crowd of students fell completely silent. Their professors looked
aghast. I was at an IIT, speaking on entrepreneurship-and a throw-away
remark caused the furore. ''Your education here is completely useless
in the real world, hope you know that,'' I'd said as an aside.
The furore set me thinking. I'd grown up in
a typical middle-class home, where academic excellence was seen
as the only way to greatness. A couple of role models were endlessly
cited: of so-and-so who came first in some exam and went off to
the US. And of such-and-such who got a full fellowship at a great
I check on where these people are today. Mr First-in-class sits
in a cubicle at a large tech firm in the Valley, among thousands
of other 'cubists'. Mr Fellowship is still at the same university
that paid him to learn-but is teaching now. They're doing okay,
but they aren't likely to be my kid's role models. Or yours.
Two is no sample size to learn from, so I look
at other successful entrepreneurs globally. Not one I can find was
an academic standout. Is it just coincidence that four of the world's
top eight billionaires are dropouts?
Do this: think of all the toppers you knew
who studied day and night. Where are they now? How come that other
good-for-nothing dope nobody expected anything from turned out to
be the star achiever? Is there a pattern here?
Here's my theory: academic excellence is inversely
proportional to business success. Don't know about you-but when
applied to people I knew in school, it works 100 per cent. Are you
pushing your children to come first in class? Does that mean they
will fail as business people?
Why do I feel our education is irrelevant in
business? Tell me, unless you're in the chemicals industry, when
did you last apply Boyle's Law to your life? Or matrices for that
matter? As for your graduation or MBA, have you learnt anything
with any bearing to the planet you live on, the time you live in,
and the work you do now?
I've also wondered why the most-sought-after
hires by investment banking companies in India are computer science
grads from IIT with a pg in marketing from IIM. More disturbingly,
how many MBA programmes actually produce entrepreneurs with the
'I'm-okay-with-zero-salary' start-up fire? How come all these students
crave high paying jobs doing low-IG maintenance work for some smoothly-running
Lazy hr people are as much to blame. I can
imagine them saying: ''Well, we need smart people, but where do
we find them? Hmmm-got it! Of every 1,000 students, 10 get to IIT.
Of that, perhaps three get to IIM. Natural selection shows they
must be smart. So let's pay whatever crapload of money it takes
to hire them.''
Dear hr person, here's a simpler way. Just
give the CAT/GMAT to all and sundry, put them through a group discussion,
and hire the better ones. Why make them waste two years on an MBA?
But I'm often told by parents: ''Yes, these
degrees and MBAs may be useless. But they are insurance, just in
case the unthinkable happens.'' I have two big problems with that:
One, no successful enterprise was started by a risk-averse person.
If you have a fall-back, you are likely to have very little motivation
to move forward. Perhaps many dropouts succeed simply because they
don't have anything to fall back on.
Two, the unthinkable has already happened-jobs
are being slashed all over the place-and having a degree hasn't
saved your job, or found you the next one. I've also noticed a hiring
quirk: class toppers almost never turn out to be good candidates.
I guess if you've spent your entire life glued to textbooks, you
haven't seen much of the real world, and you're of little use to
business. It's the street-smart 20 percentiler with a last-minute
cram after a year of class-cutting who tends to do better.
What does this mean for us? For some, I hope,
a re-think on the way they hire. For others, perhaps a little soul-searching.
For me, well, I'll get even more hate mail than usual!
Mahesh Murthy, an angel investor, heads
Passionfund. He earlier ran Channel V and, before that, helped launch
Yahoo! and Amazon at a Valley-based interactive marketing firm.
Reach him at Mahesh@passionfund.com.