A fantastic article in The Atlantic titled ‘The Case Against Credentialism‘ traces the social-cultural and academic  roots of America’s current business dynamics. The part that interested me most was what the author calls the tension between the two cultures – the entrepreneurial and the professional. While both are cultures of achievement, the basic tenet of the latter is that he who goes further in school will go further in life.

It gave me an impetus to write about this in the Indian context. Nothing as exhaustive, but a little note based on my experiences thus far, with much generalisation. My skin in the game is that it affects me personally and professionally.

A recent post in Adage had a very clear title – Ad Sellers Face Harsh New Reality: Evolve or Find Another Career. It made me think of professionals, specifically the thirty-somethings. My generation. Bear with me as I rewind a bit. As a late 70s kid, I was brought up with a middle class perspective of the work life. Work hard, pay your dues, polish your skills and over a period of time the career will be taken of. Until 2010, when I resigned as a senior brand manager at The Times Group, that’s exactly how it panned out too. In fact, in many (relatively) old industries – traditional media, FMCG, telecom, banks etc – it continues to play out that way. All is well, until the business is disrupted. A classic local example is traditional retail and ecommerce.

Arguably, the hottest employment sector in the country today is the startup. (read) If one looks at the ‘hot’ startups, a large percentage has been founded by an IIT and/or IIM graduate. Another commonality is an experience in a consultancy of some sort. It would seem as though the entrepreneur and professional worlds are merging in India. From experience, it is creating a meritocracy of sorts. As with most other systems, it is not fair to all. (via. Must read!)  in fact, it is rather ruthless. Potentially, we will move from domination by elites to domination by the skilled.  The point to note here is that the shelf life of skill sets is reducing rapidly, courtesy technology interventions.

The kids arriving on the professional scene now will automatically adapt to this new environment. This is the only reality they know of. Largely, the 45+ year olds won’t be troubled before retirement. It does take some time for industries to collapse completely. But the folks in between have a challenge ahead. The group of people who have worked as professionals in the first decade of their life, honing their skills and waiting for their career to peak, only to realise that a couple of decades (give or take) before they can retire, the business dynamics are changing rapidly and rendering near-obsolete many of the skills and capabilities they have acquired. The career game is pretty much going to be Calvinball, and agility is not an easy lesson to learn.

Both the professional and the entrepreneurial are different coins of the same currency – achievement. The balance though has shifted, and the valuation is working out very differently for both.

P.S. If you’re one of my generation, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe all this is only a notion in my head! Or maybe it’s very domain centric. Marketing vs Accountant. (read ‘Marketing needs to become more unprofessional‘)

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