Santosh Desai is the Managing Director & CEO of consulting firm Future Brands Ltd. A post graduate from IIM-Ahmedabad, Santosh, has been an advertising and brand professional for 22 years including being president of McCann Erickson. Besides the depth in advertising Desai is also a regular columnist with the Times of India where he captures the consumer pulse very well - sometimes even being critical of the government if so he feels. Santosh is also a bestselling author of the book Mother Pious Lady –Making sense of everyday India and is often seen in various lit fests. In an interview to he dissects the role of executive education in corporate life and why education will soon stop being a once in life kind of an affair.

Given that you are in so many boards and deal with so many executives from across industries, how critical do you think executive education is becoming?

I see that happening all around me particularly large formal organizations where there are relatively stronger structures in terms of career development and also where people kind of transit between functions. So both in terms of horizontal movement and in terms of vertical shifts at those points there are I think formalized programs that one sees value in upgrading oneself in a variety of ways as well in keeping in tune with latest developments. I think there are several triggers that become reasons for companies to do look at it and invest in it for employees.

How do you think will people and companies manage the disruption that is coming because of value migration?

There is a larger underlying shift that is happening thanks to technology where we are moving towards intelligence migration from humans to systems and things and our being part of that process where automation is a truth. Migration of jobs from it being taken care of by other mechanisms whether its Artificial Intelligence (AI) or algorithms driven solutions. One is you are seeing the structural shift that is likely to happen, then there is a qualitative shift in terms of skills that are required. Again there are several triggers for this - the impending rise of data which means the role of processing becomes of a different order as against what it was earlier. The fact that in terms of just the agility and the kind of ability to connect different sectors and the blurring of lines between what was seen as a sector-specific skill you are likely to see that also blur and perhaps in some cases collapse.

Then the leadership imperative also changes what was the source of value earlier - tangible, infrastructure, land, capital etc - the harder kind of value sources are moving to idea led sources of value which are much more difficult to preserve. Therefore longevity of dominance cannot be presumed anymore. It throws up a totally different set of imperatives for people navigating organizations. We are at that point of inflexion – it is unlikely to be linear.

What does that mean for the executives?

Having a single career is no longer likely to be the only way to go. The number of changes that are going to be unleashed will be of such a high order that it makes education central. The gap between the external context and human capability is filled by education and the idea of education being a one-time dose - for 15-20 years you go through and it lasts you for life- that model of education is likely to become extinct. In fact it is already becoming dated. The problem is education is a very conservative space and it moves very, very slowly in response to volatile changes that take place in an external environment which is why education has not responded. The future is such that you are going to be looking at education in capsules, self-learning will be a big part of it and it will be technology driven. But it needs to be fragmented and needs to penetrate everyday life in a much deeper way throughout one’s life than what it currently is.

Any examples of these learning needs that you are seeing?

It’s visible from the fact that people are pursuing multiple interests simultaneously. I know of people without any reason pursuing online courses on textile design while they might be in a completely different profession. I am seeing several examples of people pursuing courses partly out of interest and partly out of skill needs but actually embarking on their project where education is sought. Even in a corporate structure where executive education is mandated in a sense is part of a developmental process you are also seeing it being driven by personal initiative with a desire to do more.

The number of people in our organization who are currently voluntarily doing courses - digital anthropology, understand online marketing, photography – are many. These are initiative people are taking on their own. One sees there are people who are taking sabbaticals going to go study not necessarily things that help them narrowly in their present careers but open out options for them.

Did you take a sabbatical in your life do similar courses?

I was fortunate I found my second calling from my mainline brand consulting career. The fact that I have started writing for last 15 years…that in a sense became the parallel stream. If I hadn’t done that when the need was there - it would have been difficult to have been satisfied with one thing for the rest of my life. In my case, it kind of happened and then book happened and that means you are going to the lit fests and there becomes a whole new ecosystem.