“My daughter nowadays is a bit depressed. Despite doing an M.Sc. in biotechnology, she is not getting a package like her friends in the IT sector,” said my friend Dilip. The approach to work can be described in the following three categories:
- Job – People engage in work primarily to earn money. Work is a means to an end.
- Career– Apart from money, they are keen to climb the higher echelons in the workplace, get promoted, and achieve higher designations.
- Calling – People are driven by the work itself, and work becomes an integral part of their life. Yet, they are not workaholics, and they find fulfilment in work which is an end in itself.
The above approaches lead to three kinds of growth structures: Logarithmic Growth, Exponential Growth, and Sinusoidal- Exponential growth.
- Logarithmic Growth: Here the growth in the initial phase of a job is quite fast, and it slowly reduces over a period of time. When someone joins a job at a very high salary, it may be quite difficult to achieve commensurate growth in the subsequent years.
This is represented by a logarithmic function of 2 where the growth from 1 to 2 years will be similar to the growth from 2-4 years or 4-8 or 8-16 years. ( Fig.1)
2. Exponential Growth: There are some jobs or professions which may not be that attractive initially from a financial perspective, as are jobs in teaching or research. Here the person may have to wait for a long time to see the end of the tunnel. In the article ‘Making of an Expert’ in HBR, Anders Ericsson, Michele Pretula, and Edward Cokely propose that to achieve significant expertise a person needs to spend around 10,000 hours of systematic practise. There are considerable efforts to master the domain and sometimes even to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. Examples of two eminent engineers are discussed below. ( Fig.2)
How a Chance Encounter with the NCL Director Changed his career:
In 1966, Raghunath Mashelkar completed his B.E. (Chemical Engg.) from the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), and he had several offers from US and Canadian Universities for post-graduate studies. However, he was impressed with the work of Dr. Manmohan Sharma and decided to do a Ph.D. under him. He completed his Ph. D. in 3 years, and in 1969, with a meagre allowance of ₹10,000 per year, he developed a process of bubble columns which was at one-tenth the cost of international technology. Later, he did some pioneering work in rheology (a branch of physics that deals with deformation and flow of matter) at Salfer Institute. Subsequently, he held a lecturer’s post in Chemical Engineering at a US university.
While in London Velayurthi Nayadumma of National Chemical Laboratories (NCL) called him for a meeting with his director B.D. Tilak and told him the country needed a bright scientist like him. Mashelkar dropped the idea of going to USA and joined NCL, Pune at a Salary of ₹2100.
NCL was doing a consulting project with Indian Organic Chemical Industries Limited (IOCL) Manali, Chennai. IOCL was producing polyester yarn with a bought-out technology from a German Company. IOCL was a given the know-how but not the know-why. The production process, though fast (around 1km/min), was creating intermittent problems. For testing purposes, NCL had applied for a license to import a piece of testing equipment called ‘Weissenberg Rheogoniometer.’ Due to foreign exchange constraints, the proposal was rejected by the government.
Mashelkar and his team devised an innovative way of mathematical modelling and virtual simulation of the production process and IOCL was subsequently able to improve the productivity of its plant.
This simulation technology was not only an alternative but was also considerably cheaper vis-à-vis the conventional technology. Later on, NCL was able to sell this to overseas clients; and the technology flow was reversed. Mashelkar fondly remembers his guide, Dr. Sharma, who used to say, ‘for research, brains are more important than infrastructure.’
Honoured with a Padma Vibhushan, and 44 honorary doctorates, Raghunath Mashelkar was quite influential in revoking US patents on Basmati and Turmeric.
Problem Solving with Available Resources:
After completing his B.E. (Mech.) from VJTI, Anil Kakodkar joined BARC in 1964, as a trainee engineer. He reported to Mr. Subramaniam who said to him, “we have a metallizing gun which has not been used for a long time, and is hence not functional; can you repair it?” Anil said he could and to do so, he asked for a helper, a foreman, and a tradesman. Mr. Subramaniam declined.
The metallizing gun was used for coating aluminium oxide, zirconium oxide, ceramics on desired substrates. After seven days the young engineer was able to make the gun functional. Mr. Subramanian said, “I wanted you to solve the problem by yourself and I am happy you could do it.”
After the nuclear blast in Pokhran in 1974, India became an outcast and could get neither the critical components nor the relevant technology from abroad. Getting even steel tubes from the USA was banned. Under his leadership, BARC developed indigenous technology to overcome the sanctions and thus made India’s peaceful nuclear program a success.
Anil Kakodkar remembers the metallizing gun incident fondly. It helped him develop his passion, and listen to his true calling. He took over as the Director of BARC (1996-2000), and later as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
The hallmark of exponential growth is that the person works in the same or related domain, and develops exceptional expertise with a steady and systematic career progression.
3. Sinusoidal-Exponential Growth: Unlike the first two growth structures, this type of growth is quite random. When you watch such a person, you may not be able to figure out whether there is a proper career path.( Fig. 3) An example to illustrate: Rakesh was a student who was at the bottom of the class scoring around 40-45%. After 10th he opted for commerce but had to drop out after the 12th Standard.
Rakesh did a series of sundry jobs from selling vacuum cleaners, books, to working in grocery stores, and even as a waiter in a restaurant. Tired of working for others, he started driving a taxi. Within a few years, he got into the transport business, and after almost 20 years of struggle, he now owns a pan-India transport business worth around ₹100 crores. I happened to run into him at Churchgate in Mumbai three years back. He invited me over dinner to a five-star hotel. Being nostalgic, we were reminiscing the good old school days, the teachers, and our friends. One such schoolmate was a friend called Shivanand, who was the school topper, a merit lister, who opted to become a Chartered Accountant (which he had happened to clear at the first attempt). We were in awe of his intelligence and hard work.
I asked, “Rakesh, by the way, do you remember Shivanand, the school topper? I am told he is also in Mumbai. He must have reached the pinnacle of his career. Why didn’t you invite him too?”
After a long pause, he said, “You are right. He has reached his pinnacle. He is working with our group for the last five years, and last year he was promoted as the CFO. I would have liked him to join us over dinner, but being the financial year-end, he is busy managing the books of accounts.”
I asked, “Rakesh, can you understand the finer nuances of the balance sheet and P&L statement like a professional CA?”
Rakesh said, “I need not, but then how do you think I have brought the company to a level of ₹100 Crores in the last 10 years?” He continued, “Whenever he comes to me with any financial statement and I express a doubt for any specific expenditure; while giving his explanation I do not look at the figures. I look at him to see whether he is bluffing or hiding crucial information. If I feel he is bluffing, I have a choice to get it cross-verified through external sources, paying nominal fees. Remember, whether one is in the business of transport or hospitality, ultimately all of us are in the people business. I may not be able to read the balance sheet fluently, but I do read people with ease.”
For Shivanand, it was a logarithmic growth; whereas in the case of Rakesh, whether his working in unrelated fields or dabbling in a variety of businesses may look random or sinusoidal in the short-term; in retrospect, it is exponential growth. With every venture, even if one were to fail, there is a learning of what one should do or not do. With this, Rakesh moved on to a higher point on the exponential curve. By connecting the dots, one can see the method in the madness.
In short, logarithmic growth is to play safely in the comfort zone, where the love of lucre (package/CTC) is the main driver. With exponential growth, it is the pursuit of a career with a true calling. In the case of sinusoidal-exponential growth, it is to figure out one’s life by trial and error, thereby detecting a sense of purpose.
According to an American organisational psychologist, Amy Wrzesniewski, it is not the work, but our attitude towards work that makes the fundamental difference whether one finds life meaningful or not. It has nothing to do with qualifications, designations, or CTC. A nurse may enjoy working for a calling, while an MBA graduate with a 10X salary may find his job boring.
Are you working in a job, a career, or are you working for a true calling? If so, which growth curve, do you belong to?
Is it the logarithmic, exponential, or sinusoidal-exponential growth structure?
None of these growth structures are inherently good or bad per se. The choice one makes at any junctures of life may be either one’s own or can be conditioned by the peer pressure, the societal norms, the economic constraints or a stroke of serendipity as in Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar’s case. Whatever the case may be, at this moment as Dr. Wayne Dyer said, ‘You are the sum total of all your choices!’
P.S. : The above article is an abridged version of the session conducted by the writer at the bimonthly forum: Know Thyself – An Inquiry into the significance of Living conducted every 1st and 3rd Sunday at 1100 HRS ( IST) on Zoom.