Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Wisdom of Warren Buffet

I have read Buffet for a long time now. His wisdom is priceless. I am just not talking about investing, which is the first thing which stikes you when you think of Buffet which is not wrong considering that he is worth $40 billion for that.

You can learn a lot from him about business, about people, about ethics, about mental models and about basic facts of life from his annual letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Paul Allen (not the guy who co-founded Microsoft) points me to this post by Darren Johnson, a 23 yr old Entrepreneur who wants to change the world.

Paul does an interesting search on Google :

I find it interesting that there are 6.16 million pages in Google that contain "Bill Gates ", the world's richest man, but only 360,000 that mention "Warren Buffett", the world's greatest investor and second richest man.

According to Forbes, Buffett is worth $42.9 billion and Gates is worth $46.6 billion. Buffett could easily pass Gates this year since Microsoft's stock has been pretty flat for the last few years.

Buffett's ideas are not studied or written about or imitated nearly as much as they should be.

Darren was one of the lucky few who met Buffet in person and spent some three hours listening to him.

Darren blogs about the Top 5 things he has learned from Buffet. I post it here in full.

I spent 6 hours last week in Omaha with Warren Buffett. As I walked into the meeting I was pleasantly surprised to find Mr. Buffett dressed more like a scroungy sophomore chemistry student than the greatest investor of all time. It was an open Q&A session with some of my colleagues and me for about 3 hours.

Going into the meeting, I was thinking that I would receive a great deal of advice about investing and how to quantify intrinsic value. I figured he'd tell us all about "Mr. Market" and how his favorite holding period is forever. Then I figured we'd get around to his bet on the Euro or his belief that the market is irrational and ineffecient. Or perhaps the second richest man in the world would, I don't know, talk about money?

Total time spent talking about any of the above: Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Let's get to what he DID talk about. As a big fan of "Top" lists, I've compiled the "Top 5" things (prioritized) I learned from Warren Buffett that day:

1. Be Grateful -

There are roughly 6 Billion people in the world. Imagine the worlds biggest lottery where every one of those 6 Billion people was required to draw a ticket. Printed on each ticket were the circumstances in which they would be required to live for the rest of their lives.

Printed on each ticket were the following items:

- Sex
- Race
- Place of Birth (Country, State, City, etc.)
- Type of Government
- Parents names, income levels & occupations
- IQ (a normal distribution, with a 66% chance of your IQ being 100 & a standard deviation of 20)
Weight, height, eye color, hair color, etc.
- Personality traits,
temperment, wit, sense of humor
- Health risks

If you are reading this blog right now, I'm guessing the ticket you drew when you were born wasn't too bad. The probability of you drawing a ticket that has the favorable circumstances you are in right now is incredibly small (say, 1 in 6 billion). The probability of you being born as your prefereable sex, in the United States, with an average IQ, good health and supportive parents is miniscule.

Warren spent about an hour talking about how grateful we should all be for the circumstances we were born into and for the generous ticket we've been offered in life. He said that we should not take it for granted or think that it is the product of something we did - we just drew a lucky ticket. (He also pointed out that his skill of "allocating capital" would be useless if he would have been born in poverty in Bangladesh.)

2. Be Ethical & Fair

Continuing on the analogy above, consider this scenario:

Imagine that you were selected as the one person (out of 6 Billion) to create the systems of the world. This includes the type of government, social programs, tax systems, military systems, job markets, laws, regulations, etc.

The only catch was this: You had to come up with systems that you believed were fair and that you wanted to live with, before you were allowed to look at your ticket.

When Warren talked about this it made me reconsider the definition of ethical behavior - what type of system would you create if you didn't know what ticket you had drawn? Would you take a different position on some of the programs you are for or against if you were surrounded by a different set of circumstances?

3. Be Trustworthy

This may be a minor point that Mr. Buffett was trying to make, but he told a simple story that affected me greatly. He told of the Founder of the Nebraska Furniture Mart, one of his companies, and how she came from a poor Jewish family and couldn't read, write or speak English. She was had survived the Holocaust, spent 16 years bringing her family to the U.S. (at $50 per person), and grew the Nebraska Furniture Mart from a $500 initial investment to do $350 Million annually from a single location in Omaha.

She told Warren at one point that the way she evaluated people was simple: She simply asked herself, "Would they hide me?" What a great way to judge your instincts about whether to trust someone or not.

4. Invest in Your Cirle of Competence

Warren talked at length about investing within your circle of competence. This applies as much to entrepreneurship as it does to investing in public securities. One thing that continually amazes me is how much discipline Warren has in never letting himself get excited about a deal that he doesn't understand. He understands his weaknesses, limitations, and the types of businesses that he gets.

He said that it is crucial that people clearly recognize what they don't understand, and place their effort and energy on businesses or career paths that allow them to bet big on themselves doing something that they do understand. He said that it's "not so important how big the circle is, but it's important that you know where the perimeter is, and when you're outside of it."

5. Do What You Love

Perhaps the reason that we've heard this a million times is that it's true. Warren talked at length about how excited he is to wake up in the morning and to do what he loves. He talked about how important it is to have the freedom in your life to paint your own canvas any way that you like. He said that many people talk about how they are going to just work at a high-paying job "for a little while" and then go do what they love - he equated that to "saving up sex for old age." He said to "never do something that doesn't excite you or that you dislike."

Not the advice you'd expect from somebody worth over $40 Billion?
For me point number 2 is the most important point followed by point no 1.

Indras' Drishtikona on the MBA

Mr. I R Sharma asks the most important questions for India. He tries to provide answers to some of them but definitely he makes it a point to make you question the status quo and think what can be done.

He blogged sometime back about the value of an MBA in India. A list of questions.

...the first question doubts the necessity of these BBA and then MBA courses and why are these becoming so popular.

  • Is it only because the boys that have these degrees can get some jobs? There is no research on the type of jobs these boys are getting engaged in.
  • Is this education relevant to the long term requirement of business and society?
  • How good is the quality of the education provided in most of these business schools?
  • How good is the quality of the faculty engaged? Why do we not get to know about their research works?
  • Why are even our top management schools such as IIMs not placed in global ranking?
  • Can the faculty provide the right direction to the students when they themselves don't have sufficient exposure in actual management of enterprises?
  • Is this education of management becoming the exclusive preserve of the affluent classes or higher middle class?
  • Are the most of the business schools other than some very famous ones not absorbing those children who fail to get into other professional courses?
  • Is it the easiest way the mediocre finds to get a professional degree?
  • How good is the content of business education? Should MBAs be more specialized in content?
  • Are the schools more interested in raising their resources? Should there be some cap on fees?
  • How good are the ratings of B-schools appearing in various news magazines? How serious is the present shortage of faculty?
  • How many of the members must be on the permanent roll of the B-schools and what percentage should be visiting?
  • Why can't all admissions to the B-schools be made through one common entrance examination?
  • What should be the basic qualifications for those seeking entrance? Why are the requirements of recruiters not researched?
  • Why can't some value training be a part of the MBA?
  • Why are they not useful to smaller enterprises and the rural India?
  • How can one create a manager out of somebody who has never worked before joining the B-schools?
  • Do the people with work experience find it difficult to adapt to an academic environment?
  • Are the present MBAs better in handling the people working for them in best way in actual business situations?
  • Do they have the soft skills required for it?

  • Whew! That was a long list of questions? It just goes on to show the paucity of "quality" MBA programs in India. I guess I will answer these someday.

    What are your experiences in your country?

    Networking using Blogs - Part Two

    Blogs can be a good way to Network.

    The possible reasons :

  • You know about the person through his/her blog before you make a contact.
  • You can choose before making the contact if you want to connect or not, unlike in physical networking where random selection works.
  • You can work on the relationship for sometime before you decided to extend it or not and say meet offline. In this way you have the chance to make more meaningful relationships.

  • I have been looking at various ways to start my networking before I reach Adelaide. Social networking tools like LinkedIn and Orkut are good. I will take them up at a later stage. At this point I am trying to work through blogs.

    Anthony Hicks has done a great job in creating this list of Aussie Blogs. Apart from creating the list he has also provided links to other Aussie Blog links, Meet Up links and various other blog rinks related to Australian bloggers. This is the kind of sites which can be used to start the networking exercise.

    Since I will be moving to Adelaide, I will first connect to people who live in Adelaide. This is what I can do.

  • Check out the list of bloggers from South Australia.

  • Check out other lists like Adelaide Blogs.

  • Join Aussie Blogs Web ring which will bring in more people interested in Aussie blogs to my blog.

  • I can now join the Weblogger Meetups in Adelaide.

    Now comes the hardest part. Check various bloggers, see if I like any of the blogs, connect to them and then attened the Meet Ups offline when I am Adelaide.

    I will update here on my progress.

  • Books on Entrepreneurship

    The ISB Collaborative Blog has come out with their next set of books, now focussed on Entreprenuership. Prof. Venkatraman of ISB has provided the content.

    Prof. Venkataraman's List
    • Rita McGrath and Ian MacMillan, 2000. The Entrepreneurial Mind-Set. Harvard University Press.
    • Clayton Christensen, 1997. The Innovator’s Dilemma. Harvard University Press.
    • Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor, 2003. The Innovator’s Solution. Harvard University Press.
    • Drucker, Peter. 1985. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Harper & Row: New York.
    • Duncan Watts, 2003. Six Degrees. Norton Press.
    • Ronald Burt, 1995. Structural Holes (Chapter 1 and 3). Harvard University Press.
    • Scott Shane, 2003. A General Theory of Entrepreneurship. Edward Elgar Press.
    • Saxenian, Anna Lee, 1994. Regional Advantage. Harvard University Press.
    • Bhide, Amar. 2000. The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses. Oxford University Press: New York.
    • Sahlman, William, Stevenson, Howard, Roberts, Michael and Bhide, Amar. 1999. The Entrepreneurial Venture, Second Edition. HBS Press: Boston.
    • What do venture capitalists do? HBS Case 9-288-015
    • Sahlman, Structure and Governance of V.C. Investment, in Journal of Financial Economics, Vol. 27 (1990)

    There are lot of books which I have not read on this. But from what I have read of some of the authors, Peter Drucker, Amar Bhide and Clayton Christensen do write some excellent stuff.

    Amar Bhide provides some great understanding of what an Entrepreneur should do and the thinking process needed there. Some not-so-obvious examples from him.

    Christensen has soon come out on the top with his two books on Innovators and Innovation. They are a must read.

    Druckers' book on Entrepreneurship is the definitive study of Innovation, the main tool of the Entrepreneur, and should be a must read. I have read it once and have started reading it again. Dave Pollard provides a good condensed article of the main ideas from this book.

    One shocking aspect is that Jim Collins is missing from this list. No list on Entreprenuership would be complete without Jim Collins' two books - Built to Last and Good to Great.

    I have to say that after Drucker he is the guy whom I have read the most. I have read both his books twice and I think they are a worthy addition to the list.

    If you ask me this is the sequence of books I would suggest for a would be Entreprenuer (however my suggestion may not mean much) :
    1. The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses by Amar Bhide
    2. Innovation and Entreprenuership by Peter Drucker
    3. The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
    4. Built to Last by Jim Collins
    5. The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen
    6. Good to Great by Jim Collins
    7. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

    I have added "The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker" here because good work habits are important for both Executives and Entreprenuers. They are one of the pillars of a more meaningful life.

    Books on Strategy

    Sumit Dhar points to this post on The Collaborative ISB Blog where Thimmaiah Chendrimada, a current ISB student has posted the list of books on strategy.

    Sumit says that they will be listing books on Statistics, Entrepreneurship, Management of Organizations, Accounting and Finance over the next few days.

    Here is the list of books :

    Strategy Essentials:
    • Competitive Strategy, Michael Porter
    • Competitive Advantage, Michael Porter
    • The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael Porter
    • Competing for the Future, Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad
    • Gaining & Sustaining Competitive Advantage, Jay Barney

    Competitive Interaction and Game Theory:
    • Coopetition, Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff
    • Thinking Strategically, Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff

    Global Strategy:
    • The Borderless World, Kenichi Ohmae
    • Managing Across Borders: The Transnational Solution, Chris Bartlett & Sumantra Ghoshal

    Strategy and the Internet:
    • Information Rules, Shapiro and Hal Varian
    • Competing in the Age of Digital Convergence, D. Yoffie

    Strategy Implementation:
    • Corporate Culture & Leadership, Ed Schein

    Knowledge Management:
    • The Knowledge Creating Company, I. Nonaka & H. Takeuchi

    Strategic Planning:
    • The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Henry Mintzberg

    Strategic Alliances:
    • Alliance Advantage, Gary Hamel and Yves Doz

    Mergers and Acquisitions:
    • Managing the Acquisition Process, Philippe Haspeslagh and David Jemison

    Trust and Networks:
    • Structural Holes, Ronald Burt
    • Trust in Organizations, Roderick Kramer

    Other Classics:
    • My Years with General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan
    • The Art of War, Sun Tzu
    • Strategy and Structure, Alfred D. Chandler

    I think this is a great list. My primary interest is Strategy. Let me check how many I have read.

    Thinking Strategically, Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff

    This is a great introduction to game theory and strategy in general. I have not read the entire book, need to do that. This was recommended to me by Rajesh Jain.

    The Borderless World, Kenichi Ohmae

    I have read part of "The Mind of a Strategist" and "The Invisible Continent" by Ohmae. The Mind of a Strategist is a book which will shape your mind, provide a process of thinking. Incidently this is not part of the list, I think this should have been there.

    My Years with General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan

    This is one of all time classics of management. Alfred P. Sloan, the person credited with creating the modern General Motors, is considered the greatest manager to have ever lived. You can find a great deal of stuff about the management of companies, startegy, people decisions (which Sloan considered the most important decision) and values in business.

    For example : Sloan postponed the publication of this book till all the people mentioned in the book in a not so positive way have died so as not to hurt them!

    One thing this book misses is the personal side of Sloan. For this you need to read the Biography of Peter Drucker, Adventures of a Bystander where he provides a great account of the master. Drucker started his career as a management writer with the study of General Motors, where he practically observed the work of the executives in GM and 'invented management' for the rest of us. This was later published in his seminal book, the Concept of the Corporation.

    I think that Managing for Results by Peter Drucker, considered one of the first books on Strategy, should be included here.

    I have long way to go in finishing the list. How many have you guys read? If you have any other suggestions do provide your feedback.

    Aussie Currency and Education Costs

    The Australian Currency (Wikipedia) has been on a upswing from the past 3 years and has gained 50% in the last 3 years against the US dollar while making it dearer to all the international students. This has an adverse effect of "exchange rate" increase in the cost of education in Australia.

    In comparison, the Indian rupee (INR) has been gaining against the American dollar (USD) but not as much as the Australian Dollar (AUD). Hence, for students from India it has become costlier to study in Australia as a large part of the education costs are funded by bank loans or savings in Indian rupees.

    Students from China, which has its Yuan (CNY) pegged to the US Dollar at 8.3 for the past decade, are also facing similar problems.

    Indian and Chinese students represent the largest group of International students to Australia.

    As a recent Blommberg survey shows :

    Australia's dollar is poised to end a three-year rally, its longest winning streak since the currency was allowed to trade freely in 1983, because international demand for the country's bonds is likely to slow.

    The Bloomberg survey also shows that traders and investors are expecting the Australian domestic economy to slow in this year which will further help in cutting down the exchange rate of the Australian Dollar. Most of them are predicting the Australian Dollar to reach 70 cents to a Dollar from the current high of 78 cents.

    There are some who speculate that it will be the other way around and that the AUD will reach 83 cents to a USD. Only time will tell, but the importers and international students in Australia will hope that AUD will fall from its present highs and make it easier to buy cars while studying in Australia.

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    SEO - The New PR

    Are the MBA programs keeping up with the change?

    Seth Godin points to Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Watch :

    “Search marketing is more than buying ads -- SEO is the search world's equivalent to public relations. It also doesn't mean that you have to link spam, comment spam or content spam. Content-driven SEO -- I'm writing more about this next week -- is something anyone should be considering.

    You can have all the great content you want. Neglect some basic things to make your site search engine friendly, and you aren't getting in. It's like saying that you need never reach out to the press, they'll just somehow magically discover you've launched a new product, done something interesting. Search engines are better at discover, but outreach still helps -- SEO is that type of outreach.”

    Seth adds his two points :

    First, the entire Search Engine community is now more important than it was a year ago. [Second ]Today, it’s different. The bar is higher. People have figured out how to make online offers that work.

    Now coming to the point. Does the MBA curriculum contain books by Seth Godin, teach us about PR, blogging, Ad Words, SEO, Social Networking. Are the MBA programs adapting to change?

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005


    IDP is a not-for-profit education consultancy institution which is owned by 38 Australian Universities to promote Australian education around the world and provide related services to the prospective students.

    IDP informed in Dec, 2004 that they are facing severe cash-flows amounting to almost A$3.6 million. One of the decisions the board of IDP was to remove 60 of its employees in Australia and the rest of the world to help in this crisis.

    John Hilvert was one of the them. Rather than getting depressed and sit at home, he saw change as an opportunity and started XIDP. A network for ex-IDP employees.

    This is what John says :
    About XIDP: "On 9 December IDP conducted some 60 or more extreme salary reviews 'to reinvigorate the network.' Some one in four of IDP's Australia staff and seven country offices and their services terminated, effectively within a few hours of their notice.

    I'm over denial and flirting with anger. What I craved was a site and forum to reach out to all other staff and let them know change=opportunity.

    The point of is to keep the spirit of fun, adventure and professionalism alive with former idp staff. xidp is designed to provide networking and general support for those that would like to retain the global collegiate spirit that characterises the world class company."
    In a short while, John has built a team of XIDPers working on the project. 70 XIDPers have joined the network. The network provides latest news, views on IDP, international education trends, suggestions for Australia. It also provides jobs for XIDPers through the XIDP Body Shop. This is great way to look at an crisis and create a opportunity out of it. We need to also remember the power of the Internet and content management software to aid the human spirit in making things happen.

    Write your own story

    Courage, imagination, dissatisfaction, and willingness to make a commitment to yourself. If you have these four qualities, your future story is waiting to be written. Leave it unwritten, or let others write it for you, and you will merely get to where you are already headed. Write your own story, and you just might find you're on your way to What Could Be.

    URL : Dave Pollard

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    I'm Not From Here

    For International students, moving to a new city is always a tough exercise. Leaving your roots, friends and family and moving for many years is a decision which requires a lot of strength.

    It would be so much easier if we could make some friends, contact people living in that city, know more about life there before we even shift to the city. Once we reach the new place we will need help for accomodation, jobs, utitlity services, medical services, banking etc...and if we could find a guide(s) to show us the way it will make settling into the new place a lot easier.

    Dave Pollard points to this websites I'm Not From Here.

    "This is the website for the 'Transplants' group. We're a social group for professionals, ages 20's - early 50's, single or married, who have moved into a new city and want to build a circle of friends and a sense of community in their new city. (And you can join even if you're a native of the city where you live.)"

    I am exploring the option of starting this service in Adelaide. I am sure this would be a useful service to many people. What do you guys think?

    Any ideas on how to make yourself comfortable in a new city?

    Sunday, January 23, 2005

    Networking Using Blogs

    One of the strong points of doing an MBA is networking. But, how does networking happen? How passive and active should we be? How direct or indirect? When? Where?. The online world makes it easier to make networking happen early and fast.

    Social Networking using sites is one of the ways that I mentioned before. The other way is to through blogging. Find the bloggers in a particular field that you are looking at. This could be a research area (social software), community (bottom of the pyramid), geography (moving to Australia) or business networking (web services).

    Anita Campbell provides an example :
    Oh, and if you needed any further evidence of the networking power of blogs, how's this: Paul Woodhouse of The Tinbasher blog in the U.K. attended the session! He is in the process of relocating to the U.S., and through blogging, a number of us were already acquainted with him. So when he came thousands of miles to a foreign country, he already had a ready-made group of business contacts. That's networking!
    So for all the MBAs and would be MBAs, start blogging and start connecting. It is one of easiest ways to know people and let others know about you.

    Saturday, January 22, 2005

    Global MBA rankings 2005

    The latest MBA rankings from FT are here.

    First, the winners.
    1. Harvard
    2. Wharton
    3. Columbia
    4. Stanford
    5. London Business School
    In Australia, it is back to the tradional favourities.
    • Melbourne Business School Rank 63 (72)
    • AGSM Rank 84 (53)
    Interestingly, MBS improved its rankings and AGSM slid almost 30 levels. And, QUT which was 84th the last time, is out of the Top 100.

    No universities from India.

    And China as it has been doing in many fields from business, to politics, to olympics, to now tennis has also been growing in the MBA lists. China boasts of 3 universities in the Top 100. Considering that 2 are from hongkong it is still a decent achievement.

    The Country list.
    • Australia 2
    • Belgium 1
    • Brazil 1
    • Canada 7
    • China 3
    • France 3
    • Germany 1
    • Ireland 2
    • Italy 1
    • Mexico 3
    • Netherlands 1
    • Singapore 1 (INSEAD)
    • South Africa 1
    • Spain 3
    • Switzerland 1
    • UK 14
    • USA 55
    The rankings in PDF.

    Friday, January 21, 2005

    Aussie MBA Queries

    I received a set of questions in my e-mail box today from one of the readers of this blog. I should say that they are questions which should trouble all international aspirants to a MBA in Australia. I am posting the questions and my replies to that here.

    1) MBS and AGSM seem to be the better known schools in Australia... what was your rationale behind choosing UniSA and QUT over these and also of finally choosing UniSA over QUT? You had mentioned somewhere about the cost factor. That is very important to me too, but what about the ROI?

    Two reasons. One, I preferred a two year MBA and two, at a reasonable cost. AGSM and MBS did not fit in this category. Monash too is very good again costly.

    Now, if you leave these Universities the next tier which consists of 7-8 universities like Queensland University of technology or QUT, RMIT, UNSW, University of South Australia or UniSA, University of Queensland and some others are almost equal. This I believe is for a couple of reasons.

    All these universities are very young. May be 12 yrs at the most. Except AGSM and MBS. Next, the australia government maintains high standards for their education and all the universities need to follow them.

    UniSA provides me a 2 yr MBA at AUD 27,000 in a city like Adeliade where the cost of living is the lowest of all the cities in Australia. QUT has a 2 yr program but is costly. I did try for the scholarship but lost it by 2 points. If I did get the scholarship I would have opted for QUT. The sweetner there was that cousin and her family are Australia citizens and are located in Brisbane.

    Coming to ROI, one of the reasons for selecting Australia was that the VISA process is easy. I mean the student visa. Also, since I am married, Australia is flexible in providing visa for spouses, unlike the US. They understand that married people cannot be separated for many years. To add to this, a student can work part-time while studying and a spouse of a masters student can work full-time. My estimates are that this combination should help me in cutting down a major portion of my overall costs.

    This means that since my costs are low, my ROI can be easily high with a modest salary.

    To reiterate, I believe in the following :

    The MBA is not an end, it is a small part of a bigger journey which you have started and it is a tool which will help you "live that journey better".

    Hence, I am not worried about my immediate salaries. If I can pay my loans and live decently I will be happy. Again, this is my personal opinion. Yours could be different.

    2) I've heard that unlike the schools in India, b-schools in Australia don't provide campus recruitment facilities, but do you have any statistics on placements (like avg. salary, no. of job offers, companies, etc.)? How is the job market out there for lateral placements after mba?

    AGSM, MBS provides campus placements. The rest of the colleges are starting now or not doing it. I think the reason for this is that Australian MBAs are structured for part-timers. If you check out the profiles in QUT and UniSA, you can see that 70% of students are in the part-time MBA and not in the fulltime. In fact my guess is that
    fulltime MBA are mostly international students. Hence, the universities are not geared for placements.

    For example, UniSA has all its classes scheduled (PDF) between 6-9 in the evening on all the weekdays for the entire two years. This just goes to show the importance of the part-time MBA. QUT has a similar structure matching the rest of the Australia Universities.

    On the question of statistics. Again these are tough to find for the reason stated above. But, AGSM and MBS again provide good placement services. The average salaries are around AUD 90,000 p.a. which is a lot. But the reason is because of part-time MBA and the best people in Australia go there.

    My guess is that the colleges like UniSA and QUT can provide jobs between AUD 45,000 to AUD 60,000.

    In terms of the job market, it is tough. The market is not very open for Asians in management roles. Of course if you are good nobody can stop you. The other important point is that the job visas are tough to come by.

    This leads to the next question.

    3) What is the value of an australian mba outside Australia?

    The MBA programs of Australia are not very well known outside Australia. AGSM and MBS again stand out. However, the universities have been aggressive in the asian markets in the last 5 yrs hence, in the next 2-3 yrs things will change which will most likely coincide with the class of 2007 passing out. (people like me!)

    For example, University of South Australia or UniSA provides its MBA program in various countries.

    From the UniSA website :
    Various options for study (listed in the menu left under Programs)are offered in Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia,Thailand and Switzerland, making the IGSB one of Australia's largest and innovative business schools.
    They even have a MBA in Chinese! All these students passing out from various countries would make the MBA popular.

    In terms of its value in India, again the second-tier schools are doubtful. Frankly, I am not worried about this. Even after a 2 yr MBA if I have to worry about a job, then I better not spend the money on a MBA.

    4) In both UniSA as well as QUT, admissions are purely on the basis of application. Interview is not a part of the admission process. Whereas in most good b-schools the final admission offer is given only after a personal/telephonic interview with the candidate. Is it possible to evaluate a candidate's potential to undergo business studies without any verbal interaction? (I have my reservations on this). Moreover in QUT, they don't even ask for any statements of personal objectives/essays and references. Doesn't such a scaled down admission process somehow dilute the quality and raise a question mark about the worth of the institute?

    I think it is a learning curve. One of the problems is that we try to guage the Australia MBA market with the US. The market is very different here. The MBAs are more local in the sense that apart from the students to the top MBAs everybody else studies in the universities in their city. This is for a couple of reasons. a) Part-time MBAs b) the general quality of the second-tier MBAs are pretty much the same.

    If this is the case, then most of the students visit the universities and then join the program.

    In my case I met both UniSA and QUT professors in India and that was one of the reasons for getting the offers easily. It does matter and the universities know it.

    My explanation for not following it for the international students is that - they are learning. Slowly, in the past few years the MBAs in Australia are getting competitive. They will soon adopt best practices from the rest of the world.

    The average experience of the students is 5+yrs hence we should not worry about quality. Also, a good friend of mine provide me a good insight into the part-time logic. The large number of part-time MBAs means a vibrant job market. People do not want to leave their jobs and study.

    This is a good sign. More people would go for fulltime MBAs if the job market is bad. Hence, we should not worry about the quality of the students.

    5) Finally, do you know or have interacted with anyone from any of these schools to get a first hand info?

    Yes, I have met the professors at both the universities. I can say that it was a good meeting. It is very tough to say much in such short meetings. I did interact with many students from various universities and all of them are happy with the education standards.

    If the readers can provide any feedback I would love to hear it and if there is more information needed, I would be happy to share (considering I know that). Please leave a comment below.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    To Live, To Love and To Leave a Legacy

    To be successful you need to get things done. To get things done you need to know what to do, what not to do, when to do and how to do it. Prioritizing and planning both play an important role.

    One of good things about this whole MBA business is that it gets you thinking about organizing life. In the past few months as I have been planning on my MBA program I have also been spending time organizing my life. I have been asking the tough questions as to what is important to me and why? I am trying to understand what is that I like and how to work more in those areas.

    I have started by observing the thinks I do. For example, on my bloglines RSS reader I looked at the feeds that I have subscribed to. I strated seeing a lot of feeds related to the social software field. Without actually planning I have been involved in this field. This infact was consistent with the non-job activities that I performed in the last year. Blogging, Yahoo groups, Information portals, Wikis, Collaboration tools etc. And it struck me how much I liked this field. I read the people in this field on a regular basis and loved the things that they were doing.

    The next step was figuring out my main passion "rural development". My weblog,, has been a pioneer in the small Indian blog world concentrating exclusively on rural India. The blog acted as a knowledge base, a networking tool and created my online identity. The biggest benefit has been that after working and thinking about the field of rural development coupled with my love for business it made me realize my lifelong goal.

    "To create products and/or services to the bottom of the pyramid and enhancing their ability to live a fuller life."

    To actionate this process I created a new category called the Green Pyramid on my blog which will drive this project.

    The third passion for me has been "manufacturing", more specifically automobile manufacturing. I love the whole idea of creating products, products which can make life easier, better, happier. The other aspect of manufacturing that I like the most is Deming and his quality revolution. I am not sure how I am going to be part of this industry but I will always keep my ideas and options open. One of the opportunities in this field is that my MBA program will be conducted in the city of Adelaide. Of other things, Adelaide is the capital of the manufacturing industry in australia, especially Automobile manufacturing. Thats' some coincidence which can help.

    The fourth passion is education. For a lot of years I have been thinking about education. Education is I believe a very impotant aspect for a human being. The ability to read, write, talk, listen, understand, communicate, argue, think, and create will help people in appreciating life and ultimately make life more meaningful to each one. Luckily, I have been married to a wonderful person who has selected teaching as her profession. This has enabled me to be in touch with "education" on a consistent basis. Education will be one field I will try to make a difference in.

    To live my passions I will need to be self-aware, calm, strong willed, clear thoughts and empathize with the people in the world. The teachings of the Buddha provide me hope that here is a program for living life better. The four noble truths and the eight fold path provide guidelines on how I can lead my life. I call myself a Buddhist from now on.

    In all this, people become the most important aspect. The people I love, the people I like, the people who have influenced me, the people whom I have influenced, the joys and sorrows that I have shared, the friendships that I have fostered, the relationships that I have created...the connections between the various dots that I have been able to create and nurture, ultimately will determine if I am living life to the fullest.

    The vehicle that I have chosen for this is Entrepreneurship. It provides me the satisfaction, the experience and the control to live the life I want to.

    The actions and consequences that I create around my passions and the relationships that I create and nurture will determine my legacy, if there will be one.

    * To Live, To Love and To Leave a Legacy has been first used by Stephen R. Covey.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2005


    The University of South Australia or better known as UniSA has been pioneering online education for sometime now in Australia. It has been on the forefront of using the latest technologies to the use of the students and staff at the university. Now, UniSA launches a new portal called MyUniSA. reports :

    The University of South Australia has incorporated a new online portal that aims to help students manage their time better so that they can keep organised and therefore reach higher performances with their courses.

    MyUniSA has been created in-house at the University over the last six months and allows students to manage information such as emails, results, timetables, enrolment details, library loans, Internet and print quotas and their financial status.

    It has unified all of these information sources, which students previously could only access separately. Now, however, they can access all of this information on the MyUniSA portal from anywhere in the world.

    Richard Lamb, the leader of the MyUniSA portal design team, said that the system was developed after ideas were discussed with thousands of students
    Technology needs to be used to make things easier, better, faster and cheaper for people. Initiatives like these will go a long way in boosting productivity all round.

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Social Networking for Jobs

    I pointed out the other day why blogging can be a good way to build your online reputation which can trickle down in the off-line word in the form of a JOB!

    Today, I have come across posts about how PeopleSoft employees are flocking to LinkedIn.

    If you are not familiar with LinkedIn, let me give you a primer on social networking, the phenomenon under which LinkedIn belongs to. For everybody else, you can skip this part.

    We all are connected. Call it the six degrees of seperation. How are we connected to another person? Due to a commonality between the both of us. You can call it friendship, classmate, colleague, neighbour, a particular sport, poetry, a hobby, common geography, ethinicity etc (you get the idea). These are called 'relationships'. The whole idea of social networking is to map the connections between people and understand their relationships.

    What is a Social Network?
    A social network is a map of the relationships between individuals, indicating the ways in which they are connected through various social familiarities ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. The analysis of social networks (sometimes called network theory) has emerged as a key technique in modern sociology, anthropology and organizational studies, as well as a popular topic of speculation and study. Research in a number of academic fields have demonstrated that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.
    One of the more famous applications of social network theory is the idea of Online Social Networking. The internet has made is easier to make social networking possible in myraid different ways faster than anytime before in history. These social networking sites in various different functionality, Friendship, business, dating, even marraige introductions in India.

    Judith Meskill has a meta list of social networking sites available in the world. He has divided them (for now!) into 9 different categories - business; common interest; dating; face-to-face meeting facilitation; friend; MoSoSo (Mobile Social Software); pet; photo; and ‘edge’ cases or social networking ‘plus’ sites.

    I would add to this list marraige networking sites like and in India.

    And, hold your breath he lists some 380 sites after 56 updates. Wow!

    [If you are interested to know more you can check out this piece by Danah Boyd, Friendster and Publicly Articulated Social Networking ]

    LinkedIn is one of the more professional oriented social networking sites available today. Connect to me through LinkedIn. Now, coming to the peoplesoft story.

    Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL - News) today announced that its PeopleSoft integration plan is proceeding on schedule and that it will be reducing the size of its combined workforce to 50,000, a reduction of approximately 5,000. Notifications at PeopleSoft and Oracle began today and a majority will be completed over the next ten days.
    Chiara Fox reports that employees in Peoplesoft are flocking to LinkedIn.

    Everyone at PeopleSoft is going a bit nuts with getting their networks up-to-date and whatnot. Not surprising since it's a little more than a month until the axe drops upon most folks here. Invitations to LinkedIn are flying around like nobody's business.

    I figured since tomorrow is my last day here, I might as well join the fray and get as much info up-to-date as well. There are way more folks that I know on LinkedIn than I was aware of. So, yes, you are prolly getting a "please add me to your network" email from me. If you don't, please feel free to send me one. It is mostly likely due to my eyes blurring at the screen and just not seeing your name.

    It's kinda fun (in that ego stroking way) to see how many connections you can collect.

    Joi Ito picks this up and does his own small research and has a surprising finding.
    If you search for PeopleSoft employees who have joined in the last 30 days, you get over 3,700 results. There are 5,500 or so employees listed in total which is around half of their employees. It probably has something to do with the fact that 6,000 PeopleSoft employees are supposed to get the axe today.
    Ross Mayfield catches this and blogs that "Socialtext is looking for good people, I might add. Engineers, designers, sales and customer support. Just contact me through LinkedIn."

    Not to be left behind Jeff Nolan of SAP Ventures posts on his blog that he needs some experienced IT guys.

    If you are a sales or marketing executive at PeopleSoft, I want to hear from you. We have several portfolio companies that are aggressively building out their sales and marketing organizations and we need people with your experience.

    I also have some companies that need senior management in services and engineering, as well as one company (manufacturing software) that I need a CEO for.

    Email me and I'll make sure to connect you with an opportunity.

    Brad Feld, a VC at Mobius, pitches in.

    Jeff Nolan beat me to it with his “Attn PeopleSoft Employees” post, but he’s right on the mark. Given Oracle’s announcement that they are laying off 5,000 people today, a lot of experienced IT folks will be hitting the streets in the next few weeks. Like SAP Ventures, we’ve got a number of enterprise software companies that would love to talk to experienced sales, marketing, and engineering ex-PeopleSoft folks.

    Email me if you are ex-PeopleSoft and are looking for a new gig and I’ll hook you up with some of our relevant companies.

    If you are still with me, you would realize the importance of social networking and blogging. Are your connecting!

    Update :

    LinkedIn has started a new service, LinkedIn Jobs. Apart from the normal job services, it provides your relationship link to the person who posted the job. This makes it easier for job seekers to connect to the employer and the employer to find qualified candidates.

    Update :

    Social Networking as CRM tool from

    For the test I selected 30 sales executives I wanted to interview, and using LinkedIn I asked my network members to facilitate an introduction to these people I had never met. In following up with these individuals I was able to convince 18 of them to help me with my project. It equates to a 60 percent hit rate--compared with results from cold calling, this is very impressive.

    Line56 provides examples of social networking.

    Ask Mike Cleland, a VP at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, who just recently was trying to get the right contact at a big semiconductor company. Cleland talked to colleagues about the issue but still couldn't find the right contact. Then he turned to Web-based software from a company called Spoke and found a way to penetrate the account.

    At the time, CGE&Y was piloting a relationship networking application from Palo Alto-based Spoke with a group of 40 employees on the West Coast. The system is pretty simple. You select folders -- for example, e-mail inboxes and contact lists -- on your desktop and choose to have them made searchable by the system. In Cleland's case, he typed in the name of a potential contact at the semiconductor company and found out that a CGE&Y colleague knew the person. "Up pops this relationship with the guy in the office next to me," Cleland relates.


    LinkedIn works at an earlier business development level. The idea is to establish your own social network, at LinkedIn, where you create a profile and enter contacts whom you can then choose to share with others across your network. The network itself reflects the "six degrees of separation" concept. If you have several people in your network, you can theoretically reach millions of others -- contacts of contacts to the nth degree.

    However, LinkedIn's contention is that just reaching others is not enough. The site is based on the idea of referrals, in which a contact recommends you to one of their contacts in an ongoing chain. This personal touch goes some distance towards solving the one-to-many relationship problem inherent in business as well as in life.

    More links from Line 56.

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Entrepreneurship and Social Wealth Creation : New Elective in Wharton

    Entrepreneurship and Social Wealth Creation

    : The basic thesis of this elective half-semester course is that many social problems, if engaged entrepreneurially, create opportunities for launching businesses that simultaneously generate profits and alleviate the social problem. This approach generates social wealth as well as entrepreneurial wealth. The course is distinguished from public sector initiatives to address social problems, and also from “social entrepreneurship” programs where social wealth creation is a by-product rather than the target of the entrepreneurial effort. Students are expected to begin the course with already conceived ideas for entrepreneurial solutions to social problems.

    Lecture, discussion, live case studies (presentations of students own work)
    Requirements: Classroom participation, interim assignments, final business plan
    Prerequisites: MGMT801 strongly recommended.
    Materials: Coursepack and recommended textbook.

    "Life is short. How can I make a difference?"

    I have always believed that to solve the big social problems in the world we need the best brains in the world to work on them. The MBA degree attracts some of the best performers from various fields. And MBA graduates are one with knowledge, experience, networks and ofcourse money.

    Business Week writes about the growing awareness in business schools and students all over the world about the need for being socially responsible.

    The beginning of the new year is a good time to reflect on one of the more encouraging trends in business education: The growing numbers of MBA students who are embracing a socially responsible philosophy similar to Bayard's. Taking their cue from the September 11 terrorist attacks and the corporate scandals of recent years, many MBAs are looking to do more than just make money in the business world. They're working or volunteering for nonprofit organizatons, or seeking jobs at companies with a social mission -- such as Patagonia, a maker of outdoor gear and a supporter of environmental causes, or Target, which sponsors affiliated charities.

    The shift in attitudes is having a big effect in the classroom. The nonprofit sector, once seen as a backwater by many MBA students, is enjoying soaring new interest. In the last five years, applications to BU's Public & Nonprofit Management program have doubled, McCormack says.

    At other schools, students are pushing for a new emphasis on social responsibility and ethics. The Net Impact chapter at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School was vital to getting faculty approval for the spring 2005 course, Entrepreneurship and Social Wealth Generation, where students will help develop businesses plans that address a social problem. And around 45% of U.S. B-schools, up from 34% in 2001, require students to take one or more courses in ethics, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, or business and society, says advocacy group Beyond Grey Pinstripes.

    MBA students are also doing more charitable work. At the Yale School of Management, second-year student Colleen Curry, who oversees the pro-bono consulting program, says her classmates are seeking the "double bottom line" -- making both a difference and a profit.

    A few B-schools are emerging as leaders in integrating social responsibility into their programs. Beyond Grey Pinstripes analyzed MBA curriculum in a 2003 study and found that 6 of 100 B-schools surveyed -- George Washington University, Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Yale, and York University'sSchulich School of Business in Canada -- are tops at integrating social issues into courses, offering relevant extracurricular activities and supporting faculty research on relevant subjects.
    To profit, to make a difference and to make the world green - The triple bottomline.

    Looking for a Job.....Start Blogging!

    Networking is an important part in getting work done. Especially for a MBA graduateو networking is important in getting recommendations, jobs and career progress.

    While browsing through my favourite RSS aggregator, Bloglines, I chanced upon Ton's recommendation for Paul Goodison. There were two other recommendations for Paul!. And this is the result of blogging.

    Paul J Goodison B.A. (Hons), PGCE, QTS, ACIM is looking for a new workplace starting from February 11th 2005.

    So, I am looking, ideally a strategic role, in either marketing or knowledge management and possibly with connections to Internet technologies (websites, software, hardware) but definetely something that allows me to use my considerable experience of taking ideas / products from inception through business case, design (particularly customer experience and process) and implementation. Ideally based within less than an hour of Farnborough in Hampshire, UK although willing to relocate if the right role is available.

    I have been in blogging and e-mail contact with Paul for a long time now and appreciate his thinking and perspectives. I missed out on meeting him on BlogWalk 4 in London last September, but hope that that will be remedied this year.

    If you are looking for an experienced knowledge worker to bring products from the idea stage to implementation, then give Paul some thought. You can find his CV in both contemporary and traditional style on his site.

    Looking for more recommendations? Have a look at Martin Roell, and Johnnie Moore.

    If you have not started blogging yet, here is one more reason for strating now, and for those of you who are already blogging, keep going strong.

    Who Needs Harvard?

    Slates' Daniel Gross writes why big corporations are hiring fewer Ivy league students.

    Gross provides evidence of this from a recent paper by Peter Cappelli and Monika Hamori, both of the University of Pennsylvania. Capelli and Hamori compared the resumes of the top c-level executives (CEO, CFO, COO, CTO etc), division heads and senior vice-presidents at Fortune 100 companies in 1980 and 2001.

    The survey found that :

    Between 1980 and 2001, the percentage of top executives whose undergraduate degrees came from Ivy League schools fell by nearly a third from 14 percent to 10 percent. Others who paid through the nose for their sheepskins also lost ground. The percentage of top execs who attended private non-Ivy schools (Williams College, Notre Dame, Stanford, etc.) fell from 54 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who attended public universities soared from 32 percent to 48 percent. A similar dynamic was seen in graduate degrees as well: far fewer on a percentage basis from Ivy League schools and far more on a percentage basis from public universities.

    Daniel Gross provides the following explanation for this :

    Something has changed about the character of the student bodies at many Ivy League schools in recent decades. With the rising ability of the wealthy to smooth the path to admission by paying private-school tuition and hiring college advisers and SAT-prep tutors—and with college tuition far outpacing financial aid growth—rich kids are more likely to get in, and to attend, Ivy League schools than in the past.

    On a percentage basis, fewer Ivy League graduates than public school graduates today need to find stable, high-paying jobs at big companies. More of them can afford to traipse around Asia for a year or pursue a career in film-making. It could be that the already rich and comfortable are simply less interested in pursuing careers in large corporations than their less-comfortable public-school peers for purely economic reasons.

    This article was Slashdotted, some of the comments from there.

    From the Uva perspective, by Pavan Gupta :

    I can speak from the perspective of UVa out here in Virginia -- which was ranked as the #1 public school last year, and is tied for #2 this year with University of Michigan. #1 this year is UC Berkley, who trades spots with UVa every few years. (All these facts are courtesy of the worst ranking agent ever, US News and World Reports)

    Anyway, basically what I'm trying to say is that public schools are making huge headway into almost every important field. Berkley has the amazing engineering program that the best schools compete neck and neck with. Michigan has extremly competitive law, business, and medical schools. Virginia has #4 law program, the #12 business program, the #24 medical school, a top 5 commerce school (that puts out some of the best investment bankers in the world) -- etc, etc.

    Between the three top public institutions, every facet of higher education is relatively well covered from medicine to liberal arts to commerce to engineering. Today, wasting 50 grand a year on a Harvard education may still be worth it if you're not lucky enough to be living in Virginia, California or Michigan, but honestly -- the concept of building a network of connections and alumni support is well expressed in our public instituions today.

    Perhaps the biggest difference between a public school and a private schools is a fact that wikipedia expresses -- the endowments are huge for schools like Harvard and Yale. UVA had an endowment of 1.4 billion dollars, harvard had 22.6 billion, and yale was at 11 billion. Harvard is the second largest nonprofit after the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

    Those are the facts that set apart a university like Harvard from a UVA or a Berkley.

    Kardar ponders on Why Education? :

    I think the key is to seperate "education" from a "license to get a real job". There are two camps here, really two sides. Pursuing philosophy because you LOVE it, and it enraptures you and consumes you and becomes your life's passion... or computer science, or theoretical physics, or economics, or any other subject like that. Versus working hard to get a BS so that someone will hire you. Versus "you forget most of what you study anyway, it just proves to your employer that you are willing to work hard".

    When you focus objectively on the subject, when you do what is called "deep learning", when you really get into what you are studying, and actually get your brain working, thinking new ideas, coming up with new questions, trying to find new answers, you begin to experience the true value of education, which is, if you asked me, about learning the material, understanding the significance of astronomy or physics or ethics or philosophy or literature or art or film, or politics, economics, etc...

    I am from the camp that respects education because education is good in and of itself, intrinsically. I find education to be an end in and of itself, a way to improve yourself, question your place in society, learn more about the world you live in. I am not from the camp that feels that education is a "license" to get a job.

    Grey Poppon on this topic "Or are today's Ivy League graduates simply so wealthy that they no longer feel the need to find stable, high-paying jobs at big companies?"

    Or maybe it's the fact that there aren't any stable jobs at large companies anymore. Why spend the big bucks on the school when you'll have to change jobs every three years anyway. The article mentions it, but I can assure you that C-level executive positions usually last less than five years. The same is true for most other positions now, too.

    As I blogged on Data and Patterns :

    One key insight that emerged from Chistensen's exercise is that data and analysis revolve around the past, leaving us blind to the threats and opportunities of the future.

    The data which this paper provides is about graduates finished studying before 1990, it does not tell us anything about graduates passing out in 2005. This is something which our own pattern recognition abilities need to conclude upon!

    Saturday, January 15, 2005

    Intuition Vs. Analysis

    “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,"
    A sign in Albert Einstein's office.

    "Does comprehending the powers and perils of intuition matter?," notes the social psychologist David G. Myers, and concludes "I contend that it matters greatly."

    I concur with him. Intuition is a very powerful tool which everyone of us possess. Some can use it stronger than others but we all have it. Intuition helps us many a times, especially in crisis. When the left-brain stops functioning, it the right-brain which comes to our aid. Understanding its powers and its perils is important for us. To make useful decisions in our personal, social and business life we need to understand and differentiate the power of intuition and analysis and the ability to know when to use what.

    As James says "...the real challenge is figuring out which problems can be solved by rapid cognition and which are better solved by a calculating, rational approach."

    Like the case I made for Data and Patterns, it is equally important to understand Intuition and Analysis.

    I have been noticing the book, "Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is a respected author because he has written one of the good books in the past few years, The Tipping Point. This is a book which is worth reading twice, thrice and more. A lot of good ideas and lessons to be learned from this book.

    I have not read Blink yet. However, I have come across a review of the book by David Brooks in the NY Times and a e-mail exchange between Gladwell and James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds on the subject What Do We Mean When We Talk About Intuition? in Slate.

    “Intuitive thinking is perception-like, rapid, effortless," notes Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman. By contrast, “deliberate thinking is reasoning-like, critical, and analytic."

    Lets look at the arguments put forth by Brooks, Surowiecki and Gladwell and look at what we can learn from them. We will also touch upon the wisdom of David G. Myers from his book, Intuition : Its Power and Peril.

    Myers provides a list of valuable quotes on intuition and analysis from various historic figures in his book which I will sprinkle in this post. You can find his book on Amazon or read it online.

    What is Intuition? (from Myers and Webster)

    Intuition is our capacity for direct knowledge, for immediate insight without observation or reason. “Intuitive thinking is perception-like, rapid, effortless," notes Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman. By contrast, “deliberate thinking is reasoning-like, critical, and analytic."

    What is Blink all about, David Brooks in the New York times gives his impressions.

    THERE is in all of our brains, Gladwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will subconsciously. Through this process we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions, even in the first two seconds of seeing something. '' 'Blink' is a book about those first two seconds,'' Gladwell writes.

    Gladwell says we are thin-slicing all the time -- when we go on a date, meet a prospective employee, judge any situation. We take a small portion of a person or problem and extrapolate amazingly well about the whole.

    ''We are innately suspicious of this kind of rapid cognition,'' Gladwell observes. We assume that long, methodical investigation yields more reliable conclusions than a snap judgment. But in fact, ''decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.''

    MY first impression of ''Blink'' -- in blurb-speak -- was ''Fascinating! Eye-Opening! Important!'' Unfortunately, my brain, like yours, has more than just a thin-slicing side. It also has that thick-slicing side. The thick-slicing side wants more than a series of remarkable anecdotes. It wants a comprehensive theory of the whole. It wants to know how all the different bits of information fit together.

    Gladwell and Surowiecki provide a insightful discussion on Slate and create a format for understanding the various forms and ways of decision making.

    James Surowiecki notes that "Blink is a book about the phenomenon you call "thin-slicing," which is "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and people based on very narrow 'slices' of experience." His main contention is the idea that rapid cognition is often as good as more careful deliberation.

    James quotes Van Piper "When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision-making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance," This suggests that the real challenge is figuring out which problems can be solved by rapid cognition and which are better solved by a calculating, rational approach. So, the questions I'll start with are: First, is thin-slicing really how decisions get made in complex environments? And second, and more important, if it is, can we really count on it to reliably produce good decisions?

    Malcolm challenges the assumptions of James in 'The Wisdom of Crowds' about collective decision making. He says "The first is that you are explicitly challenging what might be called the Standard Model of decision-making. We have an awful lot invested, as a culture, in the notion that the best results in complex environments come from centralizing authority in the hands of a single, highly expert, and deliberative individual. But that, you would argue, is wrong. We're actually better off decentralizing decision-making into the hands of the many—even if they are relatively nonexpert and even if their decision-making process is much less deliberate."

    He continues :

    One of the key arguments in my book is that human beings think in two very different ways. Sometimes we consciously and carefully gather all facts, trationally sort through them, and draw what we take to be a rational conclusion (the Standard Model). And sometimes we reach conclusions unconsciously—our mind quickly and silently sorts through the available information and draws an immediate judgment, which may be done so quickly and so far below the level of awareness that we may have no understanding of where our conclusions came from. I call this Rapid Cognition.

    Malcolm now breaks the argument into the various ways of decision making. The collective or distributed model, the individual, rapid cognition and standard model or deliberate decision making.

    James expounds the virtues of group decision making and at the same time lists the appropriate places where it makes sense not to use this kind of decision making.

    NASA, for instance, recently ran an online experiment called "clickworkers" to test whether the collective judgment of ordinary people would be of any use finding and classifying craters on Mars. You could go to the site, get trained (for a couple of hours, I think), and then click away. The result, in NASA's words: "the automatically computed consensus of a large number of clickworkers is virtually indistinguishable from the inputs of a geologist with years of experience in identifying Mars craters." And these people weren't even being paid.

    Why does this work? The key is that even though each person in the group is making mistakes (often, lots of them), as long as the group is large enough and diverse enough, the errors people make effectively cancel themselves out. And what remains, remarkably often, is the information you're looking for. This sounds—at least to some people—implausible, or pseudo-mystical, or both. But, as you mention, in my book there are myriad examples of this phenomenon at work, solving problems from the simple (guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar) to the mindbogglingly complex (finding a lost submarine on the basis of a few fragments of information).

    You're right, though, that "nonexperts groups" aren't always better than expert individuals. In the first place, in some cases—like situations where decisions need to be made in a matter of seconds—collective decision-making is impractical. Other situations—like flying a plane or performing surgery—seem to be tailored pretty well to individuals. More important, there are problems where you need to know a lot just to understand the question you're trying to answer. In those cases, relying on a group of laypeople may be futile.

    What's important, though, is that even in those situations where expert knowledge seems necessary, you're better off relying on the judgment of a group of experts rather than a single expert, no matter how brilliant.

    James states two reasons on why relying on single individuals is not correct.

  • True experts—that is, the real titans—are surprisingly hard to identify.
  • The second, and more important, problem is that even brilliant experts have biases and blind spots, and so they make mistakes.

    James sees Blink and Wisdom..on the same page. "Blink and The Wisdom of Crowds intersect quite nicely. A lot of your book, as I said, is about how biases and prejudices and inexperience can lead us astray when we rely on rapid cognition. My book suggests that in lots of cases, if you aggregate those flawed judgments, you can get rid of the flaws and keep the benefits of rapid cognition."

    James believes that since we spend more time on the information available in the Standard model of decision making there are more chances of recognising our mistakes and taking a better decision. Malcolm thinks "that it's very hard—even within the most formal decision-making structures—to separate out the influence of unconscious final point in this round would simply be that there are good ways of fixing the individual decision-maker as well. We can put up the equivalent of screens. We can find ways of editing out nonessential information."

    Malcolm makes this very important point that more information is not always better and that, no matter what, there are essentially blind spots and biases within every individual and this can cause wring decisions whether it is a spontaneous decision or a deliberate decision. The best way to solve this problem is to provide screens or help to sort out the "useless information". James questions this exact same thing. He thinks that to realise which information is central to the outcome of a decision and which is irrelevant is not an easy one and "It often requires the careful study of data to see what factors are and aren't correlated with each other, and it requires an analytic approach that seems to belong more to the Standard Model."

    “The first principle," said Einstein's fellow physicist Richard Feynman, “is that you must not fool yourself---and you are the easiest person to fool."

    James beleives that this is the deep paradox of Blink, which is that successfull rapid congnition requires a well-defined rules or structure to guide the people using it. In other words, "we need a structure for spontaneity". The other important aspect of thin-slicing is that it requires self-awareness.

    I am more skeptical, though, of the idea that everyone can learn to thin-slice consistently well, and that therefore it's a good idea for most people to rely on rapid cognition. When I look at the kinds of experts you write about—from firefighters to art critics to George Soros—I'm struck by two things: First, these people have spent an enormous amount of time working in their given fields; and second, I think they're probably naturally exceptional at pattern recognition. I'm just not sure that most people, even with more experience and even with the right structures in place, are going to make consistently better decisions via rapid cognition. In fact, as you point out, there are some situations in which it isn't even clear you want individuals making decisions: Cook County Hospital dramatically improved its record of distinguishing patients who were having heart attacks from patients who weren't by replacing the judgment of individual doctors with a simple algorithm.

    My doubts aren't about the virtues of thin-slicing. I've thought for a while now that one of the reasons why the collective decision-making mechanisms I write about in my book—like, for instance, betting markets—work well is that in part they aggregate intuitions and impressions that people can't necessarily articulate, but that are nonetheless real and valuable. That's why I think Blink and The Wisdom of Crowds really do fit together. My qualms, really, have to do with the idea that for most people, the combination of rapid cognition and individual decision-making does make it harder to spot potential pitfalls and to correct mistakes in time to make a difference. I'm sure the collective product of our rapid cognitive judgments will usually be excellent. But when it comes to the average individual, I still wonder.

    Malcolm concludes the discussion with saying that "In order to make for a successful snap judgment, you have to carefully and deliberately intervene in the decision-making environment."

    After all this have we come any further with understanding with decision making process? Yes and No. I have a deeper understanding of the decision making process. I understand that decisions can be made collectively, individually and can be instant or deliberate. We need to be more self-aware to be successfull in our snap decisions and at the sametime self-awareness builds up over a period of time and cannot be learnt quickly and successfully. In fact, structuring the process of data collection should help us in using our intuition. In the end, we all need help in our decision making process. And, in order to help others make better decisions (that is one of the jobs of the leader) we need to "carefully and deliberately intervene in the decision-making environment". However, I am nowhere near understanding where to use what type. For launching new products, for making organization changes, for revising the pay structure, for joining a MBA course, for trusting people and for varius other myraid thing I guess I have to learn through experience.

    Business, and life in general, is a series of choices. This involves decisions. To do or not to do. If yes, which one? Till what time? Where? How? When? Why?. As Drucker says, Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level and that not to take a decision is also a decision. In this scenario we will be better prepared if we are trained to use our intuition (using patterns) as well as critical analysis (using data) and hopefully be aware so as to gain the wisdom to use the right model in the right situation.

    Books listed in this post.

    Intuition Blink The Tipping Point The Wisdom of Crowds

  • Friday, January 14, 2005

    Study Abroad : 'experience of a lifetime'

    The Purdue Exponent on the experience of Purdue students who have participated in the study abroad program.

    Stefanie Tarman was another study abroad student who fell in love with her host city. Tarman, a senior in the College of Consumer and Family Sciences, studied in Adelaide, Australia, through an exchange program at the University of South Australia.

    "It was awesome, a really cool city to study in because it wasn’t too big," said Tarman.

    Leaving home was more intimidating for Tarman because she was one of the few Americans in the program, and the only one from Purdue. She decided to take studying abroad as a challenge.

    "It was a good time in my life to kind of get away," said Tarman. "So I figured I’d go for it."

    What she didn’t expect was to feel comfortable in her new setting so quickly. Tarman met a lot of people through her program and was able to travel to many memorable places like the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef and the Australian cities Sydney and Melbourne.