What I want my children to learn

April 12, 2011

“The knowledge and information that our children are getting through formal education system, is it good enough for them to face the rapid advancements in science and technology?”

“Are our kids getting ready to face the rapid changes in social structure?”

“Are our children developing the solid foundation to be successful in globalised world?

As parents of two under-teen children, my wife and I often go over these questions. Our discussions move around the education system, type of schools, curriculum etc. The fact that we often go through these discussions shows that we have yet to get satisfactory answer.

We realised that we are trying to find the answer in wrong place. School or curriculum system’s mandate does not include getting children ready for the new world. We have nothing against the education system – it is doing its job. We have nothing against the schools – they are teaching the curriculum that is prescribed by the board of education.

However we all agree that it is not good enough. Challenges are of different kind.

When I look at their curriculum and books and compare with the advancements in every field, the gap is yawning. In the coming years what our children are learning in schools would be outdated by the time they go to college. Our children are going to find so much of gap in what they know and what they are expected to know when they go out in the real life that it is going to baffle them. Till 10/15 years back the transition from education system to real life was quite smooth.

The challenges are not going to be only in education, they are going to be in social life as well. The contours of social circle have already changed. When we grew up we and our parents had an idea of the social structure we would be entering in and we were groomed accordingly. With the virtual societies and online social networking we do not know how the societies are going to be shaped by the internet world.

Also in the professional field our children would be working in a globalised environment. They would need different skills to excel in such environments.

To help our children prepare to handle such situations, we need to help them acquire skills. Following is my list :

Ability to learn “how to learn” :
Today’s learning process has a structure which is made up of class room learning and books. And there is an assessment process at the end of it. Most often the learning is guided by the assessment process. As the information and knowledge are changing so rapidly, kids would have to look at many sources of information beyond books and class room. There might not be formal assessment process in place.

Usually our mind processes new information based on what it has learnt, it tries to find the context with the available information. In the coming days, the new information that children would be coming across would be far away from the context of what they have learnt, very often the information would be contradicting what the mind already knows. This information would not be fitting in the mind’s frame of reference.

In such cases I would like my children to develop ability to understand new sources, process such information and learn from it. I would like my children to go through the skills development system that would help them face entirely new scenarios and face them confidently.

Collaborate :
While the education and school systems teaches student to be competitive and zero sum game, its not going to be the only trait that would see them through in the coming age. I would like children to learn how to collaborate and become stronger . The personal growth and learning are going to happen more through collaboration and understanding of communities than being just a competitive person.

Work in virtual teams :
Our children learn how to deal with their friends and people around them on a daily basis. But in the new world we increasingly find ourselves working with the people whom we don’t meet in person. We deal with problems by working with the team members through electronic and digital communications. Very often our decisions are based on our knowledge of our friend or colleague’s background. That is not going to be the case in virtual world where children would have to deal with people and their culture about which they have no idea. I would like my children to learn the skills of dealing with virtual teams.

Leadership through influence :
Today children are learning leadership skills that are oriented towards ‘command and control’ approach. In the new world it is the influence that would matter to become a leader. Also in the coming times, while working in different communities the role of a person would keep changing. The real leadership would come through influence and not through titles. I would like my children to understand the importance of being team player, influencer and a leader.

The conventional education system can not instill these skills due to paucity of time and often due to lack of quantification criterion. But we all know that these skills are important and in coming times these would be the skills for basic survival. I strongly believe that we as parents would have to come forward and create communities to help our children learn these skills along with their regular education system. If you know any such community which is trying to do so, please share here.


Communcation that leaders should avoid

January 6, 2011

“ I would like to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to meet me. ….”

I would think twice about meeting even if these words come from the God. I smell tremendous attitude in these words and I don’t think it does any good when it comes from the democratically elected PM of a nation. Somehow I felt these words lack humbleness and give a picture of a person who wants to show his position of leadership.

When I read the enclosed news, the first thing that struck me was how leaders forget that they are leaders because of people and followers, they have not come from the sky.  When you are the elected PM of the democratic nation you need to avoid the language that connotes that people are the subject and you are (whatever you think you are).

My intention is not to critise the person or the PM per se or the initiative mentioned in the news item. Actually it is a good initiative and nice way of leveraging social media. However to me it is a lesson as to how leaders need to be careful in their communication. and avoid unpleasant language. I would have drafted these lines as “ I would like to have an opportunity to meet you all”…

Pearls of wisdom on entrepreneurship

October 4, 2010

Last week, I attended one of the talks that SMU-IIE regularly organises. I went to the talk with no particular expectations. My main motive was to get out of my office seat and be among the people. .

But after the talks, I felt thousand times grateful to SMU-IIE for organising it and bowed million times  to the speaker for such a wonderful insight. So let me share with you what I learned.

Firstly about the speaker. Dr. Bala S. Manian has been an entrepreneurial innovator, investor and a mentor in the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community for the last three decades. You can read his bio at the above link. What makes him special is the fact that he has been on the entrepreneurial scene for long, much before it was fashionable. Has seen through 7 ventures successfully.

Now what I learned :

The one bit of advice which set me thinking most and which I liked was :

There are pieces of information with many people, someone who can organise it and present it gives knowledge but one who brings this knowledge with real life experiences is bringing wisdom.

My take on this bit is that, many of us know what is right thing to do. We know a lot about various subjects through reading. For example, by reading internet and books one can give good lecture on entrepreneurship, but when it comes from the person who has been there and seen it, it has weight, it makes more sense. Does this means we should spend time in listening to such people – no.. very clearly this means we should spend time in “doing” it, practising it, then we can preach.

On various other pieces of wisdom that he shared, that is important for the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are :

“It is not about state of mind, but ability to execute what is in your mind”

“Ability to read people, gives you ability to lead people”

“You need to be a good communicator, but more important is the ability to listen”

“Need to have passion bordering on addiction” and “Self confidence bordering on arrogance” But should also know the borders.

“Will to succeed is more important than desire to succeed”

” You go to school only to learn to how to learn”

“Risk taking is important, but more important is the ability to deal with and manage uncertainties”

Some interesting thoughts on business plans :

You need a business plan but the purpose of the business plan is “to show your analytical thinking ability, it is not a roadmap”. Another piece of wisdom was so important ” You should not believe in your own B**Sh**”. This was in the context of the what we communicate externally. While is good to be bullish and come across as a confident person, we should know the reality.

He also talked about VCs, about exit strategies, about pace of advancements in technology, about the importance of mentors.

On a particular question regarding pace of change and a narrow window of go to market, how should entrepreneurs look at it, his advice was very helpful. He said, ” if you find you are little late in coming to market with a particular product, you can re-purpose it for next problem to solve. You would be the first one with ready answer”. In this context he also mentioned that don’t get hung up on a particular product per se, focus on the opportunity. If you know the opportunity well, you can find different technologies to solve the problem. In the same context he said ” the answer we get depends on how we frame a question”.

He also talked about India’s strategic place in this context. His advice was India offers an opportunity to entrepreneurs to fail inexpensively and hence is a good place to leverage.

For me this was a great learning. I am sure most others who attended would have found it too.

Note : This is an attempt to share my learnings. This not a transcription of the talks. The words in ” ” are very close to what he said in exact words.

Tiger and The King…. New learning

July 13, 2009

The other day I was telling a story (as usual, making it on the fly) and when I ended the story, I was surprised at the way I ended it.

Tiger in the Singapore Zoo, photo taken by Sachin

Once upon a time, there was a King, one day he went for hunting in the jungle. There he saw a tiger. But the tiger was lying down and not moving, his eyes were open. King looked into Tiger’s eyes. King felt that the Tiger was asking for help. So he got down from his horse and went near the Tiger. He found one arrow pierced into Tiger’s body. He went near to him and took out the arrow and cleaned the wound. Tiger started feeling better. When Tiger tried to stand on his feet, King helped him a bit. Tiger stood up, stretched his legs and felt better. King was standing there, looking down upon the tiger, feeling proud that he helped a tiger and was happy with himself. Tiger roared and before King realised jumped upon him, putting him on the ground. King was surprised.
He said ” Hey, I saved your life and now you are going to kill me?”

” Thank you for saving and I appreciate your efforts.” The Tiger said, “saving other’s life is your Dharma (your nature, your duty), you felt good about it, you felt proud about it. You got your returns. My Dharma is to kill and eat. You did you Dharma and now I am doing my Dharma, If I don’t eat you, I would starve and I would die”.
And Tiger killed the King.

Moral this story for me is that before you decide to help someone you should know his “Dharma” or nature and be prepared to face it. Helping with just good heart is not good enough, you need to know that other person/ animal does not have the same heart as yours.

Contrast this with what my grandmother or mother or even I myself would have ended this story just 5 years back. I would have ended up telling that the Tiger and the King became friends forever etc – very similar to Lion and the Mouse story I have heard since childhood.

Mentor’s advice

May 15, 2008

I read an article in CIO magazine wherein 5 CIOs have shared what their mentors told them. One of the CIO said :

Be decisive.

“I had a wonderful mentor who told me the speed to make a decision is an important quality of an executive. When you move from being an analyst and developer—someone who expects to have all the data before making a decision—up to executive, you have to understand your gut feelings play more of a role. You reach a level where you’re being paid to rely on your experience. If you wait for every single data point, every time, you may be seen as indecisive or weak.”
-Robert Urwiler, SVP and CIO, Vail Resorts

This reminded me of one recent episode that I was watching on “Are you smarter than fifth grader”. There, the contestant was a professional poker player. He said that relying on only guts is not good nor was being overly logical. He said that when your combine logic with your guts it gives you best results. No wonder he went out with half a million doller kitty in his bag.

I am so happy to find validation for my thoughts that entrepreneurial way of decision making is so important and it pays.

Managing Your boss

May 15, 2008

We need to manage the boss in many ways. It is not in a negative context, as managing has multiple aspects. Managing a boss is part of managing our careers. In that conext we need to understand the boss as an important factor. Boss (to large extent) has a major influence on how we are perceived by his boss and by his peers. Boss has an influence on at least pace of our growth and on extent of our exposure or learning. Which means boss has control over effectiveness to be successful. So what do we do manage boss? First, one needs to understand him/her as human being – person without the title. Very often we look from the lenses of title. My experience is that look at the boss first as a professional and how he has reached that position. What is that he has and you don’t have in terms of professional qualities. That gives good insight into his/her positives and negatives. Understand boss’s scope of work, his standing among the peers and his aspirations. This is little complex work. But once you figure out this, you would understand where do you stand in this situtation. You would understand what are boss’s expectations from you to help him “win” and further his aspirations. This would also give you scope of your work, its relative importance in the organisation and thus you would get to know opportunities for your growth. You can then decide if your aspirations – growth, learning, exposure etc – can be fulfilled in the given situation. Reaching out to boss with your analysis of the situation, your expections and suggestions of how you can create a win-win situation for boss and yourself helps. It is a very interesting work.

The key question is what do you do after analysing in the above way and realising that your values, aspirations and professional thoughts do not match with your boss’s. Well, in that case we look at the organisation – the leader – boss’s boss. There is a always a possibility that your boss might be wrong in the corporate context and your thinking might be right. If this is the situation, have some patience. Find out ways to communicate with larger set of people in the organisation and stick to the values without leaving the boss.

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