DTU Times interviewed KK Verma, a member of Harvard Business Review, who was in DTU as a mentor for the Startup Weekend 19' organised by E-Cell DTU.
Your journey has been vastly multidimensional considering you have been part of the Air Force, IIT, and now Harvard Business Review. How would you describe your journey?
The journey has been really spectacular. Ultimately, the product is me as a thinker and an author, who has authored books on unlearning. We learn things, and I say that you must unlearn your past experiences or habits or traditions so that you can acquire new ones. This idea is not just for writing a look: I did it personally for the last 30 years. People around me were not aware of electronics and computers, and during that time I pursued Electronics Engineering and I could do that because of the habit of unlearning, and because I realised the future is in the favour electronics, even in the 1980s. Subsequently, I joined the Air Force to earn my bread and butter and I wanted to become an officer too. Then I felt that 20 years are good enough and I became an author. By that time I had enough resources and sustainability, and my future was secured, so I took a leap of faith to become an author.
How has this journey been personally, in terms of any any ups or downs, or places where you felt like you had to compromise in your career?
There's is a simple word you could use instead of compromise. Life is brutal. You may feel like you go just down, to hell, but then if you are a person who understands technology and its power, even if you are going through a phase of down, you have the backup of technology, knowledge and wisdom. Every morning I get up and I maintain my schedule and discipline, and I don’t play with my finances much as it is very risky; keeping myself in a safe situation where I can survive even if the toughest thing happens is essential. But downs or ups are always an integral part of life.
You have been through the Engineering phase: You must know the life of 8 AM lectures and completing the assignments at the last moment which is plainly because of the lack of discipline in our lives. We have issues with discipline and you having worked in careers that require great work ethic, how do you recommend we work on it?
Personally, I feel that we have an advantage over any other profession because we have the power of technology and technology is an integral part of growth. In the 90s and 2000s we have seen that engineers can do businesses in millions. Narayan Murthy and Nandan Nilekani are stellar examples. Nandan Nilekani was the originator of Aadhar; he led the groundwork for making the Aadhar Card IDs universal.
Engineers have lead from the front in the last decade and in the days to come, engineers will continue to lead. I was an Air Force pilot and I have seen my fair share of politics, but engineers
must grow and change their profession, go to the managerial level then further to the supervisor level and even to the mentor level and finally go at the driving level, i.e., when Engineers lead new projects.
It is often claimed that everything you learn in your 4 years of engineering will become redundant down the line due to new technological advancements. For you to be in touch with this profession, you need to be constantly learning. How true is this statement in the real world today?
No, I don’t think that this holds any truth. As someone who has worked closely with the concept of Unlearning and authored 3 books on it, I believe that what we need is to know more than just the basic skills. As engineers, our learning of different things must continue. The focus should not be on merely acquiring knowledge, but more on learning new and varied things that would encourage and enable future growth. It’s completely right to state that things get outdated after a while. Certain statistics predict that 90% of the companies that are functioning currently might vanish in a few years and be replaced by new ones that have overthrown them, simply because they have different and more advanced skills. For students, it thus becomes integral to study and learn new things. Keep unlearning anything that has become redundant and find new sources of information. Anyone who is attached to old methods can’t progress and prosper, for it is only through acquiring new skills that we can keep moving forward.
A current trend amongst engineering students seems to be that of switching careers from something technical to more financially rewarding fields. Why do you think this switch has become so popular?
This is how society has always functioned. A normal part of human evolution is to always go for something better, and to constantly improve ourselves. When I did engineering, I thought it was the best thing to do. However, your vision broadens as you discover more beneficial prospects. If I feel that doing an MBA is better, then I would do join an MBA program. If I feel that running a company is even better, then I will switch to entrepreneurship. The only difference in this case would be that my wisdom domain will come into play. One thing we must keep in mind is awareness about our ‘wisdom domains’, so that the knowledge we acquire does not go to waste.
How has the journey been as a member of Harvard Business Review, one of the most established business review columns?
In 2005, when I left the Indian Air Force, there was one institution called, Indian Society for Training and Development, which called me and offered me to become a faculty there. I wish that more and more Indian Institutions followed this uncommon trend. However, HBR, having noted my presence online, invited me to become a member. They noticed me largely because of my articles, present on my blog. In India, this approach is hardly followed. Due to this, a large pool of Indian talent is not valued. Talking about HBR, it has been a great journey. I am responsible for choosing topics and the mode of operation, all over the world.
Why do fields like Environment, Finance, etc., get more funding from economic institutions like the World Bank, as compared to core engineering fields?
I believe this is due to a global phenomenon, over which we have no control. Hence, I advise engineers not to get affected by it. If your heart is in a field and you can imagine yourself enjoying after being 15-20 years in that field, then you should definitely pursue it. My advice to today’s engineers is, to have a well-settled life, for at least 10 or 20 years. While doing so, enjoy the other aspects of life. Do not try to build your life in a day or two. Make a long-term plan and find the right advisors. If we follow this approach, then I am sure one will have a successful life.