Strategy and the mathematician’s son

A well known saying in Telugu says that the son of a scholar will be an idiot (Pandita Putra Parama Suntah). The other day, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik was on the campus and quoted a joke on a similar note.

Once upon a time, a great mathematician’s son was the talk of the town. When he was offered a five rupee note and a ten rupee note and asked to point at the highest among them the junior mathematician always chose the five rupee note, Whatever note he pointed, he could retain. As one may guess, this curious repetitive behavior of the boy made him the butt of ridicule. Many people tried this with him and laughed off the idiot. The news did not take long to reach the senior mathematician. Irked, he asked his son whether his mathematical senses were in place. And the son replied “Why yes of course”. But he also showed his cup board and lo!! here was a full box of five rupee notes. The son replied further “had I picked the right note, would I have had this cupboard full”? The mathematician was stuck in awe at his son’s shrewdness.

Even as this funny narration was drawing to a close, this was a strong parallel to at least two learnings of the past: One, as recent as the first term in PGPX, where Prof. Saral Mukhurjee taught us that Strategy was about “closing doors”. Had the young one chosen the ten rupee note straight away, the public would surely have lost interest in him. But fixed on his goal to make money out of his rather unusual advantage of being a mathematician’s son, the boy decided to ignore the ten rupee note. had he chosen the five rupee note at the very first instance, people would have stopped asking him.

Even as my thoughts meandered on Michael Porter’s articles on Strategy which bolstered this argument of focusing on specific business areas and building the strengths around them,I could not but appreciate the transformation I was undergoing: Integrated learning. That is the key at IIMA. In the context of even the simpler story above, one can see a strategy. Numerical comparisons need not lead to beneficial decisions. One can see many such links, by not looking at one subject on the PGPX curriculum as being an isolated block of knowledge. If they are teaching you Macroeconomics, they are doing it with a purpose; that of understanding the economic parameters within which business decisions will work or fail. If somebody thought of regression analysis, it had another purpose in Marketing. Somewhere in Operations management was another application of decision modeling and pricing. No subject in the course works on its own. This is possibly what they meant on the PGPX web site that the program “has a general management focus”.

N.B: The youngster’s behavior has been taken only to illustrate that selecting the more beneficial option need not always be a numerical decision. This must not be read with any ethical connotations.


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