Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Power of role models

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist

For the cricket lovers (wondering who is not), the question is- why does India have more known batsmen than bowlers? Where as opposite is the case with Pakistan. It’s not about lack of will or necessity or coaching. I think it’s due to lack of role models. We have the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar in the batting department and Pakistan has Imran Khan and Waqar Younis in bowling. Millions aspire to become like them and hence the flow of investment of time and resources, and results are for us to see. One might frown at this insight, as it might seem pretty pedestal, but let me extend this insight to where it really matters- academic research. The phenomenon of role models is equally relevant, if not more, in the domain on research and publication. 
India’s track record in research, both in physical sciences and social sciences (including management research) has been dismal. No Indian institute makes it to the coveted Nature Publishing Index, while there are three universities from China. The case in management research is no different, as indicated by Worldwide Ranking of publication in Tier- A journals. Needless to say, here too China scores high. One might argue that why to (always) compare India with China, after all there are so many other countries worth drawing a comparison with? But surprisingly, even compared with such “similar” countries, India’s performance is dismal. Here’s a real concern.
It’s understandable that in physical sciences, one needs the infrastructural setup and state-of-art equipment to even start understanding the phenomenon, and most Indian institutions, including government funded ones, aren’t capable of mustering that. Point well taken. But that’s not the case with management research. Being a budding researcher myself, I can certainly see that India is no incapable of generating useful insights and publications in management research. In fact so much so that most of the research is now focusing on emerging economies, including India, I deem Indian researchers to be more suitably positioned to churn out useful papers. How is it that researchers sitting some 10,000 miles away are able to talk about India with confidence and we sitting in India cite them? The recent excitement on Frugal Innovation is a case in point. 
I think the reason boils down to lack of role-models. Over the past few years, there has been increasing presence of Indian (origin) researchers in the domain of management studies. Names include C.K. PrahaladVijay GovindarajanSumantra Ghoshal, and Nirmalya Kumar, among others. The list is just an indicative of the names that we often hear and I tend to read about more so. I don’t know of many names in research in physical sciences, but am sure there must be such stalwarts existing in those domains as well. But in any case, the rational remains that for one to be able to make an impact in a field, role- models play a very important role. They are necessary, but not sufficient condition, and here’s what I feel fills the gap- Good Institution
Having been at IIMB for past one year now, I can very certainly see the rigor in teaching and research. The young crop of faculty members talk publication and push us to up the ante in terms of thinking and putting efforts. Since over 60 percent of these faculty members have studies abroad, mostly having done there PhD overseas, the intent is to bring that rigor and climate that exists in the west. And to a large extent I believe that to be happening. Talking of sheer numbers, I read over 200 pages of dense research reading, in addition to one book review and 15 hours of lectures per week. Needless to speak about the competitiveness. The cohort exhibits a great deal of aptitude and research disposition. 
Where does it leave budding researchers and teachers? The call is that of becoming role models. Of doing seminal research in India, from India. Brings to mind what one of the leading faculties in management research rightly quipped- Research is a noisy, but unbiased process. Institutes such as IIMs and students therein can really make the difference and I hope to share the baton.
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