Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Ten interesting things we read this week

Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Education (B-schools face a moment of reckoning; Teacher who decided to 'unschool' her own children), Business (Kat Cole on brand, leadership and more; Sculpt yourself into a future-ready leader), Technology (Fear of robots returning to work) and Productivity (Tips to help with work-from-home burnout; 9 tips to avoid procrastinating)

Published: Aug 8, 2020 09:00:34 AM IST

Ten interesting things we read this weekImage: Shutterstock

At Ambit, we spend a lot of time reading articles that cover a wide gamut of topics, ranging from zeitgeist to futuristic, and encapsulate them in our weekly ‘Ten Interesting Things’ product. Some of the most fascinating topics covered this week are: Education (B-schools face a moment of reckoning; Teacher who decided to 'unschool' her own children), Business (Kat Cole on brand, leadership and more; Sculpt yourself into a future-ready leader), Technology (Fear of robots returning to work) and Productivity (Tips to help with work-from-home burnout; 9 tips to avoid procrastinating).

Here are the ten most interesting pieces that we read this week, ended August 07, 2020-

1) B-schools face a moment of reckoning [Source: Livemint]
Many Indians see value in an MBA degree. Every year millions of Indians enroll themselves for an MBA degree. India has nearly 5,000 management schools and by most accounts, an overwhelming majority of them are mediocre institutions that don’t add much value to CVs. India produces upwards of 400,000 MBAs a year. Only in 20 schools is the starting salary more than the fees paid. And only 19% of the MBAs are technically qualified to take up jobs, according to Shiv Shivakumar, group executive president of corporate strategy and business development at Aditya Birla Group and a former president of the All India Management Association (AIMA).

B-schools now face a crisis. On the demand side is a tight employment market. On the supply side, intake of students for one-year courses hangs in the balance. There is uncertainty about the path of the economic recovery and by extension, the jobs market next year. Sunil Kant Munjal, chairman at Hero Enterprise, pointed out that three themes are consistent with every company at the moment. Every business is inducting more technology, building a new level of efficiency in operations and a completely new cost model. “If business schools are not teaching these, they will get left behind," he said.

A few academicians see a bigger role for management schools in the future. B-schools could metamorphose into a platform for dialogue between the government and other stakeholders such as businesses and NGOs, Rajendra Srivastava, dean of ISB, suggested. That could help resolve complex problems like the pandemic India is grappling with. “We should be teaching how to manage crises. Then there is new technology such as the Internet of Things and blockchain. Someone who has got their MBA 10 years back doesn’t have this as part of their toolkit," the dean said.

2) Kat Cole – How to Operate: Lessons in Brand, Distribution, and Leadership [Source:]
If you are trying to figure out how to understand people in your business, work around making a brand successful, then this podcast is what you got to listen to. Kat Cole, the COO and president of North America for Focus Brands, which owns famous companies like Cinnabon, Carvel, Jamba, and more, shares her story from being a waitress to now president of a multinational firm. Kat’s story and career trajectory are remarkable, as are the lessons she’s picked up along the way which she shares in this conversation. 

In this podcast, she throws light upon negotiation, distribution, brand building, brand extension strategies, and leadership. She looks at the world through her positivity lens and that’s what she starts with in this podcast. She believes every person is important no matter who that person is. Getting a person interested in you is by ensuring that you are interested in the other person. This lesson has taught her a lot in terms of brand building as well.

Talking about the biggest lessons she has learnt in leadership, she briefly touches upon two points: 1) Staying super-close to the action, and 2) To find patterns and use that to use for prioritization. On balancing gratitude and satisfaction/ambition she says that she has always had an allergic reaction to the word ambition. She has always been driven by different things, and driven to be different. Lastly she says that one needs to be ambitious and driven, but you also have to enjoy the journey. Being only ambitious and driven won’t help.

3) Employees and employers both face trade-offs as offices reopen [Source: The Economist]
Covid-19 has disrupted everyone’s routine. For the past four months people were getting accustomed to the new normal. With offices now reopening, employers and employees will find it difficult to adjust to the new working conditions. A group of academics led by Ethan Bernstein of Harvard Business School has been surveying American workers during the crisis. It found that many felt they could be just as productive at home as they had been at the office. They also found that stress levels have fallen by more than 10%. That despite the fact that workers toil for longer: an analysis of one technology company showed that working hours have increased by 10-20% during the pandemic.

The emotion that is most likely to lure workers back to the office is paranoia. The pandemic may have caused managers to realise who is indispensable and who isn’t. The trade-off for employers is rather different. Most companies will be thinking about whether they need all that expensive office space. If they do want to lure back their employees, they may have to spend a lot on contactless, socially distant office design to keep their workers safe, such as doors that open automatically.

It is not always easy even for those who have been doing their job for a while to perform the same tasks at home. And newcomers must adjust to a firm’s culture, which usually happens by picking up subtle cues from the people around them. Given the state of the global economy it will take time before most companies hire a lot more employees or lower employee interaction weighs on corporate performance. With many employees happy to work from home, that may mean no great rush to repopulate the office. You may not have to resume your morning routine until 2021.

4) The fear of robots displacing workers has returned [Source: The Economist]
With lockdowns over lockdowns, companies are mulling over having robots in their factories, wherever possible. Among the many breathless headlines prompted by the pandemic are those warning of a new wave of job-destroying automation. The pace of automation in some parts of the economy, like factory floors and warehouses, is almost certain to accelerate. Yet on the whole, robot-induced mass unemployment should remain near the bottom of workers’ lists of worries. Fretting about robots in a downturn is not entirely irrational: firms appear to do most of their job-slashing during slumps.

What everyone needs to understand is that the pace of automation is likely to be gradual rather than disruptively speedy. Many jobs, even those commonly classified as “low-skilled”, require manual and social dexterity that machines cannot yet match. Some things won’t change even after the pandemic. Surveys of firms indicate that some of the shift will not be reversed. If remote work slashes overheads and enables people to move to cheaper cities, it could preserve jobs, by alleviating cost pressures on struggling firms. The pandemic has sped the adoption of technology in labour-intensive sectors like education and health care. Telemedicine and distance learning might mean that fewer doctors and teachers can serve more patients and students.

Years of economic dysfunction have energised campaigns for higher minimum wages and a more generous welfare state. The economic devastation wrought by the pandemic lends them momentum; like past crises, it could lay the groundwork for a new social contract. If post-pandemic policy were to enable workers to enjoy more security on fewer hours worked, firms might then face some genuine labour scarcity. And that would really work up an appetite for disruption.

5) How to sculpt yourself into a future-ready leader [Source:]
Leading a team in the current situation can surely be a tough task. Change disrupts people’s expectations of the future, reduces their sense of control and their ability to process information. In times of high stress, Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijack” to capture how you analyze and interpret behavior resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze response. Left unchecked, performance during a crisis can be compromised, placing safety, quality, and productivity at risk. Forward-thinking leaders reflect, think, and birth plans to ensure that the future workplace is better. They embrace a new leadership mindset. Here are few points to get you started.

1) Power of presence: Future-ready leaders are empathetic leaders and emerge when there seems there is no way out. Leaders engage with compassion during adversity, and they meet the moment with enthusiasm, transparency, and decisiveness. 2) Every action signals a loud message: Forward-thinking leaders signal the leadership team's values and priorities to every individual within the organization, to customers and stakeholders. The decisions that leaders make and how they communicate with employees reflect who they are and who they aspire to be. 3) People-first mindset:Safety and wellbeing of your people are paramount. When a person’s welfare has been compromised, their ability to focus on work responsibilities have been compromised. Future leaders provide access to internal and external resources, including services to provide additional family support and recognition of people who support team members.

4) Be cautious of the pessimism bias: Adopting techniques such as slowing down your reasoning process, reviewing your past successes and channeling your pessimism as a motivator will prepare leaders for the future. Besides these, the author of this piece also talks about learning from prisoners of war’s mindsets, taking a long-term view, and reinventing organizations. In ambiguous times, speed matters more than perfection. Future-focused leaders make the best decisions they can and adapt them as situations evolve. Leaders must start with an up-to-date view of the current situation, and develop scenarios exploring a range of outcomes. Organizations must revisit stages as situations change, check assumptions and biases to remain relevant and consistently engage people to prime the organization to learn and adapt as the situation evolves.

6) 10 steps to achieve a growth mindset in business [Source:]     
In this article, the author talks about Carol Dweck’s, a highly regarded professor of psychology at Stanford University, book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In Mindset, Dweck differentiates a “growth mindset” from a “fixed mindset.” According to Dweck: A growth mindset is “the belief that an individual’s most basic abilities and skills can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” A fixed mindset is “the belief that an individual’s basic abilities and skills, their intelligence and their talents, are just fixed traits.” Adopting a growth mindset can supercharge your wellbeing and growth. The author gives ten ways to develop a growth mindset in business, but here are a few of them.

1) Be 100 percent accountable: To grow, you need to be accountable, or willing to accept responsibility. As an entrepreneur, you must start to be responsible and accountable to yourself. 2) Do not be concerned with what others have: Focusing on what others have and what they are doing sets expectations that simply slow you down and take focus away from your purpose. 3) Become an expert in your field: Strive to become truly good at what you do—so good that everybody wants your services. Stand out based on your specialty. 4) Don’t focus on your failures: Focusing on your failures gives detractors too much leverage against you. Instead, claim and learn from your failures and then focus on learning and growing from your mistakes.

5) Do the work and put in the time: To achieve greatness, you’ve got to be at 100 percent, putting in the time and effort. 6) Do what you love for the people who love what you do: Discovering your purpose is as important as finding your niche. You will bring much more value and expertise to those that need you, and you will have so much more fun delivering your products and services. 7) Be grateful for what you have: Gratitude is a gift and a core requirement for a growth mindset. The true expression of gratitude sets off energy that has the power of drawing people towards you. Explore and embrace it. 8) Become self-aware and understand your purpose: Self-awareness has the power to align your will and humility, which attracts people to you through your purpose.

7) The teacher who decided to 'unschool' her own children [Source: The Guardian]
Anna Dusseau, a teacher and home educator, is about to publish a book of advice outlining her approach to home schooling her own children, which includes 100 learning activities parents can try. And in such a condition, with pandemic looming large, home schooling is something that every parent must have thought about. With some families afraid to send their children back to school in September and the teacher unions warning that it may not even be safe to reopen some schools, parents are likely to need all the help they can get to keep their children motivated.

“Many children’s lives are so busy with school journeys, subject changes, after-school clubs and homework that they have little time to think, or to take ownership of the life they are leading,” she says. “They spend an awful lot of time being ‘processed’ by well-intentioned adults.” “What home schoolers want for their children is space to grow, space to develop themselves, discover the world, find out what they are interested in, who they really are and what they want to do in life and then the academic qualifications that will get them there,” she says. “There are lots of parents who already home educate and you don’t have to be supermum or dad to do it,” she says.

In her book, The Case for Home Schooling, Dusseau advocates what became known in the 70s and 80s as “discovery learning”, the idea that children learn best by asking questions and following their instincts, be it staring into rock pools or looking up at the sky. She knows she is lucky to have the money to home educate but claims it is not just a middle-class luxury. “I’m middle-income, middle-class and I’m not going to pretend to be anything else, but you will find a wide variety of people home educating their children. Increasingly children are being off-rolled from school so their parents have to do it,” she says. “We need more choice for parents, school isn’t for everybody.” Lastly she gives a few tips to new home schoolers.

8) Tips to help with work-from-home burnout [Source: Forbes]
Our working culture has changed drastically in these past four months. There was a time when people used to commute to work, but now the typical commute is from the bed to the bathroom to the kitchen to the designated home working space. Our new work-from-home reality has blurred the lines between home and office, between lunchtime and work time, between coworkers and family members. But in this piece, Nicole Lipkin, an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting, gives 10 tips on how to recreate the transition.

Few important ones are: 1) Redefine, set and manage expectations: Figure out what you are now. Not what you were then. Meaning, you may not have been a primary caretaker before quarantine, but you might be now, or at least partly. Maybe your job role has changed due to the absence of a co-working space with the rest of the company. What you are now is great. Own it, figure out what it looks like and set your expectations around that. 2) Find a different way to “commute”: If possible, take the time previously spent commuting to simulate a commute, like a morning walk, but really it can be any activity you like to do.

3) Choose the phone over zoom when possible: It will make a huge difference with regard to your energy level and mental exhaustion. Your eyes will thank you; and your brain can focus on hearing rather than hearing/listening/presenting yourself simultaneously. 4) Keep your old routines in place: Just because you aren’t going someplace to do what you do professionally doesn’t mean you should give up the routines you set. Routines help our brains feel good. 5) Honor your mental exhaustion: Don’t fight it; instead, work with it. Keep a notepad by you at all times and jot down the things you have to do or remember. There’s no shame in feeling depleted. The sooner you create an at-home work atmosphere and routine that combat burnout the better off you’ll be.

9) Baby boomers are experiencing greater cognitive decline than previous generations, study finds [Source:]
A study found out that baby boomers will not only be more likely to develop conditions like dementia than past cohorts, but future aging generations may be at a similar heightened risk. The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B late last month, looked at the cognitive test scores of over 30,000 Americans over the age of 50 who were enrolled in an existing, long-running research project by the University of Michigan, called the Health and Retirement Survey. The study had data for the following cohorts: Greatest Generation (born 1890-1923); Early Children of Depression (born 1924-1930); Late Children of Depression (born 1931-1941); War Babies (born 1942-1947); early baby boomers (born 1948–1953); and mid baby boomers (born 1954–1959).

While each generation before the boomers had improved later-life cognition compared to the one before it, the boomers showed a decline compared to war babies, breaking the pattern of improvement. “It is shocking to see this decline in cognitive functioning among baby boomers after generations of increases in test scores,” said the study author Hui Zheng, professor of sociology at The Ohio State University. “But what was most surprising to me is that this decline is seen in all groups: men and women, across all races and ethnicities and across all education, income and wealth levels.”

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the number of Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s may grow to 13.8 million by 2050, up from the 5.8 million believed to have the disease now. It’s possible, according to Zheng, that the problem could be even worse than we think. At the same time, Zheng doesn’t think that we’re necessarily doomed. “Cognitive functioning may continue declining among baby boomers if no effective interventions and policy responses are in place, which may cause the prevalence of dementia to substantially increase in the coming decades,” he said. “But this is not an irreversible trend.” Zheng suggested that everyone can strive for more physical activity, a healthy diet, and strong social bonds to lower their risk of cognitive decline later in life.

10) Stop what you’re doing, here are 9 tips to avoid procrastinating at work [Source:]
Do you always keep tough tasks for the end? If you’re on the many procrastinators out there, then this article will surely help you in being productive. Here are a few simple tricks to help you stop procrastinating and boost your productivity at work. 1) Be organized: If you’re someone who prefers visual aids, you may want to consider investing in a whiteboard. If on the contrary, you like to write stuff down in a portable notebook or device, try and get yourself a planner or download a suitable app. 2) Be realistic: Setting tough and high goals won’t help. Instead, set simple, achievable goals. If you need to write a client report, don’t commit to writing the entire thing unless it’s feasible. Work in sections and give yourself sensible timelines and deadlines.

3) You need a schedule: Break your day into sections based on what tasks you perform better before and after lunch. If you’re more creative in the morning, schedule all brainstorming sessions during this time. 4) Make yourself accountable: It’s so easy to think “One day, I’ll organize my desktop,” or “I’ll get to that client proposal eventually.” Truth be told — and let’s be real — “one day” or “eventually” will never, ever, come. 5) Remove all distractions: If you’re completely glued to your phone all day long, make sure to get rid of it before you start working – or else risk spending countless hours scrolling through Instagram or sharing every fleeting thought on Twitter.

6) It’s all about timing: It’s all about breaking down specific tasks into manageable chunks of time. If I’m writing a feature, I usually allow at least a couple of days for outreach and research. I know the writing is what takes me the least amount of time to do, so I work in hours. 7) Breaks are essential:The perfect formula for productivity is to work for 52 minutes and break for 17. 8) Dangle a reward: It’s important to motivate yourself with incentives, or rewards, no matter how small. Because that is what will keep you going. 9) Leave the best till last: Get the hard stuff done first. By tending to the least enjoyable task, you can incentivize yourself with all the stuff you actually want to do once you’ve finished your task. If you find yourself procrastinating, now you know what you got to do!