Wednesday, July 31, 2013

John Kerry's trip to Pakistan

US Sec State John Kerry may visit Pakistan this week -- or he may not. Or he may not visit but say he will. Or he may visit and wish he had not. Or wish he did, but may not. It's all a part of the comical/farcical engagement between Washington and Islamabad that has plumbed ludicrous levels.

High-level US visits to Pakistan are a high-wire act, involving not just diplomatic sensitive between the two sides that are at war in all but formal declaration, but also deep security concerns for visiting VIPs. Between bomb blasts, prison breaks, natural disasters, the ritual killing of minorities, and Pakistan's own foreign engagement priorities (where China and saudi arabia at 1 and 2), it's tough to get a clear window in which the US can engage Pakistan.

Then there is always the drone factor -- any visit will have to be squeezed in between two drone strikes. Although they are now reduced to less than one per week, it's still a tight window, not to speak of the awkwardness that comes with the denials and obfuscation from both sides on the drone issue.

Pakistan says it is against drone strikes and wants it stopped. Increasingly and vehemently, Pakistan's foreign office has begun protesting such attacks. But US keeps leaking cables and information suggesting Pakistan has privately acquiesced to the strikes and is making a pretense of its public protests. Pakistan says that is not true. The Americans say that is true which is why the drones are not being shot down. No one knows the exact truth in this smoke and mirror exercise.

No public statement emerging from the two capitals can be taken at face value. The US had announced that President Obama would visit Pakistan in 2011 after Islamabad went into a sulk over his visit to India in 2010. The White House even issued a statement saying, ''The president explained (to visiting Pakistani officials who complained about the unequal treatment) that he would not be stopping in Pakistan during his trip to Asia next month, and committed to visiting Pakistan in 2011.''

But 2011 came and went, as did 2012, without any presidential visit, even though Obama came within sniffing distance, to Kabul, in May 2012. Meantime, even vice-president Biden came to the region but did not stop by in Pakistan. Compounding all this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is again visiting Washington in September, in a further signal that the US has removed Pakistan from the US-India ambit.

Orphaned thus by its principle patron, Pakistan has been spitefully leaking details of a proposed Kerry visit -- kept secret for security reasons -- forcing the State Department to repeatedly postpone the trip. This happened again over the weekend.

Between the scheduling spat, neither side has been able to identify any precise deliverables from such as visit. Pakistan does not even have a full-fledged foreign minister after Hina Rabbani Khar; Sartaz Aziz is the acting foreign minister, nor a full-time ambassador in Washington. Even if it did, Washington understands that it is the Pakistani military that calls the shots which is why Kerry has interacted mostly with Army chief Kayani on the outcomes from the trilateral talks over Afghanistan.

It's all one awful mess, and Kerry, who has devoted immense amount of energy for a breakthrough in the Middle-East (to where he has made some half-dozen trips since becoming secretary of state, seems to have little time for Pakistan, which the US has previously said is the most dangerous country in the world. If and when he visits this red-flagged state -- possibly in a wig and dark glasses -- the world might not know till he gets in, or even till he gets out.

John Kerry Sets Stage for Pakistan | Visit Will Provide Chance to Recast Relationship With Less Engagement

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Pakistan this week in his first visit since the country's new government came to power, in what officials cautiously characterized as warming in one of the U.S.'s thorniest foreign relationships.

Mr. Kerry's trip, the highest-level engagement between Washington and Islamabad since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's election in May, comes as the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat troops from neighboring Afghanistan. It provides an opportunity, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, to recast a relationship that in the past decade has been defined by massive U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Washington's global antiterror campaign. The U.S. withdrawal, these officials say, will set the stage for a relationship with reduced engagement but also less rancor.
"Now that you are leaving Afghanistan, let's prepare the foundations of a new relationship that goes beyond Afghanistan," Sartaj Aziz, Mr. Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs and Pakistan's de facto foreign minister, said in a recent interview.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, the world's second-largest Muslim nation, has had an often fraught relationship with Washington. During the 1980s, Pakistan helped channel U.S. aid to Afghan guerrillas fighting the Soviet military. While Pakistan is an ally in the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda, U.S. officials and lawmakers also blame Pakistan for supporting the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan.
Relations between Washington and Islamabad have partly recovered from the nadir reached in 2011, after the unilateral U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Ties also frayed around that time when a Central Intelligence Agency contractor shot two Pakistanis on the streets of Lahore and a U.S. aircraft killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a "friendly fire" incident on the Afghan border.
"In 2011, Pakistan explored alternative allies, while the U.S. thought about how it could pursue its objectives without Pakistan," said a senior U.S. defense official. "But both sides realized that there was no attractive alternative to a strong but more limited security partnership."
The visit could be an occasion to announce the restoration of "strategic dialogue," a term used early in the administration of President Barack Obama to describe a wide-ranging partnership between the two countries, said Aizaz Chaudhry, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
State Department and Pakistani officials confirmed Mr. Kerry would be traveling to Pakistan soon but didn't specify a date.
U.S. officials said the main task for Mr. Kerry, who is taking time out from pressing initiatives in the Middle East, would be to build a rapport with the new government of Mr. Sharif and agree on a common agenda. But they also cautioned against setting unrealistically high expectations.
"The relationship, in future, will be more realistic and sober, which will not leave both parties disillusioned," said a senior State Department official. "Everyone wants to be more modest. No one wants a repeat of the volatility we saw."
Mr. Kerry is a known quantity in Pakistan: Before becoming secretary of state, he was a frequent visitor to the country as a senator and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier this year, he met Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's powerful military chief, in Amman, Jordan.
Mr. Sharif is also known in Washington. Mr. Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel all know Mr. Sharif from his two previous stints as prime minister in the 1990s and as an opposition leader during the rule of former President Pervez Musharraf.
"To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher on Mikhail Gorbachev, he [Mr. Sharif] is someone the U.S. can do business with, but won't always agree with," said Karl Inderfurth, who was assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs during Mr. Sharif's 1998 visit to Washington.
Pakistan quickly sided with the U.S. in the "war on terror" after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. American aid to Pakistan was just $36 million in 2000, a figure that leapt to an annual $4.3 billion by 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service—putting the country above Israel as a recipient of American largess.
Overall, Pakistan received $25.9 billion in American aid between 2002 and 2012, with two-thirds of that sum going toward security assistance, including reimbursements for stationing Pakistani troops along the Afghan border.
But Pakistani officials say the country's sacrifices in the antiterror fight aren't fully appreciated by the U.S. In 2011, the Pakistani government estimated that the "war on terror" had cost its economy $68 billion. Since 2003, Pakistan has lost more than 17,140 civilians and 5,249 security personnel to terrorist violence, according to the South Asia Terrorist Portal, a website.
Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, said the U.S.-Pakistan relationship had "yet to find a new normal," adding: "It needs to find a new pivot that takes it beyond Afghanistan and 2014. The opportunity is there to give it a new overarching strategic direction."
Some experts are skeptical about the prospects for a real shift, saying the U.S. is just keeping an essentially shattered relationship limping along until the end of 2014, while it withdraws from Afghanistan.
"Everyone understands that Pakistan has to be tolerated until the last soldier leaves," said Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University.
Noting that some members of Congress would like to cut off aid to Pakistan, Ms. Fair added: "There are those in Congress who are angry at Pakistan. They understand that Pakistan has made victory in Afghanistan impossible under any definition of 'victory.'"

Monday, July 29, 2013

On national counter-terrorism policy

With a new government in power, there is a sudden end to political rhetoric and electioneering slogans. As the cleaners get to the job of removing hoardings and flags, the federal and provincial governments get busy in the serious business of governance. Many promises that they made to their vote banks will be eclipsed by the challenging business of addressing Pakistan’s most critical issues. Energy crises, circular debt, slow growth, and law and order cannot be prioritised to handle piecemeal. They are all intertwined and affect the other. The government will have to move in broad breasted military columns.
For instance, there can be no growth without more energy and a better environment for investment, which means that improving law and order becomes a prior priority. Similarly, rise of crime, organised violence and lawlessness is directly related to poverty and cost of living means that economics should be the main priority. The fact is that these issues cannot be prioritised and the government must deal with these issues on a broad front with dedicated team of managers is a challenge that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his team will have to meet. This means long working hours, analysis, policy papers, in-house discussions, debates in Parliament and an overtime schedule for select parliamentary committees. In fact, these challenges can only be addressed if the Federal Secretariat and Parliament become a busy bee-house for the next few years.
The first of the abreast challenges will be civil-military relations in the context of the war on terror (WOT). The reason why it is listed first is because of its effects on the domestic and international political economy and the caucus belli of Pakistan’s plight.
The military has taken ownership and responsibility of fighting the conflict in the speech made by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Marty’s Day at GHQ. His speech was explicit in suggesting a consensus-based national counter-terrorism policy built around the evolutionary principles, with the Constitution of Pakistan providing a realistic space for a negotiated settlement. As written earlier, the final decision to adopt these suggestions will rest with Parliament and government. The discussions that follow and the plans that evolve will definitely be in the shadows of drone war and US-led exit from Afghanistan. In all probability, the joint resolution of Parliament on this conflict could assume importance.
Notwithstanding General Kayani’s wish, this will become a fiercely debated issue. Parties that built their electoral campaigns against ownership of this conflict will consent to a military option only after all other options are exhausted. Paradoxically, the military would be urged by its tactical compulsions to enhance the momentum of its ongoing operations in Orakzai/Khurram Agencies and Tirah Valley with the objective to contain and mop up trapped remnants of TTP.
Another issue will be the dilemma whether the drone war is to be divorced from the WOT and handled exclusively by the Foreign Office or will it become part of the strategy that oversees the exit of US forces from Afghanistan. This will be testing for civil-military relations.
In case it is the latter, then both the military and the civil governments will be under tremendous pressure to perform and meet the aspirations of the people. Perhaps, a compromise that will emerge is a continuation of the ambivalent policy practised during the tenures of the past two governments with resistance coming from the KPK government.
The question that every analyst will wish to be answered is the response of the federal government to this pressure. The parties representing status quo and familiar with the contours of these suggestions would prefer to work quietly towards this objective in the guise of national reconciliation. However, this would become a burning issue and sour relations between the federal and KPK government without whose consent the military pursuit of the conflict is impossible. It remains to be seen if the policy planners of PTI have actually gone back to the drawing board and analysed the speech made by General Kayani in the light of their present electoral position, and the fact that preoccupation with counter-terrorism may become their major agenda to contend.
Though time-consuming, the prudent option would be to build the entire edifice of the policy on the basis of the joint parliamentary resolution into a national counter-terrorism policy validated by Parliament followed by new laws. The policy ratified by both houses would provide space for law enforcement agencies and the KPK government to comply in national cohesion. But this is easier said than done.
One of the most crucial issues to be resolved in a national counter-terrorism policy would be the inclusion of an element of oversight to secure Pakistan’s interests. This means, a system of inherent accountability of the executive to have their actions reviewed, sometimes in advance, by an impartial group. In democracy, the legislature is the classic model that enforces its unlimited writ (policy related) through parliamentary committees on the Prime Minister.
With relation to the closed world of intelligence operations, the policy will also have to cater for the inherent extra-constitutional sovereign authority under a higher law of self-preservation not subject to normal judicial review.
Judicial oversight will have to limit itself to legal questions. In developed democracies, a selected judicial cadre is co-opted with twin objectives to deal with questions of law related to security and to act as surrogates for public and fundamental human rights. Most governments around the world invoke special legislations to deal with the issue, ensuring that there remains in place credible legislative and judicial oversight. Under the ‘political question doctrine’, judges invariably avoid jurisdiction over intelligence controversies, allowing resolution of national security disputes to the government and its select parliamentary committees. As written earlier, this is neither outlawry, nor a measure to facilitate sinister intelligence and enforcement officials to operate in a space of an operational extra-judicial mechanism.
In addition, the continuing standoff between the judiciary and the parliamentary democracy (executive and legislature overlap) is taking its toll on the counter-intelligence, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. In the past few years, the judiciary in the absence of checks and balances, has overarched beyond the ‘question of law’ and ‘political question doctrine’ to exercise its powers of oversight in public interest. The new policy will have to lay down the procedures and legislate accordingly to remove such legal anomalies. This will not be an easy task in view of the existing decrees of the Supreme Court that carry the effect of a law and its vigilance over every notification of the government.
In case the government fails to formulate a national policy as suggested, expediency and outlawry will be the norm setting the snail pace in the fields of energy, debt, growth and poverty alleviation. In addition, the credibility of elections will also be questioned.

Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Things it’s time for Pakistanis to realize

I was born, raised and spoilt in Pakistan. It was fun. It gave me cricket, it brought me Polka and just when I thought all was well, it gave me World Cup, 1999. Even better were, and have always been, the people that populate this wonderful piece of land. Loving, caring, mysteriously dying, people with their hearts full of fire and their eyes full of dust. To cut it short, I’ve loved this country and have expressed that at multiple occasions This, however, shall not be one of them. Pakistani awam has had its share of crazies and that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Most of these behavioral fruit loops are annoying, overdone and worth punching people in the face for.
Following is a list of things I think the Pakistan awam SHOULD realize before it gets nuked in the gut for good.
  1. There is a maila in all of us. Though, there are different degrees of the extremeness with which we are compatible with it. Just because you don’t dance to Tamil songs or laugh at Umer Sharif, doesn’t mean you get to judge anyone else. Let it flow out of you and into the world. Ever seen a true maila? He is happy as fuck. Learn from that.
  2. There’s a reason our maadri zabaan is NOT English. And that’s probably why most of the people around you ( or some ) will not be good at it. If your father worked hard, got paid well and got you into a good school so you could speak and act the way you do now, doesn’t mean anyone else’s father didn’t try just as hard. When you judge a person on his English, you are judging a whole chain of elements, including his family, his father, his background and probably their lack of resources. Reham karo. Zalzala aya tau tum bhi sarak par ho gay.
  3. It’s one thing to shop at Sunday Market/Jumma Bazaar and another to glorify the fact that you did so. It’s pretty much a kabaari market for people who like a good deal and cheap clothes. Not so cool now, is it?
  4. Playing FIFA does NOT make you a gamer. Get over yourself.
  5. You’re a liar for telling your friend you won’t be late for class, a cheater for violating the traffic signal every morning and a big fat thief for stealing notes off the internet to complete your business research due next week. Stop pretending to be the Allah miyan ke gayein your amma thinks you are. Would really save us the trouble of fighting you over “Islam” on the internet.
  6. If you are a dead motorcyclist, chances are you were stupid enough to assume the main road was your naani ka sehan. Stop looking down on car/bus walas with all that hate. They have more of you to watch out for.
  7. Everything a motivational speaker tells you is a collection of words/phrases/quotes from books, movies, popular songs and sometimes indie porn movies. That collection is usually called “Life”. Stop paying 10,000 Rupees to learn how to live it. Leave your house and it would come to you naturally.
  8. The Lala in Shahid Afridi is similar to those childhood toys that spring up every now and then around the house and manage to give you a few smiles. Stop allowing people like me to take advantage of you by selling you crap with Lala’s face on it. Even Pepsi’s given up on him now.
  9. Just because you watched Batman, doesn’t mean you get an advantage over the countless years lonely geeks have put into reading comic books and getting fat in the process. Respect that, read a book and then enter a discussion.
  10. I congratulate you for trying to have a music career in Pakistan but Taher Shah just got viral and you will probably be covering his song in the years to come. Stop trying so hard, play your music and agree to the fact that you are eventually getting a desk job in a “marketing company”.
  11. Remember those days when you would get likes/comments on your status updates? Then you decided to put 3600 hashtags and no one ever came back? #TimeToTakeItEasyBro
  12. A girl who shows skin is not a slut. Because if that’s what we were doing, your bearded father has a bomb strapped to his chest.
  13. Bachi CBM ke ho ya IBA, kisi abba ke hay and Inshallah aik din apkay ghar bhi paida hogi. Thora khayal kro. Karma is a super, super bitch.
  14. Fat guys now have girlfriends and fat girls now get married. Start eating. Food was given to you, so you could stuff it down your throat. Shukar kar aur sehat bana.
  15. And finally, remember that one guy, back in the day, who would take his batting and then run home saying, “Ammi, bularahi hein”? Don’t be that guy. Either literally, or metaphorically. We hated him then, we hate him now.
Yes. 15. I lied. Told you I am a proud Pakistani.

It’s a Boy! Kate Middleton Gives Birth to a Future King | Exclusive Pictures

All hail the future king of England! Kate Middleton has given birth to a boy. Tom Sykes has all the details.

There are scenes of jubilation today outside Buckingham Palace, where it has just been announced that Kate Middleton has given birth to a baby boy.
A gun salute in Hyde Park is expected shortly, and the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral are already pealing in delighted celebration.
The sex of the baby, along with his weight (8 pounds, 6 ounces) and the time of his birth (4:24 p.m.), was confirmed via press release, a last-minute departure from the original (and traditional) plan to post it on a sheet of paper outside the palace.

The birth of a male heir to the throne will be a cause for celebration among many traditionalists, who believed it was wrong to alter the law to allow the firstborn to become monarch regardless of gender. It will also take the pressure off the smaller countries, or realms, that still count the queen as head of state and were being urged to change their constitutions to allow a female heir to inherit.
The birth came after an extraordinary three-week wait by news media from around the world outside the private Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, where Kate gave birth. The palace only ever said that the baby was due in mid-July, but after Princess Diana’s firstborn came 10 days early, the media were determined not to be caught off guard again and set up camp outside the hospital as early as July 1. Many news organizations had reporters on revolving shifts, guarding their space on the sidewalk. It was their bad luck that the waiting period coincided with the hottest July on record.
When Kate and William did finally arrive at the hospital this morning, they did it their way, with no fanfare, no sirens, and no police outriders, just a dark Range Rover and a shiny new Audi nosing their way calmly through the traffic-free streets of London shortly after dawn.
Prince William has been by his wife’s side all week as the royal couple has played cat and mouse with the press, successfully staying out of view as they moved from Kate's parents’ home in Berkshire to Kensington Palace, just a mile from the hospital, at the weekend.
In the end, it was the young royals who got the last laugh—the photographers, cameramen, and news were all either asleep in their nearby hotel rooms or too bleary in the early hours to be on top of their game. Just one freelance snapper was alert enough to photograph the royal cars as they rolled up to a back entrance of the hospital.
But no one got a picture of Kate, which is exactly how she would have wanted it.

It was not until an hour and a half later that Kate’s office at Kensington Palace issued the short two-line statement this morning which read, in total:
"Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge has been admitted this morning to St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London in the early stages of labour. The Duchess travelled by car from Kensington Palace to the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital with The Duke of Cambridge."
The palace had previously indicated that it would be making no further statements on the progress of the birth. However, it did say this morning that her labor was “progressing normally” and that Kate was feeling “very well.”
The palace also let it be known that Kate went into labor naturally and was not induced, and it also subsequently confirmed that Kate and William had indeed come from Kensington Palace.
It is now hoped that the name of the royal baby might be announced as soon as tomorrow. The bookmakers’ favorite is George. (The surname is a bit more complicated.)
The queen is not expected to visit the hospital, nor is Prince Charles, who is on a two-day tour of York, in northern England, with Camilla.

HEC to promote research on water purification

Since the majority of Pakistan’s population lacks access to clean drinking water and more than 40 per cent diseases are waterborne, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has decided to make research on water purification its priority in addition to the research on energy production.
When contacted, the focal person of the Inter-University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences, Murtaza Noor, told Dawn that according to a Unicef study, 20 to 40 per cent of hospital beds in Pakistan were occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and hepatitis.
These diseases were responsible for one-third of all deaths, and resulted in the death of an estimated 250,000 children every year, he added.
“A number of research projects have been initiated in universities which includes the development of renewable groundwater resources by the University of Balochistan. The objective is to secure safe drinking water for the people,” he said.
Murtaza Noor added that similar projects, including the removal of arsenic from drinking water, had been initiated by the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, while the Quaid-i-Azam University was working on small scale sewage treatment.
The Vice Chancellor (VC) of the Karakoram International University (Gilgit-Baltistan), Prof Dr Najma Najam, while talking to Dawn, said a drinking water project for the university had been completed.
“There are two rivers, River Gilgit and River Hunza, near the university. We pump water in a tank and then send it to a purification plant. The project, worth Rs20 million, now provides drinking water to the whole university,” she said.
The VC added that the university was considering installing another plant on a stream which would ensure sufficient water for decades. She added that such projects could be installed anywhere in the country to obtain clean drinking water which was essential for health.
Commenting on these programs, Chairperson HEC Dr Javaid Laghari said the goal of HEC was to develop indigenous technology through the collaborations of research groups in leading universities.
“HEC has organised a number of workshops, conferences and seminars to give information to researchers aiming to resolve the issues of drinking water in Pakistan,” he said.

Five Pakistani universities selected for EU research grant

Five Pakistani universities have been selected for award of research grant under Erasmus Mundus STRoNG TiES (Strengthening Training and Research through Networking and Globalisation of Teaching in Engineering Studies), a project under the Erasmus Mundus Programme supported and funded by the European Union.

The Pakistani universities selected for award of grant under the programme include Mehran University of Engineering and Technology Jamshoro, National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, Muhammad Ali Jinnah University, Islamabad, University of Punjab, Lahore and Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The main disciplines covered under the programme include science, technology, engineering and mathematics with special emphasis over electrical and electronics engineering; information and communication technology; photonics; biomedical engineering; computer engineering; energy and power systems; informatics and; telecommunication engineering.

Under Erasmus Mundus STRoNG TiES Programme, forty-three (43) researchers submitted their individual research proposals from Pakistani universities in November 2012 and won the award. The programme is implemented under the facilitation of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan. HEC Chairman Dr Javaid R. Laghari was invited by the European Union Science Forum last year to deliver a keynote address at the EU Parliament and he had subsequent meetings with EU officials to increase Pakistan’s share in both research grants and scholarships, the outcome of which was positive and is evident with the current awards. Following that, the Research and Development Division of HEC shared this information with Pakistani universities and encouraged and guided them to apply for EU research grant.

Entrepreneurial Expertise - on the Role of Rules in Startups

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
- Søren Kirkegaard
In a recent post Chris Dixon quotes American pragmatist William James on the reduction of conscious content when moving from being a student to achieving wisdom:
As the art of reading after a certain stage in one’s education is the art of skipping, so the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. The first effect on the mind of growing cultivated is that processes once multiple get to be performed by a single act. …
But in the psychological sense it is less a condensation than a loss - a genuine dropping out and throwing overboard of conscious content. Steps really sink from sight. An advanced thinker sees the relations of his topics in such masses and so instantaneously that when he comes to explain to younger minds it is often hard to say which grows the more perplexed - he or the pupil.
I haven’t been blogging before, but this got me thinking about the nature of expertise and, more specifically, the role of rules in entrepreneurship. I will probably turn these idas into an academic paper at some point, but for now a blog post seems to be the right format.
The lean startup literature is largely concerned with rules: state your vision explicitly, translate the vision into falsifiable hypotheses, design efficient experiments to test hypotheses, prioritize experiments, run experiments, evaluate results, decide wether to continue, revise or quit. The same focus on rules is found in many academic entrepreneurship theories, including Saras Sarasvathy’s popular theory of Effectuation.
Compared to the alternative approaches to entrepreneurship (just execute or just adapt), the introduction of rules and heuristics guiding an incrementalist and hypothesis-testing approach to entrepreneurship is a leap forward.
However, while rules are essential for novices they are seldom used by experts. And to help put the role of rules in startups into perspective, I find it useful to consider Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus’ five-stagephenomenology of skill-acquisition. This model describes in stylized fashion the qualitatively different stages (novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, expert) one goes through on the path toward expertise, and has been observed among chess players, air force pilots, army tank drivers and nurses to mention a few. I will briefly recapitulate these stages before discussing implications for entrepreneurship.
1) Novice
The novice is taught how to recognize relevant features in her task environment. These features are context-free and can be recognized without any previous experience in the task environment. The novice is also taught rules for determining what to do on the basis of these features, much like a computer following a program.
For instance, a student automobile driver learns to recognize speed (using the speedometer) and is given rules such as shift to second gear when the needle on the speedometer points to ten.
2) Advanced beginner
As the novice gains experience by engaging with real situations, she begins to note examples that indicate meaningful additional aspects of the situation besides those she was taught. After encountering a sufficient number of such examples, the novice learns to recognize these new aspects in the activity.
For instance, the driver uses (situational) engine sounds as well as (nonsituational) speed in deciding when to shift. She learns the heuristic: shift up when the motor sounds like it’s racing and down when it sounds like it’s straining. Still, learning is carried on in a detached, analytic frame of mind, as the action follows instructions based on rules and distinct situational elements.
3) Competent
With more experience, the number of potentially relevant elements that the learner is able to recognize becomes overwhelming. To cope with such overload, the advanced beginner starts (through instruction or experience) to devise plans that determine which elements of a situation are important and which ones can be ignored.
By devising such plans, both understanding and decision making become easier. However, it also introduces uncertainty, judgement and hence emotions into the process. Choices are no longer straightforward, and if something goes wrong, the competent performer can no longer blame inadequate rules but has to take personal responsibility for outcomes.
For instance, a competent driver leaving the freeway on an off-ramp curve learns to pay attention to the speed of the car, not whether to shift gears. After taking into account speed, surface condition, traffic, whether she is in a rush etc, she may decide that she is going too fast. She then has to decide whether to let up on the accelerator, remove her foot altogether, or step on the brake, and precisely when to perform any of these actions. She is relieved if she gets through the curve without mishap, and shaken if she begins to go into a skid.
The more emotionally involved one gets, the more difficult it is to retreat to the detached analytical or heuristic-following mode of the advanced beginner. This emotionality of judgmental action is critical to further learning.
4) Proficient
Only if the detached and rule-following stance is replaced by emotional involvement, is one set for further advancement. If this happens, the resulting positive and negative emotional experiences will strengthen successful responses and inhibit unsuccessful ones. With enough such experiences, the person’s explicit theory of the skill, represented in rules and principles, will gradually be replaced by tacit situational discriminationsOnly if experience is assimilated in this intuitive, embodied, atheoretical way will automatic reactions replace reasoned responses.
However, after spontaneously seeing the important aspects of the current situation, and what goals should be achieved, the proficient performer must still decide what to do to achieve these goals. The proficient performer is thus characterized by intuitive understanding followed by detached decision-making based on rule and heuristic-following.
The proficient driver, approaching a curve on a rainy day, may feel in the seat of his pants that she is going dangerously fast. She must thendecide whether to apply the brakes or to reduce pressure by some specific amount on the accelerator. While valuable time may be lost making a decision, the proficient driver is certainly safer than the competent driver who spends additional time considering the speed, angle of bank, and felt gravitational forces, in order to decide whether the car’s speed is indeed excessive.
5) Expert
The expert not only sees what needs to be achieved. Thanks to a vast repertoire of situational discriminations she also sees immediately what to do. Thus, distinction between expert and proficient performer lies inthe ability to make more subtle and refined discriminations. The expert has learned to automatically distinguish those situations requiring one action from those demanding another, which enables intuitive situational response.
The expert driver, not only feels in the seat of her pants when speed is the issue. She knows how to perform the appropriate action without calculating and comparing alternatives. On the off-ramp, her foot simply lifts off the accelerator and applies the appropriate pressure to the brake. What must be done, simply is done.
The Dreyfus model is arguably quite general, having been validated with chess players, air force pilots, army tank drivers, nurses, second-language learners etc. Still, it has some potential limitations in the context of entrepreneurship.
First, one may argue that the entrepreneurial situation is by definition so uncertain and endogenous (i.e. dependent on the actions of the entrepreneur) that expertise can never fully be a matter of intuitive situational coping. When experts in any domain face novel or unfamiliar situations (what Dreyfus, following Heidegger, would call a “breakdown”)they are jolted out of their absorbed state and forced to retreat to a state of detached analysis of the situation. It may be argued that in entrepreneurship, such novelty-generated breakdowns are the norm (either due to unexpected external events or the entrepreneur’s own actions), and that conscious and detached reflection must always be viewed as part of entrepreneurial expertise.
Second, one may argue that entrepreneurship rests on such a broad set of potentially relevant skills (e.g. consultative sales, product management, UX design) that any generic notion of “entrepreneurial expertise” misses the point. Specifically, an entrepreneur may be expertat some skills (e.g. consultative sales) but novice at others (e.g. product management).
Despite these potential limitations, the Dreyfus model can help clarify the role of rules among novice and expert entrepreneurs. This is nicely reflected in the following observations by Steve Blank and Marc Andreessen.
Novice Entrepreneurs
Steve Blank is well known for Customer Development/Lean Startup, which is essentially an set of startup rules (“The Startup Owner’s Manual- the step-by-step guide for building a great company”). However, when novices first try to apply such rules, they are likely to misunderstandthem (especially if the rule set is complex) and they are also likely to fail to adapt the rules to the messy realities of specific situations. Consider this conversation between Steve and a former student:
“We did every thing you said, we got out of the building and talked to potential customers. We surveyed a ton of them online, ran A/B tests, brought a segment of those who used the product in-house for face-to-face meetings. Next, we built a minimum viable product.”
I offered that it sounded like he had done a great job listening to customers. And better, he had translated what he had heard into experiments and tests to acquire more users and get a higher percentage of those to activate. But he was missing the bigger picture. The idea of the tests he ran wasn’t just to get data – it was to getinsight. All of those activities – talking to customers, A/B testing, etc. needed to fit into his business model
This novice entrepreneur was clearly trying his best to rigorously apply the rules he had been taught. However, by failing to complement his rule-based knowledge with more contextual and holistic situational understanding, he remained stuck in the novice or advanced beginnerstage. Steve then suggested the following:
“I offered that getting acquiring users and then making money by finding payers assumed a multi-sided market (users/payers). But a freemium model assumed a single-sided market – one where the users became the payers. He really needed to think through his Revenue Model (the strategy his company uses to generate cash from each customer segment). And how was he going to use Pricing, (the tactics of what he charged in each customer segment) to achieve that Revenue Model. Freemium was just one of many tactics. Single or multi-sided market? And which customers did he want to help him get there? My guess was that he was going to end up firing a bunch of his customers – and that was OK.”
Combined with continued experience, Steve’s advice above - on how to interpret situational contingencies, how to go beyond detached rule-following and instead device and prioritize among action plans that cut through the information overload - is very much in line with how novices may be helped to progress toward becoming competent performers.
Expert Entrepreneurs
Besides being a champion of Customer Development, Steve is also the first to admit that rules and tools are not enough and thatentrepreneurship is often more art than science, more synthesis than analysis, more intuition than rule-following. This is illustrated in a conversation with a CEO from an I-Corps startup:
“I’m feeling guilty because I was using Customer Development and the Startup Owners Manual until I had that insight. But there was nothing in your book that prepared me for what just clicked in my head. I just saw our entire new business model in a flash, all of it at once. I’m now having the company execute on what came to me in the shower. A small part of me is confused whether I’m doing the right thing, but mostly I’m just convinced it’s as right as anything I’ve ever done. But there’s no chapter in your book or anyone else’s on this.”
“What you had was no accident. You were collecting enormous amounts of data on one side of your brain, but it was the other side that recognized the pattern.”
This is clearly not a novice trying to apply a set of situation independent rules. These are insights afforded to a proficient performer or an expert, someone who has a deep holistic grasp of the specific situation at hand and simply notices what needs to be done without much analysis.
In a recent HBR interview, Marc Andreessen generalizes this point in an observation of the qualities of great founders. According to Andreessen, these individuals are deeply embedded in the relevant aspects of their domain of operation, which allows them to make good decisions without much cognitive effort or awareness.
“The best founders are artists in their domain. They operate instinctively in their industry because they are in touch with every relevant data point. They’re able to synthesize in their gut a tremendous amount of data—pulling together technology trends, their companies’ capabilities, their competitors’ activities, market psychology, every conceivable aspect of how you run a company.”
While I have been thinking about rules and expertise in entrepreneurship for a while (e.g. here and here), I have not yet had time to systematically relate the Dreyfus model to the discourse on entrepreneurship as process (e.g. Customer Development, Lean startup, Effectuation). Based on the above discussion, I do however believe the following to be true.
  • Valuable aspects of what entrepreneurs do can be summarized in rules. Indeed, this is exactly what Customer Development and Effectuation has done.
  • Such rules are extremely valuable to novice and advanced beginner entrepreneurs, both directly to guide venture development and indirectly to guide the entrepreneur’s personal development toward expertise.
  • However, the experts themselves do not use “their own” rules to guide actions. Instead, they rely on holistic situational awareness that cannot, even in principle, be fully described using rules.
  • This means that theories and pedagogies that focus solely on rules and heuristics can only deal with a limited and quite simple part of what constitutes entrepreneurial knowledge.
  • Pedagogically, this can be dealt with through experience-based pedagogies and mentoring.
  • Theoretically, the limitations of rule-based theories of entrepreneurship need to be acknowledged.
[revised june 3 2013]