5 Reasons Why Reading Theory is Necessary


Most of us believe that theory is a waste of time.

Take the adage, “Give a man a fish and he is not hungry for a day; teach a man to fish and he will not be hungry ever!” what we want is the fish, not the theory behind catching fish.

When I ask some one for help in a particular situation, and he gives me theoretical answers and asks me to figure it out, I feel impatient and betrayed. I want a quick pill that will help alleviate the symptoms.

Theoretically, once the symptoms are gone, I can do a root cause analysis to prevent recurrence. But this rarely happens. We do not revisit the doctor if the symptoms are gone.

Let us take the doctor analogy further, should we go to:

  • A doctor knows the theory of medicine?
  • A person who has not attended medical school but has assisted a doctor in his rounds, say, a nurse?
  • Other persons who have some past experience in similar symptoms?

The answer is logically obvious:

  • no assistant or non-professional would have come across all the cases and variations and therefore
  • cannot guess or set up the right tests to understand the root cause of the problem.

But emotionally, we do it the reverse way –

  1. Other persons first, then
  2. some one who has had similar symptoms, then
  3. a quack and finally
  4. a doctor.

Even in corporate life, we try the old tested ways based on the experience of the employees. Sometimes we hire consultants because like doctors, they are detached from the problem and they have learnt more theory.

Only a doctor trained in root cause analysis would ask the right questions and recommend the tests to find the cause of the fever. A good doctor has the following characteristics:

  1. He has learnt the theory of analysis and possible method to derive the root causes
  2. He knows how to apply the theory – this requires creativity
  3. He has the experience of some of the applications

A quack, on the other hand, know only point 3 above: some experience and a smattering of bookish knowledge form the most convenient layman book available.

So, why read theory?

  1. It is the distillation of the thoughts and experiences of other persons and their perspective.
  2. Healthy scepticism is necessary. It is not gospel truth, it is simply a theory and a perspective.
  3. If we do not understand the author’s perspective and then, more importantly, do not argue in which situation it will work and in which it will not, we are believing that the theory is a law of nature. That is incorrect. It is the argument about the theory that creates experience in our mind.
  4. We need to apply the theory to our life to see the situations where it worked or not. We need to analyse why it worked or did not work.
  5. It creates a discipline of collecting and managing knowledge and sorting it in our mind for quick access – during exams or in real life. It is a misconception that due to the advent of the internet, we can get any theory whenever we want.

Students sometimes decide that they would rather have practical experience and case analysis, because

  • they do not understand the theory,
  • cannot apply it,
  • dislike the book,
  • dislike the professor.

A case or a practical experience is only a subset of the topic, not the whole topic. Cases and practicals are a partial application of the theory, not a replacement.

Why I recommend linkedin


I see a lot of my proteges / mentees having a lack-lustre linkedin profile and I am saddened by it.  Let me put it this way. To paraphrase an author I read some time ago (frankly I do not remember, but this is not my idea…) in your self-branding exercise, Facebook is like a pub where we meet a lot of people, have connections, but over a drink and then we all go home. Twitter is like a cocktail partywhere we speak a small sentence and then move on to the next person. Youtube is like MG Road on New Year’s Eve, everybody trying to get in front of the camera and vying for attention. Linkedin is like a trade show where we meet like-minded people.

Join the groups that talk about what we are interested in. Even if we are bystanders, we will learn a lot of what the world thinks. It is a faster way to get people’s opinions and trends that reading some boring author. I know, I am one such author.

Check the news. This news can be customised to give us articles across the globe on the topics of your choice. It is obviously a better way than perusing gadzillions of newpaper pages (online or offline)

Under the “More” section, there is “Answers” and “Skills”. We should use these more often. “Skills” creates the keywords necessary for a job search. “Answers” allow you to brand yourself as an authority as more of your answers get selected as “best” answers.

I am increasingly seeing a trend where recruiters are looking at our linkedin profiles. Apart from the ability to have an on-line rolodex for networking, it allows us to help others get jobs, and it allows us to meet people with the same interests and connect with them professionally.


Goals are based on my needs


Is it important to have specific and measurable goals? It they keep on changing, what is the purpose of having a goal?

The answer to the first one is yes, we need to have goals, that too, written goals (one study shows that written goals are more likely to be achieved). If we do not have any yardstick of measurement, how do we know we are progressing and therefore when we are likely to reach the goal?

But even more basic than that, what should be my goal? How do I determine the right goal?

Our goals should be determined by our needs. So we have to do a needs analysis of what we would like to have and what we would like to avoid.

  • One way is to think back and remember those incidents that made me happy. Then for each incident, I do a ‘root cause’ on why it made me happy. This will show me my needs. Then I create those goals that satisfy these needs.
  • Another way is to think of incidents that made me unhappy. A root cause on this – why did that incident make me unhappy – would tell me what I would like to avoid.

Once I have my needs (what I want and what I don’t want) defined, I have to do two things:

  • determine the relative important of each need
  • determine the maximum time frame in which this should be satisfied (urgency)

Now I can find out what I have to do and when, and this determines my goals. We have to remember that to achieve something, we may have to sacrifice something else, and the important/urgent matrix above will help us realise our priority.

Another aspect of needs analysis is to determine whether these are your goals or the goals of your influencers or loved ones. Sometime, we want to do something but our parents want us to do something else. The question is whether I sacrifice my happiness for my parents’ happiness?

For example, I remember the time I got an award.

  • Why did it make me happy? Because I made my parents proud or because my effort was acknowledged in front of a crowd.
  • Why does that make me happy? Because I need the approval of people
  • Why do I need approval? Maybe I have self-esteem issues and I need to compare with others to define me

So if I am seeking a goal in terms of what type of job I should look for, I should look for a job that gives me a lot of approval, or allows me to do peer comparison and which does not lower my self-esteem. Sales would be a bit of an issue as a job, because it has a lot of rejection built in. However, advisory services based on my competency would be good, because a client would be grateful for my services.

I can now set up a time frame for creating a competency that can be appreciated by clients and to find a job that allows me to use this competency.

Since these needs keep changing, (refer to my article on mid-life crisis) our goals will keep changing.

Suppose there are two conflicting goals?

If I have done my needs analysis in terms of all the type of needs I have and the priority of each need, and have determined who in my life is important and considered their needs, then each goal can be analysed based on how well it satisfies these criteria.

How to eat like a pig and still lose weight


Now this is a title that will attract attention. This document details everything that I have done or experienced over the last 18 months for weight loss.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and please do not flame me with technical data which proves that I am wrong. Most technical data seems to change over time, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
At least I am not recommending either a fad or something that will be irreversible.

How to eat like a pig and still reduce weight.pdf

The contamination of life – technology and the decline of ‘mindfulness’


When we did manual labour and did not have labour-saving devices, we worked from morning to night creating the same output that we can now deliver in a fraction of that time. By manual labour, I do not mean physical labour, it could also be accounting, computing, research, even reading (dare I call it studying?)…

There was an element of Zen mindfulness (being fully in the present), as mistakes would require a great deal of redoing.

Think about writing a letter. An MS Word document can be automatically spell-checked and mistakes can be corrected. No one would know and appreciate, by looking at the final document, how much labour has gone into it. Compare that to the pain of writing a letter by hand, and the final sense of accomplishment we had of finishing a product that was created with minimal corrections. We were more aware of ourselves, what we were doing, what the world around us was doing, and we appreciated the fruits of our labour.

Consider food. Our moms take time to cook and be mindful of the final product with all its nuances of taste as determined by the preferences of the family members. When we eat, we are mindful of that love and we appreciate the subtlety. Compare that to a fast food, even instant noodles, which we mindlessly eat in front of the TV. We are, in general, no longer aware of, let alone appreciate, what we eat. No wonder, we need to go to a five-star restaurant to appreciate food, maybe because we pay so much for it that we have to extract all we can from the meagre morsel. The five-star chef put salt and pepper in front of you, which our moms never needed to. Maybe the love compensates.

This is the virtue of ‘Karma-yoga’ or the sense of fulfilment that comes out of mindfully executing work. Some persons  do ‘Jnana- yoga’ where the sense of fulfilment comes from mindfully thinking about knowledge, its acquisition, its uses and its relevance. It is a desire of most young adults to move from ‘Karma-yoga’ (execution) to ‘Jnana-yoga’ (strategy). Often, they wish to skip the execution part.

With the advent of technology and labour-saving devices, the mind has become free. We no longer need to focus on the job at hand, because much of what our mind would earlier do has now been programmed into the device. Therefore the mind is unoccupied and looks for other ways to occupy itself. Instead of evolving from Karma Yoga to Jnana Yoga, taking time to ponder over various short term and long term strategies, we tend to keep the mind busy by entertainment.

Entertainment is a funny thing (no pun intended). Our mind gets used to a novelty and then craves newer and better sources. The need to keep the mind occupied and the addiction to entertainment leads to a craving for more time to get entertained. This creates a need to obtain more labour saving – or shall we say, time saving devices – faster and stronger cars and machines. This creates a vicious cycle of dependency. Entertainment devices is not just about TVs and such electronics, it also about ambience – from lazy-boys (the uber-comfortable armchairs) to sound-proof rooms.

If we look at peer comparisons about our possessions, it is primarily about the labour saving devices or entertainment devices or the means to purchase them. It is rarely about knowledge – when was the last time someone said, “I have a better dictionary than yours,” it was more like, “I can afford a more expensive dictionary than yours!”

These devices leads to less physical activity and a lazy mindset. This leads to lifestyle diseases. We compensate by buying faster and stronger gym equipment and devices for injecting chemicals and measuring bodily functions. We  create a dependency on these chemicals and measuring devices. Because these chemicals help alleviate our problems, we are free to revert to our craving for entertainment.

Would it be fair to say, therefore, that technology has actually helped in reducing awareness of our actions and their consequences; which, in turn, has led to lifestyle diseases – a contamination of the purpose of life itself?

Managing your e-books


The traditional way of managing ebooks is by creating a hierarchy of directories by topic. If there is a book that is goes across topics, you either create a shortcut or copy the file over. Managing this can become a nightmare. After some time, we may have duplicates, and we do not know where they exist, as the file names could be different. If we are synchronising with e-book readers, you need some way of knowing which books are in which reader. We may also need to know if we have books by a certain author but catering to different subjects. It would be best if each file had tags associated with it. We may also want to have the book cover and other meta data associated with it.

I use a software called Calibre and its creator has come up with a portable variation. I can install this portable variation in my external hard disk and I become independent of my computer, as nothing has to be installed on the computer. Which means, I can plug my hard-disk to any machine and use my ebook management software.

Calibre also has plug-ins which allow you to search for duplicates. It can use different libraries and switch between them. You can also create your own columns for better database management. It can connect to a  variety of readers and smartphones via USB. It also has news readers inbuilt into it.

Full disclosure: I do not get any revenue out of recommending this. This is free, and if you like it, you can donate. I do donate each year a certain amount.

If all subjects are useless in real life, why do we study them?


While teaching strategy, I debunk most of the strategies like BCG, Porter, etc. For that matter, I debunk most of what has been taught. Students are then confused. Why did we study them?

Why did we learn to ride the bicycle? To learn the concept of freedom, of balance and road sense. This led to the mo-bike and later, the 4 wheeler. Each step taught us something more.

Failure at each step taught us what not to do – and what to do – to be effective. Reading a book on “driving a motor cycle” does not teach us to drive one.

Santayana famously talked about those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Management as a science (arguable!) started with Mr. Drucker and then evolved in a meandering fashion through scientific taylorism, then behavioural, then back to science via deming and co. and back again. Unless we look at this history, and the application of management thought in real life, and learn from their failures, how do we  know what works, why, when and how and more importantly what does not?

Mintzberg said that all theories of strategy are like the story of 6 blind men and the elephant. Each has its perspective, but unless we learn to synthesize, we cannot get insights. Speaking of insights, most creativity comes because of our past experience. The MBA program gives you the experience of many, who passed before us.

More importantly, studying creates a certain discipline, a rigor of sitting on a table and thinking, of postponing instant gratification to do assignments and study, a sense of gratitude to those parents who paid our way though college…it creates a work ethic and teaches us professionalism.

That is why we study.

Triage and the process of prioritisation


In medical emergencies, such as a large scale disaster, where need is more than the supply of resources, “triage” is a way of determining priorities. At the most primitive level it is:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome
Looking at the above, those who are likely to die should not be given treatment. This seems inhuman, unless you take into account that focusing on “first come first served” basis or any such method will create more deaths because patients who could be saved did not get timely treatment.
The concept of triage indicates that prioritisation should not be based just on “important” versus “urgent” as emotionally perceived by the decision maker but based on the common good or good of the majority. This means that sometimes we have to do things that are not palatable, but are for the benefit of the majority of the stakeholders.
Time is a resource most of us do not have in plenty. Given the conflicts between work and home, between various projects at work, and at home, how do we choose?
Maybe, by focusing on what gives the maximum benefits to most people.
As an MBA, who are our stakeholders? What should we be doing, given the paucity of time, to maximize the benefits? Which patients do we leave to die, even though it is not emotionally acceptable?
Does this define professionalism?

How to select the right MBA college: please pass to aspirants


OK, let us get real. It depends on what you want from an MBA education.

  1. If it is to avoid looking for a job, because the economy is down, then any MBA will do. This article is not for you.
  2. If you want to extend your educational life, then this article is not for you.
  3. If you want to run away from parental controls, then this article is not for you.
  4. If you want a better job, do a correspondence MBA and hire a placement consultant, it is cheaper.

An MBA education is not theoretical – where you attend some classes, give a few exams and get a certificate. If you want to do that, see point 4 above.

The purpose of an MBA is the following:

  1. You want to boost your existing career, and you are leaving a job to do an MBA
  2. You want to be an entrepreneur. I am sure we can argue this.
  3. You want a good salary
  4. You want better growth prospects
  5. You want to interact with other future CEOs. Most of my classmates are in senior management and helping to change the world in their own way.

For all the above, you need to select the right college. Such a college should have the following characteristics (and I know that I am in a minority here):

  1. Does the college teach other subjects than the standard ones, like Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, Relationship Management, Change Management, Business Process Management etc. This augments transferable skills in a student, which is looked at during a job interview.
  2. Do the faculty members have industry experience and can they relate the theory to practice of management?
  3. Are the type of exams mug-and-vomit or are the questions thought-provoking and challenging?
  4. How many practical exercises and projects are done in the fields of team management, selling, negotiation, project management etc.?
  5. How much encouragement and facilitation for doing outside projects during the MBA tenure?
  6. What was the mode salary (what salary did most of the students get)?
  7. Is the academic curriculum tough? I know that this is counter-intuitive, but the tougher the curriculum, the more your ability to handle stress – am important aspect in the job?
  8. Does the alumni return to campus on occasions to mentor and give feedback?
  9. What is the student culture – is it mediocre and not MBA oriented or is it supportive and MBA-focused?
  10. Do the same companies come regularly to the campus for placement? This indicates that companies are satisfied by the quality of the students.
  11. What type of jobs are offered by these companies. This indicates the quality of the specialization.

All the above have to be weighed against the cost of doing an MBA. If a typical 2-year MBA costs INR 7 lakhs and you get a pocket money of INR 3000 per month, and the number of study hours is say 10 per day (class and self study) and the number of study days is say 200 per day, your cost per hour is around INR 250.

You better be damned sure you are getting an education.

Why do an MBA


Most students join an MBA program for the following reasons:

  1. A simple graduation does not fetch a decent job
  2. Having done Bachelors in Business Administration, there is little choice but to do an MBA
  3. Extending their academic life by two more years
  4. Go far away from their parents and relatives to a place where no one knows them
  5. After doing an MBA, the salary levels would increase dramatically.

Reasons 1 to 4 are legitimately related to the reality of your past.

Reason 5 is a prediction of the future.

But do we know the future and do we know what determines salaries of an MBA?

The salaries are determined by the ability of the placement cell or your own contacts to approach the right companies.

The salaries are also based on the demand and the supply of MBAs. More the demand, higher the salary. More the supply, lower the salary!!

What determines demand?

  1. The college ranking determines the demand not because the students learn better stuff in those colleges, but your ranking in the various exams show that you are hard working or smart or both. Your ranking determines the college you get.
  2. Your own intelligence, attitude and transferable skills determine demand
  3. The business climate determines demand. If the markets are not looking good, there is no growth and there is less demand. But markets go in cycles, and if today the market is bad, by the time you pass out, the markets may look up.
  4. The state of the recruiting company determines demand. A growing company needs more MBAs than a mature company.
  5. The alumni of the B-school determines demand, based on how they are doing in the market.
  6. Your specialization in the B-school may determine demand, but this is debatable.

What determines supply?

Let us qualify supply in terms of quality and quantity. Fly-by-night operators may offer a cheap MBA, but they also take short cuts in education and placement. Quality is determined not just by the courses offered and the course content, but the quality of the classroom interaction and more importantly, how serious is the faculty member in imparting an education. There are more than 4500 MBA/PGDM programs in the country.

How do we select the right one?

  1. Is the top salary offered to a graduate the right criteria?
  2. Are you similar to that top graduate who got a great salary, or are you assuming that you will be?
  3. Is the same company coming with the same job offer?
  4. Are the market conditions the same?
  5. Are you doing the same specialization and are you qualified for that specialization?
  6. Should you not ask what is the mode (which salary band and what type of job profile did most students get ?).