Mike Denness and WTC Bombers

Professors who are insecure with respect to their ability and competence demand, rather than command respect. They institute complicated procedures which ensure that students need to suck up to them. Professors who know they are good don’t care. For example, the better professors who taught me at IIT never took attendance (everybody would be marked present), and would yet lecture to a full house most of the time. Lesser professors would get finicky about attendance. And other such trivial things. By forcing students to do things in a certain way, by “being strict”, they assumed, that students would respect them. It is a wonder that none of them thought this might be counterproductive.

In our third semester at IIT, we had this course called “Digital logic and VLSI Design Lab”. It was a decent and useful course. You would build digital circuits and test them out. No rocket science to it, but something that was useful in the long run. And because there was no rocket science to it, the faculty (one of the more insecure professors) had instituted a complicated process so that he gets some respect (or attention at least). Actually it wasn’t that complex. Before an experiment, we had to write up about the circuit and how we go about the experiment and get his signature on our write up. The lab assistant had been instructed that we should be issued components only after our report had been countersigned by the professor. Nothing too complicated, but a small step to ensure we suck up to him.

Things were mostly smooth, but one day the professor was late to arrive. Or maybe he was there and we didn’t see him – I don’t remember correctly. I don’t know how it happened but we managed to get the components from the lab assistant without our report having been countersigned by the professor. In a jiffy (after all we were three bright IIT boys) we had finished the experiment. And we called the professor to show him the results.

The experiment didn’t matter to him. He didn’t care one bit about the elegant circuit we had constructed. He only looked at our write up. His signature was missing. And he went wild. I won’t get into the details here but he went absolutely ballistic and threatened to annul our experiment, and possibly even fail the three of us in that course. “Such indiscipline is not to be tolerated”, he said.

“Sir, but this is not fair”, a teammate interjected. It only ensured that the professor went even more ballistic. “You guys must be reading the newspapers”, he thundered. “You see what is happening in South Africa? Is that fair? There is absolutely no fairness in this world, so you won’t get any brownie points by arguing that something is not fair” (the professor was a big cricket fan. The events in South Africa pertained to the one match suspension of Virender Sehwag and a suspended sentence to six other Indians, handed out by match referee Mike Denness).

“I don’t want my students to be this indisciplined”, he went on. “You never know where this will take you, if it is not nipped in the bud. One day you will do your experiment without taking my signature. When that is tolerated, you get encouraged to more indiscipline. And so it grows. And one day you will be bombing the WTC”. None of the three of us was able to react to this (this was in October 2001).

I don’t exactly remember how it ended. If I remember right, we had to dismantle our set up, take the professor’s signature on our write up, re-issue the components and re-do the experiment – but I’m not sure – maybe we were let off. But it was an important lesson for us – if indiscipline is not checked right up front, you could go on to be a terrorist it seems!

US MBA Admissions

B-schools based in the US use a unique self-selecting mechanism to filter out applicants who might be a bad fit for a management job. This they achieve by making the application process more complicated, but in a way that the kind of people they hope to attract find it simple.

Let me explain. Like most other graduate programs in the US, B-schools also require applicants to get a set of letters of recommendation. Unlike other programs, though, these are not simple letters of recommendation. Rather than the recommender simply writing out one essay where he/she extols the virtue of the candidate he/she is recommending and requests the university to grant admission, here he/sh has to answer a bunch of questions that the university is asking for. These questions might range from the mundane sounding (I’m told there’s a catch, though) “How do you know the applicant?” to some high-sounding stuff like “What is your opinion of the leadership qualities of the applicant? How can that be improved?”. World limit for all questions put together comes to 1500 words.

So now, if someone comes to you asking for a recommendation, unless you are really invested in their careers you will not want to put the enthu of putting so much effort. If you like the candidate, you might be willing to put in some time into it, but you are likely to wholeheartedly produce four good essays for each school the applicant is applying (note that no two schools ask the same question) only if you feel really invested in the applicant’s career, the probability of which is really low.

By having such a complicated system of soliciting recommendations, the schools ensure that all candidates fall into one of two categories. Either they should have done so well in one of their jobs that their boss or client feels invested enough to spend a few hours of their time writing recommendations, or they should have the necessary people management skills to go to bosses and clients and professors to get them to write the recommendations. Of course, irrespective of how good your people management skills are , it is unlikely to get someone to spend so many hours on your recommendation letters. Still, the minimum you require is to convince them that you will write the recommendation yourself and they should rubber stamp it. No big deal, that.

This way, all applicants to US B-schools are people who have a knack of getting things done. The age at which application happens (mid to late twenties) also minimizes parental participation in the effort. Apart from the self-selection and filtration, the amount of time and effort required for application also helps weed out frivolous candidates (remember those that “wrote CAT just as a backup”?).

Why Kannadigas are Inherently Lazy

There is something about the weather in Bangalore. There is something about the weather in Bangalore that perks you up. There is something about the weather in Bangalore that most of the time you really want to do something, to be active, to go out, walk around, lead an active life and all such. The first few days I spent in Bangalore after my return from Gurgaon in June I spent literally jumping around. The weather was so uplifting. It filled me with so much enthu for everything in life!

So I was wondering why people usually classify Kannadigas as being inherently lazy. As one of the professors in my JEE coaching factory used to say “naavu Kannadigarige aambode mosaranna koTTbiTTre khushhyaagiddbiDtivi” (if someone gives us Kannadigas dal vada and curd rice, we’ll live happily forever, and we will forget about working hard). Basically implying that we are inherently not too ambitious, and that we are generally laidback about stuff.

Thinking about it, I was wondering if the wonderful climate of South Interior Karnataka has to do with this (people from North Karnataka and the coast are supposed to be fairly hardworking, and are not known for their laidbackness unlike us Old Mysore people). I wonder if this laidbackness is because our wonderful weather has spoilt us. Spoilt us to an extent that we don’t really need to normally fight against the odds.

So I was thinking about Gurgaon, the other place where I’ve recently lived in. Gurgaon has horrible climate. Maybe a total of one month in the year can be desccribed as “pleasant”. Most of the time it’s either too hot or too cold. Temperatures are extreme. When it rains the whole place floods up. If people in Gurgaon are happy it is in spite of the weather and because of it. And therein lies the reason why people from there are traditionally more hardworking than us people from Old Mysore.

Blessed with such wonderful climate, we don’t really need to fight the odds. If today is too hot, we can put off the job for another day when we’re sure it’ll be cooler. If it rains too much today, we know that it’s likely to be dry tomorrow and can thus postpone it. Essentially we don’t need to put too much fight. When the weather is good, we are all jumpy and enthu and do our work. Which allows us to wait and sit when the weather is bad.

The man in Gurgaon, or in Chennai, or even in Raichur, however, can’t afford that. The likelihood of him having a good day weatherwise sometime in the near future is so thin that there exists just no point for him to postpone his work thinking he’ll do it when he feels better. This means that he is culturally (rather, climatically) conditioned to work against the odds. To do stuff even when he doesn’t want to do it. To essentially put more fight. And so he avoids that “inherently lazy” tag which people like us have unfortunately got.

I’m reminded of the second case that we did in our Corporate Strategy course at IIMB, from which the main learning was that sometimes your biggest strengths can turn out to be your biggest weaknesses.

nODi swami, naaviruvudu heege.

Tenure matching and jab we met

ok this is one of those lazy posts. Takes two earlier posts and finds a connection between them. This is the kind of stuff that bad professors do – take two old papers, find a link between them and publish a third paper. I do hope to become a prof one day, but I don’t hope to write such papers.

if you remember my review of Jab We Met (which I wrote about a month back), I had said that I hadn’t liked the ending. I had said that if I’d written the script, I’d’ve made Anshuman a stronger character, and made Geet marry him; and have Aditya walk away into the drizzle. I had said that this was because Aditya and Geet had added as much value as they could to each others’ lives.

So, now, if you look at it in terms of tenure matching, things will become clearer. Both of them had their own problems, which needed solutions. And neither of them had a problem for which the solution involved marriage. Ok wait. Geet did have a marriage problem. She wanted to marry Anshuman, and needed to find an efficient way of eloping with him and marrying him. So looking at it from the scope sense, all she needed was someone to guide her in her efforts to do the same.

Aditya’s problems, too, weren’t something for which marriage was an obvious solution. He had put extreme NED at work, and was on the verge of killing himself. All he needed was someone to guide him out of NED. Someone to show him that life can be beautiful, and happy, and that he shouldn’t take any extreme steps.

Looking at the movie from this context, it is clear that marriage between Geet and Aditya wasn’t warranted. Ok it might have been a “no-so-bad extension” but it wasn’t required. It wasn’t a solution that fit in any way with the problems that they were facing in their lives. Which is why the ending stuck out like a sore thumb (and that excess song-and-dance and loudness and all that contributed in no measure) .

Ok now I realize that I shouldn’t be analysing Bollywood movies from a logical standpoint. but still…