Tigers and Bullwhips

Over three years ago, well before our daughter was born, my wife’s cousin had told us that she likes to watch her daughter’s TV shows because they contained “morals”, which were often useful to her at work. While we never took to the “moral” TV show she mentioned (Daniel Tiger – it is bloody boring), I have begun to notice that there are important management lessons in other popular children’s stories.

So I hereby begin this blog series on what I call the “Kiddie MBA” – basically business lessons from kids’s stories. And we will start with that all-time classic, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, by Judith Kerr. 

The basic premise of this story that remains a classic fifty years after being published is what operations managers call the “bullwhip effect“. Sometimes a business, possibly in trading, can be subject to a sudden demand, which the business will not be able to fulfil given its current inventories.

As a result of this sudden one-time spurt in demand, the business increases its future forecasts of demand, and starts keeping more inventory. This business’s supplier sees this increased demand and increases its own forecasts upward, and increases its own inventory. Thus, this one-time demand “shock” percolates up the supply chain, giving the illusion of higher demand and with each layer in the chain keeping higher and higher inventory.

And then one day the retailer will realise that this demand shock is not replicable and moves forecasts downwards, and this triggers a downward edge in the forecasts up the value chain, and demand at the source comes crashing down.

Being a children’s book, The Tiger Who Came To Tea eschews the complexity of the supply chain and instead keeps the story at one level – at the level of the household of the protagonist Sophie (not to be confused with Sophie the Giraffe).

The premise of the story is the demand shock for supplies in Sophie’s home – a tiger comes home for tea and eats up everything that’s at home, drinks up all that’s there to be drunk (including “all the water in the tap”) and leaves, leaving nothing for Sophie and her family.

Assuming that the tiger will return the next day, Sophie’s family stocks up heavily, including “lots of tiger food”. And the tiger never arrives.

My guess is that the rest of the supply chain is left as an exercise to the reader – how the retailer who sold Sophie the tiger food will react to the suddenly higher demand for food (and for tiger food), how this retailer’s supplier will react, whether the tiger visits some other household for tea the next day (making this demand “regular” at the retailer’s level), and so forth.

Perhaps this is what makes this such as great book, and an all-time classic!

On Learning At Home

Recently, India has enacted this Right To Education Law, one of whose provisions dictates that schools must reserve at least 25% of seats for kids from economically backward communities. This post will be tangential and will not be trying to examine the merits and demerits of the law.

So earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a long (and pretty good) analysis of the impact of the law (it was published in India in Mint). While I might discuss the rest of the article in another post, the paragraph that caught my eye was this one:

Sumit’s father and many of the poorer parents are troubled by the fact that their own limited literacy prevents them from helping. Some wealthy parents, meanwhile, chafe at the slowed pace of learning. They have suggested segregating the poor kids.

Made me wonder how much primary learning actually happens in school, and how much happens at home. Looking back at my own childhood, I learnt most of my “concepts” at home, and before any subject was taught in school I was well prepared for it. In fact, I would be so ahead of my class that I’d frequently get bored, and would think that my classmates were dumb because they weren’t able to keep pace with me.

My parents were no “tiger parents“. And I wasn’t a particularly industrious child. Of course, there would be times when my parents would make me recite tables of two-digit numbers as I traveled wedged between them on our Bajaj Priya, but never forced me to study (until maybe till there were a few months left for the IIT-JEE). And still, somehow, they managed to teach me everything at home. And that proved to be a massive advantage over kids that were encountering the concepts for the first time in school.

Of course, as I went to advanced classes, there was only so much they could teach me at home (since we were going beyond the basic fundamentals here, and there was only so much they could remember), but the head start that I got in primary school was, I think, really useful in my being a topper for most of my schooling, with there being a significant positive feedback.

So what do you think? How much do you think parents actually contribute to their kids’ learning in early age? Is there a positive correlation of kids doing well in school with whether their parents are well-informed, have time for kids and can teach well? If there does exist significant correlation, what are the policy implications of it? Does it defeat the purpose of reservations in school?