Change again! The only constant in life!

While I now sit at the  international terminal of the Mumbai Airport awaiting the boarding announcement for our flight to Brussels, I cannot help but think of it as déjà vu –  25 months back at the same airport heading to France for an MBA at HEC Paris.

This is a new chapter though. Having spent the past two years in Europe we ( my wife, daughter and me) believe we know what to expect. Some added preparations, additional research before going in are the lessons learnt from last time.
The biggest change would be a change in lifestyle from being a student to being a working professional. It will be a transition to a much desired routine that will be accompanied with a lot of new opportunities to learn, to interact and to create an impact. Look forward to making the best of it.

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The Perpetual Learner – where should he go?

This entry is a bit unusual as compared the last few. After interacting with several people & browsing through various ‘careers’ sections on websites of companies – I had the thought of articulating this post.

Before the MBA, during the MBA and after the MBA – we come across a similar set of questions. And then again who asks whom – Sometimes it’s us asking people, then it’s us asking ourselves, and then it’s others asking us!

How do we change courses in our career? Can I move from engineering to strategy? Is it possible to immediately land the right job-position for launching a new career path right after the MBA? As generic as these questions are, equally generic can be the answers!

I recall our Financial Accounting Professor jokingly remark often: “‘In Accounting the right answer is – It Depends”! I am tempted to extend the same to the search for “The Career Opportunity” as well.

Amidst all this it helps to have some guiding principles and an awareness on why there can be a (mis)match between recruiters needs and a potential candidate’s (read: job applicant) aspirations!

Potential candidates base the choice of their next career move based a variety of factors (a short but not exhaustive list) as below:

  • A promotion in a new job
  • Opportunity to learn a new skill
  • Opportunity to learn about a new industry/domain
  • Monetary gain – A higher remuneration
  • Opportunity to travel
  • Looking for a work-life balance – priorities can change right!

The weight assigned to these factors will define the profile of this candidate. I seek to define a candidate profile – The Perpetual Learner! If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for such candidate – it could look as below (0 – least significant, 5 most significant).

PerpetualLearner
The Perpetual Learner – Weighted Priorities

The Perpetual Learner can do this in two ways, each posing a different level of risk to the employer

  • Working beyond predefined responsibilities: Not being accountable for this: is it the right way to accelerate? What metrics can be used to measure success? Will it jeopardize the existing responsibilities?
  • Learning on the job: There will be a planned training to acquire these skills. It poses a calculated risk of failure to the employer – but can be mitigated by monitoring execution under a mentor

Organizations – specifically recruiters therein, seek certain behavioral qualities in their (future) employees. A few of them can be:

  • Level of expertise in their current role
  • Stickiness (If I may call it so)! – The hope that the employee will stick around until eternity and his/her skills will be useful for the same length of time
  • Willingness to grow, accept higher responsibilities
  • Capability to move across functions, adopt to new roles
  • Risk taking ability

Specific to an organization, each of these qualities will bear a specific weight in the bigger picture. This can be a function of its strategic priorities, the values of the organization, the risk taking ability, etc. Some people centric companies might believe in empowering their employees with new skills & expertise over time – readying them for greater responsibilities in the years to come, putting at risk the probability of success in the short-term – let’s call them “Employee Booster”. If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for an “Employee Booster” organization – it might look as below.

EmployeeBooster
Employee Booster Organization: Weighted criteria

Moving on – Lets Simplify! In order to unravel the sweet spot for job-seekers and recruiters likewise, I am making an attempt to plot this chart below. The two axes indicate

  • Learning needs of the Perpetual Learner – Along the X-axis
  • Employee empowerment motivation in an organization  – Along the Y-axis

HiringSweetSpot

For career changers, it is thus important to find a match on the top-right quadrant of the graph above. Assessing corporate culture in the target company is important while seeking opportunities. Will they recognize my thirst for knowledge? Will they consider my “quick adapting capability” as a skill? Affirmative answers to these show that you are looking at an Employee Booster! The second route – the much talked about “Transferable Skills”! Pitching these right can help lower the perceived risk for the employer. If this bet works out right – both the employer and employee stand to gain; if not, both stand to lose out in the short term.

An employer’s profile, as stated before, could be a function of its strategic priorities. Employee Boosters choose to build the capability to change. Building this adaptability to change opens opportunities for innovation.

  • Technological innovation can result from investments in researchers and R&D capabilities
  • Process innovation may result while striving for operational excellence
  • Business Model Innovation (BMI) will result by exploring new ways of business/corporate decision making

Which of these is the Employee Booster’s priority is a choice each organization makes, and needs to execute accordingly. The organizations (big or small) profile is evident from its hiring practices.

Perpetual Learners need to target companies which believe that ‘Change is the only constant’.  More importantly, the direction of learning desired will help shortlist the companies which value that direction more – technology, process, BMI!

A last word – Perpetual Learners need to have a plan B! After all, while every organization wants to project the Employee Booster image, not everyone is.

HEC Paris MBA Commencement Day – Class of 2013

About 30 months back, I took the decision to embark on a new learning curve – take a break from the roles I was already enjoying – to equip myself with new skills, expose myself to untested territories and to open opportunities in which I can create a bigger impact by leveraging my old & new skills.

June 14th 2013 was Commencement Day @ HEC Paris! This day, when my fellow classmates & I achieved this milestone, marks a closure to the 16 month roller coaster MBA. More interestingly, it sets up the beginning of the new challenges ahead.

While there is no immediate answer to the question of “what next?” there is a plan in place – the execution of which is in progress!

It would be selfish to not mention the sacrifices my family has made during this journey. My parents, my wife & my daughter have gone through a strikingly different lifestyle, when compared to the pre-MBA days.

Lastly I must admit, the final video played on Commencement Day brought a tear to the eye – surely will miss these days!

Hat ThrowingGraduation with FamilyFinalement!

Blue Ocean Strategy for a networked society.. my two cents to some interesting posts…

Recently while working on a self-imposed assignment – testing the application of blue ocean strategy on an actual business situation – I came across a series of recent blog posts by Sami Dob at Ericsson. I was delighted to see an industry practitioner write about the blue-ocean-strategy. While it has insightful recommendations, it did challenge some of my understanding of the concept.

These blog entries refer to the application of Blue Ocean Strategy to the Networked Society – defined as a combination of heterogeneous networks, connected by end-point devices and served by the cloud ecosystem.

So? Why this blog entry?

For one, I wonder if the ‘Networked Society’ is the right ‘unit of analysis’ when applying this framework here? Secondly, there are couple of smaller observations I had about the application in this particular example. And lastly, it raised typical questions about organizational challenges.

What’s this about strategy and ocean?

Blue Ocean Strategy – as per my understanding – is a business model innovation framework; it enables a firm to ‘create an uncontested market space’, gaining a first-movers advantage, maintaining a lead and keeping competition at bay (apparently as competition is nullified).

A part of this – the four-action framework ERRC (Eliminate, Reduce, Raise, Create) – is instrumental in leveraging the ‘value curve’ to create the ‘new offering’. Changes to factors of competition can be driven by a motivation to improve the value for the buyer and/or reduce costs for the provider. The focus on these attributes can thus be eliminated, reduced or raised. Attributes in Create (C) are best when borrowed from the ‘closest-substitute’ industry (there are statistical ways to figure this out), adapting only the relevant, low-cost, high-value attributes relevant to the offering. For instance, in the (often mentioned) case of Cirque du Soleil the substitute was among those that ‘Entertained’! Theatre’s could be considered the closest match – and pulling in some attributes from here enabled creating a new offering as we know it today.

Back to the dilemma

Coming back to my initial conundrum I am still struggling with the question of substitution in this particular case? What can possibly substitute an aggregation like the Networked Society? Hence, I still wonder if it is the right ‘unit of analysis’?

Then,the value-curve (a.k.a the strategy canvas) for the red-ocean of the networked society, suggests that the offering level score of ‘Price’ for current buyer is way too low. I would argue however, that end-consumers today benefit from low prices thanks to the intensity of competition among telecom operators. This makes me conclude that the offering level score on this canvas for the red-ocean should be on the higher side. (Either that, or my understanding of the Y-axis’s representation is skewed)

Secondly, in the second part of the blog, Mr. Dob suggests that regulators “should remove national roaming charges in order to stimulate voice traffic”.  If that were the case, wouldn’t it give all the players the same level of advantage – competitive parity to all! How is it going to benefit a single operator? The notion of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage would fall apart here.

The organizational challenges when applying Blue Ocean Strategy in a leading industry incumbent player are two fold:

1. Cannibalization: The new service offering strategy would have a different value curve to the existing one, impeding continuation and growth  of the existing portfolio. This surely impacts the culture in an organization and hence needs a careful change management practice.

2. Managing multiple business-models – This is a derivative of the previous. An organization can decide to stick with multiple business models for the longer term, or decide to transition from one to another. This can be tricky to manage as outlined by Osterwalder & Pigneur

The articles have driven me to put some more thought to this framework, encouraging me revisit the literature! Hopefully I shall have some more clarity in the days to come.

Business Model Canvas – validating a reading – DxOLabs.com

I decided to pull out some  presentations I had created out of interest, and starting from this, I shall put these on to the blog here. 

The following content is an analysis of the business model of a company named DxOLabs. My interest in photography drew me to this company initially.

(A quick background: They’re into creating Photography editing/workflow software, providing imaging hardware solutions for the mobile world and bench-marking photography equipment under lab-conditions – http://dxolabs.com)



The synthesis in this presentation is drawn out of extremely limited public information and is based more on assumptions. As the title suggests, I have used the ‘Business Model Canvas’ by Osterwalder to represent the current & proposed business model. I have gone ahead and dared to make a couple of suggestions about proposed changes to their business model in order to exploit two new market opportunities. Feel free to challenge these.

p.s: Recent development about Adobe moving from software sale to software subscriptions was a delightful news to me. Not that I use the software myself, but that my belief about changing revenue models and (possibly) usage model (SaaS based) has been reaffirmed.

How much is enough ?

This is a question I’ve seeked an answer to from multiple sources. To clarify the question itself first, I’m referring to the cash requirement stated by French consulate authorities for the student visa processing to go smoothly.

(Again, this stems from my ongoing process of applying for a student visa for studying at HEC, Paris)

So firstly, how much is enough ?

There are two parts to this. First the student is travelling alone (the majority case) and second is where the student is moving alongwith a dependent partner.

You need to show funds for
1. Tuition Fees
2. Living expenditures (Self)
3. Living expenditures (Dependents if they are travelling with you)

For a student travelling alone the amount deemed required for the living expenditure of self is set at is 537 Euros/month for the duration of the course. (12 months in case of the HEC MBA, as four months are supposed to be paid internship)

If you are travelling with dependents (in my case I will be accompanied by my wife and 2 year old daughter), the above requirement is void. Instead, what I’ve been told is “You have to justify that you can provide for your family in France, you should at least meet the amount of 1 070,76 €/months which is the amout of the minimum wage determined for 2011”

Now the next aspect, what are the acceptable forms of proof of funds ?

Essentially anything with liquidity is acceptable.

  • Several candidates may apply for loan for part or entire amount. A sanction letter from the financial institution stating the amount provided as loan will act as one financial proof.
  • Savings Bank Balance: This is by far the best possible proof of source of funds. High liquidity makes this as the most preferred ( I do not know of any requirement of holding certain amount of cash for a pre-set period)
  • Fixed Deposits: Yet another easily accessible liquid source of funds.
  • PF: Some (like me) would intend to withdraw the hard earned provident fund. Well a PF statement showing the balance in your PF should suffice. This is usually not up to date when it is a government PF; I intend to furnish a letter from my company stating the current estimated PF balance. (will update this info once I’ve processed my visa docs).
  • PPF: PPF passbook statements should also be a good source to indicate source of funds.
  • Any other liquid assets like Equity/MF investments should also suffice…

In the case where we show funds from anyone-but-self, we need to furnish a plain paper declaration from the person, stating that he/she will be sponsoring our education and we must provide the essential documentary evidence supporting it.

That’s it. This was a good revision for me, before I prepare for my visa interview. Hoping this proves useful to others seeking info.

Its a distant hazy future..

After having worked in the technology domain for close to eight years, its time for a change. I have been contemplating this for some time now, only in the past 2 years did this decision get some more shape. Time to add another educational qualication for the resume, time to move on beyond the graduation.

One rescheduling for the GMAT date and three applications later, here I am preparing to move to my new alma-mater, the HEC School of Management, Paris. The journey in the future promises a roller coaster ride. Do I manage to stay on the car or will the external forces be too much to handle? Am betting on the former than the latter.

Its the start of November now and in 2 more months, accompanied by fellow MBA candidates, I shall be trudging along into the vast green lush campus of HEC. Some of us have already met in-person before, some are e-friends – thanks to the social media rage.

The wisdom of my decision is challenged With the global economic condition not being in a pretty state. Adding to it, is the exceptional state of the Euro zone of nations. What will happen at the end of it (or at the new beginning of it) is not known.

During our graduation days, lots of classmates moved to the US to pursue their MS. A few seniors also advised then, that the recession (which started in 2000) would eventually be over by the time the MS is done with. As with any patterns (like those of the stock market as well) the current scenario seems to be ‘oversold territory’ (tech chart jargon). I believe, thats the only positive. The world has to come out of the ‘oversold’ and the seniors’ advice would be right yet again.