What makes an idea work? Facebook was not the first social network, Marvel was not the first comic book company, McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant. What they all had in common was a deviation from the norm. Facebook made sure the exchange of personal data was consensual and simulated the experience of life online better than all the other social networks, Marvel told relatable stories about flawed human beings instead of the ubiquitous perfect superheroes, and McDonald’s developed a system to serve food faster and cheaper than any other fast food company.
Campus Connections’ fifth session was held at Habib University. In attendance were Jamil Ahmad, an eBusiness Consultant, Amran Chowdhry, Head of Data at HBL, and Ahmad Jalal, CEO Aman Foundation.
The audience comprised of students of social development policy, computer science, and business studies, and they questioned the panelists about standing out in an increasingly competitive world as well as the changing paradigms in the global market.
Jamil was quick and concise, “If you can write down four lines about how your idea really is different from the competition, it will work.” This difference, he said, could be efficiency of operation, the method by which a service is delivered, or a simple difference in price. All that it had to be, was significant enough for the target market. Chowdhry agreed and added that the reason to pursue an idea should be compelling enough for commitment.
However, Jalal was of a different mind. He claimed, “Ideas are overrated and the skill of execution is scarce.” Ideas, he opined, were a dime a dozen, yet the rate of failure was so high because seeing them through in an effective manner was a rarity. Take the example of Steve Jobs who had a minor in Calligraphy, an apparently non-technical subject giving him the idea to develop beautiful fonts for the original Macintosh. He implored the students to open their minds and study philosophy and psychology to gain insights that they couldn’t extract from technical courses.
An axiom oft-quoted is “follow the money”, yet that is exactly what Jamil warned not to do. “Money only follows you if you don’t follow it. Your worth, if it is anything at all, shows itself to others without you having to present it.” He recalled his first job with TCS in the 80s. He was paid Rs 1370 and was a newly wed. Today he owns his own business, yet it began just 60 days ago. He told students to forget the notion that they should print money until their sunset years and then relax. He expressed that it was the happiest time of his life working now, in his middle age.
Jalal agreed. “Don’t go for P&G and Unilever as soon as you graduate because there aren’t a lot of opportunities for growth or learning there. Go for a small company where you have the freedom to make mistakes.” In his opinion a job gave structure and discipline to one’s life and after a cycle of 3-4 years, one is ready to start a business.
Chowdhry added that it was attitude that mattered most of all, coupled with skill. If one had the capacity to think about a problem differently and extract insight from a problem, that would always be invaluable. He recommended data analyst as a great career path for the future, being one himself. “Data analysis discovers the undiscovered.”
In closing, Jamil suggested that the students should take their career and their lives one step at a time, Chowdhry summed it up in one word, “Focus.”, and Jalal gave them a small reading list comprising of Solitude & Leadership by William Deresiewicz, and 21st Century Talent Spotting by the Harvard Business Review.