Our Narrow Education

One of the things I have been thinking about lately has been that the education that I have undergone has been very restricting. There are whole worlds that have been left completely untouched. These are the worlds of history, philosophy, psychology, biology, economics, and the like. Even as I have become a specialist in the areas of technology that I work in, I feel at times that as the years go on, one needs to be more a generalist, putting together a latticework of mental models, as Mohnish Pabrai so eloquently paraphrased Charlie Munger.

So, I picked up a book by Will Durant on “The Greatest Ideas and Minds of All Time” (was recommended by Chetan Parikh) and started reading it. It was as if I had entered another world. While I know of the names mentioned, I know almost nothing about them. Durant has a reading list of 100 books, suggesting a time investment of an hour daily for the next 4 years.

In a world where thinking and knowledge is so important, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the education we undertook was very narrow in scope. It was taken my 20 years to realise it. Luckily, I have plenty of time ahead to correct it.

China’s Dotcoms Redux

Business Week writes about the next generation of China’s Internet companies, exemplified by CTrip.com, are “relying more heavily on call centers, given the country’s limits to e-commerce.” Perhaps, there are some lessons and ideas for Indian Internet companies, many of which seem to be frozen in time.

Social Life of XML

Jon Udell on the real value of XML: “The really important thing, it seems to me, is the way the XML document can become a shared construct, a tangible thing that processes and people can pass around and interact with. On the one hand, an XML document is the payload of a SOAP message that gets routed around on the Web services network — a payload that represents, for example, a purchase order. On the other hand, an XML document is the form that somebody uses to submit, or approve, or audit that purchase order. Now, all of a sudden, these two documents are not only made of the same XML stuff, they can literally be the same XML document.”

Smart Phones

Silicon.com reviews three of today’s devices – Treo 600, the BlackBerry 7230 and xda II. The verdict:

For its design, its openness and being based on the reliable and easy-to-use Palm OS, the Treo 600 gets the nod from me today. However, this comparison over the past three months or so, while showing the right device, marketed the right way can drive smart phone adoption forward, also leads me on to red flags for any organisation.

Set up for synchronised email must be easier. Per megabyte costs must be more transparent and lower, and the overall benefits in terms of increased productivity to an individual or organisation must be easier to calculate.

Microsoft-based smart phones will continue to get better witness the latest Orange SPV E200 and there will be sharply increasing numbers of phones based on the Symbian OS, and not just from Nokia or in Europe.

But there are still two aspects of this market. Though it is now finding its feet, it is no certainty who will walk off the winner, in terms of operators, handset makers, software vendors and indeed user organisations.

Mohnish Pabrai Presentation on Value Investing

Yesterday, I heard a fascinating presentation by Mohnish Pabrai, who runs Pabrai Investment Funds. The presentation on the Latticework Model (of Charlie Munger) was similar to this one available online.

Mohnish’s fund has given 35% compounded annual returns over the past 4 years – better than 99% of the fund managers. He is in the Warren Buffett-Charlie Munger mould, with the belief that one should make a few, big bets.

Some info on the Latticework model (from the NYSSA site):

According to Robert G. Hagstom Jr., author of “Latticework: The New Investing”, reading the great books as well as studying Newtonian physics will actually make you a better money manager.

Hagstrom urges investment professionals to take a broad worldview, incorporating principles from biology, mathematics, physics, economics, psychology, and literature. This approach, known as the latticework concept, originated when Charlie Munger gave a series of lectures on How to Achieve Worldly Wisdom at the University of Southern California in 1994 and 1996. The idea is that a broad liberal arts approach will help one excel not only at investing, but at anything in life, certainly surpassing the individual who operates with only a single view.

Our educational system is composed of strictly separate disciplines. The art of achieving worldly wisdom is about combining these bodies of knowledge and linking them together.

[Chetan Parikh has a review of Hagstrom’s book at Capital Ideas Online.]

A lot of what Mohnish said can also apply to entrepreneurs. I found another presentation (made at TiE) by him which connects entrepreneurship and value investing.

Another interesting talk (at PIF’s Sep 2003 Annual meeting) given by Mohnish is transcripted. Gives excellent insights into his thinking.

TECH TALK: 2003-04: Search, Linux

6. Search

The humble search engine that marked the rise of Yahoo and the Internet portals in the mid-1990s has made a comeback. Search has rapidly replaced browsing as the way we find things on the Internet. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are joined in battle as search becomes the way we surf.

Search engine advertising linked with keywords has become one of the fastest growing segments in online advertising. This has been a boon for small businesses it is perhaps the lowest-cost marketing avenue, and also allows them to analyse the cost per lead.

2004: Expect more personalization, verticalisation and localisation in search. Googles IPO will be on the big events of 2004. Amazon, too, will make a strong play, powered by its Search Inside the Book.

7. Linux and Open-Source Software

The action on the Linux front continued in 2003 flanked by Suns announced of its Java Desktop System and Novells purchase of Suse and Ximian. Even as Linux continues its rise on the server space, what is now interesting is the battle for the desktop and mobile devices. The year also saw many governments expressing support for Linux notably, South Korea, Vietnam, South Africa and Brazil. A trio of Asian governments wants its create its own open-source alternate to Microsofts Windows. Linux has rapidly emerged as the top threat to Microsofts domination of the computer space.

While it is hard to see users in the developed markets shifting to Linux primarily on account of the lock-in enforced by the MS-Office file formats, it is the emerging markets which hold the greatest potential for Linux. The solution so far has been piracy of Microsoft products, but that cannot continue ad infinitum. The middle path between piracy and non-consumption is that of affordability, and that is where Linux and other open-source software comes in. Linux is the foundation on which developing countries can build their technology foundation, and this is a realisation that dawned on many local and national governments (the biggest spenders on IT) in 2003.

The year also saw action on the legal front, as SCO sued IBM and threatened the very edifice of Linux. From what it appears, the community has already discounted any possibility of a win by SCO, and Linuxs open-source foundation remains very much intact.

2004: The coming year will see the first serious assault on Microsofts desktop monopoly. Governments will continue to the biggest drivers for accelerating Linux adoption. Localisation of Linux (support for languages) will pick up momentum.

Next Week: 2003-04 (continued)

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