Panel Discussion: Talent Rise of Creative Class


Sanjiv Navangul, MD, Janssen
Jaideep Devare, MD, Mahindra Insurance Brokers
Srinivas Gunta, Professor, Strategic Management, IIM Indore Ashok Kumar Nedurumalli, Co-Founder & MD, Team Lease Sujata Deshmukh, CEO, OD Alternatives Consultancy

Moderated by Anurag Batra,
Chairman & Editor-in-Chief,
BusinessWorld & & Exchange4Media

Anurag Batra: The creative class has not yet been explored in India. There is arguably a tension between the cultural and economic values in India, which is reflected in how we prioritize our public policy. In other words, we don’t support the rise of the creative class and the talent that goes with it in the way it should be done. We need to reimagine the way we think of economy, and only then will we be able to do justice to this creative class. There are three tiers of the rise of the creative class. It is talent, tolerance and technology. So, one is people, the other is the enabling environment mindset, and the third is technology, which is driving the emergence of this creative class. 

What are some things that the policymakers need to do in order to capitalize on the demographic dividend?

Sujata Deshmukh: The starting point is the kind of values we inculcate in students in schools. There is a lot of excitement among youngsters to do good, but we are starting too late. So, the entire focus on execution, quality and wanting to do the right things should start from school. there used to be a sense of purpose and determination few years ago, but today, people take things very lightly. Hence, the first thing to do is catch them from the age of five and six when they are most impressionable and look at the values they have in terms of where they are focusing,

Anurag Batra: Is there a perceptible shift happening in terms of liberal arts education, and is liberal arts education the way to maximize the potential of this creative class?

Sujata Deshmukh: We are not yet ready for that as liberal arts is just taking off in India. The students who go to liberal arts are predominantly people who don’t want to do STEM. 

Anurag Batra: Around 20 years back there was a mindset that we don’t need insurance, so it has been the most under-penetrated market. With the kind of socioeconomic changes happening now, what are the things happening in the insurance sector that point to the rise of the creative class?

Jaideep Davare: Insurance is the most difficult business world over and the reason the reason for low penetration in India is because of the awareness levels. One of the things we do is build that awareness level among people that insurance is a financial tool for our protection, and not something where your money is going to get wasted. About 20 years back, the story was very different because there were no insurance companies from global markets present in India. They have only been here for the last 18 years. A lot of progress has happened over the course of time, and now there are graduate programs available in insurance. Insurance is now seen as a sunrise industry that can bring in talent, and which needs to bring in a lot of innovation. 

It’s a financial services product and it had to be made interesting, so we had to bring in some innovation. One such example is of our company itself, which is an insurance broking company that started in 2004.

We service largest client bases in the rural segment. It is difficult to sell a product like insurance in the rural segments, so we created the concept of a Loan Suraksha. In rural market, people usually borrow money to buy tractors, and we created an innovative solution around it wherein if the person dies after borrowing money, the tractor loan is waived off by the insurance company and the family is able to retain that product. This is a very powerful innovation that we could do, and that was purely possible because we had the talent available, along with the constituencies whom we worked with. Today, we have been able to reach almost one crore of policies in the rural segment across almost 3.5 lakh villages. 

The impact we are able to bring in because of all these solutions is immense. We do the talent building in rural areas by hiring local people. Out of over 25,000 people working with us in our financial service sector, most of them are recruited locally. They speak the local language and understand the local culture, and this is how we’ve been able to use their talent to build that local economy. Another upside is that they don’t need to migrate anywhere.

Anurag Batra: What is happening in health/wellbeing domain that makes you optimistic about the growth of this sector and about the ability of the talent being created to harness this sector?

Sanjiv Navangul: Healthcare is a sector which will continue to grow all the time because the needs of healthcare keep going up. This is probably the biggest driver, but the bigger driver of the story is whether we are doing enough for people to live better and live longer. These are the only two things that matter to our industry, so we have to start thinking of creative class in different ways. One creative class we think about is, how do we support the ideation happening in our country? For example, we are trying to do something called the quick-fire challenges where we build challenges, and get people to come up with interesting ideas about healthcare. We then nurture them, get them into an ecosystem with all facilities, mentorship and even a psychologist to help them through failures and successes, and then get venture capitalists to work with them. Ideas need two things- investors and an ecosystem, and hence this kind of initiatives help creative talent deliver something extraordinary.

The other creative class that we work with is patients. We underestimate sometimes how much patients can be part of a creative class. For example, an HIV patient in the 1990s would take 18 pills twice a day and live for only two years. The patient feedback loop and mechanism that got into science was so high, and their understanding of what they need became so high that today, one pill can extend a patient’s life expectancy by 30 years or nearly as equal to anybody else. Hence, these kinds of creative juices that we need from people who use, consume and bear with your products is also important. 

The third class of creativity is our own people in our companies. Now they come with ideas which are phenomenal because today technology has equaled everybody in terms of knowledge. Now, everybody has to be on the same side of the table and see what service they can give to the patient. In my own organization, we saw some ideation on schizophrenia. It’s a very debilitating disease, which destroys families socially and economically. In these conditions, some of my people came to me and said we shouldn’t be making it miserable for patients by making them come to the doctor. One person came up with an ideation involving technology, and today we have a situation where the patient doesn’t have to come to the doctor. We have a medication that can control schizophrenia with one injection a month. Any moment the doctor wants any service related to any patient, he or she goes to a third party by technology. A nurse then goes to the patient’s home, delivers whatever is required, maybe even injects based on the doctor’s instruction, and the data feed is continuous between the doctor, patient and the third party. There is no need for the patient to move out of home. This has socioeconomically changed families. This is the creativity we need to harness continuously, and our sector is exploding because of that and because there is so much more need. 

Anurag Batra: What is that one mindset change that has happened that can make the creative economy the mainstream economy?

Srinivas Gunta: It is the increasing levels of confidence, because in comparison to my generation, the young generation today possibly has their basic needs taken care of and they believe that they can take a couple of years off and explore. In my generation, a topper’s aim was to become a CEO. Today, the aim is to retire at the age of 40. This is a huge shift. 

Since the basic support is already there from the family, they can even afford to be a little overconfident. Interestingly, people now also have a lot more integrative skills, which also makes a difference in terms of confidence.

Anurag Batra: We are a country that only celebrates success. We do not celebrate failure, whereas in America which has the biggest innovation ecosystem in Silicon Valley, failure is accepted in society. Has India now started to accept people when they fail, especially in ideas in enterprises?

Ashok Kumar Nedurmalli: Clearly, a lot of the youth is moving towards entrepreneurship. That element of independence and ability to take decisions to try something new is clearly there in the youth today, and that should be promoted. There is never a guarantee of success in entrepreneurship, but a lot of learning happens when somebody goes on their own. Despite the failures, the learning that one gets in the process is possibly way more than what you would ever learn being in a job. Entrepreneurship is something that people are now starting to value because even now, when we look at hiring people at senior levels, sometimes we look at people who’ve had an entrepreneurial stint but failed in their venture, because the learnings you get from failure are a lot more than probably the success.

Anurag Batra: Tell us about some new age career opportunities coming from the insurance sector that are not yet being discussed?

Jaideep Davare: This sector is very regulated but there is a lot of scope for innovation. One of the most prestigious things and the most complicated things to pass out from insurance sector is to do the actuarial course. The whole actuarial area determines what the company’s success could be in the future. however, there are multiple slices which have not been built. There is now an MBA program available for insurance, which means you can learn about risk taking, risk mitigation, risk transfer, and all the elements of it. There are also a lot of innovative programs at the graduation level. At the graduation level, there is a separate subject on insurance. 

Now, we need to extend insurance to cover the wellness part. The health insurance is one key product which is going to be very critical for people, but we have to start looking at the wellness part too. For that, specialists have to be created who can advise customers for wellness. This is one area which has not yet been given much mileage, but if we are able to get something on wellness, it can open up new opportunities for people from other sectors as well. 

Anurag Batra: Technology has made many jobs redundant, so what is the new skill set required to become successful as a leader in the creative economy?

Jaideep Davare: Our education system tests students on their syllabus. There is very little being given out as continuous learning, we have to initiate change from the school itself. If we start augmenting that correctly and integrate it with other creative juices to flow in in the school itself, it can give a booster. 

Secondly, we need to start looking at building talent. Talent will be required across different sectors now, and it can also be built in the rural sector because 75% of the country still resides there. If we can create opportunities for growth and employment of the rural workforce, and enhance their local skills, it will have numerous benefits.

On the use of technology, there is something called the Information, Communication and Entertainment (ICE) theory which works very well. For example, the mobile phone is used by everyone, both in urban and rural areas, but no one has taught us how to use it. We all learn and understand technology through using it. This phenomenon is the ICE theory, and this level of understanding from the consumer side is going to increase with time. There will be a lot of disruptive technologies assisting the industry but all of them are going to be enablers, as many businesses will still require human interface, and it cannot be replaced by bots.

Anurag Batra: Due to technological advances, the skill set we acquire continues to become obsolete every two to three years. What can we do as a community to keep pace with this rapid change, especially in the education system? 


One of the biggest areas of skill that will be required even more now is critical thinking. It is because data management has gained a lot of currency now, but data can only predict, so our role vis-à-vis data is judgment. When it comes to ethics and application of data to make a decision, one needs to have judgment. One key skill set is therefore critical thinking and judgment 

The second skill set needed is innovation. Anyone can take a course and learn design thinking, but the skill is in executing and applying design thinking. The third imperative is networking. How well and how intelligently one networks and builds on the ideas that others have is a coveted skill. 

Lastly, a challenge that continues to persist is managing people. Earlier, leaders were concerned about how to give feedback to people, but now the concern is how to understand and connect with someone who talks a very different language. 

Ashok Kumar Nedurmalli: It is also about engaging and changing mindsets at an early stage of the children. School education has been all about rote learning and, hence we need to change this aspect and teach kids to effectively be more inquisitive and be questioning team players.

Anurag Batra: Do you think vocational training or skilling for a specific task is going to be the new education?

Ashok Kumar Nedurmalli: It is a very important aspect that the industry looks for. There are many job-seekers who have degrees and certificates but they don’t have the skill sets that the industry is asking for. This is where vocational skills come into play to groom a person for the job market, to make them employable and create a livelihood opportunity. From there onwards, how they build their career is in their hands. Thus, the aspect of acceptability in the industry that comes whether via apprenticeship, industrial learning, or as incorporation into curriculum, shows that vocational trade and skills are going to be the need of the hour as we go into the future.

Srinivas Gunta: One of the challenges is always going to be predicting what sort of vocations would be doing well. Few years back, it was suggested that the demand for orthopedicians would go up in the U.S. as people start ageing. Interestingly, the demand has come down because there are more anti-slip mats used in the bathrooms and people use less salt. There was another study that suggested that most of the jobs in U.S. would be either in gas filling stations or travel agents. But now there are self-service gas stations in U.S. and people use online travel agents.

We can’t predict what sort of vocation would do well, but what we can predict is the sort of needs that would be felt the most. We then need to think about the most creative ways of filling those needs. If we start looking only at skills, there is going to be a problem, because 10 years back, people started saying that we need to have only right brain people, we need to have creative people. Now, people are saying we need people trained in statistics because it’s all about big data. If you move from right brain to left brain every five years, you do have a challenge.

Anurag Batra: Richard Florida wrote in his book that the integration of the LGBT community in the mainstream will create a new set of skills and opportunities, but do you think that our society is ready to accept these new seismic changes to living? 

Sanjiv Navangul: There is enough change happening and you can see it in microcosms. For example, youngsters today will revolt against you if you make a comment which is not appropriate. Today, it’s important to forget to manage talent. It’s important to live their dreams, live their goals, and understand how can we help them attain what they want to attain. It’s important to ensure that their environments are different than what we want to be. It is then that they produce the best, so leaders have to ensure that we build the workplace culture differently.

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