Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thodi Si Toh Lift Karade

What are those ubiquitous symbols of corporate life that, irrespective of where one works, are always  there to remind the person that he or she is in the dreary world of business? Pin striped whites? Noisy coffee machines? The irritating hum of the perpetual air conditioner? Complicated Xerox machines that one can't figure out? Well, there are several more. The one however, which is the quintessential symbol of corporate calisthenics, surely is the lift or like the Americans like to call it, the elevator!

Every day millions, if not billions people, go up and down, in and out of lifts, in search of fulfilling careers and grandiose dreams. No one has the time or the patience to smoothly make this journey though. So what better a place than a 5*6 metal container to see the faces behind those corporate masks?

The Seven Sisters: You walk into Indian jungle the first thing that you notice is the Jungle Babbler. Its a cute little grey bird chirping away with the beautiful morning. The only issue with this picture, is that its accompanied with six others such similar birds. And together the seven sisters, they make such a noisy racket, you wish your ears went deaf. Just like you wish you didn't run into the 'gang' in your office. They are usually from the same team or same floor, come in like a tsunami, flood the lift with high pitched nonsense and laughter and move out before you can recover. Its like you were crossing a road and were hit by a cement truck.

The Blackberry Boys: A dog is a man's best friend, until he enters an elevator! The moment they step into the crowded lift, like a well crafted ballet move, their hands glide into their inaccessible pockets and out comes the trusted buddy a.k.a the mobile. Are they really that hooked to their work, are they social outcasts who can't manage eye contact, do they have moments of Eureka when they handle the phone in a climbing elevator? Well one will never know!

The Spaceship Pilots: How many times have we seen the scenes in movies where an alien spaceship lands on earth to kidnap unassuming earthlings for 'research'. The ship's dashboard obviously, filled with a gazillion buttons and flashing lights is like Dennis The Menace's heaven. A special section of individuals in offices, mistake the elevators for these spaceships, where they feel the insatiable urge to push any and all buttons possible. Push the 'Summon the lift' button even when its been pressed before hand, push the 'Going Down' arrow when really they want to go up, fiddle with the fan switch. The list is endless. Life would be so empty for them when machines will start getting voice activated.

The Alpha Male: Ever been in a lift in a Government office or a very old building in say, South Bombay. Every lift has an operator, like every scent marked territory in a forest, has a dominant male tiger. He owns the lift, every square inch of it. It might be the largest dimension of space he owns in Mumbai anyway. He determines how many can come in, who should stand where, who gets to sit on his stool and most importantly who owns the dashboard. Just try to press one of the buttons yourself and be prepared to face the brutal frontal attack of the alpha male of the territory.

The Sopranos: These guys, I just hate. You can find them everywhere, not just in lifts. The guy standing next to you in the local train, the one waiting behind you to board the flight or sitting in the front of your row in a movie theater. They just think that if they speak loudly enough on their phones, the voice will actually reach the person at the other end of the phone. And when this happens in a claustrophobic small lift, you really feel like pushing them between the doors when they are just about to shut close. Unfortunately, you can't and hence have no option to listen why Bunty had a terrible stomach ache last night, how Luvleen is sensing a growing distance in her relationship and which of Ramesh's team mates is a backstabbing bastard.

The Pawan Putras: You take a walk in a sultry city like Mumbai and the sweat runs down the back of your shirt, clearly detailing the outline of your backs. Then you walk into the elevator and so badly wish for that refreshing draft of air from the fan to blow over your face. But alas! There is an evil cartel which is conspiring against you and your wish for a cool breeze. First the lift manufacturers ensure that they install such an useless piece of junk for a fan, that it only blows air bang in the middle of the lift. And where 'X marks the spot' there is already a large, burly guy squatting like its  his ancestral property. They hog the place right below the fan, to ensure that the frustrated dripping souls around him that they walked from a humid scorching afternoon into an airless 6*6 metal container.

The Sheldon Coopers: Dr.Coopers has an IQ of 187 and truly believes that the only function his body should be subject to are breathing and pumping blood to his brains. Otherwise, it is a cardinal waste for his body to move around putting itself in grave risk of injury or even death. The lesser the physical activity, the better. True believers of his philosophy are found in every organization. Forget going up the building, forget even reaching the lower floors, they need a lift to go down from the 3rd floor to the 2nd! And they have absolutely no expression of guilt what so ever on their face, when they waste everyone's time getting in and out, just to go down a single floor! The amount of time they needed to call for, wait, get in and out of a lift would be enough and more to climb down and up the stairs three times. But hey! an IQ of 187 or -187 is not what everyone can boast about!

The Dhak Dhak Girls: Who doesn't like pretty girls, especially smartly dressed pretty girls with tight shirts and short skirts. When they walk past you in the corridor or the cafeteria, you have ample time and space to take a mandatory quick glance or a scan, if I may say it. But when you have a lift full of men and a hot girl, it almost leads to comedy of epic proportions. Everyone in the lift is stepping on each others toes, elbowing the neighbors, straining their necks and trying to steal a look, but of course in a non obvious manner. The girl knows of course, that she is the cynosure of attention, but prefers to stare at the floor indicator as though her life depends on it. And when she walks out and the doors close behind her, you can almost hear a collective sign from the men within, as though a heroine has walked off the stage and the curtains are drawn after a mind blowing performance. 

The Jacks-in-the-box: When you open the box, out pops Jack. Everyone knows that. But our corporate Jacks are the exact opposite. The pop up, just when the doors are about to close. You don't see them waiting to get into the lift, you don't even see them rushing towards the closing doors, but some how, miraculously, they manage to stop push the button, 1/1000th of a second before the door closes, put on a sheepish grin and get into the over loaded lift. And as they are standing at the mouth of the lift, they need to step in and out at every floor, for people at their respective floors. There is an uncanny resemblance to the idiots who stand at the doors of the Mumbai locals, but hey! who is complaining!

There are lots of more smaller nuances that I can talk about here, but this much is enough for today's crib session. If there are any significant 'personality type' I have missed out, do leave a comment to remind me!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paath Shaala 2.0

People born at the start and end of the last century were lucky if you ask me. Back then in the 10's and 20's people got to experience the industrial revolution, which brought in brilliant innovations like the airplane, cars, machine guns and the like. The ones born in the 80's (like me) and 90's were also at the right place at the right time. The world which was moving at it own leisurely pace suddenly ODed on revolutions. At least in we have been privy to a lot of transformations. From rickety old Maruti 800s to the BMWs, from DD to HD channels, from waiting years to receive a telephone connection to free SIM cards of today, from post cards to Twitter updates we have seen the world change drastically. There have been no exceptions in any of the sectors: Banking, Travel, Communication, Telecom, Auto, Technology, Retail, Utilities, Entertainment, Sports: you name it, you've got it! How can education be left behind among all these.

Education has become the backbone of the burgeoning Indian middle class. Take my immediate family for example - Out of the eight people ( four from my family and four from my wife's), there are three B.E+M.B.As, one M.A+Ph.D, one C.A+C.F.A, one M.Com+M.B.A, one B.E and hopefully one B.E+M.S. Long gone are the days where an under-grad degree would be the pinnacle of education, guaranteeing a Government job and cozy life. Large Multi-National companies coming to India to recruit, expect students and professionals to be top class with cutting edge skill sets. At the other end of the pyramid, 80% of the Indian schools are run by the Government, where the larger bulk of young Indians are trying to carve their future. Both these sections of society, offer a latent pool of education hungry Indians, ready to gobble up any and all knowledge that comes their way.

Obviously, with this change in the demands of eduction, the tools of imparting the knowledge are also changing. The internet has revolutionized learning and taken it to a whole new level of wow! Wikis have killed Encyclopedias, blogs have overtaken magazines,  the Kindle has revolutionized reading, YouTube and company are making knowledge sharing extremely simple. The magic of internet, has clearly made two significant changes to the way knowledge was being shared before. Firstly, it has taken the world from a strictly hierarchical and all-encompassing teacher-student mold to a more flat setting where learning can be from anyone who is a subject matter expert. A student today, for example, may learn about the nuances of cricket from Harsha Bhogle's tweets, understand how an Internal Combustion Engine works from an animation video on Vimeo, learn how to write a robust Linked List in his program from his junior's blog. What this has ensured is that instead of the the one-size-fits-all approach, the best-of-breed methodology is raising the bar for learning and more importantly anyone can impart or share knowledge. The second change is that knowledge sharing today is no longer elitist. You don't have to go to Harvard to learn the best principle of Management, Kota to have the best IIT preparation or Doon school to get the best primary education. Quality learning is accessible to everyone via the egalitarian internet. It makes way for a level playing field where the best person will win. 

The internet is being embraced by everyone in their own right. Long standing educational institutions are using it to reach out to a wider audience through long distance learning programs. Younger institutes are trying to use the net and social media to build their brand and reach the right people. There are now, several start-ups which are using the web to deliver specific and quality learning for targeted audiences. Some are targeting competitive exam preparations or professional skill development, some building solutions for a more holistic learning, some are using it take education to the bottom of the pyramid, others are taking the age old tuition classes to a new level or bringing in experts to teach specific advanced topics of interest. Many companies are also using the net to build pockets of excellence in their own organizations and encourage peer learning.

I recently met one of my good friends and ex-colleague, after a long time. Over a year ago, Sanjay Bhadra, an IIM-B alumnus, left the comforts of a cushy corporate job to set up an ambitious start-up. His new venture, Spanedea, is an internet marketplace for teacher-led online learning and tutoring. With an impressive list of Indian and foreign teachers, Spanedea is catering to both students and professionals, in varied areas like competitive tests, learning music, specific programming sessions, professional skillsets etc. What this setup offers is the flexibility for learners to opt for end to end courses or just pick specific topics where they would like to delve deeper. It also gives a teacher, a larger platform to reach out to large set of knowledge seekers spread across the world. Spanedea, placed in between the two, is doing a brilliant job to bringing the right people from both sides and setting up a robust, intuitive platform to facilitate learning. Sanjay and his team, have aggressive plans of including wider courses and reaching out to newer target segments. Not long, before we will get to see India's Flipkart in the education space I am sure!

I recall a scene from 'The Matrix' (yes, referring only to the first one, the sequels were trash). Tank plugs in the device straight into Neo's plug at the back of his head and twelve hours later, Neo wakes up and says " I know Kung Fu!". Till the time we get such plugs, I am sure endeavors like Spanedea, will do just good.