Tell us about your journey at IIM Kozhikode. How did you take forth the transformation of the institute?
During this past decade, I have been fortunate to be a part of IIM Kozhikode’s remarkable journey as it started coming of age and started counting among the top 4 B-Schools in the country, which is a mammoth achievement for a self-sustaining institution just 25 years young. My team and I believed that IIM Kozhikode can put away its geographical disadvantage by drawing the best brains of the country and offering them the best environment to grow and prosper. We already had a strong technical platform by means of being the first B-School in Asia to have a satellite based education programme back in 2002. We built it further and offered programmes to executives who were keen to learn the nuances of a quality MBA programme by bridging the technology gap and also dedicating a satellite Campus to the cause based out of Kochi in 2012. We also led the way in pioneering and introducing gender as well as academic diversity. We were the first to achieve gender parity way back in 2013, with PGP-17 recording more than 50% women MBA candidates and breaking the glass ceiling.
We did a repeat of the feat last academic year, making our intentions and aspirations loud and clear. We established India’s only Business Museum at IIMK in 2013. Our Journal IIMK Society and Management Review of which I was the founding editor in 2013 is now drawing serious worldwide attention as the only B-School journal to find a place in both ABC and ABDC lists. From being the first IIM to bag AMBA (UK) accreditation to now placing ourselves on the brink of global triple accreditation, IIM Kozhikode has always dared to go beyond the conventional. The best example being the introduction of Liberal Studies Management as a full time MBA, drawing rave reviews and exciting responses to the programme thereby initiating the multi-disciplinary approach recommended by NEP 2020.
We have also consciously chosen to think in terms of what IIM Kozhikode will be able to contribute to India and the world some three decades from now with ‘Vision 2047: Globalizing Indian Thought.’ The Institute has set for itself a pre-eminent role with the above motto. The sheer scale, scope and potential impact that India will have on 21st century business make us believe that this is a legitimate aspiration. We truly believe IIM Kozhikode’s mission is bigger than just disseminating academic or even professional courses. Our vision extends to those major challenges like infrastructure, healthcare, education, managing the aspirations of an ever-growing population with scarce resources. We truly wish to play our part in the creation of a new and resurgent India.
Your popular book Invisible Arjuna explores the lessons from ancient times. How did you get your inspiration to explore the epic and what were the top 3 teachings?
In Invincible Arjuna, I have attempted to list out the nine stages of a person’s life that make one a hero. We can easily apply each one of those nine lessons to our lives to become better professionals or “professional heroes,” so as to speak. As someone who interacts with scores of different professionals on a daily basis while imparting education and discharging my responsibilities as Director of an IIM, I can vouch for the fact that people have immense potential in them but are either not aware of it or do not know how to maximise that potential. There is a beautiful passage in the book that says, “A hero’s talent lies latent within the self. It sleeps within him as seeds of possibilities. When discovered and nurtured, the seeds grow and flower. This flowering of his talent is a hero’s true vocation… When a grain of corn falls on the earth and decides to remain a grain, its identity as a grain is lost over time. Yet, when the same grain decides to sacrifice itself to the soil, the grain becomes a seed and bears much fruit.” Through this book I have tried to convey the message to recap the fact that the journey to being the supreme or the best may not and will not always be easy, but is not impossible either. The onus lies on us!
India would simply be incomplete without its two epics – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. My inspiration to explore them in detail comes from childhood memories of the two being beautifully narrated by my grandmother. It has stayed with me since then. Both the accomplished works guide us through the ways that uplift our soul (self or Atman) to the greater self or Paramatma that is Him.
How different is it to head an educational institute in a country like Singapore, vis a vis in India?
Singapore is a mature economy. It has a fairly programmed, efficient and seamless work culture. Heading an institute in a country like Singapore gives you not only the advantage of working in a first-world context but also the ability to connect with a whole range and variety of people from multiple nations. For me, it was like having a global experience in a city. Unlike in India where you can count on the inefficiencies of your competitors to succeed, in Singapore the level of competition is very high and the tolerance for inefficiency is pretty low. So, one wanted to always be on one’s very best, not just to survive, but to flourish. I remember having persuaded the prime minister’s office in Singapore to rename a bus stop in the name of the school that I was heading rather than the condominium which the bus stop was named after. It happened almost overnight. This was possible not only because of my proximity to the then Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, whom I met in Harvard, but also because of Singapore’s way of doing things based on pragmatism and world-class efficiency.
A large number of educators and academic leaders have also benefited from your guidance. How do you guide them to follow the best practices in pedagogy?
Our endeavour towards learning has always been to provide greater flexibility and freedom to students that will enable them to think out of the box and re-define their skills and creative abilities. Having said so, the ability of learners to skilfully resolve problems cannot appear by itself but must be mentored and trained through the learning process that involves the application of the concepts taught. The current blended learning approach we have undertaken due to this unexpected crisis did not eliminate the role of creative teaching in the classroom. Instead, it takes a large group of students and breaks it down into more manageable chunks.
This way, we attempted for more creative lesson ideas to go through an iterative process. Our focus was also on developing the emotional quotient of the students as the current workplace is largely focussed on technical (hard) skills, with a need for those more equipped with emotional and creative intelligence. Recruiters very often make a mention of the lack of people skills, out-of-box thinking, and cultural sensitivity of the students. They have shared experiences where students were given a simple human-related issue to tackle which needed more emotional intelligence than anything else and how in tackling the issue, only a few students succeed. This clearly implies the need for exposure to courses non-quantitative in nature in addition to the quantitative ones. At IIMK we specifically work on imparting these skills through our MBA programme.
Please share something about your role at IMI Delhi, a first of its kind business school.
My role in IMI Delhi was that of Director General. I was in charge of three campuses: Delhi, Calcutta and Bhubaneshwar. So my role was pretty much taking on a fairly established school and turning it around in a way that it begins to deliver on the promise in which it was built. Firstly, I tried to highlight the international footprints of IMI by strengthening the ITEC programme which gave a steady stream of participants from several countries to the school. I also recruited some high quality faculty from across a spectrum of academic areas so that the quality of academic life was enhanced. I rebranded IMI not just as a Delhi school that catered to a handful of rich and affluent children, but as a national school with international footprints. We got our global accreditation from AMBA and we began to strengthen our new programmes in all three campuses. My idea was to integrate the three campuses of IMI as one unit so that IMI could serve as a brand. My year and a half in IMI was described by many faculties as the most stable, creative and productive experience they have had in the history of IMI and I am grateful to them for that.
What are the main aspects on which you guide corporate leaders and managers around the globe, and how have they changed after the pandemic?
It is very essential for them to appreciate that the future of their business will depend entirely on the quality of their actions in the present. The first step for them is to be conscious of an old mindset that they are carrying in their head about business as usual. Yet we can see that business as usual does not work anymore, just as the business school as usual does not work for me anymore. That is the old normal. The new normal post the pandemic is not sitting there like a target you have to hit. The new normal is what you create through your karma – your thoughtful and conscious action.
The new attitude that generation Z will bring to the enterprise will shift business thinking from consuming to caring. This will have an impact on consumption patterns. The new generation will see attitudes shifting from the egocentric managerial world towards a more eco-centric, purposeful business. Businesses will be a lot more accountable for carbon footprints they leave behind. Enterprises will be hauled up more for outsourcing the social and environmental cost of doing business and making money. Another attitudinal shift that will come about in organizations is the movement from the rigidity of structures and processes to flexibility and freedom to innovate. Leaders should give the graduates of the COVID-19 world the flexibility to manage their own time.
In times of uncertainty, the only way to grow is to accelerate the pace of learning. This requires an attitude of humility and an enduring belief that intelligence is not frozen but fluid in nature. Those with growth mindsets, according to Dweck, believe that intelligence can be enhanced with effort. In the times of uncertainty, those with a growth mindset will be the ones who would survive and thrive.
You have taught and done research at the prestigious Harvard University. How will you compare the research facilities there with those in Indian institutes?
Research is a part of the DNA of Ivy League schools. Harvard was not an exception. The physical knowledge and the intellectual infrastructure for research is already in place in a way that we still do not have in India. The research facilities and the funds for research at Harvard is incomparable not just with Indian but with most universities in the world. Billions of dollars worth of funding is available not just from Harvard’s own funds but from across the world because Harvard is the biggest educational brand that the world has. So they attract a lot of investors and research funds. We cannot compare any Indian school in that scale or scope of research funding. However, in terms of talent pool for research, India has got enough.
The only problem is that our research acumen has not been honed because we do not have a research culture in this country. Harvard has perfected a research culture and therefore research is a spontaneous part of the knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination process. In India, building research universities is only a recent phenomenon and the funding for this is not anywhere close to something that Harvard can give. However, given our new education policy and its thrust on research and interdisciplinary work, I do hope that our research and innovation will soon touch a new orbit going forward.
Please share with our young readers one success mantra that you prescribe for students.
If it is about just one specific trait that we are speaking about, I would say to the students to develop the art of listening! As Stephen Covey rightly says, “Most people do not listen with an intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”
In my new book ‘Karma Sutras’, I have argued that mature listening is the most powerful tool in leadership. The listener matures through three stages of listening: the factual, the intentional, and finally the transformational. Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, described transformational listeners as ‘shravakas’: they were people who would learn and seek enlightenment just by deep listening.” Listening was valued in the sacred traditions because it was synonymous with learning.
We learn more deeply through our ears than through our eyes. Our eyes only skim the surface of reality as a succession of forms. The eyes are very linear in their reception of images. While listening, we absorb information from multiple directions. That is why when we think deeply about something, we tend to close our eyes and listen more through our ears. Deep listening facilitates the flow of intelligence in communication by removing the physical, physiological and mental barriers that separate the speaker from the listener. If you are able to find your own voice amongst the chaos then you have set your own path to success.
The relation between the tongue and the ear is not like a mechanical relation between one organ of the body and another. It is not as though the tongue pours out information and the ear receives it. Leaders know that the purpose of listening is to create not eloquence but understanding.