are evil. don’t use them” slide. This is the first time I’m not facing any resistance for saying that! In the past I’ve had people say “but then I used a pie chart once and it was very well accepted”, and this after I’ve told them about the perils of anecdata!
  • Everyone calls me “sir”, from the students to the administrative staff and officers. I’m letting them call me thus. It’s funny how one of the administrators who I used to call “sir” when I was a student now calls me “sir”.
  • The drive back was horrible. Insane traffic all along Bannerghatta road till I got past the ring road. Then it was smooth but the 3rd block circle was again jammed. But then IIMB is giving me office space so once I get that I’m unlikely to drive back immediately after the class.
  • I need to manage my voice better. Half an hour in, I realised I had come close to losing my voice. I need to be less hyper and “conserve my voice” at least for the duration of the class.
  • And no, I won’t put such an update after every class. Just that today was the first day so ..
  • I came back and added “adjunct faculty, IIMB” to my linkedin profile :P

Teaching at IIMB

Starting tomorrow I’ll be teaching at IIMB. It’s a course called “Spreadsheet modelling for business decision problems”, and targeted at term 6 MBA students. I explicitly warned them to not take the course if they don’t consider themselves to be competent at mathematics. Yet, some 60 students have registered (current IIMB batch size is ~400)!

This promises to be fun. The only part that may not be so much fun is that in order to make it compatible with the rest of my work I requested for the 8-930am slot on Mondays and Tuesdays so that means I need to get back to my early-to-bed-early-to-rise ways which have served me so well for most of my career (last few months though I’ve become a late riser).

Now, for everything that I do I like to have a “sweetener” – something that is totally unrelated that spurs me to do whatever I’m doing. Usually the sweetener is something that sounds quite trivial but is actually useful in spurring me on. The sweetener in this case is that SN Refreshments in JP Nagar 2nd Phase lies on my way from home to IIMB, and they make absolutely awesome idli-chutney. So the plan for tomorrow (and every other class day in the next 3 months) is to leave home early and have breakfast there and then head on to IIMB.

I’m hoping for a nice lively class. I’ve reserved 20% of the evaluation for “class participation”. I hope at least that spurs them to be nice and lively! Then again it’s first thing in the morning on Mondays and Tuesdays so you never know..

I’ll keep you guys updated on anything whacky that might happen in class. Oh, and I’m going to be starting a “class blog” for my students where they can write for extra credit. Will send out the link once it’s up and populated.

Now to decide whether to go by car (for some strange reason when I take the car – the same one I had when I was a student at IIMB – I never get stopped by the security guys at the gate. there’s no sticker on the car though) or by motorcycle (easier to navigate traffic and park near SN)!

A One Year MBA Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Around this time last year, when the wife was applying for B-school, I was clear in my advice to her on one thing – that a one year MBA just doesn’t make sense. From what I recall I wasn’t really clear back then regarding that piece of advice – it was rather intuitive, and based on a few “data points” I know, but as I see her go through her (two year) MBA, I realise why my advice makes sense.

There are two important functions that a business school performs. The first – which is debatable since a lot of people I’ve spoken to, including my classmates from IIMB – is that it changes the fundamental way you think. Exposure to different paradigms of management and case studies and frameworks completely changes the way, in my opinion based on my tenure at IIMB, you think about a lot of things in the world. If I were to summarise my MBA in one sentence, I will say that it taught me, and reinforced in me, the issue of tradeoffs.

In corporate strategy we learnt that any strategy you adopt will have its pros and cons, and if a strategy helps you “cover one flank”, it will expose you to the other. In HR, we learnt that life, and all our decisions, are all about making tradeoffs. In finance, we learnt that the very concept of the interest rate reflects the tradeoff between consumption today and consumption tomorrow. And so forth.

This, and a few other concepts that I learnt in my two years at B-school, completely changed the way i look at a lot of things in the world, and that helped broaden my perspective and that alone makes me believe that the time I spent at B-school was time well spent (I managed to get a scholarship so I didn’t spend much money for my education there).

Coming back, the second function that a business school performs is that of an employment exchange. By having a highly selective admission process it signals its students’ quality to prospective employers, and helps people move ahead in their careers by getting jobs they would have otherwise not got, without the MBA. For a lot of people, this is the primary reason to go to B-school (let me confess that this was the case for me, too, 10 years back), and the learning or changing the way they think is a bonus. But having had ones way of thinking changed, one will realise that this change is the more sustainable impact that the B-school has on you.

So what does this have to do with one year MBAs? Ever since my wife started her classes two months ago, she has had to start preparing for summer internships. She worked on her CV, wrote cover letters, attended tonnes of PPTs and networking sessions, even did a short trip to network with some companies and so forth (it was a similar case for me 10 years back). In sum, she has spent a disproportionate amount of her time and energy in dealing with the placements, leaving little time and energy and mind space for her academics.

Now, the point is that this is only for a summer internship, which allows you to make a mistake since you are not permanently committing to a company. If you don’t like your internship, or if the company where you intern doesn’t like you, you always have a second chance during the so-called (in IIMB) “final placements” to make a better choice. Yet, despite knowing that the summer internship is not “final” and gives you a second chance, first year students of two-year MBAs everywhere end up getting quite stressed over it, with the stress not lifting until they know where they are going (which, for some curious reason both in India and abroad happens rather early – in the second “trimester”).

It is only when the summer placements are done are you actually able to concentrate and do justice to your academics, and do some learning, to try and imbibe the first function that a B-school offers. Then you can relax and concentrate on your studies till late in the second year when (if you haven’t “converted” your internship) you will need to find a full-time job. In IIMs, thankfully, this happens towards the very end of the course which gives you sufficient time to actually learn, change the way you think, or do whatever the hell you want.

Now think of what happens in a one-year MBA. Firstly, typically there is no internship, meaning you have only one chance to get your post-MBA “remodelled” career right. Secondly, since “final placements” are less than a year away, you will have to spend a considerable amount of your time and energy and mindspace in Business School to that end – worrying about it, wearing suits, attending PPTs, attending career fairs, networking and all such.

There is very little time that you spend in a one year MBA when you are actually relaxed and know where you are going next, which is a necessary condition for you to learn, and for the business school to “affect” you. And to change the way you think, which is the only lasting impression (apart from the brand) that the business school can have on you!

So unless you want an MBA just for the brand, and just for the change in career, a one year MBA makes absolutely no sense. It is cheaper, for sure (both in terms of time and money), but so much inferior in value, since the main function of a B-school has very little time to actually function!

Business School WAG series – day out with baby bulls

Ten years ago, I was studying in a business school. A few weeks before I joined IIM Bangalore, a friend told me about the concept of a blog. I was told about the existence of blospot and livejournal, and the concept of blogging seemed exciting (I’d just started writing earlier that year and quite enjoyed it). I signed up on blogspot and wrote a post perhaps in June or July 2004 (I’ve deleted the blog, and so have forgotten when). Then I found that most of my IIMB friends were on LiveJournal and I moved my blog to skthewimp.livejournal.com .

My blogging ramped up slowly during my two years at business school – the first increase in momentum was during my summer internship in an investment bank, when my readership improved. A series of fairly controversial posts in the next one year further improved readership. And then the blog did me a lot of good.

I’ve found a client and a couple of other business leads thanks to my blogging. It was also my blogging through which I got to know of the existence of <lj user=”favrito”> eight years ago. Four years ago, I married her, and earlier this year, she decided to go to business school. And I thus became a business school WAG.

My status as a business school WAG was first established two months or so ago when I got an email from “Club – IESE Partners and Families”. These business schools try to take themselves too seriously and sound too politically correct – they could have simply called it the IESE WAG Club (there is merit in the usage of the term WAG (with its origins as “Wives and girlfriends”) as a unisex term). But anyway, I’ve continued to get emails from this club about its various activities. So far none of them have impressed me, but some have freaked me out, such as “day out with kids at the beach”.

My status as IESE WAG was further enhanced earlier this week when I made it to Barcelona, albeit for a short period of time. I visited the school yesterday, where <lj user=”favrito”> introduced me to one and all and sundry, and they eschewed the “three way cheek peck” which is supposedly popular in these parts of Catalunya in favour of the humble handshake. I spent the day in the cafeteria sipping Coke Zero and Dark Hot Chocolate and watching students crib about their performance in placement tests, talk about “arbit CP” that others put in class, and indulge in the kind of nonsense that all business school students indulge in (I surely did ten years ago) which recruiters (mostly business school alumni themselves) pretend doesn’t exist. It was interesting to say the least, but not interesting enough to deserve a blogpost for itself.

I further embellished my credentials as a WAG today, though, as I accompanied <lj user=”favrito”> and some of her classmates on a sort of picnic today. There was a fair number of WAGs at the picnic today, though I suspect I was the only male WAG. And I got introduced to a new “sport” in the course of the picnic today – amateur bullfighting, or as <lj user=”favrito”> described it, “Rajnikanth bullfighting”.

So there is a bullring. And they let a bull into the ring (it was a young bull that was in the arena today). And people can get into the ring by way of a ladder. There are these hiding posts all around the ring, behind which people can stand and be safe from the bull. And more than one human being can be in the ring at that point in time.

And they taunt and tease the bull, inviting him to attack and gore them. The bull is young and his horns aren’t sharp, so it is unlikely that it will cause much damage. But the bull is easily ruffled, and he gives short chases to the humans, who having provoked the bull in the first place try to dodge and evade the bull. Some wusses run to the shelter of one of the hiding posts when the bull is about ten metres away from them. Other wusses (including Yours Truly) don’t even bother entering the bullring, preferring to guzzle on the beer and sangria available and make pertinent observations.

And so it was an unequal battle, with several humans and one bull, though in true Rajnikanth tradition only one human would physically interact with the bull at one point in time (though others would hoot and clap and jeer). I was about to use the word “grapple” in the previous sentence but there was no grappling here – the bull would charge you and try and knock you down, and you would try and evade it. Some people even fell while trying to evade the bull and got hit by it, yet seemed unhurt.

This went on for a short period, and soon there were so many people in the bullring that there was no merit in entering it – the bull would surely get confused. And then we retired to this resort somewhere else in rural Catalunya for lunch and more drinks.

Later in the evening, at this resort, I visited the urinal. It was fairly busy at that point in time, with all stalls occupied. The guy to the left of me and the guy to my right had both brought a beer bottle along – they held the beer bottle in one hand and their penises with the other as they input and output liquids simultaneously.

I had half a mind to indicate to them that they could just eliminate the middleman, but then I thought it wasn’t appropriate for a business school WAG to give such advice, and moved on!

I plan to make a series on life as a business school WAG. Not sure how regular this will be though since I don’t plan to spend too much time in Barcelona. 

Planning and drawing

Fifteen years ago I had a chemistry teacher called Jayanthi Swaminathan. By all accounts, she was an excellent teachers, and easily one of the best teachers in the school where she taught me. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of what she taught me, the only thing I remember being her constant refrain to “plan and draw” while drawing orbital diagrams (I’ve forgotten what orbital diagrams look like).

Now, I remember wondering why it was that big a deal that she kept mentioning “plan and draw” while drawing or asking us to draw such diagrams. This question answered itself a few days later at my JEE factory, where the chemistry teacher started drawing an orbital diagram which soon threatened to go outside the blackboard. A friend who was sitting next to me, who was also from my school, quipped “this guy clearly didn’t plan and draw”.

The reason I’m mentioning this anecdote here is to talk about how, when faced with a deadline, we start running without realising what we are doing. I can think of a large number of disastrous projects from my academic and professional life (till a couple of years back my academic and professional life was rather disastrous), and looking back, the problem with each of them was that we didn’t “plan and draw”.

I especially remember this rather notorious “application exercise” as part of my marketing course at IIMB (btw, since the wife is doing her MBA now I keep getting reminded of IIMB quite frequently). We had a problem statement. We had a deadline. And we knew that the professor demanded lots of work. And off we went. There was absolutely no coherence to our process. There was a lot of work, a lot of research, but in hindsight, we didn’t know what we were doing! Marketing was my first C at IIMB (and the only C in a “non-fraud” course, the other being in a rather random course called Tracking Creative Boundaries).

Then I remember this project in my second job. “Forecast”, I was told, and asked to code in java, and forecasting I started, in java, without even looking at the data or trying to understand how my forecasts would solve any problem. Six months down, and forecasting going nowhere, I started coding on Excel, looked at the data for the first time, and then realised how hard the forecasting was, and how pointless (in context of the larger problem we were trying to solve).

There are several other instances – see problem, see target, start running – like the proverbial headless chicken (as made famous by former Indian ambassador to the US Ronen Sen). And then realise you are going nowhere, and it is too late to do a fresh start so you put together some shit.

That piece of advice I received in chemistry class 15 years back still resonates today – plan and draw (pun intended if you are in a duel). Its is okay to take a little time up front, knowing that you will progress well-at-a-faster-rate once you get started off. You need to understand that most projects follow the sigmoid curve. That progress in the initial days is slow, and that you should exploit that slowness to plan properly.

Sigmoid Curve

I will end this post with this beautiful video. Ilya Smyrin versus Vishwanathan Anand. Semi-finals of the PCA candidates tournament in 1994 – the tournament that Anand won to face off with Garry Kasparov at the WTC. Anand, playing black, gets only five minutes to play the whole game. Watch how he spends almost a minute on one move early on, but has planned enough to beat Smyrin (Anand only required a draw to progress, given the rules).

Law of conservation of talent

For starters. there is no such law. However, there exists a belief in most people’s minds that everyone is equally talented, and it is only that talent in different people is spread across different dimensions.

It starts when you are in school. If you are not good at maths, people tell you that you must be good at something else – arts perhaps. At that age it is perhaps not a bad thing – to be told when you are a child that you have no talent no way helps you in growing up. You are encouraged at that age to try different things, to find the thing that you’re good at.

And then you grow up. And you grow up with this entrenched belief of the “law of conservation of talent”. When you see someone good at something, you will assume that that is the only thing that they are good at. When you see that someone is bad at something you assume there is something else that they are good at. When you see someone good at more than the average number of things, you think they cannot be real, or that it is unfair, or perhaps that they are just faking it.

I once heard this story of a mother arguing with a schoolteacher that her son did not need remedial classes in maths. When told that the kid was indeed poor at maths, the mother responded “so what? He might be good at art. Why does he have to pass his maths exam for that?” (not sure I’ve paraphrased accurately but this is broadly the picture). While it might be a good idea to tell the kid that there is perhaps something else that he is good at, the mother strongly believing in the same thing is simply not done.

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Back in business school, there was this set of people who claimed to have a deep passion for marketing. Now, these people belonged to two classes. The first were actually passionate about marketing – there was something about marketing that gave them a kick and they wanted to pursue a career that would allow them to generate such kicks. From my conversations with them I know the passion was real, and most of them are doing rather well now in their marketing careers.

And then there was the second type. This was the class of people who had found that they were no good at mathematics and accounting and economics, and thus figured that they had no hope of a career in anything related to any of these fields, and thus found refuge in marketing. Of course they wouldn’t admit that – they would also claim a deep passion in marketing. While that was okay – perhaps marketing gave them their best chance of pursuing a successful career, and thus I don’t grudge their choice – what got my goat was that these people would claim that because they were no good at the “hard sciences” (mathematics, accounting, etc.) they were “creative”. Who says that mathematics and accounting and economics are not creative subjects? And why does anyone who is not good at these subjects (it is impossible, for example, to excel at mathematics unless you are creative) automatically become “creative”? It is the law of conservation of talent, simple.

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For people who are good at more than one thing, law of conservation of talent can bite you in more than one way. Actually there is more to do with this than just law of conservation of talent – people like to analyze other people by putting them in easily understood silos, or categories. And law of conservation of talent helps assign sets of talents to these silos.

Over the last two years, by hook or by crook, I’ve built my reputation to be a great quant. I consult with companies helping them with their quant and data stuff, I write a quant blog and I write a series in Mint on quant in elections. While it is all good and I’m glad that I’ve built a reputation as a quant, the downside is that people refuse to look beyond this and recognize my other skills.

For example, I think I’m rather good at economic reasoning, and I believe that my prowess in that combined with my prowess in working with numbers can deliver massive value to my potential clients. However, when people see me as a quant, it is hard for them to digest that I could also be good with economic reasoning, or behavioural sciences, for example. Thus, when I take on a mandate to do something beyond quant, people find it extremely hard to accept that I dole out non-quant advice too. I blame the law of conservation of talent for this – when people think you are good at quant, they exclude all other skills you might possibly have.

I’ll end this post with another anecdote from  business school. A few months in, things were going well and I had (even back then) built a reputation as someone who was good at quant and mathematics and accounting and economics (in business school, all these fell on the same side of the fence, so the law of conservation of talent allowed you to be good at all these at once). Quizzing was a related activity, so I was “allowed” to be good at that. If I remember right, what perhaps upset people’s calculations was when I represented my class in the inter sectional basketball tournament and didn’t perform badly – based on reactions after the game I think people were a bit thrown off that I could be good at basketball too (especially given that I’ve never looked remotely athletic, and have always been a slow mover). Law of conservation of talent again!