The experience, rather than the course content, seems to be core to the success of Harvard Business School in its last 100 years of its existence, according to its leading alumni quoted in a recent FORTUNE magazine article (Click here to read “Happy Birthday HBS” by Geoff Colvin). In his article, Colvin has surveyed many CEOs who are HBS alumni.
This article got me thinking about what lies at the core of IITs that will determine whether they’ll stay as relevant in the next 50 years as they have been in the past 50 years.
(For those having any doubts about the pre-eminence of IITs in the last 50 years, I’ll quote David Baldacci from his recent book “Simple Genius”:
“What’s your take on Champ Pollion? Let me guess, he was first in his class at MIT.”
“No, he actually was second in his class at the Indian Institute of Technology, a school many in the field consider even more prestigious.”).
Some day, I’ll attempt to poll leading IIT alumni for their views. For now, let me give my personal views as an IIT alumnus (IIT Bombay, Chemical Engineering, 1985).
What I remember most from my time in IIT is the problem-solving approach it teaches you – an approach I learned there and have never forgotten in my professional or private life thereafter. In a highly competitive environment where we underwent continuous evaluation (two tests a week, and so forth), we were taught to ponder about unknowns and discover ways to make them knowns. It was not about cramming up course content and regurgitating them during these tests. IITians were always evaluated by how well they’d absorbed the course content and could apply it to solve problems. The following DILBERT comic strips illustrate this very well:
Many times, you had to think around a problem just to get off the block to solve it. For example, you needed to think of “2a” as not only equaling a + a, but also as (a+b) + (a-b). If you couldn’t (as I couldn’t very often!), you could spend hours and still not make any progress.
In summary, I think it’s the problem-solving approach you learn at IIT that’s core to its success.
I’m sure other IITians might have different views. Vote for yours below.
Having said this, I must admit that IIT makes you a bit obsessed about solving problems – whether they’re worth solving or not, which is something I only learned later during my MBA days. MBA teaches you tremendous goal-orientation: start with the end objective in mind, work backwards, identify problems that help you achieve the objective, solve only those problems, don’t worry too much about the rest. I might be able to validate my view when I survey IITians who went on to do MBAs at IIMs and other B-schools.
Talking of problems and a problem-solving approach, let me leave you with one that most IITians would never have thought they’d be asked to solve!