‘You Cannot Separate Knowledge From Contact With The Ground’ – Summer Internship Experience At TAFE Limited – IIM Trichy
Sitting on a flight to Lucknow after my induction at the Company Headquarters in Chennai, I was trying to develop a systematic phase-wise plan for my Project. I was interning at TAFE Ltd – the third largest tractor manufacturer in the world, and had received my project brief from my mentor the day before. Half-excited and half-nervous, the one thing I was confident about was that the extensive field work that the project involved would provide enriching experiences of a kind hitherto unseen. My project required the collection of data from tractor customers and dealers in Eastern UP and Bihar and thus, involved extensive travelling.
Discovery of Bharat
Needless to say, customers of tractors were farmers and tractor dealerships were also located in locations far-off from the cities. As a city-dweller with no experience of either extensive rural travel or rural life, I expected that collecting primary data would prove to be difficult – a speculation that proved to be spectacularly wrong. There was not a single household I visited (and I have visited a quite a large number) where I was not offered refreshments. Over homemade sugarcane-jaggery to prasad from the morning’s puja, and numerous cups of chaai, collecting data from farmers was delightful beyond words. The affection and tolerance shown towards me, a clear outsider to their world, moved me immensely.
“Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay”- Sherlock Holmes
My advice to any intern regarding the collection of field data would be to not start with a rigid master plan as that would inevitably fail to capture important qualitative information which cannot be anticipated beforehand. One never knows from where that one missing piece of the puzzle might come. While proceeding according to a framework is important, pre-planned rigidity in the process is damaging to the cause. There is no substitute to talking to people. This where courtesy and patience come into play as it is easier to collect data from a person who is impressed by your manners.
The last few days were overwhelming, to say the least. After gathering insights out of a mountain of data, I presented my findings to the Brand Managers and VP Marketing in Chennai. There were some aspects I had done well in, some could have been better and learned the most from their suggestions.
I have drawn important lessons from my time in TAFE, developed perspectives and changed perceptions. But the most important lesson that I learnt can be summarised through this amazing excerpt from Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game,
“Antaeus was a giant, the son of Mother Earth, Gaea, and Poseidon, the god of the sea. Antaeus was deemed to be invincible, but there was a trick. He derived his strength from contact with his mother, Earth. Physically separated from contact with earth, he lost all his powers. Hercules had done homework to whack Antaeus. He managed to lift him off the ground and terminated him by crushing him as his feet remained out of contact with his mamma.
What we retain from this first vignette is that, like Antaeus, you cannot separate knowledge from contact with the ground. Actually, you cannot separate anything from contact with the ground. And the contact with the real world is done via skin in the game –have an exposure to the real world.”