Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brain Drain vs. Talent Spread

While in college, I had been hearing a lot of disappointment in media and in general discussions about brain drain. It was considered a loss for the nation that the best of our young minds from IITs chose to work overseas. Those days I was in college and didn't realize how work skills are built. But, I left nevertheless, like the others, for better pay.

Less than a decade later, I chose to come back permanently to India. Not just me, lot of the people I know of the same age group chose to come back to India. Some made the choice because of the economic situation. But, most were already planning for it. I had confirmed this in my numerous lunch conversations with different friends.

So, what people were fearing as brain drain, did not really end up as brain drain. Our best Young minds went abroad to build their skills and eventually come back and enrich India. All seemed good, until one day it dawned on me, that all the people who I knew to have planned and came back were in the IT or related industries!

For most of the people who returned, I could notice that they came back to roles which were not available until couple of years back in India. The gradual return of the best minds, over the years, made the IT industry more mature. The industry became more confident in handling the high end roles that were otherwise done in US - these were roles like the Solution Architects, Enterprise Architects, Domain Experts, Presales Consultants, etc.

But, all was not well. There were still some more who couldn't come back to India. Not because they didn't want to. For them the choice meant they had to retire from work. Because, they were the people who were in industries like Retail, Media, Fundamental Scientific Research, etc. For them, India didn't offer the same high end roles and pay that it offered to the IT guys. That triggered a thought, could it be that the problem initially was not brain drain. Could it be that the best of our Young minds only chose to become engineers and doctors? And even in engineering everyone was trying hard to get into IT. This meant that very few industries had the brightest of our people. Was this the reason those other non-IT industries couldn't achieve the level of maturity to provide high-end roles, the level of efficiency to afford high-pay roles?

What all this means, I felt, is something more profound than what brain drain could ever have been. It meant that the best kids who came out of schools and X+2 were making education choices that put most of them into only a specific type of industries. These kids probably had the best IQ, the best scores and probably the most attention of our education system. But this 'talent' never got spread into all the industries - the result, in most domestic industries, our performance is not even comparable to what most developed countries have.

Nothing made this lack of performance more apparent to me than the time I was researching for an article on Indian retail. Some of the best apparel retailers in India have inventory turns (a key metric of efficiency) of 3 for just moving goods over a stretch of 1200 Kms. Their counterparts in the US, move goods all the way from half across the world, over the most turbulent oceans, over countries that don't speak English and still manage all this at a very high level of efficiency (10-12 inventory turns - 3 times better than their Indian counterparts do). Obviously we can't claim that our roads are worse than the typhoons in pacific ocean. The only reason that occurred to me for this, was because the industry was not mature and this was probably because the people running those industries were not our brightest minds - the best of our talent never got to any of our domestic industries. There might be one or two people of such talent reaching the industry, but an industry level metric is built not by those one or two people but by the masses who were probably not the best talent of the country.

If the talent spread issue was true, it should mean more to us than the brain drain issue. As a society we should probably be tackling this, not for immediate benefits but for long term changes. We should probably be educating parents about the alternative career options for their kids, sponsor some free physcometric tests to help children figure which career suits them the best, build industry-validated curriculum in all subjects and do such similar other things. It's for a better tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

World Economy and Human Productivity

I was recently watching a TV news report in a news channel that the World Economy could shrink by a certain extent. Now that raised a serious red flag.

When I think of the World Economy, I think of the collective effort of all the humans in the world. If the population were constant, increase in World Economy would have meant an increase in productivity of humans as a whole. Productivity could be increased by finding more efficient ways of doing things - a process of continuous improvement - use of tools, better tools. World Economy has certainly increased since the days of industrial revolution - the revolution that flooded the world with tools. Anyone could guess how many lesser humans it takes to prepare a piece of cloth now-a-days than it would have taken, say, before the weaving machines - a tool. If all this makes sense, then I can think of 2 scenarios for the potential shrink in the World Economy -

Scenario 1:

Now, the world population is not constant - it has been increasing. If the World Economy doesn't grow as fast as the human population, what does it mean? It means that we have more humans producing lesser as a whole. Does it also imply that we did not find more efficient ways of doing things? Does it mean that we did not continuously improve or identify better tools? What happened to all the technology we built? Why didn't it amount to significant productivity increases - and significant economic cost reductions - making a lot of things cheaper? Or did we build inconsequential technologies?!

Scenario 2:

Probably it means all the above. Probably it means that there has been lesser need for producing anything more than we already do - in other words there may not have been growth in the demand for the products of this collective effort. Why? May be because some of the demand withered away due to changes in the macro-environment. But, is there no more Latent Demand today that is not yet addressed - as I mentioned earlier, there is so much unmet demand in the developing and under-developed world - I mentioned about how my farm still does not get enough electricity even today while the prices my farm produce can fetch is increasing - i.e. there is a sustainable demand for electricity that is not met. Why was the collective effort not addressing such demand that is more premanent in the first place? Should we as humans be more wiser in choosing which demand we address? Does it mean we need to define a mechanism, a business model, to provide businesses, the drivers of this collective effort, greater visibility and incentive to access such Latent Demand?

Conclusion:

In the both scenarios there are some action items on us humans -

1. Build more relevant technologies - May be we need to invest lesser in building fad-type technologies and invest more on such technologies that address real world needs
2. Incentivise businesses which address Latent Demand - May be the stock market should provide better P/E valuations for businesses addressing such demand - demand of a better quality should matter. May be there is a need for businesses (consultancies) that help other businesses access this Latent Demand.

Disclaimer:

Probably I did not understand this concept. Probably I just realized what a lot of people already know. Probably I hit a point that we need to ponder! Thought of sharing it anyway and be corrected, if appropriate. I did try to use more simpler relations in macro-economics to bring out the argument than the theory.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spirituality and Intelligence

A lot many times, I have come across wrong arguments that Spirituality is only for old people who have nothing better to do. In fact, if you really think of it, Spirituality is for all intelligent people. We consider someone intelligent if he/she thinks beyond the immediate term and into a longer term. There are examples of this in our day to day life - You ask someone to do some work for you and he does that in a manner that benefits some other task of the future. We consider such acts as intelligent. There are also prominent examples of visionaries (vision is nothing but a manifestation of intelligence) - Think about Dhirubhai Ambani. When he started a ployester trading business not many people imagined the hug potential and size of busines through backward integration right upto establishing refinaries. Now, if we consider all this as intelligence, what should we consider such people who are looking beyond a lifetime and into multiple lifetimes. Thats spirituality. To me, it is about being supremely intelligent. Doing yourself a favor by caring for your multiple lifetimes. Even if you dont believe in re-birth, you care about what you can carry to heaven with you.

This brings us to another interesting aspect - if we define spirituality as the above, then what sort of actions can be considered spiritual? What actions could benefit us for multiple lifetimes? Among such actions what are a higher priority than the others? To answer this we need to understand what sort of things permeate beyond a lifetime - such things are obviously not physical in nature but are metaphyisical in nature. They are called energies. Good energies. These good energies follow you and benefit you beyond lifetime. A word that is gaining popularity beyond the Hindu religon for this is 'Karma'. How do we generate these good energies? Obviously it should start from doing something good / beneficial. The priority for generating such good energies starts from oneself, extends to your immediate familyand ultimately to the world. It starts from being good to yourself (health, career, finance, etc), being good to your family (love and affection, securing the family, etc) and ultimately to being good to the world (doing charity, releasing good vibes through meditation, 'havan', not killing innocent animals for food, etc and even by creating good environment at your workplace - workplace is the place where most of us spend a majority of our time, this is probably the best place to start being good - avoid discrimination, avoid deceit, be honest in your efforts, mentor juniors, be fair in competing with other businesses - think about channeling the competitive energies to greater good of the customer rather than towards perception manipulation).


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Public Interest Litigations and Re-inventing India

THE PROPOSITION

More often than not, the onus of re-inventing India is pushed to politicians and bureaucrats. Not many seem to realize that Judiciary can also help in this. Indian Constitution allows Public Interest Litigations (PILs) to drive Law making. I feel that PILs could potentially be used to driving some very visible changes. Wondering why they are not many more PILs effecting everyday life.

EXAMPLE

On top of my mind, I can think of a possible application of PILs to better our road conditions - In recent times there has been a lot of road digging by telecom companies and other utility companies laying their cables and pipes. This has been causing lots of inconvenience in India's heavy traffic laid roads. Even after the road work is done, more often than not, the dug up area is heaped with soil or with shabby masonry. This makes the road bumpy and inconvenient. As roads are built using tax payer's money, may be a PIL could be used to claim tax payer's right on this money - May be drive a legislation that forces these companies to be quicker in their digging and be better at covering the dug area. May be the quickness in the digging could be encouraged by imposing hefty penalties on road work that extends beyond 2 days. May be, to encourage enforceability, give Traffic Police Department the right to collect this money for bonus to its officers. Funds are anyway scarce is a lot of Government Departments these days, due to populist schemes.

THE TRIGGER EFFECT

Those who have read about the 'Systems Thinking' would be able to relate to this section better. Some of the changes that such PILs cause can change the overall course of the Indian system. Look at what the delimitation of electoral constituencies has done to the political thinking - there has been greater consideration to urban needs now – I feel we will see more of this focus in the future.

BUSINESS MODEL

I feel that such PILs should not be a one-off affair. There should a sustainable business model around this. There are definitely better thinkers than me in identifying such ideas - Graduates and Post-Graduates in Public Administration and in Law. There should be some incentive for these people to think about such PIL opportunities. May be the incentive is that some NGOs hire dedicated resources to file some popular PILs. The incentive for the NGO would be that it would gain greater publicity and thereby attract more funds.