In Conversation

Subroto Bagchi
Vice Chairman & Gardener Mindtree, Ltd.
With Gita A. Kumta, Professor, NMIMS.

Dr.(Mrs.) Gita kumta

You always refer to the new entrants as ‘saplings’ and endeavour to nurture them into ‘trees’. What in your opinion are the ideal ‘nurturing processes’?

Mindtree takes people at two levels- Entry level which covers campus recruits and a lateral process. The nurturing process therefore has two dimensions- An Orchard where ‘saplings’ are nurtured and an Arboretum where laterals are groomed. The Orchard is a physically different place and focus is on providing a bridge from the educational environment to real life in addition to enhancing technical skills. It is not home, not college, not project yet it has elements of all the three. This is facilitated by a ‘pal’ who is a parent, anchor and a leader. ‘Pals ‘are outstanding Mindtree minds who take a break from their work and help. Nutrition may be provided by various groups but the Pal is in the overall responsible position of building harmony, pretty much like a parent. Pal therefore acts as a connector. Arboretum is a place where half-grown trees are kept before transplanting. This enables us to create a friendly atmosphere which makes them comfortable. Those who go through this process well stay on. This process gives them some breathing space and one spends some time networking and a kind of community gets created.

I don’t think there is an ideal nurturing process- we need to understand it in a life context and then draw organizational sense. No parent can say that we did absolutely well. The child may feel otherwise. Double income families today overdo things and think that this is the ideal nurturing process.

The basic element is to make somebody feel secure. Nurturing process is best delivered by practitioner. A nurturing process must have affinity to what is true and not to what is appropriate. If we can create a transparent environment, comfort – both physical and mental and inculcate a sense of responsibility. If we have done this, we have created an effective nurturing process.

In a knowledge economy, the ability of a nation to use and create knowledge capital determines its capacity to empower its citizen’s and enhance human capabilities. How can management education in India position itself in accomplishing this challenging task?

I think the way to look at education is to take a long view of time and connect it to nation building and not just job creation. If we don’t have a 100 yrs view of education then we can’t call it education. Our own knowledge capital and theories are anywhere between 300-400 years old. Even today people talk of the gurukul system. That system had no AICTE.

Here I would say that Educationists and Policy makers should pay attention to Howard Gardner and draw learnings from his theory. Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences has had a profound impact on thinking and practice in education. The vision and the framework around the vision is important. Howard Gardner viewed intelligence as ‘the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting’. Multiple intelligences themselves also provide a good focus for reflection. Look at all the intelligence that he talked about, they are our life tools. He talked about the five minds. If this is the framework then you look back and see how the educational curriculum is delivering. Do we want to create only job seekers or those that can bring employment?

The funny thing about education is if you muck it up you have immediate results; if you do well it takes generations before you get results. To think of an education policy one needs to take a grandparent position. If it works in homes it works in education also. Historically it has come from sages. Kings were sent to the ascetic to gain knowledge. That model doesn’t work now. Today the ascetic wants to be king, he wants to be the treasurer. Thought leadership is visibly absent. Politicians must be at the receiving end of education.

Dr. Manmohan Singh had said that “the time has come to create a second wave of institution building and of excellence in the fields of education, research and capability building.” What do you perceive as the new perspectives in management where research is required?

Research is woefully lacking in our country. Mostly management teachers need to be blamed for it. Is teaching management a default setting? The reason that I am harsh with this group is because the per capita research that comes out of Indian management is dismal as compared to our counterparts in the rest of the world. This is because our aspirational levels are low, we demand less from ourselves and we have poor affection for content. I have an exacting job but I think I produce more writing than many management teachers because I have affinity and regard for content. Content is legacy and content is what survives you.

It’s a tragedy- the whole world is looking at India for field trials. We have the subjects, we have the space and the time. But we do not want to think of basic theoretical constructs. Many people write papers in journals but most of them are not what the students should be reading because they are produced for the sake of publication and not to seek the truth. We write for publication but not to seek the truth. We have rich history of both Science and liberal Arts which contribute significantly to management theory and then you have the applied side. But how come we do not have five good books which are world class. Why do we have to look outside India? I can understand the frustration of the scientists but I cannot understand why management research is not happening? Here I am not talking of research for the sake of research, I am talking about the stuff that will make the workplace better, will change the way they will look at professionals, the stuff that will connect the different elements which will together become the ecosystem. We need to undertake more fundamental research.

That the industry knows what is the problem is a simplistic statement. It is counter intuitive to the Apple philosophy; when Steve Jobs was told that they need to undertake market research, he quipped ‘Customers do not know what they need’. It is a fallacy to think that somebody has figured out the problem, I will download the problem and do research. This leads to adaptive thinking. How do you know that the problem identified is the real problem? Peter Drucker is famous for his quote ‘You can’t solve problems; you can only be ahead of them’. The other important thing is the mind set. Organizations don’t do research, individuals do research. If you do not have the mind set the institutional construct is just an excuse.

India’s growth in various sectors largely depends on entrepreneurial ventures. Which areas of entrepreneurial research would be more critical to the success of such ventures?

There isn’t an area where research is not required because we are cutting over from the end of the manufacturing economy to what can be termed as an experience economy. The cutover is not a gradual cutover. It’s not that you are static and things are moving around you, that you are in harmony and they are in strife so you can remain constant and observe in a detached way. You are both the actor and the observer. Too many things are happening at the same time – globalization is happening. genY is arriving, institutions are getting dismantled, a new view of consumerism – the ‘prosumer’ has fully arrived. People are effortlessly moving from virtual to the real and real to virtual. Virtual and real are merging into each other. What is the intersect or multiple intersects between the idea of virtual vs. real, idea of globalization, idea of failure of large institutions? We have a whole new generation and a demographic shift and the idea of sustainability. If you look at everything coming together, we need research in terms of behaviour, practices, future trends, coexistence of market related forces, regulatory measures and impact. We need research on what constitutes data, learning effectiveness and methodology. We don’t have the luxury of doing this at our own pace in our own time. Why we need research in every single area and in a multi disciplinary manner is because the paradigms of management thinking created during the post industrial era are not valid and are fast going away.

CK Prahlad was addressing a think tank on sustainability at Netherlands and he was talking about bio mimicry. Giving the example of the spider, he said that the spider can create a home for itself where the weight of the web is smaller than the weight of the spider. The tensile strength of the web is of the order of magnitude where the spider and its prey can be held together. CKP was saying that the tensile strength of our houses is unnecessary if I were to be like a spider. The time has come for new material to be invented; until then global warming will be a theoretical conversation. That we require to do bio mimicry is a supply chain issue, it’s a production issue, it is a management issue even before it is a scientific issue.

Corporate India has abundance of talent and world-class professionals. How could successful ventures like yours support these initiatives?

When we say corporate, we generally mean big business. Increasingly, Big businesses will have less to offer. By going again and again to the ‘corporate world’ we will get the same thing in different flavors. The value of the management lessons is at the bottom of the pyramid. We need to go to the bottom of the pyramid to learn and research. Here is a tragedy- you celebrate the Dabbawalas because NY times published it. Don’t study governance by studying the top 200 corporates. We need to interact with the thelawalas, the constable and the paan shop that provide food for thought. Researchers will have to take more interest in them.

The need today is bridging the ‘knowing-doing’ gap to create ‘sensitive’ professionals. What would be your message to B-Schools in India which would help them groom young minds into competent professionals?

I admire Howard Gardner and really wish that every teacher and educationist read what he wrote on Multiple Intelligence and the five minds. It is only then that you realize how absurd this 98% is. We talk of the know-do gap but we do not understand the synchronicity between knowing and doing. Bridging the ‘knowing-doing’ gap basically implies four aspects:

  • What I should know before I do
  • What I should know as I do
  • What should I do as I know
  • What should I do to know?

We have to, as a Nation celebrate knowledge ahead of employability. If you have the right knowledge, employability will follow. We need to celebrate knowledge as a higher constraint. Employability is important but one must equip oneself with multiple intelligence so that you don’t see Education as a ‘Do once’ and ‘use forever’ tool.

Geetha Says
Monday March 19th 2012

Very interesting thoughts here. Thank you!

I remember reading about the origin of ‘Arboretum’ at MindTree in the superb book, ‘Unusual People Do Things Differently’ where the author, Mr. T G C Prasad says:

“Subroto Bagchi, gardener and vice-chairman of MindTree, is one of the most creative people that I have worked with. His strength lies in his ability to comprehend human nature and channel behaviour towards desired organizational outcomes. He can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. Once, when we were driving in New Jersey, he noticed a small placard surrounded by plants that read ‘Arboretum’ at a crossing. An arboretum is a collection of plants to be nurtured and grown. Subroto loved the idea. He launched ‘Concept Arboretum’ to nurture and grow leaders at MindTree…”

Friday September 25th 2015

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