The world of business, like everything else, is changing at a rapid pace. Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Corporation, takes a look at the changes that are taking place in the business world and draws out strategies to tackle them

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Published: Mon 5 Jan 2004, 2:19 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:38 AM

I would like to share my thoughts on what is required to prepare the talent for the future. I would like to speak more from a point of view of a businessman and a person who has benefitted from the talent nurtured by you.

Let us first look at the sweeping changes taking place in front of our very eyes.

First, the business space is changing at an exponential increase in velocity, complexity, unpredictability and hyper competitiveness in the global arena.

Second, all business including domestic business, is moving to a customer-led business space. Customers want more for less. That is an absolute global reality.

Third, the life span of differentiators will become extremely short. Entry barriers will be eroded by competition sooner than later.

Fourth, the need for transparency and corporate governance will become only higher. The cost of scandals will become unaffordable.

Fifth, newer and more stringent standards in quality and processes will keep everyone on their toes. Quality will be a passport for entry but not a license for continuing business.

Sixth, the expectations of employees will be on the rise. Performance will become more critical. At the same time, for high performing employees there will be many more opportunities.

Seventh, global business requires a global workforce with mix from all geographies. People processes and practices must straddle cross-cultural gaps.

Finally, there are some who predict that the entire nature of the organisation will change. Rigid structures will give way to velcro-like relationships. Roles will become fluid. Organisations will be built around virtual teams that disband after the task is achieved.

What will be the qualities needed to succeed in this new world? These are issues of importance for institutions of higher education. First and foremost, we need the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs need more than technical talent, more than business savvy qualities. What they need is the indefatigable energy and incurable optimism that enables them to take the road less travelled and convert their dreams into reality.

It is a force that beckons an individual to pursue countless opportunities. Entrepreneurs must learn how to overcome the risk of failure, or of vulnerability. The institutions can give them valuable insights and also support them in this.

Second, there is no substitute to working hard. At one time there was a debate whether one should work harder or smarter. This debate has now become irrelevant. One needs to work both smarter and harder. My own workday has been elongating every year.

Third, encourage people to question status quo and develop the ability in them to see newer, different dimensions of the issue. They must learn how to make new connections to existing patters. Also, they should know how to present a different viewpoint without creating resistance or defence. Communication is the key.

Fourth, students must develop resilience. Adversity is part of the game. It is more like the bend in the road than the end of the road. But they must learn how to survive the rough patch without getting unduly disheartened. Resilience is a learned ability but depends on basic courage. It is also a function of the faith people have in themselves. In many ways, adversity provides the acid test that separates the leaders from the others. Dealing with failure and criticism is an important part of education.

Fifth, develop the ability to deal with ambiguities. There may never be clear black and white answers to all situations. Neither will we always have at our command all the data we need to make a perfect decision.

If you wait for perfect data, you may be too late to act. In the name of reducing risk, procrastination may actually increase it. One has to learn how to make a judgment on available facts and move ahead. In fact, the essence of managing is managing ambiguities.

Sixth, we must teach our students to develop a collaborative mindset and become team players. The challenges ahead are so complex that it will be imperative to work as a team. Teaming with others is as important as individual strength. You cannot fire a missile from a canoe. Unless you build a strong network of people with complimentary skills, you will be restricted by your own limitations. Globalisation has brought in people of different origin, different upbringing and different cultures together. Ability to become an integral part of a cross-cultural team will be a must for success.

Seventh, create life long learners. One could never afford to stop learning. Many technologies become obsolete even before the textbooks describing them get printed. Keeping up to date has never been so challenging. But apart from learning from books and articles one must also learn from experience. That means that we must constantly reflect on our experiences. We must learn not only how to keep looking at others through a window but also look at ourselves through a mirror.

Finally, we must create great teachers. To me, it is one of the noblest of all professions. The best thing about teaching is that it is the best way to learn. I remember this story of a CEO who did not think highly of the teaching profession. He kept on reminding other guests at the dinner that: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."

To corroborate, he said to another guest: "You're a teacher, Susan. Be honest. What do you make?" Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied: "You want to know what I make?"

"I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face, if the student did not do his or her very best. I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. I can make parents tremble in fear when I call home."

"You want to know what I make?"

"I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticise. I make them apologise and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read, read. I make them spell 'definitely beautiful,' 'definitely beautiful,' and 'definitely beautiful' over and over and over again, until they will never again misspell either one of those words. I make them show all their work in Math and hide it all on their final drafts in English.

"Elevate them to experience music and art and the joy in performance, so their lives are rich, full of kindness and culture, and they take pride in themselves and their accomplishments. I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no attention."

"You want to know what I make? I make a difference."

Let me acknowledge the tremendous difference my teachers have made in my life. We are among the few to be fortunate to have received the educational opportunity we did. It is our turn now to repay the society at large. I firmly believe that those who are talented and have a talent for teaching must teach.

Education is a magic wand that can transform the burden of a large population into unimaginable competitive strength. Education is the only guarantee we have as a nation for the future.

(This is a condensed version of an address by Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Corporation at the Leadership Summit held recently in Bangalore)

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