Friday, May 15, 2009

Education and Risk

Many years back, me and a partner-in-crime wondered if we could start a consultancy based on our skills. This happened as we bumped into a lot of 'consultants' who were little more than 'fixers' who get would the jobs done through their contacts at RBI or Sales tax or any government department - many of them seemed to have no genuine skill. And there seemed to be nobody in the market with that genuine skill. Whatever our assessment, to cut a short story shorter, we chickened out, each one of us going our different ways.

In the meantime, we observed one of the boys who worked as a peon at a mill (and came often to deliver and collect things to our office). He proudly announced that to us one day as he came to collect a few cheques saying that this was his last. He had decided to go off on his own into the garment business by investing in a couple of sewing machines and some labour.While we congratulated him, we were dumbstruck. Here we were, educated till our ears, unable to decide on starting something and here was this boy, barely educated, who decided to take the plunge. And that was when we came up with the phrase, "Education lowers our risk taking abilities" and promptly settled back at our desks.

In my apartment, there are entrepreneurs - no, not among those who live here, but among those who provide services. There is a chap who started a drinking water dealership and he was the electrician of our building. The chap who worked as a driver for the builder, set up a milk distribution business for the apartments that his boss built. They reinvented themselves, while those in the apartment crib about the changing times in terms of the job market.

As we go through school and college collecting degrees in commerce or science, we unknowingly (or very knowingly) slot ourselves and create boundaries. Much like the elephant parable. It gets worse as we go through professional courses. "I am marketing, I cannot work in finance" or coming from the other side "You are marketing, how can you work in production?" or even worse "You are mainframe, how can you work in java?" are questions that are posed to us either by ourselves or our bosses or peers or interviewers. And in doing so, we unwittingly find ourselves neatly slotted into a pigeonhole where we dig deeper, unable to come out of the rut. (Note that many pigeon holes are very comfortable places to be in...)

And then we wonder where we missed all those opportunities that came by us. Well, most of the time, we let it pass by thinking it is not for us. It is either above you or below you or it is not in your lane at all - the lane that you created for yourself after toiling for a minimum of 20 odd years of education. (Yes, it applies to me too...)

Postscript: There are exceptions around, having been lucky to have friends (highly educated) go on the "high risk" path, atleast I know for sure that it can be done...


Gaurav Ajinder Singh said...

well... as an engineer or an mba... u have more to lose than probably an electrician or peon... so comparatively, the risk is more for them than u..

Savitha Rao said...

The elephant parable is so true !

'More to lose' is a perception . One that binds.

barbadkatte said...

To counter Gaurav's point. Your education actually lowers your risk. 1) You can always get back to working for some one else. Easier to find a job if you have a education. than without one
2) Your job ( before u become a businessman ) does provide the surplus needed to ensure that you /your family will not starve till yr business starts generating cash

Gaurav Ajinder Singh said...

@barbadkatte - starting a new business means struggle, in the beginning atleast(though the rewards may b higher), it is easier to shy away from the struggle if u have a comfortable, nice paying job. you are content enuf to continue doing so, but if u hv a lousy, low paying job, starting ur own business seems more appealing..

Savitha Rao said...

The elephant parable has wider application than beyond the job v/s entrepreneurship . Even in a job structure many are risk averse thereby limiting their growth.

It's not as though entrepreneurship is (or even should be) the ultimate goal for all working people .There are many whose talents are best suited for working in a company and they make immense contribution to the world through their work.

Breaking free of the imagined chains is most important . One can then make a bigger contribution in whatever form one chooses to.

purple pitara said...

I think if you are really lucky in your first job (read: small team, variety of things to do) then a lot of myths you hold on to in terms of "specialization" disappear. Also, as someone who has walked down the entrepreneurial path - trust me,it takes a lot less than you imagine - and being desperate helps a lot more than being a risk taker!!

B Shantanu said...

This struck a chord:
As we go through school and college ..we unknowingly (or very knowingly) slot ourselves and create boundaries.

Friends of mine still cannot understand how can it be fun to move from engineering to diplomacy to venture capital and more recently to political activism.

I am still trying to break the imagined boundaries of "Oh, you can't do that!"


For the curious amongst you, here is the story of the most recent transition:

and a profile of my current activities:

Pradeep Kumar said...

There is also a minor difference between running a business and starting/creating a company which one must understand. Lets say you set up a soup shop in Chennai which generates peacefully 300 Rs per day to the lady who runs it, she is happy. In this case running the business means she gets her monthly income through that. This is low risk. Now, when you look at starting a company, it will be like creating a dealership of 30 soup sellers (which one female has done in T Nagar, Chennai who supplies all the soup to every roadside soup shop) and growing it relentlessly etc. This involves considerable effort and risk and is different from running a business. The difference between a guy who runs a vada pav shop and daily makes 500 Rs and the guy who ventured to create that branded vada pav in Mumbai which may be worth 10 crores now.