From skills to success: business tips from Bangalore BizLitFest 2019
This weekend, the fifth annual Bangalore Business Literature Festival (BBLF) will kick off at WeWork Galaxy. In our third preview article on the litfest, we feature insights from eight speakers on lifelong learning, dealing with the stress of entrepreneurship, and trends in business communication. See also YourStory’s Book Review section with reviews of over 200 titles on entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation.
The speaker lineup for the one-day event on Saturday includes Mahendra Sharma (CEO, Matrubharti), YourStory Founder Shradha Sharma, MK Raghavendra (Founder of journal ‘Deep Focus’), Ramya Ranganathan (IIM Bangalore faculty), and 20 others.
See Part I and Part II of our BBLF 2019 coverage, as well as write-ups on the earlier editions of the festival in 2018 (storytelling, founder tips), 2017 (entrepreneurship, failure insights, founder stories), 2016 (grassroots entrepreneurship, startup ecosystems) and 2015 (business models, startup boom, storytelling).
The rise of the gig economy is challenging the traditional definition of a job in a number of ways. “In the recent past, there has undoubtedly been an increase in short-term contracts and freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. This is partly due to the modern-day job seeker looking for flexibility over security, immediate income over long-term benefits, and employability over employment,” observes Sudheesh Venkatesh, Chief People Officer, Azim Premji Foundation.
Equally, organisations are hesitant to commit to long-term employment contracts since the business environment is volatile, business models change rapidly, and response times are shrinking. “Employees of today want to live the best time of their lives now and the premium on organisational loyalty has reduced,” he adds.
Employees are fiercely committed to their own success and to learn constantly. “Employees want to have the time to do many more things in life beyond the job, while always being ready for the next big opportunity,” Sudheesh observes.
The challenge for educational institutes
Educational institutes find themselves hard-pressed to better prepare students for uncertainty in job markets. “Universities and colleges need to change their business models, especially those with three- and four-year courses,” advises Raghavan Jagannathan, author, The Jobs Crisis in India. Such models are built on the expectation that a student will pay fees for several years, and this, along with some government support, will fund overheads and tenures for most teaching staff.
“But in the gig economy, universities and colleges have to create more short-term courses, often courses for which regular curricula may not exist. This means they have to be regularly in touch with businesses, find out which certifications are in demand, and tailor courses for the same,” Raghavan explains.
They also need to understand that college is not only for people in their late teens or early 20s. “It is for people of all ages, and focused on delivering the skills that are in demand. Most undergraduate courses outside technical areas like the ones provided by the IITs and NIITs do not prepare anyone for a real job. They are just ‘timepass’,” Raghavan cautions.
In future, people will pay fees only for job-related skilling, unless the idea is to pursue academics in a subject. “So, universities and colleges have to rework their business models in order to deliver what is needed for skilling in a gig economy,” he emphasises.
“If universities can ensure students learn how to be lifelong learners, their job is done. While there will be uncertainty in job markets, certain qualities will never go out of fashion – such as hard work, problem-solving ability, and communication,” Sudheesh of Azim Premji Foundation explains.
A sound underpinning of theory, application of concepts to practical challenges, and working effectively in teams are also aspects universities can emphasise. “It is good to avoid the temptation of just focusing on what job markets seem to need today – such skills could become redundant quickly unless the student has developed the fundamental abilities to seamlessly move to the next emerging area,” he cautions.
Learning and long-term success
Many companies resort to job and role rotation as a way of upskilling employees, grooming leaders, and making organisations more resilient. “The challenges of a job rotation in a company have often to do with timing, numbers, and learnability. Companies need people for the future, but such people could also be working in areas of crucial current importance – so releasing them is an issue,” Sudheesh of Azeem Premji Foundation observes.
Another issue is with numbers – not everyone can be given a job rotation. “Some may have to keep the show going while others go on to develop the future shows. Besides, not everyone is a lifelong learner. The versatility required to different jobs may not come naturally to everyone at all ages,” Sudheesh cautions.
Having said that, he identifies a number of benefits of job rotation. For example, it keeps people energised and looking forward to the next challenge. “It provides flexibility in resourcing with more people available for any given job. It transfers competence from one area to another, with people carrying their abilities from one job to the next,” Sudheesh explains. This continuously builds new organisational strengths – for example, a finance person moving to manufacturing will certainly bring an eye for cost.
The situation is not too different in other sectors. “In most middle-to-low skill areas, the time needed to become fairly good or at least reasonably competent in your job is not more than a few months, if not weeks,” Raghavan Jagannathan says. This is why people at any level and in all non-expert jobs should seek changes in their job responsibilities – even if the movement is lateral – so that they learn new things, and thus become that much less vulnerable to job cuts.
“The mantra for the new economy, the gig economy, is learn – learn new skills, new roles,” he adds. If a company expects employees to do the same job at the same place for years on end, it is actually setting them on the path to stagnation and eventual redundancy. “So do seek change at least once in three years in any company at which you work,” Raghavan advises.
Business professionals should therefore gear themselves up to become self-driven lifelong learners. “Set time aside on your calendar for active reading or listening to good podcasts. Most successful professionals are reading quite a bit these days,” observes Shalini Lal, co-author of The Secret Lives of Organisations.
“Any time you develop a creative insight, your brain releases dopamine, making aha moments very pleasurable. This is a great addiction to have,” she explains. “If you need to write or teach or speak on a topic you will do a lot of research. So, seek opportunities to do so,” Shalini adds.
Coaches, mentors and counsellors
Even with adequate training and experience, the pressures of business can become too much to bear. “Coaches and counsellors help to deal with such stress. “Emotions are the drivers of all human actions, and entrepreneurs need to have the ability to handle their emotions as well as those of their team members well,” explains Shoaib Ahmed, Founder, Catalystor.
This involves expressing emotions by channelising actions. “A good coach has the ability to show the reflection of an entrepreneur’s actions, without any judgment. Creating a safe environment for all team members to express themselves, and a sense of belonging is the first step,” he adds.
As the second step, Shoaib identifies atmakripa or learning to be gracious to the self. “Entrepreneurs are too hard on themselves. They should recognise joy in the work, find the inner happiness which drives everyone, and make sure that boredom and anxiety are never allowed to fester,” he adds.
He urges entrepreneurs to ensure that they have a strong anchor, to help recharge from the leaks caused to due negative or positive discharges. “This anchor could be a physical exercise routine, or fun time with family and friends, or a simple spiritual ritual which helps let go and build trust with the universe,” Shoaib explains.
“Having a coach accessible makes it easy to share business-related stress,” adds Nistha Tripathi, author of No Shortcuts: Rare Insights from 15 Successful Startup Founders. However, this ultimately depends on whether the founder feels comfortable in sharing the underlying problems and accepting that something is wrong.
“What can be more useful is for successful founders to share how they have had their own ups and downs. We need to remove the taboo around failures and enable struggling founders to ask for help when needed,” she urges.
Publishing and communication
The speakers also identify a number of trends in business communication and publishing. “More people in India are writing books to enhance their professional credibility and stature - for instance, to establish themselves as an expert in a particular domain. This could lead to further professional opportunities and growth for them,” Ganesh Vancheeswaran, author of Underage CEOs, points out.
Self-publishing is another emerging trend in this regard. “Running a self-publishing platform has several advantages for traditional publishers. Apart from additional revenues from providing publishing services, publishers get early access to a treasure trove of market validated content from thousands of first-time authors,” Naveen Valsakumar, CEO, Notion Press, says.
“Contrary to popular belief, self-publishing is not a service business. It is driven by technology at every touch point to increase scale, decrease cost, increase author engagement, and distribute titles efficiently,” he clarifies. Notion Press publishes over 750 books every month, equivalent to a new title published every hour.
Storytelling is also becoming increasingly popular as a communication practice among leaders and entrepreneurs. “I don’t think there is any leader today who would disagree that a good leader also needs to be a storyteller. I say that the moment you are in business, you are also in the storytelling business,” explains Ameen Haque, Founder, Storywallahs.
A leader must inspire, motivate, challenge, lead people through change, and help them believe. “These are not easy tasks. Stories help. A good leader is also like a teacher – they coach others. And a good teacher is usually a good storyteller,” he adds.
In addition to panel discussions on the above topics, BBLF 2019 will feature a business quiz conducted by Sandeep Das, Director at PwC and author of Satan’s Angels and Yours Sarcastically. There will also be a session on ‘The Art of Authorship’ by V Raghunathan, and the BBLF CK Prahalad Best Business Book Award 2019 will be presented.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)