Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Experience in HBS

This April I visited Boston and was lucky to experience a Harvard Business School Class. They have a program where visitors can come and seat within the class to experience the famous 'Case Study method' live in action. I visited a Macroeconomics class and the case study was on India - Indian history, how Indian policy making and demographic profile have worked so far, how Indian growth is different/similar to that of China and finally should someone invest in India. Prof Dante Roscini drove the discussion and made sure all students shared their insights. He is a great teacher and facilitated the discussion very effectively. 

There were many interesting observations from diverse background of students - how Gini changed over time and whether Interest Rate spreads inherently mean Indian investors getting comfortable with Government Debt; whether China's growth in Manufacturing is mainly due to currency manipulation or competitiveness; whether number of engineers produced in India truly indicates the quality of Indian education system etc. The most influencing thought for me was whether democracy is good for India even if that compromises growth. There was no final answer - Indian students supported Indian democracy(even though they accepted it is not True democracy, illiterate voters have no idea on main issues and they vote based on caste or specific preference to a political dynasty) whereas Chinese students supported Growth(everybody loves their country!).

I came back with that burning question in mind - Democracy or autocracy, Chinese speed of execution or slowness of argumentative Indians? Over time I realized that there is no correct answer. Let me provide some business perspectives before I go back to the actual example of governance. Autocracy is a high-risk high-return game. If we have great leadership autocracy is fantastic - we could not have so artistically brilliant Apple Products if there were multiple decision makers deciding on Product features instead of Steve Jobs leading the end-to-end process of keeping the minimalist user-friendliness. At the same time it will be too risky - if there is no one to challenge the leader and the leader makes a bad decision(or become evil). Do you want to build a great product and then launch it in market(keep it neat - don't listen to users - they have no idea what they want) or you want to prototype and test the product incrementally by incorporating the customer feedback(some may be good, some may be very bad - overall a messy process). The Great Apple iPod would not be possible if Jobs listened to his customers for product features. But think about it -  thousands of start-ups fail because they don't listen to the market needs.

In politics and governance same rule applies and history says we can have success/failure in both. We can have great autocratic governance if we have truly visionary leaders(with good intention- rare combination although!). But generally speaking we have seen democracy ruling the game most of the time. Collaboration is messy & slow but it helps to avoid the big mistakes.

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