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.

Feedback Section

Dear Class:
A word about my blog. I have included my teaching stint at IIM because I am proud of the caliber of the students who I taught.
Two, I wanted to document it.
And three, it is a way of marketing the course for next year’s IIM batch.

So far, only one student had privacy concerns which I am sensitive about. If any of you have issues about this class being on my blog, please let me know at the wine dinner and I will make the section “private.”

As we near our term, I have three requests for you. You can choose to email me your replies or post it in the section below.
1. What should I call this class next term? Beyond Business? Good Life? Art of Schmoozing? Networking 101? Social Skills Workshop? I am not sure.
2. When you return your feedback forms to the EPGP Program, please write how I should improve the course next term?
3. If you have already handed in the forms, and if you are okay with it, you can give me your feedback comments in the below section. It will help me refine the course.
This class has been tremendously fulfilling for me. I learned a lot from you. Thank you all, and let’s stay in touch.

Project Details

Dear Class:
The final project submission is on April 28th from 9 to 2. Sandeep is organizing the line-up. Each of you will get ten minutes to make a presentation on your project.
Two questions came up.
1. The final presentation : Will you be rating / assigning marks based on the same?
2. Is a final report required or the content prepared for the 10 minute presentation would suffice?

As Malcolm Gladwell says in “Blink,” you can figure out a lot about a person in just a few seconds.
So yes, the final presentation is everything. I will be rating you based on content, presentation, style, attire, and what talent scouts call “presence.”
Content is king but this class is as much about style as it is about substance, so be creative.

I look forward to seeing you all at the wine dinner at Caperberry this Saturday, and for the final presentation on Monday.
I will be photographing our party and with your permission, will upload it somewhere– either on Facebook, or this blog.
Some of you have filled in your project details here
Can the rest please go into the spreadsheet that Bidipta has created for the class and fill in?

About the Course

This is how the course was presented to the Executive Post Graduate Program (EPGP) at IIM-Bangalore.

Companies spend enormous amounts of money each year in soft skills training. Many have realized that in additional to core competencies, employees need to improve their Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ).

Consider this scenario: you are hosting a client dinner to initiate an important project or deal. Executives from Europe and the U.S. have flown in. You have hired a private dining room at a luxury hotel. Food and wine are in place. There will be no business presentation; no obvious talk of deals. Instead, it is just a meeting of minds to see if it can lead to a merging of organizations. What will you say? How will you connect with the executives from the other firm? This course will equip you for that.

Business involves trust. Trust comes when you connect with the other person. Connection comes when you discover common interests in music, art, design, travel, or sports; when you speak the same language. Connection is about subliminal judgments; about tone, manner and speech. As you climb the corporate ladder, such interpersonal skills may prove to be just as important as the core competencies required for your job. This is what executives call schmoozing. This course will teach you how to schmooze. Each module will address non-business areas such as art, design, food and wine. If your client is an art collector, you will know the basics of art. If your client is into wine, you can talk to him about his Bordeaux wine cellar. If he is from Louis Vuitton, you can tell him your own favorite designers.

Students will be graded at the end of the term based on their knowledge of these topics.

Instructor: Shoba Narayan


Homework Assignment
Research one artist of your choice and prepare an 5 sentence description of the artist that you will present to us next class.  Include some information but I am interested in your opinion of the artist.
Examples of artists: Raza, Vaikuntam, MF Hussain, Bharti Kher, Subodh Gupta, or any other artist from the past or present

Any questions? Please ask.