Monday, December 3, 2007

Why I like the IIMA style of learning

Here at the Univ of Koeln, as a part of my course I am doing what is called a Business Project with a leading German company (to avoid any issues later let me call it Company C). It is a live consulting assignment where C wants to evaluate the strategy it adopts for process P and evaluate whether the money spent on department D (which is a profit center) is worth it. Now the structure of the team is such that there is an academician (lets call him Mr X), who on the behalf of the prof has to act like a guide and there is a representative from C who liaisons with us on behalf of C. As is evident, the grades we get will be governed by what the TA thinks of our work and whether C is happy or not depends on the results we give them. Now the nature of the problem is that, the German system is a bit skewed in the sense that when you submit a report or use something you have to support it with adequate literature. The attitude is “I am not a researcher; some researcher has done work and shown that this works so I will use his/her work”. The work we do for C is consulting and hence there are so many things which work in the principle of prototyping. You collect data from the company, study it, make a hypothesis, and decide whether the results support your data. Now for work like this the probability that someone else has done exactly the same thing is very less because each company is different. And here is the fun part. Company C is happy with us because we are on the right track and am giving them useful insights, but Mr X is not because we don’t have literature to support what we are doing. Cost-benefit analysis is a tool that has been used since ages, asking me to find some thesis paper or literature where cost-benefit analysis has been used is like asking me to give supporting literature to show that 2 + 2 = 4. If some company is spending money on A and wants to see whether the benefits B it gets are commensurate logically implies that some kind of cost benefit analysis needs to be done. And Mr X simply wouldn’t understand. It’s so frustrating. Let’s hope that this person is an exception and not a representative sample.

Now contrast this with the way we study at IIMA. Whenever we use someone else’s work we have to reference it. Even if it is just a few words and there is a strict checking of whether what we write is copied from somewhere. You can borrow ideas, give credit to the person and use it to suit your needs. There is credit given to application of the theory and commonsense logic above all ! Infact, this strictness has somehow ingrained in most of us a quality where none of us would even inadvertently use work directly from the net. We research, we read, we google, we search, then we understand, we digest it, we apply it and then produce the output. So no matter what we do, whether its some case we are solving, some assignment or some project report, unless there is something we put of our own, we don’t feel we have done something worthwhile. Contrast this with the pedantic approach of Mr X. This is not the only example. There are few more cases. Profs insisting that you learn definitions by rote, if a model has x components that you should name the x components in the order in which the original author of the model has mentioned it, in your thesis paper you have to have a bibliography with atleast 15-20 references to well known journals…. Well what do I say, the freedom that the system gives, which I mentioned in my previous post, is more or less nullified by such approach to learning. But as they say, you gain some, you loose some.

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