Ways of Seeing at Indian Institute of Science

Trying to teach sculpture to 115 bright scientists is– shall we say– an interesting if challenging exercise.  Told the class to bring in a quick piece of art that they created.  Was pleasantly surprised.  Lots of drawings; lots of science connections and equations.

I am teaching a class for this month under the auspices of the Center for Contemporary Studies in the beautiful IISc campus.  (Thank you Suhas Mahesh for the first connect) and to the amazing Professor Raghavendra Gadagkar who runs this program with his super capable bright second-in-command, Bitasta Mukherjee.  Here are some shots of the art work.



I was asked to give a lecture for an hour to the “Mascots” of SAP Labs. These were the top 30 performers, the crème de la crème, the elite of the company. I suggested, “Storytelling in the Corporate Environment,” as a topic. It was a stimulating session. One thing I learned was that incorporating storytelling into your corporate persona is a long-term project. A question was asked about how to do this in a time bound conference call with people in multiple continents. The only answer I could come up with was to use a storytelling-like phrase along with the data, and notes. I am convinced that the pendulum is swinging towards storytelling. This article is a result of the research that I did for the session.

My thanks to Heemanshu Asher of Design Core; who introduced me to Sunder Madakshira, the Marketing Head of SAP Labs Bangalore, who invited me to conduct the session. Check out Sunder’s blog here.

The National 5/14/14, 11:31 AM
Death by PowerPoint also marks the demise of storytelling
Shoba Narayan
May 13, 2014 Updated: May 13, 2014 18:28:00

There used to be a time when contracts were negotiated using words. Professionals met in rooms, exchanged jokes, shared information and told stories about their products – but all that began to change a generation ago.
In 1968, a shy young man named Robert Gaskins enrolled himself in the doctorate programme in the English department of the University of California, Berkeley. He wanted to specialise in Shakespeare and pursue a career as an academic.
However, the best-laid plans were upset when he discovered the computer science courses that were offered in the university’s humanities department.
Mr Gaskins started studying computer science. He began to use a computer for his studies. This parallel track between his English studies and computer science continued for 10 years until he left Berkeley. He then took up a variety of jobs in Silicon Valley.
One of his jobs was to buy computer components from all over the world. While buying chips from Germany and motherboards from Japan, Mr Gaskins began to note the various styles of presentations that his suppliers made to him as they pitched for his business.
He collected the presentation notes and noticed similarities between them. Some were
handwritten, some were drawn, some were typed out. But all of them had borders, bullet
points, margins and graphics. It seemed that people all over the world thought about Business leaders need to better presentations in a similar manner.
In 1984, Mr Gaskins was recruited by a firm called Forethought.
He was part of a group of programmers who were assigned to come up with software for the ■ Indian storytellers speak to the
new Graphics User Interface (GUI) computers such as the first-generation Apple Macintosh.
On August 14, 1984, Mr Gaskins wrote a two-page vision statement using all his life experiences, outlining his love for the English language, his admiration for presentation techniques and how he had grown up in an audio-visual household.
This statement provided the outline for a program that would eventually transform the world. What he didn’t realise was that this progra that he was creating would also eventually kill oral storytelling in the corporate world. He called it PowerPoint. Actually, he called it Presenter, until Microsoft acquired it and changed the name.
Today, pretty much everyone in the corporate world uses slide presentations aided by PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or any of the other similar programs that exist.
What has been lost in the process is the skill of the old-fashioned raconteurs who shared their beliefs and goals through the use of stori and descriptions.
Perhaps the time has come for the pendulum to swing back in their favour.
Some forward-looking companies are embracing the narrative rather than the bullet-point.
They have asked their top employees to use the rhythms of the story to convey messages and form a connection.
But stories do much more than that. They are rooted in culture, they foster connection and trust, they provide context, they engender creativity and they liven up meetings.
There are situations in any company when a senior executive needs to inspire. In those instances, you have to communicate the core values of the company. But in order for your audience to buy your message, you need to establish trust – and trust requires a connectio
Connections can be made in many ways: through a shared interest, a shared history or a shared story. So, by all means, use slides to make a presentation. But also realise that the clicker is a crutch.
Every culture began with stories and as Joan Didion said in her wonderful essay: The White Album, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
The trick is to use these stories to live and love, but also at work.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir.

Cultural Immersion

A while ago, Ravi Bapna, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, asked me to do “cultural immersion” module for his visiting MBA class. I created four PowerPoint presentations but the sessions ended up being highly interactive. They learnt about Indian culture, learned how to wear a sari or dhoti, sing (Vande Mataram) or any other song. I demonstrated a kolam (rangoli); answered lots of questions about culture, art, poverty, beggars, and the economy.

This time, students from Cornell’s Johnson school of management visited. I got a call asking if I would do it. We were to do it at the NGMA but the auditorium wasn’t available. So they came home. A taste of Indian culture.
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Storytelling course

I am doing a “webinar” on Storytelling with Takshashila Foundation, a non-profit public policy think-tank co-founded and run by my friend, Nitin Pai.

The description can be found here.

I get nothing out of it. All proceeds go to Takshashila. Please tell interested participants, although I think they are oversubscribed already.

India– Cultural Immersion

Professor Ravi Bapna’s class from the Carlson School of Management’s Executive MBA program visited India.  I spent one morning– three hours from 9-12– doing a ‘cultural immersion’ class.  We discussed history, customs, culture, music, dance (with a performance at the end), and had a great interactive session.  They asked tough questions about all the things that stare us in the face: the filth, the beggars, the slums, the traffic.  But what surprised me was that they seemed to intuitively ‘get’ the contradictions that make up this crazy country of ours.  Why do people seem so content amidst such poverty– that type of thing.  They sang ‘Vande Mataram’ in chorus, wore sarees and discussed cuisine.  Here is a photo of the lovely ladies

Cultural Immersion

I am doing a class/presentation/module on cultural immersion for a visiting Executive MBA class from the U.S.  Basically, I am trying to un-package India for them and it is a fascinating exercise.  What do you focus on? Values, food, music, bargaining? There are many good books on Indian culture including A.L. Basham and India Unveiled.  Been reading a lot.  Have about ten slide presentations and will probably show them about five in the three hours that I have.  Also doing interactive stuff.

Design & Architecture

It seems like we are racing along.  I am enjoying all your presentations, and glad you are keeping it to ten minutes.  Design is a huge sub-culture for those of you who decide to get into it.  Meanwhile, here is a recap of our final presentations.

Our guest lecturer who will cover dining, cocktails, and table etiquette will not be able to make it on Monday, Feb. 13th.  Instead, they are coming on Monday, Feb. 20th.

So I am moving forward all your presentations.

Monday, Feb. 13th presentations: Ravi, Kaustubh, Shekhar, Sunil, Vikas, Jeffrey, Deepak, and Pranav.

Tuesday, Feb. 14th: Hari, Smita, Sudhanshu, Abhishek, Vivek, Gurmeet, Yogesh and Harish

Monday, Feb. 20th: External presentation.

Tuesday, Feb. 21st: Last class.  Amit, Agnel, Sabibrata, Ashwin, Himanshu, Suresh, Karthik, Amit Arora.

Anyone else? Please sign up.


Final Presentations

I request all of you who are doing your presentations next Monday and Tuesday to keep it under 10 minutes. Because there are so many of us, I have no choice but to ensure that people keep within their time limit, or else I have to reduce the grade.

A suggestion: rather than presenting a lot of ideas in your talk, you can put it all in the powerpoint that we will upload.  In each presentation, just speak about THREE points.  Three of the major concepts.  We can get the details when we view the powerpoint presentations.  This is how I will grade.

Breadth and/or depth of content: judged by material in the powerpoint.

Presentation style, speaking with authority, and keeping to the time: as judged by what you will say in your 10 minutes.

Last year’s presentations are in the following location.  Please look through them for an idea of what you will do this year.

URL: http://www.skydrive.com

Username: goodlife_as101@hotmail.com

Password: 2schmooze!

Folder: Shoba’s Folder in Documents section

Last year, we had compressed all the classroom presentations till the end.  This year, based on feedback from last year’s students, we will start doing 2-3 presentation from Module 4 onwards.

Would people upload a short line about their presentations below?

Class of 2012 presentations