The Street MBA
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Education is considered to be an important tool to build a good career and make your mark in the society. You are told from your childhood itself that your grades not only determine your chances of getting into a good college, but also define your success after graduation. Your level of intelligence is gauged through these numbers.
I feel that, success is not limited to the numbers you achieve, rather is determined by your ability to interact, function and thrive in the world around you. I wanted to be a scientist, but ended up being an insurer. Do I regret this decision? No. Do I enjoy doing what I’m doing? Yes. Am I qualified to be an insurer from education perspective? May be not.
Nowadays an MBA degree is considered a must for good career progression as a manager, and it is great to see that some of you who have gone down this path are doing very well. I don’t have an MBA degree which would have taught me sales or management. But if you look at my career graph, with the best wishes from all of you I’ve been MD & CEO of one of the most successful general insurance company in India for close to 6 years. This thought came to me when someone asked me from which University had I done my MBA, and I replied by saying that I did it from the ‘Street University’. The person got really inquisitive and asked me where exactly this University is. I told him that this University is in every country, every city and every village of the world.
And it’s true. I learnt a lot by observing the streets around me, watching the hawkers when I visited them to have my favourite street side foods. One of the most important lessons that I have learnt from them is their power of resilience. I have seen them get uprooted many times, but they come back with a smile. They are temporarily sad for their loss, but soon they are already thinking about solutions to overcome a situation. The power of finding solutions rather than fretting about a problem is what I have learnt from them.
Secondly, they are always ready for the unexpected. They are not sure how stable is their business model and what will happen at the end of the day. But they are confident that they will find a solution to whatever happens. These street vendors usually have no time to plan – they think on their toes and use the scanty tools available with them to manage any crisis. They figure out how to do business with whatever adversities they may have to face. This teaches you lessons in clever resourcefulness be it in terms of managing projects or making sales by smartly tackling such situations.
I feel that success and happiness go hand in hand. If you are not happy with what you are doing in life, you will be perceived successful by everyone but you. I have seen the street hawkers relishing the joy of life with not much with them, but still content enough. Their generosity inspires me the most when they give a helping hand to a poor person by offering them some food. Even the richest amongst us sometimes fail to display such attributes of kindness, which actually add value to life.
I have also learnt sharpness of doing business from these street vendors. They are capable to figure out business opportunities even in places where the best business people are standing with them to compete. They have the ability to a build relationship with their customers and be loyal to them. For example, you might not be surprised when your street side vendor offers you his phone number and saves up yours in return. He gives you a call when he’s freshly stocked up with your favourite fruit, and even offers to drop it at your doorstep – customised services at their best! Sometimes he goes out of his way and brings you fresh flowers on Diwali, just in case you needed them for the Pooja rituals – another free course in relationship building! They serve you with a smile and their ability to go extra mile comes to them on a very spontaneous basis. I’m yet to see organised business houses being able to do so well. Some of you might think, this diminishes with scale, but it should not. We are equipped with technology and infrastructure which the street vendor is not, and yet something so simple is seems tough to us.
Today we hear that it’s a VUCA world. We hear various business models being adopted by organizations to enhance their agility and adaptability. But I have seen all these qualities being used and incorporated by these heroes, my professors of the street university from whom I learnt to do business, run organizations, learned Human Resources, sales, marketing, operations, etc.
I’m sure each one of you would also have learnt something from them, which in your subconscious mind plays out when you are running your companies or your systems. You are a sum total of your experiences. By this I mean experience of the world, being out there, interacting with people and situations. Experiential learning is the biggest learning you can get, the world is full of an exciting diverse bouquet of experiences, each for every situation.
They say there are no free lunches, but there sure are free lessons! ‘Street University’ may not be recognised amongst the biggest universities of the world, but I’m sure the lessons I learnt here I wouldn’t have been taught to me even in the best of universities. For the determined, inspiration is everywhere, especially in the chaos of the streets. Watch out for it the next time you are out for a stroll!