Mr. Debashis Chatterjee, Former Director, IIM Kozhikode, Professor, IIM Lucknow

Dimensions Team: Does the drive or the initiative to get an idea to materialize have to be a strong belief in what I want to do or can it be external, say something that schools or colleges can inculcate?

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: It is a bit of both. You have to first figure out what you can do for long hours without feeling bored. Just because you like to do something doesn’t mean you are really good at it. You have to be self-aware, and you also have to get feedback from others who can give you honest feedback. In terms of the larger picture, can you sustain the efforts for 7 or 8 years, can you continue it? This is what mastery is all about. You have to go through practice and feedback. That loop is what is going to make you a leader.The block that you mentioned will come in the form of your own lack of awareness of what you are really good at for which you need help from people who really understand you, and give you the necessary feedback.

Dimensions Team: But often, feedback is not exactly honest feedback?

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: That is because you are seeking it out from people who do not know you at all. And you are afraid to hear the truth. If you have this quality, you will never be a leader. You have to learn what the truth is, otherwise, how will you grow? So somebody who is going to tell you exactly what you are, is what is important. That is not going to come very often. You have to seek out real feedback. In the corporates, they have introduced 360 degree feedback. Why do they need it? Because you cannot rely on random feedback. You have to ask a complete stranger. Someone who doesn’t have knowledge of your background. He will tell you the truth.

If you want to grow, you can only grow from who you really are. Not something you are not.

Dimensions Team: These days, most management schools stress upon managers. Very few colleges encourage entrepreneurship. Why is it so? Why it is not encouraged?

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: You’re right. But you can’t blame them for doing so. There is something called an assembly line and the security of the assembly line. This happens with our youth too. Everything is already set- from school, to higher education, to job, to marriage, to kids. Life moves on. And so, as a society or as a culture, we have to re-discover. Colonization has made us slaves to others. And in India the predominant mind-set is that there is not enough. So grab as much as you can as quickly as possible. Societal support is very critical for entrepreneurial journeys. As long as it was not there, our best minds were all going for typical jobs. Now the story is changing. So if you ask why society is producing only managers or technocrats, it is because there is this clear assembly line, where it is a predictable future. And so those of us who were brought up as risk-averse people, we find that journey to be very appealing and satisfying.

Dimensions Team: All MBA colleges teach us to be ambitious and to achieve more. But at the end of the day, we are all going to die. Do you think we should be instead leading a stress-free life? I think we should maintain a balance. Should we be expecting balance?

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: The most stress-free life is when you’re in your grave. Stress is actually not out there. The fundamental error we make is we think stress is out there. Stress comes in the reception and perception of what is an event outside. What you consider stress, maybe somebody else is enjoying it. So don’t generalize stress. Stress is very unique and is present everywhere. If you ask somebody who always keeps busy, to just sit and relax with a glass of wine, he will be very stressed. He would think his life is useless simply sitting like that and doing nothing. So what is and what is not stressful is largely your intrinsic orientation with the work. Peer pressure is stress that can be avoided. Doing something you don’t really like to do would naturally produce stress since there is an internal resistance to it. The way out is to recognize what you are really good at. If you are really good at what you do, then you will not be stressed.

Dimensions Team: From the student’s perspectives, we know the difference between other B-schools and IIMs. But since you have been associated with IIM Kozhikode and IIM Lucknow, we would like to know as per you what the difference is between IIMs and other B-schools in India.

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: The difference is not just in the building structure and other infrastructure. The difference is also in the body of students and their experiences. The first thing that differentiates the two is aspirations. Once you are in MIT and Harvard, or IIM as you mentioned, your aspiration jumps up. And your peer group keeps that aspirational conversation in place. So you are not talking about whether or not you will get a job, but which job you will get, from day one. Just think of IPL and the ISL. Think of the players who came from nowhere. Because they are now playing with world class cricketers, these youngsters from little villages suddenly saw the world, and their aspirations changed overnight.

Dimensions Team: Do you think culture with education as an advantage that we Asians, particularly Indians have over the western education system?

Mr. Debashis Chatterjee: It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. An advantage is the sacredness of the learning process. Learning is very important in India. Parents invest up to 60% of their income on their children’s learning. This doesn’t happen anywhere else. After the age of 18, those kids are just left to fend for themselves. So this is a great thing about Indian culture.The disadvantage is, the culture of doing work. Most people who become doctors don’t know how to fit a light bulb or iron their own shirts. Culture becomes an emphasis of formal education qualification. Our education system does not promote hands-on skills. It does not encourage you to start a business. It does not encourage you to take risks. So in some ways it is good, in some ways it is dysfunctional. So we really need to take a deeper look into this system which is creating degree holders but not creating capable employees and managers.

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