About the Author

K Ramkumar, known to his friends as Ram, has an enduring passion for triggering a discussion and joining in with gusto on a range of themes. He believes that every person has an inalienable right to express his/her view no matter how different it is to anyone else. In his book no view is unworthy or big or small. Every view from everyone deserves a consideration without getting caught up with the tyranny of agreement or disagreement.
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Playing Janus: Musings of a B-School graduate

Disclaimer: This is not a cathartic piece or a hate story of ANY B-school, because of the sheer naïveté of such an act.

According to Roman mythology, Janus is the deity of beginnings and ends, the deity of transitions. Portrayed with two faces, he is believed to have one face looking towards the future and one towards the past. At this crucial milestone of having passed out of a B-School, while on one hand, I look to the future, on the other, I look to the past. Not unlike the quintessential travails of Janus, I try to reconcile the past with the future that awaits me. For the past two years, I’ve been a part of the coveted management education system in India as a student of an IIM. My experience, not just of the institution but of the system, has led me to ruminate over certain problems which plague this system. Despite the fact that this system has generated tremendous output and continues to be one of the cornerstones in Indian education system, there is an underbelly of flaws which goes unnoticed.

In many enlightened discussions, I’ve often said and heard that India was lagging way behind in manufacturing. Somehow, I’ve come to disagree with this fact. India has a very strong manufacturing base; only the factories of yesteryears have metamorphosed into B-schools (and majority of other educational institutions) of today. In India, B-schools, irrespective of their stature in the market, are epitomes of standardization; there is a set of practices which ensures that a standard MBA graduate is prepared by the end of 18-24 month time period. I take the example of case study analysis, a simple activity which is indispensable in any B-school. Any management graduate worth his salt would have analyzed anywhere between 80-150 case studies in his/her B-school career. Due to the sheer number of iterations of this activity, it becomes a trite lost cause. Being the “best” existing way in which academia and industry come together, this method is the torchbearer for management curricula. Most of the B-school students are familiar with the fact that this method of teaching was initiated and propagated by Harvard Business School. What is not common knowledge is that this method was first brought into the educational curricula by Harvard Law School (the case studies we refer to now are derivatives of the “case judgements” from the Judiciary). More often than not, this method is implemented just for the sake of it.

The primary problem, however, is that the expectation from case analyses and other such practices is highly similar. The subjects, the facilitators and the “frameworks” change, but there is a very strong yet subtle convergence of expectations from students. Eventually, students end up doing the same or similar things, “gift wrapping” them differently. Interestingly, despite being a god, Janus fought with the Titans (perceived as villains) against the Olympians (the heroes). The aptness of Janus’ choice is immaterial; what matters is that he had the ability to back his seemingly unwise decision. Although it is true that for any educational institution, there are certain systemic constraints which must be adhered to, if a B-school, which claims to have a vision of creating LEADERS, engages in such practices and destroys individuality and individual creativity, then what is the point of having such a system in place?

There is an inherent bigamy in the external projection of B-Schools. No matter what any survey says, the perception of the horde of aspirants of any institute is based on a very important point of competition, if not the most, which is the placement scenario. Externally, the placement report drives the competition while internally, facilitators emphasize on academics and research. I’m all for competition, even when education is in the picture, but it is this dichotomy which drives a wedge between expectations of facilitators and students. A very simple example of how this dichotomy manifests itself is whenever aspirants prepare for their personal interviews (PIs) into B-Schools. It is safe to assume that the true reason why a vast majority of aspirants want to join a particular institution, or management education for that matter, is the lure of attractive placement options and fat pay packages. However, it is considered inappropriate to mention this in interviews, as B-Schools consider themselves as “academic institutions” and not “placement agencies”.

The brunt of this extant dichotomy is faced by the bottom 20 percentile students. The glitz and glamour of management graduation goes to the top 20-30 percentile students, which is Darwinian to say the least, and justifiable to an extent. The rigour, the struggle, the relief and partial glory goes to the middle 50-60 percentile, who have to fight their way up the corporate ladder, again Darwinian. But the bottom 10-30 percentile! Well, let’s just say that Darwin did an Oppenheimer by endowing us with a concept which would be used as a rationale (read: excuse) to justify the skewed focus of the management institutions. Irrespective of several other rifts which can be seen by the participants in a B-school setup, this is right in the foundation of this all-pervasive conflict. Relying on the extant brands and the deft use of statistics (“average” and “median” packages), B-Schools still manage to create a better-than-actual picture, almost akin to infallibility of the Olympians, in the minds of people NOT in the system.

At a macro level, certain things pain me, not just as a part of the system, but as a sane, rational individual. I am appalled to see the mass misalignment happening due to the non-indigenization of management education; like most of the things, we’re copying from the holy cows of the West. Just like the shadow of Pluto lurking below the realm of Olympus, beneath everything else, I am dismayed to see a strong perceptual imbalance about management education itself. Behemoths like IIMs are perceived to have created a “black box” of management education which only they have access to. These institutions have no qualms in fostering this perception as the foundation for their entrances. This however, weakens the bottom-line of popular conception of management. Very few people actually understand what management as a discipline is and what it asks of an individual. There is a facade of management shenanigans which is projected to the exterior world, nourished by B-schools and coaching institutes; students, with their naïveté/enthusiasm/peer mentality, flock to these institutions, thinking them to be their big tickets, much like the offerings of rams, wines and incenses made to Janus in his temples. Perhaps this is why the most difficult question for aspirants to answer in an interview is WHY MBA? Irony abound.

This is not a rant against B-schools. After all, at the end of the day, I’m one of the multitude which tries to get through the hallowed gates, trying to get a three letter stamp for my résumé. These musings are a consequence of the introspection that I’ve been doing as I approach the culmination of this two-year long journey. On one hand, I’ve seen academicians (most, if not all) thrust their points-of-view and disappointments into batches after batches. On the other hand, I’ve read reports and articles on industry practitioners harping on about the acquired-required gap. On behalf of the classes and masses of people who are expected to shoulder not just the responsibility, but the legacy of monuments of corporate progress, the Janus in me would definitely like to pose one problem, perhaps the final problem – WHEN ARE WE GOING TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND REMOULD OUR PATH? Janus, despite once being the most important one in the mythical Pantheon, fell from grace and lost his glory. The day we solve the final problem is the day we truly understand the import of management and management education. Maybe then, the Janus in me, and perhaps in all of us, would truly be able to reconcile the past which has gone with the future to come.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Sir Albert Einstein

About the Author

Jayesh_1Jayesh Surisetti has recently completed his PGDM from Indian Institute of Management Raipur. An avid reader and an ardent pursuer of Noetic Sciences, he also the administrator of VaultOfBooks, a book review website.

15 comments on “Playing Janus: Musings of a B-School graduate
  1. Hi Jayesh,

    Compliments on a brave article, and I really liked it coming from a beneficiary of the Indian Management Education System where compensation price points are inflated and protected by a strangely self sustaining system. While I agree with your point on the IIMs projecting themselves as bastions of knowledge and learning and at the same time ulterior motives of any aspiring student is to receive a hefty pay package, I think the time is right for the industry currently to step back and relook at hiring metrics. It is my contention that a science or commerce graduate can be as good a Finance Manager or Human Resources Manager as somebody from a top Business School in the country. Most of the work skills can be acquired given basic analytical and language abilities.

    To give you an example, I hypothesize that if Investment Bank, for instance, were to hire the top percentiles of the CAT, XAT and GMAT examinations (note that a single exam cannot track aptitude, need for consistency validation is of importance) and train these handful of students with product specific knowledge, the need for an MBA for not exist. All other aspects such as grooming, networking, and forging effective understanding of business environments through case studies is merely jargon in my mind. Unfortunately nobody is ready to bite the bullet. Also, policy makers are beneficiaries of this education system and hence they owe allegiance to their respective alma mater. Also, challenging the system would, perhaps imply challenging their own standings which may undesirable.

    Skills taught in Management Schools are better learnt on the job and through real life experiences. Management Education, if at all, should only be applicable for professionals with over 15 years of working experience.

    But I really doubt this system will change; the costs of change will be too painful and the suffers will be influential interest groups.

    • Jayesh Surisetti says:

      Mr. Rohan,

      1. I totally agree with you on the need for companies to revisit the hiring metrics. However, in their defence, I think the recruitment has changed quite a lot, evolved even; cases-in-point being the inclusion of behavioural interviews and sometimes even psychometric tests. The hiring evolution, however, has been incremental at best. Perhaps, it is time for some radical shift.
      2. Your hypothesis is very interesting. Personally, however, I would not rely on even more than one of such examinations. There may be some other solutions, which definitely make these a possibility.

      On a conceptual level, I think that the original management institutions were quite like the finishing schools of the West. Like these schools prepared women for the society, those management institutions prepared graduates for the business/corporate world. The point of departure was when these institutions stopped focusing on the craft of management and started institutionalising existing practices. Herein, lies the core of the problem.

      Given all this, I’d rather hire a smart, no-jargon quickstudy than a presentation-wielding, jargon-spewing MBA…

  2. Vaithee. says:

    Jayesh, A very well written piece highlighting an issue which our B schools have been grappling with for sometime now! while you lament on our schools copying the West their influence on you appears strong! why would you lean on Janus, Pluto and their ilk and not on our own examples from say, Chanakya??:)
    on a serious note the number of students dropping out from the Placement Race and pursuing their Dream, gives us hope!! Best wishes,

    • Jayesh Surisetti says:

      Ms. (I’m assuming) Vaithee,

      I chose Janus et. al. because of I wanted to use a legend from mythology, not a historical figure. I’ll keep this in mind the next time. :D

  3. VIVEK SINGH says:

    jayesh that was brilliant. This rat race must be stopped to foster creativity and individuality among students and aspirants.Everyone wants to land up in a job that’s pays well and instead of focusing on academia looks like IIMs are running a placement agency that claims to provide 100% placement.

  4. Ramesh Somisety says:

    Good one indeed. These self introspections are the outcome of the best possible brain wash one gets from IIMs. The ambience makes the difference so is the thinking..

    When the in-experienced come to the discussion table, they throw ideas that are not backed by experience…but the brain stroming works. A combo indeed. IIM + a little industry experience is the best bet perhaps..

    • Jayesh Surisetti says:

      Mr. Somisety,

      Apologies for the delayed response.

      What you’re saying is completely justified. A point to ponder in this regard is the order in which things are to be done – whether the experience should come first or the IIM?

  5. Mandar M Tambe says:

    Dear Mr Surisetti
    A very fine article.
    The questions you have posed – why MBA ? or When are we going to take a step back and remould our path? – are relevant but rarely asked. Ms Liz Edersheim in her celebrated book titled “The Definitive Drucker “ has observed that ‘Drucker’s most enduring gift to future generations is that he taught so many others how to ask the right questions.
    B – Schools teach you business language, business presentations, and standard SWOT analysis method – one –size-fit– all. Case studies teach you to find weaknesses to avoid and strengths to replicate. But these schools do not teach you to ask right questions and to find better solutions ( instead of right answers!!). The purpose of management is to create and serve customers and for the purpose, find better solutions.
    Looking from this aspect, B-schools are changing the management profession to resemble the legal profession. In the former, you have ‘case studies’ and in the latter, ‘case laws’. Management should not become a mere dogmatic approach to a ‘case ‘.
    Is it not a manipulation of Janus …. expecting him to replicate the future much like the past, and not to create a new one!! .

  6. Anju says:

    Your thoughts are very good but I couldn’t completely agree with you.Placement is the basic security one expects after an expensive MBA life. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security is the initial needs people strive to attain. After attaining that one will move to higher levels like self actualization and all. That is why we have Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Kejriwal(even though he is IIT educated) in place. Students are going for branded B-schools not only for jobs, but also for identity creation. The three letters pasted on the resume says more things than anything else. It makes the way ahead a little more easier because the people around us values the three letters and respect us based on that.It will in a way empower us and makes us more confident of ourselves…
    The n number of case studies doesn’t hamper our creativity. It takes us to n number of scenarios we are expected to take in future. And practice makes one perfect. It is the right guidance we have to get from faculties which makes different insights from different cases.Every problem we have to face in life is going to be too unique, so that we can only solve it in our own way with our own creativity.
    B-schools are giving us an exposure no-one else can provide. The students can launch themselves from these platforms to attain greater heights.

    • Jayesh Surisetti says:

      Ms. Anju,

      Apologies for the delayed response.

      1. I never said that students have no right to expect good or great placements. In fact, I said placements drive students’expectations. What I said was it is unfair towards aspirants to tell them (while they are still external) that placements are the be-all-and-end-all of B-school life, while when they are on the inside, the emphasis is laid on other things.

      2. Purely from a theoretical point of view, while Maslow’s hierarchy is a great concept, the needs are rarely played out in the same hierarchy as the construct for everybody. I leave that to individual choice and ability, which is exactly what I said when I quoted Janus’ choice of studying with the titans.

      3. I have no problem at all with the case study method and I definitely agree to the great exposure they provide. I have a problem with the way it is being imparted. More often than not, frameworks are given more importance than insights and structure is given more importance than creativity. That is something which I have a huge problem with.
      A point to consider – like most of the things, the law of diminishing marginal utility is likely to apply to the “n” case studies that we, the students, are exposed to.

      4. While I totally agree that B-schools make lives a lot easier for the students, I don’t think their role is confined to this. And that is why I think B-schools require not just a facelift, but an overhaul as well.

  7. Steve says:

    Simpler english would have been preferred. I kind of lost it after inherent bigamy :) May be it’s a good idea to have more credits for English as business tool at IIMs?

  8. Lekh Raj says:

    Very well articulated. ..recently I had the opportunity to give guest lecture at one of the prominent MBA Colleges…when I asked students the purpose of their pursuing management course….Almost all of them replied the same….rightly said… it has become more of a process to get an MBA degree before getting employed.
    Thanks for the audio version.

  9. Naresh says:

    Good article, looking for a change in the process.

  10. Liked your following observation in response to a reader’s comment:-

    “More often than not, frameworks are given more importance than insights and structure is given more importance than creativity. That is something which I have a huge problem with”

    Debates of such nature are to be welcomed!

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About the Author

K Ramkumar, known to his friends as Ram, has an enduring passion for triggering a discussion and joining in with gusto on a range of themes. He believes that every person has an inalienable right to express his/her view no matter how different it is to anyone else. In his book no view is unworthy or big or small. Every view from everyone deserves a consideration without getting caught up with the tyranny of agreement or disagreement.
Read more »