Tirthankar Dash, Alumnus, Class of 1998, on how the PGDM helped him develop conceptual thinking, a vital skill of the future, and his Design Thinking journey.
The year was 1998.Tirthankar graduated from GIM at a time when the world was at the cusp of the dot-com boom. Optimism over technology and the growth it would bring was driving up asset prices across sectors and geographies. The options for a fresh graduate were many. At such a time, unconventional thinking, trying, failing, trying again are experiences that not every individual seeks out. Tirthankar, too, was faced with choices, options, and paths, successes and failures. He chose the road less travelled and it gave him many successes and failures – all of which were a tremendous learning experience!
Tirthankar is a 'storycrafter', someone who hunts for meaning within the intersections of diverse human behaviour and data patterns. He has spent over a decade interpreting these patterns and finding meaningful insights from them, whether it is at the level of an individual, an organisation or a community. He firmly believes that all human beings owe it to themselves to answer this fundamental question: "What makes my life meaningful?"
Today, Tirthankar Dash finds meaning in his life as COO at Quantum360 Design Solutions, a design solutions company operating in Singapore and India. This company embodies ‘meaning’ in the work that it does - it designs and builds products, brands, spaces and services from cultural and human insights. Working across Asia and the world, the agency brings a unique blend of design thinking to companies who seek to innovate and grow. His role gives him precisely the kind of unconventional opportunity to innovate; something that Tirthankar always yearned for.
“I had an opportunity to set up an innovation and design lab inside a large mother ship called Quantum Consumer Solution. It was actually the best of both worlds - I was given a free hand to build something in the very purest sense without having to worry about many of the things an entrepreneur venturing out on his own has to worry about. This was the idea of Meena Kaushik, a visionary who set up India’s conversation on Qualitative Consumer Behaviour work. She inspired me to setup Quantum 360 as an insight and design lab.”
Tirthankar credits his time at GIM for many of the skills that he put to use in setting up a Greenfield practice providing unconventional solutions in a market that was new to this concept. “GIM helped me develop what I call Conceptual Thinking,” he says. “As an engineer, I came from a world of linear thinking. Here, I was able to bring together organizational behaviour with operations management with marketing. This integrated thinking really helped me in setting up and running this business.”
This training has also helped him develop a client offering that needed to be sold effectively given that the market for design services was nascent 10 years back, and still is in many countries. “It has been a fascinating journey selling design insights to organizations over the last decade,” he explains. “It was easy in some cases and very challenging in others. Western organizations intuitively understand design, design thinking and insights, so it was easier for me to work with them. It has been challenging and continues to be challenging to engage with clients in Asia who still don’t have the sense of design in their own organization. They still think strategy, mechanics, numbers, and structure, whereas design works with insights and is a creative process.”
As innovation becomes the centre piece of an organization rather than a peripheral department, the market for such services will only grow, according to Tirthankar. “Innovation is becoming a core function. Earlier, innovation was a small part of some lab but now innovation is actually an inherent part of Marketing, Product Development, Organization Design, everything. Innovation is not considered as something outside of the framework anymore – it is the framework.”
Another unique characteristic of Tirthankar’s already enviable life is his passion for running - he has run marathons in many countries. When asked on how he makes time for such endeavours? He shared “One doesn’t have to create time for things we love. Running is like a religion for me. I run because it means many good things to me - it calms me down, it distresses me and puts me in the space of good thinking”
Apart from his innovative, professional side; Tirthankar is also a much sought after motivational speaker. He is always eager to guide students at threshold of starting their professional journey. “I see that there is very little search for deeper meaning in the minds of Indian B school graduates. My goal is to activate that search for meaning at an early stage so that the answers come earlier and in turn become life goals. I also look forward to coming to GIM at some point and engaging with the Institute and people in the space of design, innovation, and deeper meaning.” One reason for his keenness to come to GIM is that his time here is one that Tirthankar cherishes deeply. “My time in GIM was a revelation in so many ways,” he reflects. “I consider those two years as the best years of my life. I met some of my best friends here; friends for life who have stayed with me for all these 20 years. GIM also gave me a new ideology and new space to think. The faculty was amazing; they were beyond teachers. They were mentors, guides, and friends.”
It indeed has been a transformational journey for Tirthankar over the years and it is heartening to see him aid transformation for so many others.