Sunday 12 June 2011

The churning within...

The following autobiographical note by LRB was used as a case study entitled Deepak Dey's diary for the Organisational Behavior curriculum at IIM-Ahmedabad. It brings out, quite beautifully, the chaotic, rambling, semi-rational and semi-emotional churn that goes into making personal decisions. Contrast this thought process to the very rational argument put together in 'LRB considering a career move' (see previous post). David Hume was spot on when he said 'Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.'

From Deepak Dey's Diary*

By Labdhi R. Bhandari

In the early seventies, the Gujarat Mail used to depart from Bombay early in the evening. As usual, I was late and felt for not having had enough time to chat with all the friends who came to the railway station to say goodbye.

As I settled down in my compartment, I felt tired. The train was now moving fast, leaving the northern suburbs of Bombay behind. I unwrapped one of the packages given to me as a parting gift by a dear friend. It was a personalized letter pad of handmade paper. I noticed that my friend had written a farewell note on the first sheet of the pad. It was a touching note. As the train sped northward, nostalgia carried me back on its wings. I was leaving Bombay for good and I wondered about the wisdom of doing so. I had lived in Bombay for nearly five years. I had many good friends in Bombay who had become a part and parcel of my social life. I had become an avid subscriber to a variety of cultural events and activities in Bombay. The proximity of Tejpal Theatre from my apartment was a great boon, which I was certain to miss. I had grown accustomed to my cosy air-conditioned apartment on Altamount Road and wondered if other places would be nearly as comfortable.

As I thought about what I was leaving behind, my mind strayed to the tall and imposing structure on Backbay Reclamation that housed the head office of the organization I worked with. It was a major multinational corporation in India and being employed in the management cadre was in itself a mark of success. I had enjoyed my years with this organization and had learnt a lot in the last five years. I was lucky to have had a succession of challenging assignments, which provided me with unusual opportunities to work closely with the top management. In less than two years of my joining, I had been given a highly responsible role in the fiercely competitive marketing function – the core function of the organization. The company had been fair to me and had given me more than my share of breaks. On my part, I responded in all fairness by leaving the organization just before I was to be deputed to the international headquarters of the parent corporation. I wondered how much I would miss my executive role, the hectic pace and the jet-set lifestyle that went with it. Several people expressed their misgivings about my move and I had failed to convince many friends and family members of its desirability. But then, it was my decision to switch, wasn’t it?

As I thought more about this, I was a little angry with myself. After all, it took me six months to make up my mind. I was not giving up a good job and a potentially rewarding career thoughtlessly. It was a question of what I would like to see myself doing. I had often wondered about the relationship between the job I was doing and its significance to the society in which I lived. On some occasions, I did feel the conflict brewing between my role as an executive of a multinational corporation and my broader role as a management professional. Finally, I wondered about the mission of my life. I wondered if I would realize my potential in a ‘getting-head executive rat race’. And what about the urge I felt for self-development? I wanted to learn much more than the executive life allowed for. Perhaps academics would provide me with an opportunity to make a more socially relevant contribution.

How often had I used these arguments persuasively to counter the objections of my friends against this move. Was it possible that I had become a victim of my own persuasion efforts? Is this new role going to provide the kind of satisfaction and success I was looking for? One of the things I have enjoyed most in my executive role was working with very fine people. Is the environment going to be that stimulating in the academic world? Perhaps they had their own rat-race – the publish or perish syndrome. Wouldn’t that be self-defeating? An academic career in India is generally looked down upon and I had been consistently maintaining that management education was a different world. Is it really all that different or have I been generalizing too much on the basis of my experience with some of the professors? Lately, the monetary aspect has begun to disturb me. Perhaps I’m underplaying its importance.

I’m going to take a 50% cut in my salary and I’m virtually giving up all the perks I’m so used to now. It is this factor that influences career paths for most people and it is this factor that I have underplayed the most. After all, the urge for self-development and the quest for a socially relevant role is unlikely to matter without physical comforts and security. It is strange how I can still weigh the pros and cons of the two options and consider them nearly equally attractive even at a time when they have ceased to be options.

Six months have elapsed since the Gujarat Mail brought me to a new job and a new career. I am on my way back from Bombay, having finalized all arrangements for going to the US to pursue doctoral studies. Another milestone on the road towards the point of no return. The flight is late and the irritation caused by the delay is perhaps making me question the wisdom of my move. But, didn’t I say to all my friends last night that I was enjoying the academic environment? Sure, there were people who still questioned the wisdom of my move. But did I think very much of them anyway? How restricted can people’s horizons be! I sense a certain distance between those people and myself, a qualitative distance. Indeed, on some occasions, I had silently commended myself for my foresight. The role of multinational companies in India had come under heavy fire recently. Wasn’t there something in the papers about this almost every other day? Besides, should I have devoted mine to selling toothpaste, like so many do? Admittedly, I did have some moments of nagging doubts, like the one now, during these six months. Perhaps it is a habit with me.

The train of thought is broken by the landing of the aircraft. I am awakened to reality as passengers scramble to get out from the rear exit to save perhaps three minutes of their precious time. These executives are in a real hurry.

*This material is owned by IIM Ahmedabad and is only shared here as a historical document. The more pedagogical parts of the case (discussion questions, etc.) have been omitted.