Thursday, April 30, 2009

Perfect Show with an IIMB Professor - Knowledge Exemplified


After a long lull, PERFECT Show is back with a bang :) Due to other pressing commitments, I couldnt devote sufficient time to the Show. But as the saying goes, the good shouldnt be left undone for a long time.So we are back to routine :)

Its a matter of great pleasure to have Mr.Shekar, an IIM B professor and a distinguished alumnus of NIT,Trichy as a guest in this edition of Show. Mr.Shekar had kindly consented to share his life experiences and views with others.Iam grateful to him for agreeing to be in the Show.

Mr.B.Shekar has a PhD in Computer Science from IISc,Bangalore and a M.Tech from IIT,Delhi and a BE from REC,Trichy. He has donned various roles before joining IIMB as a faculty member. Presently he is Professor of Quantitative methods and Information Systems in IIMB.

He has received many honors most prominently being the recipient of "Best Teacher in Management Award (Southern Region) conferred by The Deccan Herald and being Listed in Marquis "Who’s Who in the World” - Editions : 2000, 2007, 2009" and being nominated as a ‘Leading Educator of the World - 2007’ by International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England. He has given lectures/seminars on Creativity,Thinking Paradigms and Problem Solving at various academic institutions across the country.

Over to the Show now.

Host - Prashant Sree - PS
Guest - Mr. B.Shekar - BS

PS: Welcome to the Perfect Show Sir.
BS: Thank You. Upfront let me state that the views that I express are my own and are not those of the institution that I am working for; nor is the institution responsible for these views.

PS: Very well Sir. Starting with the first of the ‘Perfect Questions’, what are you passionate about in life?
BS: I would be using the word love interchangeably with passionate. I am passionate about life itself – Strange as it may sound but that is the real truth. Here I would like to elucidate this cryptic statement. I am passionate about life in all its forms and colors. For example I am passionate about knowledge as that opens several doors and leads me through different corridors to unexplored and uncharted territories. At the same time I love ignorance – it is the one that gives me humility and some times it helps me to develop reverence toward others, and quite a few more things that constitute a good human being.

PS: That definitely shows ignorance in a new light. I agree with you Sir that awareness of our Ignorance leads us to Knowledge. Now, what have you learnt in your life( other than academics), which you would like to share with others ?
BS: There are too many things and in fact most of them may be shared. I may be willing to share but sharing is a two-way cooperative coupling and I do not know how these may be received. Never-the-less here is a minimal set.

There is none who is despicable or who is hate-worthy or pooh-pooh-able. If at all such feelings get evoked, they are issue-related and that too temporally bound. These feelings occur immediately but one should be able to recall the issue-relatedness immediately and get out of these feelings quickly.

There is a lot to learn from everyone you come across in life. This is irrespective of social status, moral status or financial status. In actuality one can even learn from non-human living beings. However it requires a tremendous effort. I have been taught by auto-rickshaw drivers, canteen/hotel bearers, and corridor sweepers to name a few. Learning is to be construed as “becoming a better human being” as compared to what you were a time slot prior to that event.

One should be able to accept one’s mistake unreservedly, genuinely and immediately – Not because it is a great quality or anything of that sort (as it is generally claimed). Most importantly because it leaves you with a very good feeling and this feeling is enough a reason for practicing it.

The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
- Bertrand Russell

PS: I am sure your learning will be an effective learning for our readers. Particularly, what you said about opening your mind and learning from any source that can teach us. If you are given a wish to change one thing in world, what would you change?
BS: MYSELF – Because I think that is the only one I have “some” control and that too not always. I am talking about living beings only. Reference is not being made to non-living things and abstractions such as world, society, and environment. If you ask me about the environment then I would certainly like the environment to have more love, compassion … However I think all these things will turn out to be the way you see them. That is why I said “myself”.

PS: Wise words, sir. One can only act on the zone of influence he has control over. The improvement starts with self. Now let me ask a question about mythology. Which is your favorite mythological hero, and why?
BS: I have many. One of them is Sri Rama – Even to utter the name of this character, I do with utmost reverence and I consider it a great privilege to have known this character through His story.

Usually one has a tendency to admire traits or people because you want to have those traits or you would like to be them; essentially implying you do not have those traits or you are not those people. This is precisely why He is my favorite. He lived for Dharma and nothing else. Though this term encompasses many attributes I would like to explicitly cite a few - Truthfulness, compassion, dutiful ... These have been practiced by several others (mythical and non-mythical characters). The specialty here is the unimaginably high intensity levels.

Some of the incidents make me stand up in awe and reverence. Here is a character who went through a sequence of trials and tribulations to keep up a word (not given by him) but by his father. He considered Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi all as his mothers. Some of the passages in Ramayan reveal the consideration he shows to Kaikeyi. His attitude toward Vibishana displays another one of his traits. The subtle way of exemplifying humility (with respect to Hanuman’s devotion to Rama) to Hanuman is a lesson on “how to teach”, or more precisely “how to make someone learn”.

PS: Lord Rama's deed and valor is very well known. His attributes and qualities certainly serve as a reference point for someone who wants to live his life in an ideal way. What would you like to evangelize or stand for in your life?
BS: I do not understand this question. Some of the answers to the previous questions will give some idea of what I appreciate, like …. “Stand for” is too strong a term and it can become vague also. I do not stand for anything, and even if I stand for something I do not think I have the capacity to state it succinctly. Yes, I would like to lead a life according to Dharma though I am far from that right now.

PS: What is your charm?
BS: According to me, I do not have any. If any individual feels or thinks that I have, then this question should be put to him/her.

PS: I definitely feel that humility would be on the top in the list of your charms. :) What do you consider the Thumb Rule for success in life?
BS: Here there are three terms that are open to interpretation. What do you mean by life, how do you define success and how should you view a thumb rule?

A thumb rule (by classical understanding) is a rule that is signified by experience and is not backed by theory and proper analysis and is somewhat akin to a heuristic. This can lead you to success many a time; however, it can also result in failure as experience is never universal. This being the case I do not think one should look for thumb rule(s) in life as life is a very serious affair and it has several attributes, a primary one being "one cannot put back the clock". Hence I would not like to search for thumb rules to be given to you all; I very much doubt their existence on such matters.

Now we come to the more important terms given in your question.

Life - Any individual leads many lives, common nomenclature being personal, professional, … Every relationship may be considered as a life in itself – mother, wife, brother, friend, … In each one of these, success assumes a different colour. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? In actuality I am not. I am just mentioning the reality. I am not saying that we wear masks because mask implies “hiding something”. I am just saying every relationship is a part of the sum totality of life that we are leading. I know instances where an individual has been a failure as a husband but has been a successful professional. At the same time he has been a failure as a father. This being the case, how can one have a thumb rule for life (in all its complexities)?

Next is success – It has a variety of definitions all of them being person-centric, experience-centric, philosophy-centric. One individual’s definition may be utter nonsense to another. Hence I would not like to even delve into this complex knot. Any statement that I put forward may be (who knows) a very defensive part of me coming out.

With this long winding bends and turns on the road let me at least say what I think may (strictly MAY) give happiness (not success) to an individual. Identify your natural strengths and natural weaknesses. Seek environments that need your natural strengths and contribute (and you will as there will be natural motivation for contributing). Try to overcome your weaknesses (it is not at all easy). It will be slow and will take a long time; that does not matter. You will definitely go ahead. There is no question of turning back. This is all easier said than done.

One may think it is easy to identify strengths and not weaknesses. In actuality it is difficult to identify both. This is where people around you should help. Only your well-wishers may do it. The axiomatic well-wishers are your parents. After that your sieve should be applied. Let me again state I have not said anything about success. Strengths and weaknesses are abstractions that need to be translated into real entities depending on what “life” you are looking at – relationships, career, professional...

One may wonder why I had to give a long pre-amble to state the above. This is because one should know the right context and interpretation for the terms and for the question

Let me highlight some difficulties with respect to the strengths-weaknesses discussion.

(1) Many a time we may not be able to identify these strengths and weaknesses. As I said earlier parents will definitely have interest in our well-being and hence can certainly point these out. Genetic disposition does play a large role and again they seem to be relatively more qualified toward this. It could be a direct descent or more than one level descent.Again the same statement holds. However parents can always be blinded by extremes due to excess attachment. Working parents may not have the time to perform this arduous task as it needs observation over a large stretch of time and correlation of a high order. Uncles, aunts … may be useful surrogates. However we have come out of the joint family set up and got into a nucleus fold.

Thus there is a genuine problem. I do not have any solution for this. Each individual is placed in a unique situation and hence examination has to be done on a case-to-case basis – Again no guarantee. Apart from this there is another serious problem. Societal constraints may influence parents, … leading to lack of sensitization toward the “strengths” and consequent possibility-of-happiness of a child vis-à-vis success (defined in their and societal terms). I have been a personal witness to such a happening. When such things occur I can only feel sorry for the unfortunate situation. The mid-career transition from industry to teaching in my case was amidst one such similar difficulty.

(2) Strengths themselves may become weaknesses depending on the environments. There are very few universally valid strengths and universally valid weaknesses. Thus one should be able to pick the right environment. It is a phenomenally hard task.

(3) There is a natural urge for an individual to ignore the strength that may be glaring to the eyes and pursue the weaknesses (such as what an individual Is not good at) and try hard toward overcoming them to the point of not utilizing the strength. I know several such individuals. While it is good to attempt overcoming weaknesses it should not be at the cost of underplaying and undermining strengths. This can be tackled only by personal counseling done by well-wishers who are in the immediate vicinity and on whom the individual has confidence. This analysis is applicable the other way round also – strengths replaced by weaknesses.

Many of the so called “successful” individuals have been utilizing their natural strengths. I for certain believe that every individual is bestowed with natural strengths that need to be groomed, well-directed and placed in the right environment. If not I can only feel sorry. If you closely analyse some of the “successful” people you will find that their strengths have been their sheet anchor. A few examples – Einstein, Newton, Chandrasekhar… These personalities have stated the key trait (in the passing, somewhere in their writings) that helped them. The key trait is not something that most people possess. An example of weakness overpowering strength is the genius music director and singer A M Raja.

PS: Your answer has shown ‘Thumb Rule’ in a new light. Who are your favorite role models and why?
BS: I do not have a single role model in the generalized sense. However from different angles I have some traits/people (real and not mythical) that/whom I like, admire … These people - either I have had personal contact or I have got to know through their works. To give a few examples along with respective categories (sometimes there may be more than one in a category – Mentioning just one does not belittle the others whose names have not been stated):

Administrative acumen, professional competence and courage – My father Dr. L. R. Balasubramaniam

Intuitive Grasp, Understanding of situations and people – My mother Neela Balasubramaniam

Communicating great and possibly difficult ideas and consequently inspiring the audience – Professor Vittal Rao

Involved multi-emotional singing (hindi) – Mohd. Rafi
(tamil) – P B Sreenivas

Light music composer/arranger (tamil) – Viswanathan and Ramamoorthy (as a duo)
(hindi) – Madan Mohan
(non-Indian) – Mantovani

Visual art (Static – drawing) – Raja Ravi Varma

Visual art (Dynamic – Cinema) – David Lean

Classical music singing – G N Balasubramaniam

Classical music composer – Saint Thyagaraja

Classical literature (Indian) – S L Byrappa
(non-Indian) – Leo Tolstoy

Sports personality (specific attributes not listed here) – Viswanathan Anand

PS: Could you please share any 3 Must Read Books for any Manager/Entrepreneur ?
BS: A serious study of Mahabharat. (for a manager)

Les Miserables - to have an (in depth) appreciation of different emotional facets of an ordinary human being

Euclid’s Elements along with mandatory “attempting to solve” at least one problem at a convenient periodicity should go a long way in sharpening the intuitive, creative and logical nature of the human mind. (This is not necessarily for a manager)

These are books for anyone. I don’t think I can suggest anything only for a manager/entrepreneur

PS: Thank You Sir. Now let me put a few questions regarding your profession. Being a professor, what motivated you to choose this career? At what point in your life, you decided that you have to become a teacher.
BS: I am not cutout for industry. Relatively I am better off on the dais. I realized it in 1983. A huge amount of time had passed by then. Better late than never. This industry-dais difference however small it might be was sufficient enough for me to cross over to the teaching profession

One has to be a scholar and adopt a scholarly approach to life in general. This category has a few whom I know. I am far from it – the only saving grace is that I am trying (many more steps to go).

PS: Very humble way of saying that the learning streak in you still remains. Could you please share any three most important things (related to professional) you learnt in your career.
BS: I cannot prefix “most important”. To me any learning is important. However I will mention three things I learnt. Do not ask me whether I practice them. I am trying to. However I have learnt that they need to be practiced. These are life’s teachings.

A thing that is worth doing is worth doing well. If it is not worth doing well then it is not worth doing at all. Try to practice this as far as possible. The more you are able to practice, the more you will be better off in your mind.

Never harbor negative feelings (jealousy, hatred …). It is bad for your health – mental and physical. Your mind will never be at rest. Modern science hypothesizes the presence of a psychosomatic component in many of the physical diseases.

Your actions will invariably have a thinking component and a feeling component. Give importance to both. Don’t be skewed in your approach. Just as an illustration – suppose a guy is caught copying in the examination. Punishment is a necessity as that is going to teach him and others not to do it. A capital punishment will destroy and possibly demolish him. A punishment should be to mend and reform, resulting in his contributing positively toward himself and the society.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create."
- Albert Einstein

PS: That was useful. Talking about learning, how can one ensure that the spark of Knowledge remains shining in them?
BS: It will continue to shine provided the spark is a result of your love for “that” knowledge and not merely an indirectly and externally motivated result. Thus you need to do what you love. It is not always easy. There may be several sacrifices you may need to make. It is important that you should know to differentiate true love. Otherwise your sacrifices may leave you disillusioned.

PS: Few questions on Management. MBA is considered a way to fast money. How much of it is true...?
BS: Good money - Yes. Fast money - Not necessarily. A word of caution - Anything that comes quickly also goes away quickly.

I do not think this is true. Students certainly give a lot of value to what they do to earn that money. Most of them are aware of what they like and otherwise. They choose jobs based on that. They do hop from one job to another fairly quickly before they settle down on a job, money being one of the important parameters. However it needs to be within the bandwidth of their likes.

PS: In what ways should a student pursuing MBA spend his time so that he utilizes the most of his time in the 2 year MBA stint.
BS: I am not competent enough to answer this question as "ways to spend his time" and "utilizing the most of his time" is too general and at the same time too person-centric. I don’t think I can answer in a meaningful way also. I do not want to say - "Work hard, Get a good CGPA, develop your personality, develop team spirit …" as these are tautological statements and may hold in other similar academic environments too.

PS: Some questions on Manager and Leader. There is a subtle difference between a Manager and a Leader. Which is more desirable?
BS: That depends on a person's attitudes, aptitudes and goals. Some comments are warranted here.

My contention is that a good manager is more by nurture - by training as long as there is willingness to work, learn and implement. On the contrary a good leader is more by nature than by nurture. It has to be in you. Of course if one has the spark there can be ways and means of making a fire out of it. It is better to be a reasonably good manager than to be a bad leader.

Quickly let me add that every job has a leadership component and a managerial component. This mix changes as you advance in time. There is bound to be a leadership component as you approach the later stages of your tenure. Hopefully everybody has a little bit of “leadership” nature.

PS: MBA school teaches the students to become an able Manager. How to mould oneself to a Leader?
BS: I do not know whether one can mould toward leadership (see the answer to the previous question). One important point - a sham/bad leader will very easily be noticed as compared to an OK manager. Unfortunately there is nothing like an OK leader. People will just hate you for lack of leadership if you hold a position that imposes such demands as compared to managerial effectiveness. Another feature - technicalities are more in management and can be learnt and practiced. Leadership on the contrary has less of this.

PS: The education industry in India needs to change so to effectively empower the students. What kind of change is required and how can it be brought about.
BS: First of all I do not know whether I will agree with the first sentence. In addition I take objection to the term "education industry". If “education” as an industry makes a major headway in our/any country, then I will feel sorry for the citizens and future citizens of that country. I do not know what you mean by empower. You need to state "empowered" to do what?

Education should be personalized as learning should take place on a one-to-one basis – the Socrates approach to learning. It might be expensive from various angles. If that is the case then so be it. I believe that education should be classified as a basic necessity like food, shelter and clothing. Hence budget for school education should occupy a high position in the priority list of any government. I do not even know whether it should be a governmental initiative. To me "education industry" comes very close to being an oxymoron.

One thing I am happy about - in good private schools personalized attention is being attempted in a serious way albeit being an extremely expensive proposition. Here let me point out the existence of a "school for the gifted" in Hungary, which has produced great mathematicians…

Let me quote the famous mathematician Paul Erdos:
"In Hungary a few years ago a special high school, the Michael Fazekas High School, was opened in Budapest for children who are gifted in mathematics. The school started just when Pósa was due to go to high school. He liked the school very much, so much so, in fact, that he refused to leave it for entrance into university two years early. Soon after attending Fazekas High School, Pósa was telling me of other boys in his class who he thought were better at elementary mathematics than he was. Among these boys was the now prominent Lovász."

I really do not know why we do not have such things in large number for different subjects and at subsidized rates in our country. I know there are several issues that need to be resolved. However there is no point in ignoring something because it is difficult. Every child gets treated differently in the school mentioned by Erdos. Recall Einstein’s dislike toward his school (called gymnasium at that time). It was primarily because of regimentation and approach. He was all through an opponent of regimentation. Incidentally regimentation is an inherent attribute of any industry-oriented environment. It is a process of bunching things together ignoring the differences however subtle they might be. One cannot graduate students like mass produced engineered products such as pen-drives, locks and keys.

Evaluation systems have problems. According to me, there should not be any evaluation system at all. By and large, students will orient themselves toward evaluation. This is also because all students do not have high motivation levels. Again this is because of possible societal pressures.

PS: .After hearing your reply, I would like to retract my statement and rephrase it to mean "How to Change the evaluation System in India". The individualized attention if given to kids will be definitely beneficial. I believe Indus School is also a new step in the education system which emphasizes more on overall learning along with academic learning. Sir, we have reached the end of the Show.

It has been a great pleasure to have you in the Show and learn from you. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. On behalf of the readers and with me, Warm regards to you, Sir. Thank You.

BS: You are welcome. All the Best.


A S said...


thanx for posting this informative post

knowledge is life .. isn't it??

keep learning :)

Anonymous said...

extremely nice

Alok said...

I liked it..

Swami Krishnan said...

The interview in insightful and seems to come from the heart and from various experiences… There are several important messages and takeaway’s irrespective of where one is in one’s life journey…


Prashant Sree said...

@A.S: Very true. :)

Prashant Sree said...

@Anon: Thanks for dropping by.

Prashant Sree said...

@Alok: Iam glad you did :)

Prashant Sree said...

@Swami: Very true Sir. The learnings are insightful. Thanks for the comment.

Ravi Kumar said...

This is immensely good. Quality read. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Insightful. B. Shekar (Balu as he is know to some at IIMB) is an inspired soul.

Anonymous said...

very insightful and useful. thanks for sharing it.

P G Apte said...

I find it absolutely amazing. His understanding of philosophy, poetry and literature is terrific. One doesn’t expect this kind of input from an IIM professor particularly a professor in the quantitative methods area. He seems to have thorough familiarity with Indian heritage and world literature.

Vasantha Latha Muralidhar said...

Wow! That was great reading. I have always known you to be a multi-faceted personality, but what has struck me now is that each facet is so well-developed. Many of us go through life just being kissed by the breeze. But you seem to have "drunk life to the lees", as Tennyson would have said. You have developed the ability to understand in great depth every experience that life has dealt you. When we go though life thus, am sure we will be better human beings.
God bless.

Vasantha Latha.

Anonymous said...

I think Prof. Shekar will make a good convocation/commencement speaker. Readers out there looking for "graduation wisdom" should certainly tap this professor.

Viswanath N.S. said...

Dear Sir,
I am impresed by the inteview with Professor.B.Shekar.There are several reasons:
1.He uses mathematical language & demonstrates how precise one could be in using language.
2.The interview expands by unfolding pauranic characters!Rama is just manifastation of perfection in Man.
3.The conspectus of the inteview is in linking the intra-individual with the aggregate.After all perfection is an abstract reality which one should continuously search for.Shekar says one may search with humility expressed in several forms-art,music,painting,literature & so on.Search for unknown is to move towards perfectness which one may be able achieve by manifesting in several ways.The subtlty of language of Shekar claiming himself to be moving towards the abstract(learning from an autodriver ...)shows the way!
How to move about?......

Prashant Sree said...

@Ravi: Thanks Mate.

Prashant Sree said...

@Anon: Very true Sir. Thanks for the comments.

Prashant Sree said...

@P G Apte: Yes Sir... Professor Shekar not only has good mastery over his domain area he also has a good mastery over other subjects as well.

Prashant Sree said...

@Vasantha Latha: Thanks for the comment Madam. It was an insightful experience to interact with Professor Shekar. His ideas about any subjects breaks it to the basic minute levels and shows it in deep clarity.

Prashant Sree said...

@Anon: Very true. Iam sure Shekar Sir will continue to inspire lot of people.

Prashant Sree said...

@Viswanath: Thanks for the kind words Viswanath. Though i had my own learning through this interview, your understanding as well as the way you relate evokes interest in me. Happy Learning for ever.

Y. Narahari said...

It was illuminating to go through the amazing interview
with Prof Shekar. I liked it particularly because many of
his views are identical to my views. His thoughts have
great maturity, balance, and wholesomeness. I was very
touched by the reference to the noble character of Sri Rama.
In my view, this interview is a "MUST-READ" for all our
youngsters who in my view are not exposed properly to the
great values of our Indian heritage.

K. Kumar said...

A great piece! Prof. Shekar’s definition of learning - as becoming a better human being gels so well with his perspective of life as a set of roles. The distinction he makes between success and happiness is something that misses the comprehension of many of us. His emphasis on the importance of the doing and feeling component of our actions – is so very appropriate. I am amazed at the lucidity with which he has elaborated on many of the incomprehensible aspects of life. A great learning experience to read and reflect

Sampath said...

B Shekar’s interview is a fascinating read! His comments that all actions have thinking & feeling components and one should give equal importance to both, can be considered a prescription (though he would squirm at such a word being used in his context). At the present where intellectualism is considered a premium quality, empathizing with others becomes all the more important. That one’s actions should be guided by Truth or Dharma and the aim should be to lead a life love & compassion, though dismissed easily as old fashioned, will enable one to leave a little foot mark and make the world we live a better place. Shekar’s reluctance to define everything in straight jacket terms shows us a mirror in which we can look at the clichés we repeat and unfortunately practice. The statement that success is transient, not universal and has dimensional limitations should make one think before exulting at being an unqualified success. The difference between learning and learning to be evaluated has been subtly brought out. This interview is likely to egg those who read it to think dispassionately, without succumbing to any isms. Well done!

somsundar said...

my! my! my!
amazing. simply amazing.
a tour-de-force!
i wish the interviewer also adds in this post what he was experiencing during this wonderful interview!
no wonder getting into iim'b
does not come easily! indeed one must be privileged to be tutored by professors like him! if this is how much you get from an interview that lasts for just a few minutes, can't imagine sitting in his course or the experience of doing a Ph.D with him... Surely those students must be the envy of the rest in IIMB.