Sunday, August 10, 2014

KBC/MEK Paradigm: A Knowledge Game Show for Prizewinning or a Digital Platform for Social Reengineering?

Most Indians know “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” (“Who Will Become Crorepati?”), or KBC, as the pioneering and highly popular knowledge based reality game show, in Hindi and English, that inspired millions to compete for the hot seat and to aspire to win the Rs 1 crore prize money (initial stake, now getting increased to an astounding Rs 7 crore in the seventh season, and in the forthcoming eighth season)  to fulfill their life dreams. The show got completely identified with Big B, Amitabh Bachchan, despite Shahrukh Khan hosting a midterm series, and despite a four year holiday. Whether KBC transformed the lives of the prizewinners, it sure did transform the image of Amitabh as the master showman as a person of elegant intellect and touching emotion. While the excitement of climbing up the ladder of questions with the three lifelines in tow was exciting, the connectivity and rapport which Amitabh established with the participants and the audience alike was a delight to watch.

The Telugu version titled “Meelo Evaru Koteeswarudu?” (“Who Will Become Crorepati Among You?”) started to be aired from June 9, 2014 as a forty-episode version with Akkineni Nagarjuna donning the role of host that  Amitabh played in KBC. Pre-telecast, there was skepticism about the show’s nativity for the Telugu population and Nagarjuna’s ability to measure up to the historic benchmark set by the mighty Amitabh. However, as the MEK show closed its first season with its fortieth episode on August 7, 2014 it became evident that MEK was no less popular than KBC, and Nagarjuna became no less transformed and transformative than Amitabh was. In addition, its translation into Telugu nativity was perfect and the connectivity with the Telugu audience was instantaneous.  For students of social engineering, however, MEK offers several interesting insights and corresponding hypotheses.  Five of these are discussed below, with some suggestions for making this knowledge based game show an instrument of micro level social entrepreneurship.
Human touch
MEK demonstrated that if the basic DNA of any show is emotional as well as intellectual the show can transcend all barriers of geography. After all, KBC itself was an adaptation, with a significant Indian emotive touch, of the popular UK game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. The objective of any product or service is to fulfill the human needs. Human needs have two integral parts; one of rational need (influenced by knowledge and logic), and the other of emotional need (influenced by belongingness and empathy). MEK went one step ahead of KBC in unraveling the rational and emotional experiences and goals of the hot seat participants. The MEK show could succeed in bringing out emotional aspects of the show by focusing on humanism without unduly leveraging the materialism of the prize money. This sensitivity brought the show close to an initially skeptical audience. Social engineering through a product, service or a host is possible only when the human touch is understood and embedded in them, and is manifest in features.
Hope and determination  
It is more than a coincidence, in fact a clear pattern, that the story of each participant in the MEK show has been one of hope and determination. Irrespective of the contemporary status of each participant, it was clear that all of them faced some very serious odds in life, and most continued to face more challenges for future; yet, all demonstrated remarkable grit, courage and hope to overcome the difficulties. Some of them had their near and dear in financially, physically or medically challenged state but each was determined to work for their benefit as much as for their own. There were participants who moved up the ladder from humble beginnings to reasonably settled jobs but none lost sight of the difficult past. The common thread is that a combination of hope and determination makes life. Hope without determination is facile while determination without hope is purposeless.
Social entrepreneurship
It is well understood that entrepreneurship holds the key to rapid and sustainable economic growth with social equity in India. It is, however, not so well understood that many Indians, contrary to the perception that they are risk-averse job seekers, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and that a socially inclined one, in them. Some participants in the MEK show were already self-employed while almost everyone desired to set up a socially relevant entrepreneurial venture if they were to win a substantial prize money. It also transpired that those who underwent troubles experienced firsthand an aspiration to create their own little ecosystems that could educate and train people or establish businesses and services. The spirit of social entrepreneurship was palpable here even though the prize money stakes were less than the KBC stakes. This emphasis on social aspiration contrasts with a somewhat excessive emphasis in the KBC show on the size of the prize money.  It was interesting to perceive that a combination of life’s challenges and personal skills provides the right motivation to set up socially responsible entrepreneurial ventures.
Professional rebirth
The adage that nothing succeeds like success is typically validated by great corporate or leadership achievements. This adage is true at a micro level as well. In fact, many participants found a distinctive confidence and a unique motivation as a result of participating in the MEK show successfully. Umakant was a participant who knew all the answers, together with the entire background, even before a question was read, so much so he earned the sobriquet of Acharya Umakant from Nagarjuna. He said that despite his hard work he never got a chance to prove his worth, and finally the MEK show helped him establish his competence; he gratefully said that he was reborn because of the show. Similar has been the experience of another intelligent and sharp participant who lost his confidence due to a head injury; the very fact of his being in the hot seat demonstrated his alertness and acumen, and to boot Nagarjuna could extract a promise to rediscover his confidence. Clearly, certain landmark competitive or successful events can reinforce one’s confidence and propel one to greater heights.
Leadership transformation
Prior to KBC, Amitabh was a national hero within the shade of the past ‘angry young man’ image. The failure of business ventures and an inability to manage the generational transition in the 1990s took some sheen of his image. It is to the credit of Amitabh that he could utilize the KBC game show vehicle that started in 2000 to bring out his histrionics, knowledge, emotions, humility and empathy as a unique personality of intellect and emotion that connected with not only the participants but also millions of households. Like Amitabh, Nagarjuna had a distinct screen presence, relative to the Telugu film industry. Nagarjuna, a generation younger than Amitabh, started as an ‘angry young student’ in movies and consolidated as a boisterous mass hero with evergreen characteristics but also blossomed with unexpected histrionics in religious movies. As seamlessly as Amitabh, Nagarjuna could acquire the shades of an emotionally intellectual showman, with a homely television presence that is distinct from his screen image, playful or devout. Leadership, it would seem, is contextual, and adaptive leaders can build on their latent competencies to transform themselves contextually; leadership rebirth seems to be entirely possible and feasible.
Digital social reengineering
A successful TV show is, at best, seen as a string of episodes that momentarily transports audience each specified time of the day to think differently. As the analysis on KBC and MEK in this blog post demonstrates, certain reality shows that combine intellectualism and compassion under a voluntary experiential canopy of social awareness are much more than just successful TV shows; they have the right ingredients for mass social transformation. There are five distinct lessons for social development which must be grasped. Firstly, from governance to business, human touch must prevail in all product, process or service delivery. Secondly, good times, and better times, will come only with hope and determination. Thirdly, most individuals, especially those who came up through troubled times, can evolve, and re-evolve, as natural leaders for social entrepreneurship and social reengineering at micro level. Fourthly, competitive successes are opportunities to rededicate oneself to professional rejuvenation. Fifthly, given the right challenges and opportunities, leaders adapt and transform themselves to be inspired themselves, and inspire others.
Digital communication through media impacts millions of minds on a 24X7 basis. If positive messages are conveyed through entertaining and engaging shows, anchored by inspiring icons, they become integral to life journeys.  If the digital power and imaging is constructively channeled, knowledge and achievement based reality shows can become truly mass movements which can convert a normal society into a knowledge society and create wealth and wellbeing with social entrepreneurship. Siddhartha Basu, the iconic quiz master of India and the force behind the KBC/MEK shows has demonstrated how intellect can lead to engagement and how knowledge with emotion can not only mean good business but also transform lives. A few incentives from the promoters of the shows as well as from the governments could take forward the concepts and unleash creative social energy. Siddhartha Basu, himself, can evolve from being an intellectual authority and a successful businessman to a knowledge developer and social transformer.  
The knowledge game shows can be social game changers with the following few tweaks. Fundamentally, the game shows should be seen as social entrepreneurship ventures which are inspired through individual aspiration for intellectual and material development. The games should have socially inclined sponsors so that the prize corpus is significantly enhanced. The prize money in lower bands of Rs 1000 to Rs 80,000 should be significantly enhanced, and that in the Rs 160,000 to Rs 1 crore band doubled so that more money is deployed in the hands of prizewinners. Rather than scale up the apex prize to astronomical levels, the corpus must be deployed to generate as many lakhpatis as possible. The prize money should be exempt from taxation if the money is invested in social entrepreneurship. The KBC/MEK organization must maintain a registry of the winners and their ventures so that more sponsors can support such ventures on an ongoing basis. The show formats can themselves be made in all the Indian languages and in each region anchors like Amitabh, Surya and Nagarjuna should take up this as a developmental mission. KBC/MEK paradigm with its intellectual and emotional engagement, and with social passion and entertainment quotient, can uniquely engage individuals, families and societies in India’s knowledge based social reengineering.   
Posted by Dr CB Rao on August 10, 2014     

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