Of Mind and Money http://ofmindandmoney.com How mind and money interact to create the world Mon, 08 Dec 2014 19:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Aspiring Entrepreneur Survey http://ofmindandmoney.com/aspiring-entrepreneur-survey/ Thu, 17 Oct 2013 19:07:34 +0000 http://ofmindandmoney.com/?p=620 For the last four years we have been studying entrepreneurs in low income, low technology rural ecosystems in India to understand what describes them and drives them. We’re wondering how they compare to aspiring entrepreneurs at the other end of the spectrum. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur or even are an entrepreneur already, please do help us by filling out the survey below. The survey is completely anonymous and while aggregate results will be shared, even anonymous individual profiles will be maintained completely confidential.

Aspiring Entrepreneur Survey ]]>
For the last four years we have been studying entrepreneurs in low income, low technology rural ecosystems in India to understand what describes them and drives them. We’re wondering how they compare to aspiring entrepreneurs at the other end of the spectrum. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur or even are an entrepreneur already, please do help us by filling out the survey below. The survey is completely anonymous and while aggregate results will be shared, even anonymous individual profiles will be maintained completely confidential.

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Envisioning Possibility http://ofmindandmoney.com/envisioning-possibility/ http://ofmindandmoney.com/envisioning-possibility/#comments Fri, 24 May 2013 19:52:28 +0000 http://ofmindandmoney.com/?p=613 One of the very first steps of successful entrepreneurship, in any context, micro or macro, is to envision new possibility. Possibility of something that has not yet been created; something that adds a new dimension or element to the status quo; and every so often, something fundamentally different that topples an old paradigm and ushers in a whole new era of capability.

This requires a trick of the human mind to span multiple timescales at once. To stand in the present, reach into the past to access one’s accumulated knowledge and experience, and churn this into something that looks beyond to the future. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable feats that distinguish human beings from other species. To imagine a new context and future is certainly not sufficient to guarantee its realization, but without it the ... Read More »]]> One of the very first steps of successful entrepreneurship, in any context, micro or macro, is to envision new possibility. Possibility of something that has not yet been created; something that adds a new dimension or element to the status quo; and every so often, something fundamentally different that topples an old paradigm and ushers in a whole new era of capability.

This requires a trick of the human mind to span multiple timescales at once. To stand in the present, reach into the past to access one’s accumulated knowledge and experience, and churn this into something that looks beyond to the future. This is perhaps one of the most remarkable feats that distinguish human beings from other species. To imagine a new context and future is certainly not sufficient to guarantee its realization, but without it the chances are virtually non-existent. It is the first seed of change.

Here in India we are a country of largely subsistence entrepreneurs, ‘entrepreneurs’ who operate at micro scale in India’s subsistence cash economy. These folks outnumber the population employed in the formal economy by 3:1. The subsistence paradigm virtually by definition is about short timescale, immediate survival. It’s about today and perhaps tomorrow but rarely next year or even next month. Are these folks envisioning possibility but simply failing to execute on it due to lack of resources? Or is the problem more fundamental than that?

Envisioning a possibility in the future is essentially an abstraction, which has been defined as connecting related concepts as a group, field or category or a thought process where ideas are distanced from objects. Over the last few years we have interviewed several thousand microentrepreneurs to understand what abilities predict their success, and the ability to abstract is one of them.

At the core, envisioning something new entails the ability to step into a context that is different from your own experience and different from your current moment in time. Our field experiences have offered startling insights into this kind of abstraction. Many folks, we found, even though educated until the 10th standard, struggled with simple questions like this If you make 10 samosas and sell them for 2.50 each, how much revenue will you make? This was a curious thing, especially since they were not struggling with the numerical operation of 10 X 2.50. However, as we probed, we realized that the difficulty was posed by the context. As one person revealingly said, but I don’t make samosas. If samosas were instead replaced with tea, which he did make, the problem became simple. It turned out that a larger percentage of people were able to solve ‘in context’ word problems than one’s that referenced objects or situations out of their realm of experience. It is not trivial to ‘suppose’, to dissociate the ideas of selling and the particular numerical operation from the object itself (here the samosa). And yet, it is ‘supposing’ that creates the future, and is the very centrepiece of entrepreneurship and human progress itself.

The big question is what gives us the ability to ‘suppose’, and can it be acquired? The brain is an open system with enormous potential for plasticity. What this means is that it is constantly sculpting itself in response to the barrage of sensory input that it receives each day. The ability to abstract is likely to be a reflection of the possibilities of pathways that have been created in the brain’s network and is a core aspect of what people have called lateral thinking or fluid intelligence. Some companies believe that they can you train you in it with games that require a working memory of diverse events N steps back in the game. However, games like this are no substitute for real life and we have found that the ability to abstract in an entrepreneurial context relates strongly to the diversity of experience that the person has had. Not more of the same but new places, new contexts, new circumstances, new situations. The more you experience, the more a particular object gains multiple associations, and opens up new pathways of possibility, within the brain and for your life. How then do we get more of that, as an individual and as a country?

Retitled as ‘Create something that challenges the Status Quo’ in Entrepreneur magazine

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Team IQ http://ofmindandmoney.com/team-iq/ Wed, 01 May 2013 19:57:36 +0000 http://ofmindandmoney.com/?p=615 The art and science of building a collectively intelligent team

Several years ago we had hired an HR consulting firm to help us assess our senior managers. Through a series of competency mapping exercises they were going to tell us who could be tasked with greater responsibility, who would have to go and what skill gaps we might fill by training. They had devised a set of exercises among which was a group problem solving task. In the group task they each assigned themselves one participant to observe, and made notes on the person’s participation and contributions. I sat in as an observer in one of the group exercises, not tracking any one person in particular.

Among the group was a manager whose assessment so far had been on the brink. Communication skills were below average, logical and quantitative ... Read More »]]> The art and science of building a collectively intelligent team

Several years ago we had hired an HR consulting firm to help us assess our senior managers. Through a series of competency mapping exercises they were going to tell us who could be tasked with greater responsibility, who would have to go and what skill gaps we might fill by training. They had devised a set of exercises among which was a group problem solving task. In the group task they each assigned themselves one participant to observe, and made notes on the person’s participation and contributions. I sat in as an observer in one of the group exercises, not tracking any one person in particular.

Among the group was a manager whose assessment so far had been on the brink. Communication skills were below average, logical and quantitative skills were below average. At the end of the group discussion his assessment was no better, minimal participation. He might have to go, the consultants recommended. But I didn’t think so.

It was really the first time I had sat quietly observing a team engaged in a problem solving exercise. The consultants had their agenda but I was curiously watching something else – the dynamics. The team started out with the most obvious approach, a few very articulately arguing about whether it would work or not, many offering reasonable suggestions. This gentleman remained silent. And then he offered up a thought. It was not well thought out and a bit out there in left field. But it was just reasonable enough to get the articulate, logical folks unstuck enough to explore a different possibility. He did this three times in the discussion, each time he moved the group to a different solution space. For the rest of the time he sat silent. In the end the group emerged with an excellent solution quite far afield from where they had begun. Had he not been there to throw the inswings or curve balls, I imagine, the result would have been completely different. The group could not have made those large leaps to consider completely new approaches. For his part, he could not have seen those possibilities to full fruition. The outcome was greater than the sum of the parts.

People have long suspected that there is a different sort of intelligence that emerges in the collective, and an increasing body of scientific evidence is accumulating to describe it. A few years ago a group from Carnegie Mellon and the MIT Sloan Collective Intelligence Group published a study in the journal Science where they set out to see if they could create a collective intelligence quotient for the team, and more importantly, whether this was related to the average and maximum IQ of members of the teams. Based on the results of a series of problems given to almost 200 groups of 2 to 5 people, they derived a collective intelligence factor based on their performance, essentially a Team IQ. Indeed, the Team IQ had only the smallest correlation to the average and maximum IQs of the team members. These findings are disconcerting though. If the individual IQ of the team members is not the key determinant of Team IQ, then creating a great team is not really about assembling the smartest people you can find. What matters then?

A model by University of Michigan researchers Lu Hong and Scott Page demonstrates conditions where a more diverse group that is randomly selected can outperform a less diverse group composed of ‘smarter’ people. But this is just a simulation where diversity and IQ are seeded numbers. What about in real life? All the signs still point to diversity. A team of scientists from diverse fields was better able to arrive at solutions to an experimental problem than teams from the same field, even though the solution they sought was within their own experimental framework. Cross-functional teams in companies performed better than teams of only engineers. The reports are many. But is all diversity good?

Diversity can be divisive as much as it can be performance enhancing. In my own experience, teaming people with different education levels can sometimes lead to insecurities and conflict that are more destructive than productive. And adding diversity into a homogeneous group can often be dangerous with the minority ‘diversity’ being spit out of the organization like an organ rejection. So what dimension of diversity really matters? Researchers at the University of Wisconsin looked at the productivity of garment workers in a factory to find clues. A lowly task you might think but indeed the same individuals could collectively produce greater output in teams. And more important, what mattered for team performance was diversity in skills and abilities. On the other hand ethnic and age diversity reduced the team performance, because communication and camaraderie tends to be more difficult across ages and ethnicities. In the MIT collective intelligence study, gender diversity contributed to better team performance. Cognitive diversity enhances Team IQ but many dimensions of demographic diversity detract.

So how do you build a great team? Here are my general rules of thumb, put together people whose skills and experiences are different and therefore think differently. But make sure that they are similar in other respects such as age, education and ethnic background and therefore have things to talk about other than the tasks at hand. If you are selecting by test, the best grouping might be people who have similar scores but who differ largely in the questions or tasks on which they scored their points. And if you can, do it right from the start; seeding diversity in a homogenous grouping is much harder and fraught with perils.

Even as researchers continue to debate how to assess diversity of skills and cognitive styles and their combinations, it is not something that organizations can afford to ignore. As the world changes at increasingly rapid pace, what we need are teams with high IQ for any sort of problem. Recruiting based on the number of years of experience within the same domain and function is increasingly a criterion to do away with.

It’s not just who you hire that matters. Who you put them with may matter far more.

As published in the SmartCEO magazine

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Shakti Rising http://ofmindandmoney.com/shakti-rising/ Wed, 27 Mar 2013 21:31:20 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=553 Shakti Rising is a two hour feature film about the human drama of entrepreneurship set in the context of a village. The film forms part of a video based course on entrepreneurship – the MBE or Microbusiness Education Certificate offered to microentrepreneurs – and is where it gets most of its audience. Currently in Tamil it will soon be dubbed in multiple South Indian languages and reshot in Hindi.  Subtitled in English it was a selected feature of the South Asian Theater and Literary Arts Festival at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and various Asian film festivals from Florida to California. For more information visit the film website at www.shaktirising.in

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Shakti Rising is a two hour feature film about the human drama of entrepreneurship set in the context of a village. The film forms part of a video based course on entrepreneurship – the MBE or Microbusiness Education Certificate offered to microentrepreneurs – and is where it gets most of its audience. Currently in Tamil it will soon be dubbed in multiple South Indian languages and reshot in Hindi.  Subtitled in English it was a selected feature of the South Asian Theater and Literary Arts Festival at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and various Asian film festivals from Florida to California. For more information visit the film website at www.shaktirising.in

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Micro-entrepreneurship: Engaging in job creation http://ofmindandmoney.com/micro-entrepreneurship-engaging-in-job-creation/ Wed, 27 Mar 2013 20:18:03 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=497 Less than 50 million people are employed in the formal economy. That’s less than 5 percent of India’s population. What this means is that most of the country operates in the informal economy and most are by definition ‘poor’.

When we speak of the formal economy, which accounts for almost all of our GDP, we often throw around terms like value creation, entrepreneurship and job creation and the like. But when it comes to the majority of India’s populace, we flip the paradigm to ‘income generation’ and ‘livelihood creation’ and use this interchangeably with micro-entrepreneurship, which it is not.

It may seem logical, that after all, poverty is the lack of income and most of India has little of that. So, it is best to rush out to generate some income to feed yourself. Except that it’s not.

Value creation The wealth of a ... Read More »]]> Less than 50 million people are employed in the formal economy. That’s less than 5 percent of India’s population. What this means is that most of the country operates in the informal economy and most are by definition ‘poor’.

When we speak of the formal economy, which accounts for almost all of our GDP, we often throw around terms like value creation, entrepreneurship and job creation and the like. But when it comes to the majority of India’s populace, we flip the paradigm to ‘income generation’ and ‘livelihood creation’ and use this interchangeably with micro-entrepreneurship, which it is not.

It may seem logical, that after all, poverty is the lack of income and most of India has little of that. So, it is best to rush out to generate some income to feed yourself. Except that it’s not.

Value creation
The wealth of a country, and largely organizations and individuals within it, depends on the value it creates. Wealth is not money printing. It is about how well we engage our resources to build new possibilities—make things better, faster or cheaper, and enhance our own capability as human beings. Grand stuff, all that; but it matters because for a healthy economy the money supply must track this—our collective value. It, therefore, makes for ineffective and potentially ugly economics if everyone is simply rushing to grab a piece of a fixed pie.

Generate income
The unfortunate paradigm of income generation is to begin with some sort of hand skill—basket weaving, tailoring, mushroom cultivation and the like—with the expectation that someone (a non-profit or failing which, God or government maybe) must come along and compensate them for the energy expended. A belief we relentlessly perpetuate through government schemes and non-profit is that hard work and sacrifice should be rewarded by someone, regardless of whether it is effective or useful. No matter that there may not be an accessible market or any market at all for the product. No matter that they are cost inefficient. No matter that the product may be of too poor a quality to be of value to anyone. Such income generation schemes are not empowering because they work inside out.

They begin with a skill and search for a market rather than the other way around and are littered with bad economics, disappointment and shattered expectations. This is the inverse of entrepreneurship which begins with identifying a need and creating value that serves that need.

If we believe in the human potential of our populace, then our goal should be to empower people with the tools of entrepreneurship, to seek value paradigms that begin outside in. And if we must help, we should do this by exposing people to markets, standards and competition.

Failure—the better teacher
Hand-held ‘income generation’ schemes are more gentle and assuring of income in the short-term. ‘Make and we shall support you’ (at least until we run out of donor money). Genuine entrepreneurship comes with little assurance and is littered with failure. But it is in the failure that we learn our most significant lessons; the ones that teach us what can go wrong and how to rise above. The failures sow the seeds for something better, raising the overall standards and productivity of the system. So, let’s go from income generation to micro entrepreneurship, flipping the paradigm from inside out to outside in.

This article appeared in Entepreneur Magazine (India) in March 2013

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Economic outcomes and the structure and dynamics of human settlements http://ofmindandmoney.com/economic-outcomes-and-the-structure-and-dynamics-of-human-settlements/ Wed, 27 Mar 2013 15:04:39 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=454 What about an individual or settlement determines how successful it will be? We study the flow of information and goods among human settlements and how this relates to economic outcome. Presently our empirical study is focused on rural ecosystems in India, identifying key variables that predict the economic outcome of a village and the variance among individuals within them.

 

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What about an individual or settlement determines how successful it will be? We study the flow of information and goods among human settlements and how this relates to economic outcome. Presently our empirical study is focused on rural ecosystems in India, identifying key variables that predict the economic outcome of a village and the variance among individuals within them.

 

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Brain networks and ecosystem position http://ofmindandmoney.com/brain-networks-and-ecosystem-position/ Tue, 26 Mar 2013 17:02:52 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=473 How much does the ecosystem we experience, and our behavior within it, reflect in the dynamics of our brain activity? We use the Emotiv EEG device to record brain activity in different ecosystems, from people who have spent their entire lives in small, remote villages with very small and homogeneous social networks to city dwellers with hundreds of social connections and always on the move. Stay tuned for some startling results!

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How much does the ecosystem we experience, and our behavior within it, reflect in the dynamics of our brain activity? We use the Emotiv EEG device to record brain activity in different ecosystems, from people who have spent their entire lives in small, remote villages with very small and homogeneous social networks to city dwellers with hundreds of social connections and always on the move. Stay tuned for some startling results!

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Dynamics of Brain Networks http://ofmindandmoney.com/dynamics-of-brain-networks/ Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:03:23 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=475 My earlier academic work has focused on the dynamics of brain activity recorded using multielectrode arrays in various systems from organotypic slice cultures (2D brain networks in a dish) to electrodes implanted in awake monkeys and human patients undergoing surgical resection to treat epilepsy.  The most interesting discovery was of a phenomenon called ‘Coherence Potentials’, network level waveforms with complex temporal structures that traveled through the network without distortion. Recently we were able to relate these coherence potentials to simple motor behaviors in a human patient.

Publications

Tipping Points in the Brain (Scientific American India)  2010

Coherence potentials encode simple human sensorimotor behavior. Parameshwaran D, Crone NE, Thiagarajan TC.PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30514.

Coherence potentials: loss-less, all-or-none network events in the cortex.Thiagarajan TC, Lebedev MA, Nicolelis MA, Plenz D.  PLoS Biol. 2010 Jan12;8(1)

Comments/Blogs on this work

Brain entanglement could explain memories (New Scientist) Missing Piece of Jigsaw ... Read More »]]>
My earlier academic work has focused on the dynamics of brain activity recorded using multielectrode arrays in various systems from organotypic slice cultures (2D brain networks in a dish) to electrodes implanted in awake monkeys and human patients undergoing surgical resection to treat epilepsy.  The most interesting discovery was of a phenomenon called ‘Coherence Potentials’, network level waveforms with complex temporal structures that traveled through the network without distortion. Recently we were able to relate these coherence potentials to simple motor behaviors in a human patient.

Publications

Tipping Points in the Brain (Scientific American India)  2010

Coherence potentials encode simple human sensorimotor behavior. Parameshwaran D, Crone NE, Thiagarajan TC.PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30514.

Coherence potentials: loss-less, all-or-none network events in the cortex.Thiagarajan TC, Lebedev MA, Nicolelis MA, Plenz D.  PLoS Biol. 2010 Jan12;8(1)

Comments/Blogs on this work

Spontaneous cortical activity in awake monkeys composed of neuronal avalanches.Petermann T, Thiagarajan TC, Lebedev MA, Nicolelis MA, Chialvo DR, Plenz D. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 15;106(37)

The organizing principles of neuronal avalanches: cell assemblies in the cortex?  Plenz D, Thiagarajan TC.  Trends Neurosci. 2007 Mar;30(3):101-10.

 

 

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Coherence Potentials http://ofmindandmoney.com/coherence-potentials/ Sun, 24 Mar 2013 17:01:09 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=483 This section provides a detailed description of coherence potentials.

A coherence potential is a complex negative-positive waveform in the local field potential with a duration between 50 and 250 ms, reflecting aggregate neuronal activity in the local field that has exceeded a particular amplitude threshold and is therefore able to propagate to a large number of sites in the cortex without distortion of its temporal structure or substantial loss of amplitude. This is seen as a synaptic transmission dependent occurrence of the identical LFP waveform at different sites in the cortex with millisecond delays. In stark contrast, waveforms with peak amplitudes below the threshold traverse through the cortex with progressive distortion.

The path of propagation of coherence potentials is not wave like but rather jumps across the cortex to non-contiguous regions and stops abruptly. Generally they can start anywhere and will travel ... Read More »]]>
This section provides a detailed description of coherence potentials.

A coherence potential is a complex negative-positive waveform in the local field potential with a duration between 50 and 250 ms, reflecting aggregate neuronal activity in the local field that has exceeded a particular amplitude threshold and is therefore able to propagate to a large number of sites in the cortex without distortion of its temporal structure or substantial loss of amplitude. This is seen as a synaptic transmission dependent occurrence of the identical LFP waveform at different sites in the cortex with millisecond delays. In stark contrast, waveforms with peak amplitudes below the threshold traverse through the cortex with progressive distortion.

The path of propagation of coherence potentials is not wave like but rather jumps across the cortex to non-contiguous regions and stops abruptly. Generally they can start anywhere and will travel to a variable but usually large number of sites and only rarely the full measured extent. Importantly, while coherence potentials are identical in waveform within a propagated sequence, they are highly variable in their temporal structure across sequences. Generally, with measurements spanning a maximum of 60 sites or local fields, we see a successive stream of well distinguished coherence potential sequences as shown in the figure below. However, sometimes, multiple such sequences occur in a temporally intermingled manner and can easily be distinguished from one another on the basis of their waveform.
Image

This figure shows coherence potentials (CPs) arising within a 1 second long piece of recording. Here there were 60 coherence potentials (i.e. suprathreshold negative-positive LFP excursions or nLFPs) that occurred in a series of tight temporal clusters. The first matrix shows the time between the peaks of these coherence potentials, i.e. how rapidly they occurred one after another. The negative peaks of the first four CPs occurred within 5 ms (indicated in black) of one another, followed by a period >150 ms long (indicated in white) where no CP peaks were seen and then another cluster of 24 CPs within 5 ms on one another etc. The CPs in each cluster could have occurred at any site where we measured. This figure says nothing about the spatial pattern of their occurrence. The matrix below shows the similarity in the waveforms of these same 60 CPs. What is clear is that the waveform in each cluster is virtually identical (with correlations between 0.9 and 0.95 indicated by red-black), while the waveforms between clusters are generally < 0.6 which is the median correlation between randomly selected nLFPs. These boxes on the right show waveforms from each CP cluster overplotted within one box. The clusters corresponding to the 60 CPs shown in the matrices are marked by arrows.

We named them coherence potentials because the phenomenon was identified in the local field potential as a transient coherence between sites. We have used the term coherence not to refer specifically to spectral coherence but in its general sense which, according to Merriam-webster means : “the quality or state of cohering: as (a) systematic or logical connection or consistency (b) integration of diverse elements, relationships, or values”. However, there is likely to be broad spectral coherence as well since the waveforms at multiple sites are virtually identical in their shape at least up to 100 Hz which is the cut-off used to filter the local field potential signal.

Publications

Tipping Points in the Brain (Scientific American India)

Coherence potentials encode simple human sensorimotor behavior. Parameshwaran D, Crone NE, Thiagarajan TC.PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30514.

Coherence potentials: loss-less, all-or-none network events in the cortex.Thiagarajan TC, Lebedev MA, Nicolelis MA, Plenz D.  PLoS Biol. 2010 Jan12;8(1)

Comments/Blogs on this work

 

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Neuronal Physiology http://ofmindandmoney.com/neuronal-physiology/ Sat, 23 Mar 2013 17:03:59 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=477 My doctoral work was focused on understanding of the individual neuron, specifically on how it responded to changes in activity in its environment and to blocking of specific channels of input. We discovered a tuning mechanism that allowed an adjusted response depending on the level of activity and also qualitative changes in the way the neuron communicated after long periods of activity deprivation (neuron neurosis?).

I also spent many years looking for evidence of presynaptic protein translation, a finding that would suggest that synapses are more autonomous than previously thought and that neurons therefore have a much more expanded computational capability.  We found some really strong evidence but couldn’t nail it down all the way so the work remains yet unpublished….

Publications

Beta Ca2+/CaM-dependent kinase type II triggers upregulation of GluA1 to coordinate adaptation to synaptic inactivity in hippocampal neurons. Groth RD, Lindskog ... Read More »]]> My doctoral work was focused on understanding of the individual neuron, specifically on how it responded to changes in activity in its environment and to blocking of specific channels of input. We discovered a tuning mechanism that allowed an adjusted response depending on the level of activity and also qualitative changes in the way the neuron communicated after long periods of activity deprivation (neuron neurosis?).

I also spent many years looking for evidence of presynaptic protein translation, a finding that would suggest that synapses are more autonomous than previously thought and that neurons therefore have a much more expanded computational capability.  We found some really strong evidence but couldn’t nail it down all the way so the work remains yet unpublished….

Publications

Beta Ca2+/CaM-dependent kinase type II triggers upregulation of GluA1 to coordinate adaptation to synaptic inactivity in hippocampal neurons. Groth RD, Lindskog M, Thiagarajan TC, Li L, Tsien RW. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jan 11;108(2):828-33.

Postsynaptic GluA1 enables acute retrograde enhancement of presynaptic function to coordinate adaptation to synaptic inactivity. Lindskog M, Li L, Groth RD, Poburko D, Thiagarajan TC, Han X, Tsien RW.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010
Dec 14;107(50):21806-11.

LTP and adaptation to inactivity: overlapping mechanisms and implications for metaplasticity.  Thiagarajan TC, Lindskog M, Malgaroli A, Tsien RW. Neuropharmacology. 2007 Jan;52(1):156-75.

Adaptation to synaptic inactivity in hippocampal neurons. Thiagarajan TC, Lindskog M, Tsien RW. Neuron. 2005 Sep 1;47(5):725-37.

Comment on Adaptation to synaptic inactivity in hippocampal neurons:  Inactivity sets XL synapses in motion Gundlfinger A, Schmitz D. Neuron. 2005 Sep 1;47(5):623-5.

alpha- and betaCaMKII. Inverse regulation by neuronal activity and opposing effects on synaptic strength.Thiagarajan TC, Piedras-Renteria ES, Tsien RW. Neuron. 2002 Dec 19;36(6):1103-14.

Resting and active properties of pyramidal neurons in subiculum and CA1 of rat hippocampus. Staff NP, Jung HY, Thiagarajan T, Yao M, Spruston N.  J Neurophysiol. 2000 Nov;84(5):2398-408.

 

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Scimergent http://ofmindandmoney.com/scimergent/ Wed, 27 Feb 2013 21:43:53 +0000 http://local.physicsofpoverty.com/?p=177 Scimergent was founded in August of 2012 and presently operates in both India and the United States. We work with dark data and complex systems science to build platforms that enable the 70% of humanity that are offline, offgrid or otherwise unconnected to the modern economy. Our team is a diverse group that comes from science, technology, telecom and agriculture with experience building large scale field ops, technology platforms, algorithms and high performance teams.

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Scimergent was founded in August of 2012 and presently operates in both India and the United States. We work with dark data and complex systems science to build platforms that enable the 70% of humanity that are offline, offgrid or otherwise unconnected to the modern economy. Our team is a diverse group that comes from science, technology, telecom and agriculture with experience building large scale field ops, technology platforms, algorithms and high performance teams.

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Madura Microfinance http://ofmindandmoney.com/madura-microfinance/ Wed, 27 Feb 2013 21:35:35 +0000 http://local.physicsofpoverty.com/?p=169 Madura Microfinance is a non banking finance company (NBFC) founded in 2006 that presently operates across 160 locations in rural Tamil Nadu, India. It’s core competence has been in bringing cost efficiency and therefore high profitability to its field operations. In its new avatar, in collaboration with Scimergent, it is extending its capability to use intelligence to drive more productive lending and enable more differentiated loan products.

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Madura Microfinance is a non banking finance company (NBFC) founded in 2006 that presently operates across 160 locations in rural Tamil Nadu, India. It’s core competence has been in bringing cost efficiency and therefore high profitability to its field operations. In its new avatar, in collaboration with Scimergent, it is extending its capability to use intelligence to drive more productive lending and enable more differentiated loan products.

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Getting fit for the future http://ofmindandmoney.com/getting-fit-for-the-future/ Sat, 01 Dec 2012 23:27:48 +0000 http://local.physicsofpoverty.com/?p=206 It is important for organisations to continue to be valuable and saleable. To do so, companies need to tap into their network of partners and train together to stay ahead of the market.

When most of us think about the value of organisations, we are thinking about our revenues, customer base, products and distribution, maybe even our processes and access to capital. While these are good indicators of our accumulated value so far, they are not nearly as good indicators of their continuing value tomorrow. In today’s fast changing world where there are more unknowns than knowns, nothing is stable, and strategies often have to be quickly reconfigured to discard dead ends and take advantage of new opportunities.  What determines whether an organization is poised to take advantage of the future? How does an organization ensure that it is fit for ... Read More »]]> It is important for organisations to continue to be valuable and saleable. To do so, companies need to tap into their network of partners and train together to stay ahead of the market.

When most of us think about the value of organisations, we are thinking about our revenues, customer base, products and distribution, maybe even our processes and access to capital. While these are good indicators of our accumulated value so far, they are not nearly as good indicators of their continuing value tomorrow. In today’s fast changing world where there are more unknowns than knowns, nothing is stable, and strategies often have to be quickly reconfigured to discard dead ends and take advantage of new opportunities.  What determines whether an organization is poised to take advantage of the future? How does an organization ensure that it is fit for the future?

As individuals, we have the same challenge. Job security has become a thing of the past. The 40 year company career is now just the evening conversation of today’s retirees. So, how do we make sure we are of continued value and ‘saleable’? How do we ensure that we can continuously reinvent ourselves and create our own opportunities? At the individual level, this is much talked about and researched. By resting on a 10-year-old degree, a past job title and a salary number that we may have once got just aren’t good enough today. We need to constantly build new skills and experience, maybe even within the same company. But this is easier said than done. How do we put ourselves in the right position to know what skills and experience to go after and find the opportunities to roll up our sleeves and do it?

One way to stay nimble, that we probably haven’t thought much of, is by maintaining a diverse and growing partner network. Every organisation has partners of some sort that come in the form of suppliers, customers, distributors, contractors, financiers and maybe even R&D collaborations. If we were really to look deep into the value we derive from them, it would go well beyond supply, purchase, distribution, funding or whatever the core purpose of the partnership is. Knowing and interacting with other organisations can do many other things.  It can keep you ahead of market knowledge about new products, services and offerings in the pipeline and changing market needs. It can provide you with a view of different work cultures, management practices and processes.

Building on your network

Much evidence now tells us that to know what’s out there in the job ecosystem or even of other opportunities within the same organisation, you are best positioned when you have a diverse social network and access to diverse information. How will you hear about new stuff otherwise? How will it cross in front of your eyes? Who will tell you? Who will take you on to give it a shot before you really know what you’re doing? You have to know it to make sense of it. And once you have, you have to actually do the job of making it happen. Get the experience.

But what about a company or organisation? How does that translate? One way to stay nimble, that we probably haven’t thought much of, is by maintaining a diverse and growing partner network. Every organisation has partners of some sort that come in the form of suppliers, customers, distributors, contractors, financiers and maybe even R&D collaborations. If we were really to look deep into the value we derive from them, it would go well beyond supply, purchase, distribution, funding or whatever the core purpose of the partnership is. Knowing and interacting with other organisations can do many other things.  It can keep you ahead of market knowledge about new products, services and offerings in the pipeline and changing market needs. It can provide you with a view of different work cultures, management practices and processes. There’s nothing like seeing someone else do something really well to wonder why you aren’t doing that yourself. These partnerships can also be a source for new employees or customers. Referrals happen all the time and there is no better referral than from a trusted partner who knows how your organisation works.  The more diverse and high quality this partner network is, the better equipped the organisation will be to recognise and reconfigure to the changing environment.

Train to stay fit

Of course, just hearing, observing and knowing is not where it ends. Like the body, which has to keep moving and working its muscles in different ways to stay fit and flexible, organisations have to keep working at new things as well to stay fit. Just reading fitness magazines to keep up-to-date on what’s new in fitness doesn’t make you fit for the future.  This is where I believe running pilots play an extremely important role. It’s where you learn new areas, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and which of your assumptions are completely flawed. It’s also where your employees get the feel of the real deal and learn on the ground realities that will usually throw every plan into chaos in the first round. It is where organisations gain experience in areas they are not experts in already.

Running pilots with partners is even better. For swiftness in marketing new products, it makes sense not to reinvent the wheel if you can find a partner with a strong synergy. Do it together. Significantly, it speeds up the learning curve for both sides and also reduces the time it takes to get to market. And speed is no small thing in today’s world. You have to be fast. The diverse perspectives will also drive towards a higher quality outcome. And finally, when both sides pool in complementary resources, it keeps the initial cash outflows lower for both and often makes possible pilots and ventures that may not otherwise have been feasible from a time and money perspective. All this can save you from falling on your face five times (at least it might reduce it to two). However, you should expect many of these pilots and ventures to never make it off the ground, or even to blow up in grand and dramatic fashion. That’s part of the training for the unexpected obstacle course. And that’s what the future is.

If you don’t train routinely, when you suddenly try to run a new obstacle course, it will hurt like hell and you may not make it through. And if the course is not static and keeps changing, you wouldn’t know which muscle you need to use so you better try new workouts. If you don’t, you will be in a fitness rut and muscles you didn’t know you had could strain and snap when put to the test. Besides, to gain strength you have to push yourself regularly till your muscles feel some pain. You have to expend energy to build energy.

So, to make sure you are fit for the future, it doesn’t matter if you were an Olympic athlete a decade ago. Are you still an athlete now? Map out your organisations’ partner network and exploratory ‘experience’, and you might figure out something new.

As posted on the SmartCEO

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Catalyst for progress http://ofmindandmoney.com/catalyst-for-progress/ Thu, 27 Sep 2012 20:18:13 +0000 http://pop.technotarek.com/?p=492 Microfinance is about small loans to those with low income in the informal economy. These three factors pose three unique challenges. The small loan size means a different kind of economics and business model from mainstream banking with distinct processes and cost-efficiencies, since the income per loan is particularly low. That the borrowers have low income means the risks are large; small shocks in the family or larger system can have devastating impact on a borrower’s means to repay. And finally, lending to the informal economy presents a different set of challenges in that there is no documentation to verify assets, occupation, income or anything about the person.

The microfinance industry is still grappling with these challenges, learning many of the lessons the hard way. With lending rates now limited to 26 percent under the new regulation, gone are the days ... Read More »]]> Microfinance is about small loans to those with low income in the informal economy. These three factors pose three unique challenges. The small loan size means a different kind of economics and business model from mainstream banking with distinct processes and cost-efficiencies, since the income per loan is particularly low. That the borrowers have low income means the risks are large; small shocks in the family or larger system can have devastating impact on a borrower’s means to repay. And finally, lending to the informal economy presents a different set of challenges in that there is no documentation to verify assets, occupation, income or anything about the person.

The microfinance industry is still grappling with these challenges, learning many of the lessons the hard way. With lending rates now limited to 26 percent under the new regulation, gone are the days of high interest rates of 40 percent to compensate for defaults and the lack of cost-efficiencies. Under these tighter circumstances, many have floundered while others have looked to technology and process improvements to find a profitable way forward. The industry’s health, going forward, will depend largely on technologies that enable efficiencies in the field of loan initiation, tracking and collections.

But that is not sufficient to compensate for the risks of low income. When borrowers have low incomes that are inadequate to satisfy their needs, and supply of debt is easy, there is a natural inclination to borrow beyond capacity. It was this that was at the core of the crisis that unravelled the industry in the last year. When supply contracted, the opportunity to borrow from one lender to pay another disappeared, setting in motion a wave of defaults. Commendably, the industry has rushed to remedy this with the establishment of credit bureaus. Coupled with regulation that does not permit an MFI to lend to a borrower with loans from more than two other institutions or totalling Rs. 50,000, there is now a mechanism to prevent overborrowing. MFIs are now working to ensure data compliance in uploading borrower data to the credit bureaus and integrating credit bureau verification into the loan process.

Challenges of an informal economy
Over the next year, with technology driven cost-efficiencies and better mechanisms to verify creditworthiness in place, the industry will soon settle in with strong, responsible lending practices and solid growth potential. In this new paradigm of microfinance, it is a different set of companies that will now lead the way.

However, while these remedies solve the commercial problems of the industry, they do not address the promise of microfinance as a catalyst for economic progress. In India’s banking sector, only 19 percent of all loans are for consumer lending. Contrast this with the Malegam committee study that showed that 75 percent of microfinance is consumer loans.

This is the challenge of operating in the informal economy where there is neither legal business entity nor any documentation to establish productive activity by the borrower. How then can one ensure that borrowed capital is productively deployed for economic gain and not simply consumed? This has to be tackled cleverly and will require building intelligence about individual behavior in the context of low income ecosystems. This is the big data problem of microfinance and acquiring the right data is the first challenge.

This OpEd appeared in Entrepreneur Magazine India in September 2012

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You’re hired? Not so easy! http://ofmindandmoney.com/youre-hired-not-so-easy/ Wed, 01 Aug 2012 23:25:05 +0000 http://local.physicsofpoverty.com/?p=201 A college degree does not necessarily guarantee good skill sets useful in a work environment. To change that, companies and educational institutions need to work together to develop a curriculum to ensure a more productive workforce. Going one step further, industry professionals need to double up as faculty members – all possible in today’s digital world.

In a country with over a billion people and the largest young workforce in the world, you might think it should be easy for companies to find and recruit young people but it’s not. It’s quite the opposite. About a year or so ago, I was interviewing candidates for junior branch manager positions.

What does a finance company do? I asked them, what do you think is its main source of revenue?

Opening of accounts, said one. He was a high scoring commerce graduate. Maintaining the systems and ... Read More »]]> A college degree does not necessarily guarantee good skill sets useful in a work environment. To change that, companies and educational institutions need to work together to develop a curriculum to ensure a more productive workforce. Going one step further, industry professionals need to double up as faculty members – all possible in today’s digital world.

In a country with over a billion people and the largest young workforce in the world, you might think it should be easy for companies to find and recruit young people but it’s not. It’s quite the opposite. About a year or so ago, I was interviewing candidates for junior branch manager positions.

What does a finance company do? I asked them, what do you think is its main source of revenue?

Opening of accounts, said one. He was a high scoring commerce graduate.
Maintaining the systems and documents, said another after much pause and thought. What?

But you can’t blame the poor fellow, who with great difficulty has come from his village to a college, the first generation to do so in his family. He didn’t get into engineering, so he is in the botany stream. After three years of meticulous memorisation of hundreds of plant names and diligently learning to label petals and sepals, he has graduated with high marks and now needs a job. He better well get one. His parents sent him off to college knowing only one thing – if you go to college, you can get a better job than they’ve ever had; a job in an office. So, they worked like hell to make this happen, borrowing way beyond their capacity to pay the fees and giving up on the dream of buying a new cycle. What kind of job and how to find it is up to him to figure out. He doesn’t know who to ask for help. So, what does a finance company do? From the outside, you can see desks stacked with papers and computers, and people sitting in the cool fan breeze or in air conditioned rooms drinking tea every few hours. Maintaining the systems and documents is as good a guess as any.

The gaping hole
As of 2008, there were enough seats for only seven per cent of India’s college-age population, double the capacity relative to 10 years ago. What that means is that most of the colleges have sprung up in the last decade and over half the students are first-generation educated. It also means that suddenly these colleges need to find faculty. More often than not, the faculty story goes something like this. They graduated from the same college, tried for another job, didn’t get it and then became a college lecturer. Often, they are teaching several courses because most of the positions remain vacant. About 25 per cent of college faculty positions in the country are estimated to be vacant. The faculty doesn’t know much about jobs in companies. Only that they are difficult to get. But getting one is the holy grail.

About 70 per cent of the traffic to our website is to the employment section. A richer employment section that is better linked in to the college campuses would benefit students in making their job choices, learn useful things and eventually lead the right candidates to companies.

The largest growth of educational institutions has been of engineering colleges. Many of these have sprung up over the last decade largely to cater to the burgeoning IT industry. They advertise to potential students by boasting about their placement success. At college entrances, banners are displayed with the names and faces of the lucky few who have made it into the large IT companies and the MNCs. However, the IT industry readily acknowledges that the students that come pouring out of these places are not ready for the workplace. They must be trained rigorously for up to six months before they can be useful. One faculty member tells me, our students know all the theory but they don’t know how to apply it.

There is an enormous disconnect between education and the purposes it is meant for.

The remedy
Waiting for the government to fix it is far too risky and time consuming when you need people next year and next month. Colleges are essentially a catchment for young people and in our own investigation, we have seen that raw capability is widely spread. There are superstars everywhere. However, they lack perspective on companies, what they do, what the jobs are like and therefore, a framework for how to prepare for the modern world. The large IT companies that recruit hundreds of fresh graduates every year have begun to think about it and have begun creating their own certifications and courses that they offer on campuses. However, this is difficult to scale.

For the education ecosystem to serve the purpose it is meant for – to prepare students to contribute meaningfully and productively to the world – companies that will eventually employ them must play a more active role in creating and disseminating education content. For the IT industry, an industry-led IT certification or degree would be far more valuable than the present college curriculum, for instance. It would have the distinct advantages of curriculum closer to what is necessary for productive application and the assessment would be a more reliable indicator of the candidate’s knowledge than their college marks. And for scalability, it would have to be digital, or present online. By being openly accessible, this could put the responsibility of training for job readiness into the hands of the students, getting past barriers of college entrance into the right stream. Colleges, for their part, might be grateful for curriculum that represents a faster path to placement and begin to readily promote it. And companies would have better trained entrants on a faster path to productivity, an enormous cost saving. However, while some industries are big enough, more uniform in their needs and more organised, others are not. So, what’s a smaller more specialised company to do?

Back in the old days when I was in college in the U.S., our campus placement offices had folders with profiles of companies that we could look through. That was before the Internet. Today, there are other means and the possibilities are numerous. It would be useful for any company to create videos and presentations that describe the nature of the jobs they are hiring for. What does the company do? What’s a day in the life like? What are the skills that you need? There could include specific skill training videos, even simple assessments that potential candidates and students can use to see if they have the right abilities. Put these on the website and then provide this information and links to colleges and placement offices through posters and other means. About 70 per cent of the traffic to our website is to the employment section. A richer employment section that is better linked in to the college campuses would benefit students in making their job choices, learn useful things and eventually lead the right candidates to companies. Eventually, the better parts of corporate teaching may find its way into supplementary college curriculum. Turning the people who are doing the job into the same people who are teaching the job may be a faster path to take people to productivity.

As posted on the SmartCEO

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