M Night Shyamalan got schooled

Hollywood director (of movies like The Sixth Sense and The Villagers) M Night Shyamalan talked about the findings of his foundation – which he wrote about in his book ‘I Got Schooled’ – at Harvard’s Ed school in 2014.

He talks about 5 conditions needed in schooling environments (in primarily inner-city school) to close the achievement gap for students in those schools. I was really impressed by his astute observations and findings, and approach to answering these questions for himself. He wasn’t easily swayed by gut instincts, but looked at every hypothesis very empirically. Honestly, I did not expect that from someone who has spent their entire careers in the storytelling arts.

One of the things he does many times in the talk is draw a parallel between countries with high class divisions and inequalities like India, and the United States. I thought that was a powerful idea, which I would love to see unpacked more from people who focus on comparative education.

India’s National Education Policy 2016 + my inputs

© Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Government of India is driving a new National Education Policy 30 years since it was first framed in 1986. Unlike most other national policy drafting around the world, this particular policy framing is exciting because it is being designed openly in consultation with the larger education community and has welcomed inputs and feedback from anyone. While this sometimes seems like a breakthrough model in centralized governance, this should very much be the modus operandi for all policy drafting. Write a broad framework for the policy, invite inputs from the community within a short and well-defined time period, and let there be open discussions and debate on each issue in the larger policy. I do, you can be assured, understand this could really water down breakthrough policy ideas if consensus seeking becomes the goal, and so a model where domain experts are shaping the policy through these inputs, as opposed to being replaced by them, should be the norm.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) of India has come up with a list of inputs for the policy drafting process and are welcoming views and suggestions on the same. After going through the major sections and skimming through the rest, I was less than thrilled. Irrespective of whether this is merely an “inputs” document, it still is a major document coming from the MHRD, and it feels extremely incomplete and open-ended. It reminds me very much of the 2005 National Curriculum Framework (NCF) of India based on the Yash Pal committee report which painted a rosy vision from a 30,000 ft view, but fails to delve into any practical implementation details of any high-level learning theory and childhood and literacy development ideas. This inputs document also severely lacks reference and insight from international education policy and successful educational interventions and programs around the world. While it emphasizes focus on the right areas of concern, it lacks emphasis on strategy and deep dives into the complexities that local administrators have faced in the past decade in bringing good education reform to life. This lack of concern of implementation and realization can lead to development of hollow programs, which sound great only in the echo chambers of the parliament house.

Like I do with any such reports, I narrowed my focus and energies onto the section on curriculum and teacher training reform, with a further focus entirely on K-12 education. Let me respond to some of the standout statements and share my list of fresh inputs:

Continue reading India’s National Education Policy 2016 + my inputs

Fixing Haryana’s broken education system at scale

Seema Bansal from BCG shares her powerful and interesting experiences with trying to fix low levels of learning outcomes in an Indian state as dense as Peru. I particularly enjoyed the nuanced insight on a very broadly accepted (through hearsay) idea that teachers in public schools have a low rate of attendance and are disinterested in their students and improving learning quality. I also felt excited about the power of the minutest of curriculum interventions she describes (I will leave that as a mystery), and the power of a tight communication loop with teachers and school administrators – through a very customer-centric approach. I definitely look forward to reading a thorough report to learn more.

Prohibition prevents domestic violence?

Being a teetotaler, I am all for prohibition. Which is why is the conclusions of this episode on NDTV of a show a called Truth vs Hype bothered me a little. This episode (a) struggles to build strong and persuasive arguments, (b) doesn’t fully help clarify why we don’t have the data that is being referred to throughout the video. At the end of the day, I don’t know better than you know on the relation of prohibition to domestic violence. What I do believe is that a huge amount of unconscious bias on the part of the story-tellers here is causing us to form a perception that seems further from the truth. The reporters and the (handpicked) lawyer want us to believe prohibition and domestic violence are unrelated, but responses from women clearly say the opposite. But I am biased; that could also make me believe what I believe.

At the end of it all, this video, as a negative example, highlights the importance of good journalism in dealing with bias and structuring arguments. Something I think India is sorely lacking.

My favorite startup pitch

Over the course of a few months of listening to some really incredible pitches at YC in early 2014, one pitch stood out time-and-again. This happened every single time Henrik took stage. I now use this pitch to help teach the basics of good pitching to product makers who ask me for help in this department.

The interesting thing is that most of us who watch a pitch like this say “that’s amazing!” at the end of it. But it takes sustained failure of writing and performing pitches on stages to break it down and truly internalize what works in a pitch like this. In fact, it probably takes even more failed attempts to come up with one like this in the first place. The rules of the high-school’s debate team and the college-level speech giving and rhetoric classes aren’t naturally easily transferable to short and punchy product pitches.

Two pieces of writing that I have found incredibly right in this department are Jason Calacanis’s How to Give a Great Presentation (and a few more) and Mel Pirchesky’s Making the Pitch. While Jason pushes for getting the listeners to say “wow” with what they are seeing, Mel is more focused on keeping a tight tempo and making your pitch highly highly highly relatable and understandable. I think Henrik does a great job with each of these points.

Aamir Khan and social change

Aamir Khan is an extremely successful Bollywood actor. He could have used his fame to continue to only become a better artiste and grow his wealth. However, for the past decade, he has deliberately pivoted his career to focus on using his power as an influential and his skills as a story-teller and showman to drive an organic change in how the common man in India thinks about problems faced by disadvantaged populations. This one-on-one chat at the “Women in the World” conference is one of my favorite pieces on how he thinks through and grapples with changing mindsets through his work. It’s powerful, moving, and brutally and simply honest.

My favorite Paul Graham piece

Paul Graham is probably the most prolific writer of technology entrepreneurship of our times. His widely read blog on startups and technology has some of the most fundamental lessons in starting new companies. I think a lot of what he writes applies to anyone starting anything new, for example someone starting a new movement.

While I have always loved his writing (and in-person advice), my favorite piece by PG is actually not an essay (or not originally intended to be so). It was his talk at the startup class at Stanford, run by Sam Altman. I have seen this so many times, and continue to enjoy watching it from time to time. It has a depth of truism that you seldom get to experience. Hope you enjoy it!

How I made a CRM in 3 hours

A couple of friends asked me “how?”, after I told them that I was not using a third-party CRM solution and had made my own (for my company) in a really short amount of time. This is my response to you 3 (in a stack-agnostic way) and anyone else who might find it useful.

A little context, first: I spent a few weeks (in my sales-allocated time) evaluating existing affordable CRM solutions for my lightweight single-salesman use. I actively signed-up and tried Hubspot CRM, PersistIQ, Close.io, and Mixmax. While all these products are really great, two things kept hitting the engineer in me:
Continue reading How I made a CRM in 3 hours