Tuesday, September 06, 2011

LEARNING THE ART IN PARTS

Last week I attended a lecture by Prof. James Wodhuysen, who is Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, Leicester. Apart from other things, he spoke of how SOCIOLOGY has become a very important subject to study for connecting ‘FUTURE’ and ‘INNOVATION’. He also discussed about the need to focus on TECHNOLOGY and ENGINEERING, which has become a bit out of fashion today amongst designers.

We at Onio started engaging with SOCIOLOGY probably around 2005, when out of my own passion for futurology, Trend Research became a practice and we started working with a German automotive major, to help them structure their India entry strategy. Slowly, SOCIOLOGY, CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, ETHNOGRAPHY, MEGATRENDS kind of words started dotting Onio’s terminology. While this was on, another team at Onio headed by Prakash, co-founder of Onio, remained focused on TECHNOLOGY application, core product design and design engineering. What made this holistic approach to innovation, gain ground? It was surely a combination of rich ingredients in the roots which made our minds open to receiving wider realms, that add up to new age of innovation. On teacher’s day , I thought of a few great influences that touched me, coloured me or sometimes changed my entire trajectory for good. Here is a fond remembrance-
Remembering Immanuel Suresh, my teacher at NID, an extraordinary observer of nature, human behaviour and more importantly an extraordinary human being, gave me the understanding to connect the seemingly unconnected. Prof. B. D. Mishra who taught me at IIT Mumbai (the multifaceted talented man who represented India in Asiad in athletics, trekked with Tenzing Norgay to Mount Everest and represented India in UN on Population and Development) who exposed me to a whole new world of Futurology. I still remember the book reading sessions discussing Future Shock, Small is Beautiful and One Straw Revolution at Nescafe Stall at IIT Mumbai during the course. Together these two gentlemen fired the spark in me of diligent inquiry into the future. Current practice of Trends, Design Research and Strategy at Onio actually emanated here.

I also feel grateful to my first Alma Mater, IIT Mumbai for exposing me to wider learning through humanities courses during the study. Indian Philosophy, Psychology, English Literature and Futurology were some of my favourite courses. I felt enriched. I gained more from these and the side learning of guitar classes, reading books on grandmasters of art and science in the giant library, and by conversing with talented peers, than what I learnt in the structured courses of mechanical engineering.

I must remember Professor Ram Jaiswal at Ajmer, who was generous enough to give me water-colour and portrait painting training with no obligation. It was truly a wonder to see a master at work. I still remember the pleasure of pencil gliding and seeing the face of the person sitting in front appearing on the paper. Sketching is meditation. Sketching is a renaissance art that I cherish. While I was never a good student of Engineering Drawing at IIT, I think I was a good student at NID when it came to perspective sketching.

Prof. J. A. Panchal, who taught simple things at NID- model-making- “If you know three things perfectly- How to cut, How to join and How to distort- you can make anything”- were his famous words, stuck in my mind. He is a perfectionist and taught me to be diligent.

NID, my second Alma Mater, taught me to respect the work I do. Every piece of paper I scribble on, every sketchy drawing I make, every word I say is ‘mine’ and it is no less than a ‘piece of art’. By building love and care in our own work, we slowly move towards perfection.
My schoolmate Chaman Singh Verma had beautiful handwriting. I always ended up trying to copy his way of handling the pen and did manage to move up a few notches.

Some teachers are so busy in everyday teaching that they have no time to reflect that they have transformed the lives of hundreds of students and students are indebted to them. Mr. A.K. Rehman, my maths teacher at St. Paul’s School at Ajmer, was one such man. In those times when IIT was not even heard of, in smaller towns like Ajmer, he was one man who prodded us to think of making IIT as a career goal. Once I was at IIT(Mumbai), my life and perspective changed forever.

Valentin Manolov, a physicist from Moscow University, whom I met in a train from Ajmer to Mumbai, transformed the way I looked at spirituality. Super qualified ISKCON volunteers (some of them were PhDs in various areas) who were a regular feature at IIT that time, discussing teachings of Gita, did fuel the fire that Valentin Manolov started. Osho, whose writings articulated some more hidden areas of human life and para-knowledge, in contemporary terms. I still read the anecdotes, poems and stories spread across the Osho literature.

Renaissance master, Leonardo Da Vinci, whose sketchbook, I copied end-to-end a few times. Michael Angelo, whose biography –‘The Agony and Ecstasy’ taught me that you don’t need to live an ‘extraordinary life’ to be the man that he was.

Sunil Handa, professor at IIM-A and erstwhile MD of Core Emballage when I interned at his company, was a real hard task-master and stickler for details. He did teach me that how a person who works passionately at the task at hand, ‘never falls ill’. Famous words –“50 percent of the time of your life must be spent in arranging it carefully, so that rest of the 50 percent can be enjoyed”.

Arup Dutta and Deepak Kamath, my wing-mates at Hostel-7 in IIT, were two walking encyclopaediae of knowledge from history to movies. From correcting my English accent to telling me the story plot of ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly’, these two gentlemen surely helped me evolve as I am today.Vinayak Kini, my ‘weirdo’ classmate at IIT, who successfully runs a big business in USA today, who could write much better poems than I did, who freaked out ten times more than I did and still managed better marks than I did.

Genevieve Flaven, my collaborator on Trends Research and head of Style Vision, France- a magnificent trend researcher and power thinker, I did learn a great deal from her- from trend thinking to event organisation.

Prakash, my business partner, who has been a good friend all this while,taught me to have more faith in people, to accommodate more ‘greys’ while dealing with tough situations and to have ‘leader leaves the last’ virtues.
My father- who still goes out for the morning walk at 5a.m. since the time I have come into this world. Be it any weather, guests at home or a return from a tiring journey- his morning walk has never stopped. I have never seen a more steadfast man than him. I have seen that how he retained the same persistence in publishing a journal ‘Economic Challenger’ for last ten years, despite several ‘challenging’ situations where it almost closed down.

Finally, Sonali, my wife, who helped me stretch my thinking from ‘timely’ to ‘perfect’ work and from ‘done’ to ‘the way it should be’.