Talent in Management and sports

This article is published in the September’2008 issue of the magazine The Management Compass

The fear factor

What is stopping Indian sportsmen from emulating the chinese and US success story?

China had been going all out to put in an impressive performance at the Beijing Olympics. China’s leaders have had a long tradition of using sports to boost national pride. For china, a significant victory at Beijing would enhance its potential superpower status. Its vast multibillion sports machine has only one goal in mind — grooming Olympic champions. At the time of writing this piece, they seem to be succeeding in their mission; currently, China is at the top with 35 Golds, 13 silver and 13 bronze (on August 18).

The heartening thing about the Beijing Olympics is that India too finally managed to produce an Individual Olympic champion, 108 years after the Olympics restarted, Abhinav Bindra received the first individual gold medal in shooting in the 10ms Air rifle category from a strong field of 122 shooters from nearly 100 countries. His impressive performance got him the kind of adulation that is normally reserved for cricket and Bollywood stars in India. Apart from being feted for his achievements both by the President and the Prime Minister, the manner in which the newspapers and news channels covered him made him a national hero and an eligible bachelor overnight. However, considering that it was the first individual gold medal for a nation of a billion plus population in such a long time, everything said in his praise would seem like an understatement.

Bindra mentioned in one of his interviews that our country’s sports administration needs to be brushed up in a way that winning such medals should be more a rule than the exception. How does one achieve that? The Mittal Steel Trust (MCT), with a corpus of $10 million set up by steel baron Laxmi Mittal to support talented Olympic aspirants, is a handsome initiative. Bindra was one of the beneficiaries of Mittal’s largesse. The Olympic gold quest by India’s sporting legends Geet sethi and Prakash Padukone backed by business funds is another such initiative. Apollo Tyres Mission hopes to create a Grand Slam champion in India in Tennis by 2018 and NIIT Mind Champion Academy has taken chess to 4,000 schools across India. While all these attempts are laudable and one hopes that other business houses follow their footsteps, will that be enough?

The China model

One needs to have look at the way China develops its champions. After 1959, when Rong Guotuan made history as China’s first world Table Tennis champion, to maintain ping pong supremacy, coaches fanned out across the countryside looking for kindergartners with quick reflexes and superior hand-eye co-ordination. In their table tennis school, kids train for four hours everyday in the morning and three times a week in the evening with academic classes in between. Many kids see their parents for only a couple of weeks each year. That maybe a little far fetched but a proactive talent spotting process has to be there in place to ensure that talent is spotted at a very young age and groomed on a continuous basis.

Retirement blues

That is one aspect of talent management in sports. There are deeper issues involved. Who shall take care of the sportsmen after they retire, is a prime worry that prevents many a talented sportsman from opting for a sports career or devote full time to it with a single minded focus.

The China Sports Daily estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s retired athletes are plagued by poverty, unemployment or chronic health problems, resulting from overtraining. India’s record is hardly impressive. Norman Gilbert Pritchard, who got silver medals for India for 200m sprint and hurdles in 1900 and was the first man to score a hat-trick in Indian football, died a physical and mental wreck in New York in 1929. Freestyle wrestler KD Jadhav won a bronze for India in the 57kg bantamweight category but got nothing on his return, apart from felicitation. He was killed in a road accident in 1988, for which his widow received a paltry for Rs 25,000. He was posthumously awarded the Arjuna Award in 2001. This is peanuts for people who win medals for the country. Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand’s son Ashok Kumar had himself been in the Indian hockey team but he mentioned once that since Dhyan Chand did not get anything out of hockey, he did not want any of his sons to play after his playing days got over. Though Flying Sikh Milkha Singh’s son Jeev is now an established golfer, the father did not exactly approve of the son’s choice of career in sports because of his own experience of disappointment with the returns on his achievement.

Sportsmen from other disciplines may face problems of a different kind. Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj revealed in his autobiography that his worst nightmare after retirement would be to be forced in a business not of his liking just to support his family. India’s former coach John Wright had to actually live through that nightmare. In his book Indian Summers ,Wright explains his experience in the corporate world after retiring as a test cricketer, before he became coach for Kent and then, India. In his own words, “Working at Fletchers gave me a crash course on everyday reality, which for many people boils down to earning a living doing something they wouldn’t necessarily choose to do. I had gone from doing something I had a passion for to doing something completely different, which, with the best will in the world, I wasn’t passionate about.” Kapil Dev’s autobiography reveals how a senior cricketer like Chandu Borde was humiliated routinely by the board as he was dependent on them for a job.

Right choices

Fortunately, Bindra seems to have earned a fair amount of prize money from various sources. He is a rich man’s son but otherwise, would it suffice to sustain him for a lifetime? Who will take care of the responsibilities on retirement. Maybe other corporate houses would come forward to absorb them just the way some of them absorb cricketers. Bindra’s spectacular achievement is a good opportunity to look at talent management from a different perspective on how excellence can be achieved both in sports and other spheres. The book Welcome to the Talent Wars by Bruce Tulgan and Now, discover your strengths by Marcus Buckinhgam offer insights into talent management, which one can apply from sports to corporate management and vice- versa.

Both Tuglan and Buckingham have emphasised the importance of knowing your one’s specific niche and planning accordingly. Buckingham has given the example of super golfer Tiger Woods and English soccer star David Beckham. Tiger woods knew that his bunker play was poor. Once he made sure that it reached acceptable levels, he focused totally on his dominant strength, his swing. Explaining how English soccer star David Beckham hit a 35 yard shot to beat Equador 1-0, Buckingham says that he had become so overwhelmingly good at bending long range free kicks into the net that this one strength virtually defined his entire role. He calls this rarefied specialisation and advises emulating it in the management world. Buckingham has written extensively on how silly it is to correct a weakness at the cost of building a strength. Whether before or after retirement, or in sports or other disciplines, nothing can be truer and if one discovers one’s niche at a young age, chances of success improve considerably.

Buckingham has also said that it is better to aim for well-rounded organisations with people complimenting each other’s weaknesses. The percentage of great all rounders to total number of cricketers is extremely low and even if one were to possess that kind of versatility, one can only focus at one area at a time. The core of talent management is to know your niche and build on it.

Phelps phenomenon

There will of course be honorable exceptions. Swimming superstar Michael Phelps is one. By winning eight gold medals, he conquered Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals and with the highest number of individual gold medals, became the greatest Olympian of all times. He is not great just because he got eight — he has achieved single handedly what India could achieve in 108 years. Phelps’ total tally — 16 golds and 2 bronzes — towers over India’s total tally in 108 years. Phelps has 14 golds against India’s nine. Without his contribution, the US gold tally would be halved.
Phelps was diagnosed with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in school but as his talent was spotted early, he focused only on that. I had read in one write- up how some ADHD children have a very high IQ but only in one or a few areas. Such people cannot afford to be in the wrong profession. If not handled properly, they can make a nuisance of themselves and even take to crime. Phelps has shown what is possible when they are in their prime, which is possible only with the right kind of talent management.
When people are in their right roles, they represent the strength, health and wealth of a nation. A person who could have been a zero is a superhero and what is a nation without its heroes?

If some superstars like the players mentioned above cannot afford not to know their sub niche within their main professions, can anyone afford to be in wrong profession at all?

Former seven times world Billiards champion Geet Sethi answers that both for sports and management. In his book Success v/s Joy, he states that after exposure to the game for only a few months, he got addicted to billiards at the age of 13. Though Sethi focused on billiards, his friend Sunil Aggarwal did the opposite. Though he shared his passion for billiards, he focused on his IIM and IIT and achieved the exalted social status as the managing director of a company. He declared that a feeling of inadequacy and failure dogged him continuously, which was primarily because of lack of achievement in what he considered to be his true passion — the billiards table. Considering that such well-qualified man can talk like this, can sportsmen or anybody for that matter afford to be in the wrong occupation?

Talent and passion

Former football superstar Pele, considered by many to be the greatest ever football player ever answers that when he says, “I felt a strange calmness… a kind of euphoria. I felt I could run all day without tiring, that I could dribble through any of their team or all of them, that I could almost pass through them physically.” Pele also said,
“Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string.” Which reminds one of former management leader Charles Schwab’s assertion, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm”. Talent management in this perspective is nothing but locating and redirecting talent in the right areas, whether is management or in sports. Both our World cup winning captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kapil Dev are prime examples. Both were ardent footballers but switched to cricket because both discovered by chance that they could hit the ball very hard while trying another activity (batting) in another sport (Cricket).

Doesn’t that imply that training matters more than education in spotting and grooming talent? This is because talent is actually activity centric unless one is involved in research. According to Buckingham, “Whatever our job happens to be, it comprises several activities. Some invigorate us, some leave us neutral, some deplete us, bore us or drain us. There cannot a perfect job we love but the jobs can be sculpted around activities which strengthen us.” Buckingham has asserted in his book that 8 out of 10 people not using their strengths actually shows tremendous scope for talent management. In sports career switching is relatively easier as it is more activity centric.

A word of caution here. According to Buckingham, interest without adequate ability can also be dicey. Giving the example of Basketball superstar Michael Jordan, he says that even if he had not spent countless hours in the Gym, he would have still been a better player than most of us.. But without those hours in the Gym, he would not have become the star he was”. Talent management implies a healthy balance of both talent and passion. Buckingham has also explained what a waste of time and money it is to send people for training for talents that they do not possess. According to him, while skills and knowledge can be learnt, Talents are inborn and cannot.

Management lessons

Tuglan offers some valuable insights while comparing education with training. He says “General Electric alone — with its stunning college campus at New York — spends $500 a year on training and education, 10 times more than the total annual tuition paid by Harvard’s MBA student body in a typical year. Nobody can be stubborn and insist that the only way to train people is for the long haul, mimicking the obsolete pedagogy of yesteryear. Corporate training and distance learning will eventually wipe out many, if not most of the graduate business programmes in existence today.”

One of the chapters in Tuglan’s book is Turn Managers into Coaches. According to him, personal coaching is much more effective in getting the best out of people. Tuglan says “If it takes your organization months on end of years to get people up to speed into meaningful roles, you have a serious problem in today’s short term environment. Neither individuals or organizations that employ them have any more time for long term knowledge acquisition. It is no longer sufficient for anybody to receive their education up front through formal schooling and expect that education to last them very long. You have to identify quickly what a person is capable of, choose the right role for that person, teach that person exactly what he needs to know to play that role and then require that he gives it all. Depending upon his, there should ba a multiplicity of opportunity for you.” He gives the examples of US Marines on how in 11 weeks, they can get a person ready. Explaining a training programme for a new trainee, an example of one company was given with a training programme from week to week, where the individual is assessed at the end of every month. According to the company “Every day is meant to be like an MBA crash course because we have hired you to run our business”

Such emphasis on training rather than formal education may allay some of the fears that sportsmen have about what to do after retirement. I had once come across the businessman father of a promising Tennis player who was wary of going all the way because of the risks that it entailed. When one reads of the difficulties of career switching at sites like http://www.careerswitchers.org or books like Working Identity even in the western world, one can hardly blame him. That apart, career switching can sometimes bring out very promising talent — Amitabh Bachchan is also a case of lateral career transition who came up more because of hands-on coaching rather than formal education in acting.
The word education comes from the latin word educere which implies to bring out what is already in, which perhaps can be done better in some cases by hands-on coaching.

Following the philosophy of “The best are worth accommodating”, Tuglan states that in the current scenario, companies have to bend backwards to accommodate aspirations of the best talent. The book mainly talks of how the most talented people in management are now thinking like free agents (like professional athletes and actors) and how it is not possible to achieve excellence without catering to their specific needs, whether it is a three way workweek or sticking to one location instead of shifting them around etc. It talks of fluid and flexible staffing: “Learn to employ people wherever, whenever and however they are willing… Where and when people work matters much less in the new economy than what people actually do and how they do it… In the new economy, career customization will be the norm, not the exception”.

If these are the new standards of talent management, we can hardly afford to mistreat our sports or other superstars before or after retirement. The people who make the country proud can hardly be treated as the rest of the crowd.

True to his name

The word Abhinav means brand and uniquely new and one must say that with his achievement, he has lived up to his name. Though old is gold in a certain context, we should ensure that his gold never becomes old and continuously inspires us to better performance. The name of the first citizen of the country, the President of India, is Pratibha or talent, which should symbolise our conduct. Bindra has set a healthy precedent. Following letter and spirit, President and precedent, it is better if we pull up our socks in talent management to live up to the new Olympic spirit everywhere. Otherwise the saying Chak de India may end up meaning more like chuck (leave Olympic aspirations) de India.. And instead of our players being on song, “Hum honge Kamyaab” will remain what it is — just a song.
———————–End of Published Article——————————–
Though perhaps not evident in the way the article has been edited, much of Bindra’s success has come from some of the factors mentioned in the article- discovering his passion(talent) at a young age, having the flexibility to devote to it with a single minded focus, having no worries of life after the sport etc. Competency based systems which have a people orientation rather than a task orientation are more likely to detect talent at a young age.

That apart the chapters of Tuglan’s books is clearly indicative of a sports model for training which can be applied in management:-

Talent is the show,
Staff the work, not the jobs,
Pay for performance and nothing else
Turn Managers into coaches

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Child-A seed or a weed?

This article was published in the April’2008 of the Education magazine Educare

Right education

Enforcing a standard system of education on children to whom it does not apply can be disastrous

On March 17, 2008, The Times of India reported that a total of 5,857 students committed suicide in the year 2006. According to national crime bureau statistics, of this 5,628 students were below the age of 30. In my previous article on the subject in March 2008, I was not aware of the statistics and one really wonders what the overall trend over the years has been. In the previous article, I had mentioned some small practical steps that the government has been taking to ease the exam tension. That apart, since a lot of competition is for admission in educational institutions, the government should seriously contemplate inviting foreign universities or whatever it takes to increase the number of educational institutions. In the same NCRB statistics, it is given that farming related suicides in 2006 were 17,060. If the government can waive Rs 60,000 Cr for farmers in the recent union budget even if it represented vote bank politics, they can surely do something for the students.

The previous article ended with how the education system does not cater to the kinesthetic learner or people who prefer to learn through a more hands on approach. An article on boosting brain power in the Readers Digest divided learners into several IQ groups — the bottom five per cent with a risk of not functioning in society, the next 20 per cent ‘slow learners’; the middle 50 per cent hands-on types who learn better on the job than in the classroom; the next 20 per cent potential leaders. The last category was of the successful five per cent that were the best brains or thinkers. It seems that in spotting the last two categories or the cream, the education system converts the dream of the rest into a nightmare.

As stated above, many people prefer learning by doing or application and to have a standard education system for different kinds of learning or assessing styles is fundamentally wrong. That apart, in practical life, it is application alone that matters and the education system should be more application oriented instead of testing knowledge and memory, which, in any case is a little out of place in the internet era. In an India Today article a few years ago, professor Yash Pal, eminent scientist and chairman of the Steering Committee for Curricular Reform, said, “Technology has provided the means of recording and retrieving information at will. It is stupid for us to want students to do that. We must make exams in such a way that it does not bank on memory but emphasises thinking capability and understanding.” That depends a lot on the individual learning style of the student apart from aptitude.

Bill Gates puts it very profoundly in his book, Business at the speed of thought: “Technology makes it easier to scale classes to age and ability and individualise learning. About fifty major theories attempt to characterise individual learning styles. All people have different levels of aptitude and different personalities and life experiences that may motivate or demotivate them to learn. PCs can help change the learning experience from the traditional approach, a teacher instructing in front of the class room to a more hands-on approach that takes advantage of the natural curiosity of all ages.” Though Gates is talking more in the context of how the PC and the internet can be used to enhance learning , his emphasis on a more hands on approach or an approach that makes learning easier and interesting for different types of children is clearly evident.

Our education system seems to stick to traditional methods of teaching and assessing, which is perhaps in their own interest. George Bernard Shaw said: “Those who can, teach, else they do”. Steve Nordby improved upon that quote by saying: “Those who can do. Those who can’t teach. Those who can’t teach train teachers. Those who can’t train teachers write teacher training textbooks.” In some ways, it seems that teaching is more geared to fulfil the needs of the teacher to teach rather than customising what is taught to the learning style of the students.

Here, the role of kith and kin of the students also have a role to play. I had on one occasion discussed student suicides with one of Delhi’s top nuero-psychiatrists who had pamphlets in his reception on how to spot a potential suicide from a variety of reasons. Where students are concerned, he said, “The problem in India is that everybody considers themselves an expert on all sorts of issues. When the person concerned himself has a lot of problem determining his own potential, where is the need for everyone to give an opinion?” People have tendencies to make comparisons with others and offer judgments like ‘excuses’ or ‘attitude problem’, which maybe far from the truth, which may have more to do with the individuality of the person concerned.

Recently, I completed a one week ‘Training the Trainer’ programme from the Indian society for training and development. While I was contemplating joining the programme, I asked the programme director, Major General Dhir, the difference between the one-week programme and an eighteen-month diploma on the same subject. He promptly replied, “In the diploma, the focus is more on the subject and the knowledge. In the one week course, the focus is more on the individual and skills.” In other words, the workshop was more application oriented. I could not help wondering whether or not what Major General Dhir said was the bane of the education system. We are required to answer a questionnaire referring to notes and outside books, write a dissertation followed by a video recording of six hours of training. This may not suit all subjects but is a far more practical method of assessment. Testing memory puts unnecessary stress on the students and does not really test their potential. Therefore, it is a loss both ways. Training is clearly a more hands-on approach than teaching and probably suits a lot of students.

I have myself come across several people, who, though not qualified MBAs have better functional talent. Here is an example of one such hands-on learner, Suvir Behl, a shares trader and investor who did very well in practical life despite not doing that well academically. In his own words: “After completing my graduation in 1998, I completed a course at National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi in the year 2000, after which I tried for a couple of jobs in the garments sector, but they did not appeal to me. Since my maternal grandfather had been a very good and successful investor, the stock markets had always been a fascination. I started in the stock markets in a small way in 2001, by investing small sums of money both for me and my immediate family. Initially, there were times when I lost money but they were more in the nature of teething troubles and learning experiences. In my view, the failures are as instrumental for consistent long term success as knowledge or intelligence. I started reading extensively about the markets and the various companies I invested in. I learnt a lot and consider myself reasonably successful today. From the seed capital with which I started , my portfolio has multiplied several times, and my clientele is improving quantitatively and qualitatively every year.”

He added: “Though never short of confidence, I was an average student throughout school and college. I feel that to be successful in life, deep interest and knowledge about one’s profession which comes by experience and basic practical in intelligence is more important than degrees. In my own case, though I never attended any formal course in the stock market, the broad reading fuelled by my natural interest queered the pitch for success.”

I must add here that following Suvir’s footsteps is not recommended. The stockmarket has also proved to be extremely dangerous for certain other youngsters. The broker confirmed that Suvir was a good investor and a success as a trader which is more an exception than the rule.. Trading psychology itself advocates that one should discover one’s niche and style instead of blindly acquiring knowledge. I found Suvir equally if not more resourceful than some of other well known and more qualified traders.

In my previous article, I mentioned about my friend AK, who got several double promotions and went on to establish businesses of his own. In my last meeting with him, he mentioned that in his engineering college, one of his friends, RG was the topper but in real life he invited AK to join his company as finance was not his cup of tea and AK had better all round practical intelligence. AK also mentioned that a few months back a relatively less qualified but street smart businessman could prove to be a tough competitor but qualifications can make a very good first impression. However, if degrees are not backed by performance, they can flatter to deceive. There is another friend of ours who is a chartered accountant by qualification but does not seem to be doing well either in that profession or the businesses that he has tried so far.

In recent times, two men who have done really well in real life without commensurate educational achievements are Sunil Mittal, the chairman of Bharti Telecom and Naresh Goyal, chairman of Jet Airways. Amitabh Bachchan and Kishore Kumar had no real formal training in their respective fields but both were outstanding successes in their chosen professions. In a recent book Dhirubhaiism, the author, AG Krishnamurthy states: “Dhirubhai could see skills in us we never knew we had.” The author further states that in following Dhirubhai’s philosophy, as chairman of Mudra advertising , he went to talented newcomers instead of tried and tested superstars and reaped rich dividends. It is ultimately functional and practical talent that matters more in the real world than anything else.

In a recent book Be Inspired, the author, a Sydney-based Indian, Amber Ahuja has given each of the above in detail in the form of worksheet skills and abilities assessment directions. Giving Indian examples, the same book also states at four give different places how critical it is to identify one’s career correctly early in life for long term success. That need not be necessarily reflected in one’s qualifications. Morgan and Banks have also stated that niche individuals or those who are good at few things should even be more particular about choosing the right career. What happens to those who are not able to do so?

I had written my first article on career misfits in life. Though I had titled it ‘The essence of true education’, the editor after finding the content too strong, changed it to “Don’t settle for less than a calling”. Thereafter, I have regularly come across 2-3 US-based websites every year, which talk of frustration in the wrong career even, if, in some cases it pays off well. One website I came across last week is UK centric and is called careershifters.org . Some of the terms used in this website like switch doctors, switch surgeries apart from giving ‘inspiring real life stories’ also reflect the magnitude of the problem. Several career coaches or switch doctors have written several articles on the subject. Some of them are drastic career switches from what they were earlier doing or qualified.

One of the links from this site leads to escape-club the objective of which reads something like this: “Are you a successful professional, but bored or unhappy with your work? Do you want to be more fulfilled and feel that your work actually has an impact? We believe that you can ‘escape’ to work that is meaningful, and want to help you a identify what is the work that would bring you more fulfilment and overall happiness, create an action plan to help you get the work.” It really reminds me of the movie The great escape. In one cover story of Fortune magazine, one executive was quoted as saying, “You get to the top of the ladder and find that maybe it’s leaning against the wrong building.”. This clearly shows that just being well qualified and reaching the top does not lead to the kind of personal fulfilment that should normally be the end result of by product of success. There is plenty of evidence to show that in the long run, people look more for meaningful work than mere monetary reward. Reminds one of the interesting saying “Work is what you do to make the money to do what you really want to do.”

One has to be able to identify one’s true calling as early as possible. IIM Lucknow professor, Debashish Chatterjee in his book Break free states that to identify one’s true talent, one has to go back to one’s school days and determine what activity they enjoyed the most during leisure, to find out whether one could carry out this activity for a long period of time and determine whether or not this activity made you truly happy. Professor Chatterjee’s views are in congruence with what many American psychologists have to say on the subject. The teacher’s role should be geared more towards this when a child is more in the seed form rather than blindly stuffing knowledge.

One wonders if the biblical parable of the sower and the seed can be applied to different kinds of individuals in terms of their learning styles and how a standard education system can be redundant. In the parable it is said that some seeds scattered by the farmer fell on the wayside and were devoured by the birds; some fell on stony places where they could not build sufficient root and withered when the sun shone; some fell among thorns, which grew up and choked them but some fell on good ground where they grew and bore fruit. A child is like a seed and this is what can happen to the seed if it falls in the wrong place in terms of a wrong career and of the wrong learning style that has been vividly described above. Once again, the words of Wipro chairman Azim Premji come to mind. Imagine a school, which sees children as seeds to be nurtured — here the teacher is a gardener who tries to bring out the potential already present in the child. This is very different from the current view, which sees the child as clay to be moulded where the teachers and parents are potters deciding what shape the clay should take.” Enforcing a standard education system on children to whom it does not apply is bound to have disastrous results. There is an old Chinese saying, “Give a seed to a potter and you shall have a bonsai.”

From the suicide statistics, it almost seems that instead of a seed, a child is treated like a weed in our society. About 2,500 years ago, Socrates said that education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. According to Prof Chatterjee, the difference between a candle and a flame is the difference between a resource and a source. A resource reduces when shared and a source gets augmented when shared. A candle is a good source but is burnt out. On the other hand , a flame can alight a million other flames, which is what can happen in the long run when a seed is given the right kind of environment.

Ability and Visibility- Education and Training

This article is published in the March’2008 of the Education magazine Educare.

Style and substance

Skills that you need to work upon to succeed in life

In my previous article, I had tried to bring to light certain wrong perceptions connected to practical life that may aggravate the already over-stressed students. It was more focused on negatives -what to avoid doing. This article is about positives — what to do to be abreast of the realities of practical life in the current world.

When I did my postgraduate management course in 1991 from the International Management Institute, one of the first golden thumb rules that we were taught in the corporate context was “Produce that which can be sold and not sell what you have produced”. It seems that management institutes are violating this principle because a lot of institutes are coming up to promote employability training or employability enhancing to supplement the efforts of conventional education, which is proving to be grossly inadequate.

The situation is best explained by one such company, Hero Mindmine’s employability enhancement module on their website http://www.heromindime.com :-

Hero Mindmine’s finishing school initiative got born out of one of India’s most recalcitrant problems – the dearth of employable talent, despite huge numbers of engineers and MBAs graduating from thousands of institutions. This problem has assumed dangerous proportions now and threatens to jeopardise the very growth of the Indian industry and economy.

Researches carried out by several independent agencies, including NASSCOM and CapitalH, have all converged to the conclusion that the professionally-educated Indian fresh talents (engineers, MBAs etc.) display severe competence handicap in areas that are most critical for entry level positions in jobs.

Apart from gaps in technical, subject related skills and knowledge, there are glaring soft-skills and personality-linked inadequacies in the young professionals, which hinders their ability to comprehend their roles in the correct perspective and therefore impacts their professional performance in their first job.

Hero Mindmine and CapitalH together have created and tested a slew of highly-focused and effective employability enhancement programmes for graduating engineers and MBAs. These programmes run parallel to the academic activities of a student and clinically focus on developing her exactly in the areas that a typical entry-level job in a large organisation demands.

Using specially-developed training and skill-building techniques and methodologies, Hero Mindmine trainers carefully guide students away from theory and into the application environment. Numerous top recruiters have responded extremely favourably to this initiative and Hero Mindmine plans to launch the finishing school concept in selected engineering and business management institutions.

Another module explains how the IT Employment Suitability Test (ITEST), based on assessments in nine critical employability dimensions, aims at testing the employability of fresh engineers in the IT Industry. Similarly, the BizTest assesses fresh MBAs on five general parameters and five function-specific parameters to spot the best available talent among students.

It almost seems that they are running some kind of parallel education, which is more skill and talent than knowledge-oriented or in the exact words used above, the aim is “to guide students away from theory and into the application environment.”

In addition to saying the same thing about the inadequacy in the above mentioned skills in students for entry level jobs, another company, www.astrumonline.com goes a step further in its section on youth training:

Astrum’s experience in working with corporates provides it the unique advantage of understanding the industry expectations from the new joinees and training them even before they are employed through mid-to-long-term phased interventions across India. We are also designing and delivering faculty development programmes at various educational institutes. This is something like the cart pulling the horse; they are trying to influence conventional education.

I had the privilege of spending a couple of days with Astrum in an engineering institute on the outskirts of Faridabad. They had modules on communication skills, which involved ex-tempore public speaking, creative writing, mock interviews, group discussions etc, and last but not the least, problem solving in maths. When I expressed surprise that third and fourth year engineering students were doing problems which I do with my 12-year-old son who is in class VII, one student told me that it is not that they don’t know these things but they are expected to be direct and fast in solving problems. The emphasis was on speed along with accuracy and another issue was that they were a little out of touch as they had not done such problems since high school. The speed and accuracy reminded me of my practical management course where they tried to cover the entire MBA curriculum in nine months. The idea, they said, was to simulate real life situations where one has to think on one’s feet with little time and sometimes limited information. That turned out to be true because practical management life is a lot like one-day cricket.

That apart, I have seen engineers in my working life who don’t have what is called commercial sense or financial savvy, which dents their career prospects considerably. In previous articles, I have referred to my super efficient boss, an engineer-MBA who got several double promotions and then went on to establish a business of his own; in my last meeting he told me how he had joined a software company run by four engineers as they still felt uncomfortable with balance sheets despite practical experience of years of operation.

Where English in general and as one of the favorable legacies of the British rule is concerned, it is perhaps the shortsightedness of the education system that even so many years after independence, even though we have English as one of the main mediums of imparting education, students passing out of colleges are not confident of communicating fluently. This is because colloquial English is quite different from English as an education imparting tool and can be learnt only by practising conversational speaking and writing in English, which in many semi-urban and rural parts of India is more an exception than a rule.

The English barrier can be quite a formidable. My father, a chartered accountant who passed out in 1963, told me once how even after years of apprenticeship in CA, in his first job, he did not initially have the confidence to dictate letters and would write the whole letter himself before reading it out, which wasted a lot of time. One of his assistants, who is a brilliant accountant, is still not able to write simple inter-office memos properly or able to lead English speaking people under her, which affects her career prospects adversely, apart from causing inter-personal problems. When my father got transferred in 1972, as a seven-year-old, I was catapulted to upper middle class Delhi from lower middle class Bombay and it took me 11 years to break the English barrier despite studying in one of the best schools and staying in a posh locality. My mother-in-law, even at 70, laments not being able to communicate in English when both her English speaking daughters concede that she is far more versatile than them. An extremely active social worker, it is as if not knowing English nullifies her achievements. My son studies in Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, where Hindi is the medium of education till secondary school, after which English takes over for both the local and global effect.

The problem these days is that with business process outsourcing proving to be India’s core-competence and with all the multinationals coming to India because of the economic boom, English has become an absolute necessity. In China, English has been made compulsory from kindergarten. That itself shows how the stock of English as an International link language has grown considerably over the past few years. The problem is not just communication skills. One of the faculties at Astrum pointed out to me that some of the engineers in the rural and semi-urban areas were good technically but would not even read the newspaper regularly, with the result that they had very little to contribute in a group discussion of substance, which could make them feel alienated and out of place in the current work ambience. That makes it more of a culture problem as well. Both form and content or style and substance have to improve and they have to be encouraged to be well read as well.

Some institutes believe in tackling the problem from a young age. Dinesh Victor, the managing director of Chennai-based SIP academy, says, “The latest findings in the growing body of medical research on early brain development reveal that social sensory experiences during the early years have a direct effect on children’s capacity to learn in the future. The findings confirm that early interactions and experiences play a vital role in brain development. Our programmes help in brain development in children, who are just beginning to learn and discover. This is only possible by making both sides of the brain to work, so that any major puzzle can be solved in seconds.” According to their website, their SIP Abacus and Brain Gym programme, is currently available in eight countries, in which more than 2,50,000 children have benefited across 1,000 learning centres. In India since 2002 more than 50,000 children were trained in 20 states by October 2007 and they plan to penetrate the smaller towns to help children improve life skills.

Their Global art programme aims at developing the artistic and creative potential of children. The SIPAmal programme (accelerated mental learning) recognises that each of us has a preferred way of learning that suits us best. When you learn the techniques that exactly match your personal learning style, you will be learning in the way that is most natural for you. Bill Gates has mentioned this in one of his books. Because it is natural, it is easier; because it is easier, it is faster. Accelerated Mental Learning uses the five senses of the children to develop and balance their mental, physical, social interaction, emotional, personality and self-confidence. It also helps children to overcome
‘numeric phobia’ and enhance their confidence towards their academic excellence. Their mikids and orator programmes are geared towards developing language skills. In Delhi, a programme with the same objectives is conducted by www.creativeeducationalaids.com/

The world famous authority on thinking, Edward de Bono has explained in his wonderful book Teach your Child How to Think, how thinking is a skill which needs to be imparted instead of blindly stuffing facts and information. A good intellectual is not necessarily a good thinker and it is one’s thought process that can differentiate in the internet era where knowledge is easily available. Analysing uniquely well or having a good synergistic understanding of one’s subject with other factors is what is needed than mere knowledge of facts. It seems that this parallel system of education is more geared to achieve all this. Some of their techniques also enhance memory, concentration and application skills, which actually give an insight into the child’s innate potential which is the main purpose of education.

Where communication is concerned, it is up to the students to decide where they want to end up. Some of the Pakistani cricket captains, though equally great in terms of ability vis-à-vis their Indian counterparts, have cut a sorry figure in the post-match presentations because of their inability to communicate effectively. One excellent example from the cricketing world is our current one-day captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Considering the fact that he comes from a lower middle class background from a small town, he speaks very well and can be a role model in this context for similar people with rural and semi urban backgrounds.

Though having communicating ability without the requisite intelligence is actually missing the wood for the trees, in practical life, vice-versa can be equally dangerous. One has to know how to project and sell oneself, as ability without visibility has no meaning. One can flatter to deceive badly and fatally — that first impression can turn out to be the last impression.

Testing times

This article is published in the February issue of the Education magazine, Educare.

Testing times

Unrealistic expectations drive students to drastic steps, including suicide

March 2006 reported four suicides related to the board exams in New Delhi in a very short time span. In March 2005, six students took their lives a fortnight before the board exams, 300 others reportedly attempted to commit suicide and 70 per cent of the students were reported to be suffering from stress and anxiety. In Surat, two out of three girls who attempted suicide died. In March 2004, two Calcutta based students committed suicide within a span of a week because of being unable to bear the stress of exams.
Year after year, one gets to read news like this in the month of March. One wonders whether the battle against the board exams has been able to march forward or not. NCERT has recommended steps like provision for retaking the exam in a short span, using words other than “fail” to reduce stigma and avoid complete demoralisation, reform the examination system and remodel the question paper to test creativity and application of mind, have flexible time during the exams, use grading system instead of marks, have counsellors interact with students, teachers and parents, provide for one teacher
from each school to be given short term training for stress related problems etc.

While all these steps are very welcome, one wonders if they strike at the root of the problem. The fear of the boards is largely a fear of not doing well in life because in the ultimate analysis, the exam is a means to an end. Just as cricketers require match practice to simulate real match situations in addition to net practice for the real matches, education of practical life situations is a must as the exams come more in the category of net practice. One article on board exam suicides spoke of the need for emotional intelligence, but in my view, there should be more education on how practical life functions because that is the real thing. It may sound fancy to say that there is more to life than exams but what it means in reality is that some foolish perceptions related to the exams and practical life should also be reviewed by the students, parents, teachers and society at large.

From the life success perspective, the perception that the whole future of the student hinges on one exam is like saying that the entire batting hinges on the opening batsmen in cricket. In an article in India Today some years back, this is what the then vice chancellor, Delhi University, Deepak Nayyar had to say, “It’s like the Last Chance Saloon, there is no second choice. Class XII is looked upon as the end of the world. Some of the greatest innovative successes in the world have happened because people followed their heart, pursued their passion and brought about something new the formal education of which was obviously non-existent at that time. I gave the example of Henri Ford in my previous writeup. In the modern world, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, the google founders all come in that category. All three left formal education to pursue their dream.

This should also serve as a lesson for those parents who try to impose their dreams on their child. Everybody cannot follow their heart like the above gentlemen but giving over importance to formal education is also not correct. You may prove to be good at the real thing. I also read about a couple of Nobel prize winners explaining how formal education would have been a liability instead of an asset in their case because lack of structured thinking facilitated creative ideas. This maybe an exception rather than the rule but puts things in perspective because ultimately, creative ideas in any field lead to grand success.
Nayyar further added, “It would be terrible in the world if everyone stood first or everyone was outstanding.” I met one such super achiever in management whom I consider my best boss. After getting three double promotions and rising to become CEO from assistant manager in just one year, he outclassed the chairman and went on to set up a big project consultancy business within a span of few years and further diversified into hotels and BPOs. Since there were four others from the same institute, it would have created a lot of office politics and friction had he not been obviously outstanding and his leadership straightaway accepted by the others. It is a good thing that providence does not make people equally talented as otherwise, if people continuously try to outdo one another, nothing concrete could be achieved.

That apart, there are some practical constraints to be kept in mind even if one’s child becomes a super achiever. The same boss mentioned above, who had the all round excellence gave equal partnerships to all partners when he started his business though he could have easily got the lion’s share. In his own words this was because “he could not be at all places at all times”. He achieved more in three years than people do in ten because of this wisdom in addition to business smartness. Everybody may not be able to follow this example but certain realities of practical life have to be taken into account before setting individual goals. I met one gentleman on the Tennis court who claimed to be a super achiever in sports; he said that he was good at all racquet games and was selected for his school in all three- Table Tennis, Badminton and Lawn Tennis but he had to drop Table Tennis as its tournaments were clashing with the other two. In his autobiography A double life, former Lintas chairman Alyque Padamsee explains the practical problems on perusing two careers throughout life. Even within the right career, it is better if one is in the right sub-vocation. Charles Dickens found no success as a playwright despite great effort. Author of innumerable children’s books, Enid Blyton admitted that if she had to write an article she would find it difficult. Our own VVS Laxman enjoys an awesome reputation against the best cricket team in the world, Australia but is overlooked for one- day cricket and has not played a single world cup.

This reminds me of some parents’ obsession of making “all rounders” of their children.
A six year child’s schedule was mentioned in an article on raising superkids: 9-2 school, 3.30-4.30 tuition, 5-6 Lawn Tennis classes, 6-7 Guitar class, homework upto 9, after which thankfully he retires to bed. He also attends special three-hour maths classes during weekends. This hardly leaves any scope for childhood experiences or knowing the child’s innate potential. Practical life looks more for well-rounded teams and well-rounded individuals with specified niches, instead of super all rounders. In cricket, genuinely good all rounders as a percentage of total cricketers is very low. Only Imran Khan has the unique record of being very good all rounder and a great captain. Some years ago, Rahul Dravid mentioned in an interview how young people try to start as all rounders but when they come across a tough wicket, they realise that bowling is not their cup of tea. When one thinks of India’s great all rounders, only Kapil Dev and Vinoo Mankad come to mind. Recently, even after getting a test hundred, Irfaan Pathan said that he had the makings of a consistent good all rounder only in the long run. It is better to be a well-rounded person knowing your niche rather than an all marauding super all rounder. Jack of all, master of none does not mean anything in today’s world.

Instead of striving for all round excellence, it is better make an inventory of one’s talents and interests and focus on that. In my August 2007 article Livelihood, a lively way, I have given several examples how very well qualified people also choose a completely different career because that is where their passion lies. Sometimes, the new careers lack both status and money compared to the previous ones. There are 11 similar articles on my blog- http://mypyp.wordpress.com/.

Since a majority of examples are American, the views of an Indian, Virendra Kapoor, who is on the HR committee of CII, are worth noting. This is what he has written in his wonderful book, Passion Quotient: The Greatest Secret of Success. “I met one fellow who had done his electrical engineering and today he is a top criminal lawyer. I asked him how did this happen. In very simple words he said that after graduating from IIT, he worked for a good MNC for three years, was earning a good pay packed but was not really enjoying his job. So he did his LLB and then LLM and has been practicing law for more than fifteen years. You therefore see chartered accountants as successful film directors, mathematics professors turning into great actors or doctors becoming top cops.”

One has to know correctly where one’s talents and interest lie and follow that wholeheartedly, instead of being obsessed with degrees. This is what Gita Piramal has to say on one super achiever in real life, the late Dhirubhai Ambani in her book Business Maharahas. “Ambani’s single mindedness is legendary and he is proud of it. In his own words, ‘I am not a director in other companies. I am not actively participating in any associations or anything else. My whole thinking, one hundred percent of my time, from morning till evening, is about how to do better and better at Reliance. No art previews, no theatre, no films and he rarely used to switch his CD player.” Contrary to this, my father, a CA who turned around a sick company, had this to say of his would-be partner constantly attending mourning functions because of his vast social network, “How can one function if one attends so many functions. If he continues like this, he may have to mourn for his own company one day.”

Apart from the perception of super achievement, a lot many exam related fears are there because of fear of degrees and qualifications. One reads about students killing themselves for not getting a degree of a top institute of their choice. Dhirubhai’s views on that are worth noting. Though they got the best people for technical jobs, on the management side Piramal writes, “The Ambanis don’t rely on paper qualifications. On the contrary, whoever shows initiative gets the job. Reliance’s first marketing manger used to sell petroleum products. Its knitting manager used to be an auto parts salesman.”

The objective of this article is not to undermine formal education but to convey that practical life can be a great leveller and therefore, blind fear or obsession of qualifications does not help in the long run. In the same India Today article it is stated that the problem is that Indian schools teach to produce outstanding students and the uniformity doesn’t accept the average students but puts them through the same obstacles as the high performers do. This can be a problem because the same teaching process need not suit everyone. I heard the great Jimmy Connors say in a video cassette on Tennis, “There is no right or wrong way to play Tennis. It is a matter of what suits you.” Even in cricket Virendra Sehwag and MS Dhoni have succeeded despite having totally unconventional techniques. Dhirubhai Ambani’s success was also more because of unconventional, out of the box thinking than anything else.

Many people who do not do so well academically display pretty practical intelligence in real life. The analyst in a theoretical course need not excel in real life. Prasanna Raman, a software engineer in Bangalore invented a video analysis system for the Indian cricket team and gradually became the technical head of the National cricket academy and computer analyst for the under 19 time. The cricketer or manager, on the other hand need not be a good analyst. Some, like our current captain Anil Kumble maybe good at both-as player and student of the game. Some may decide that their real talent and passion lies somewhere else. Here too, practical life maybe a great leveller. Society should also stop judging people in terms of degrees alone and look for the individual beyond the qualification. What he can actually do well in a sustained manner in practical life is more important that what his degree reveals.

The current education system caters more to the auditory and visual learner (learning through seeing and listening respectively) than the kinesthetic or tactile learners who learn better with a more hands-on approach. Training institutions are proliferating currently who can perhaps provide practical training through workshops to those who may want to learn through a more hands on approach alongside their jobs rather than a purely theoretical course. Practical life is quite different from student life and runs more on this principle by the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius “Tell me and I will Forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand.”

Dignified in defeat

This article is published in the February edition of the magazine, Management Compass

Defeat march

Bow out gracefully, and register a lasting positive impression in people’s mind

In the final of the Television dance programme Nach Baliye III, after Rakhi Sawant and her partner Abhishek lost, they faded away in the background and didn’t return to show up as runners-up. They neither congratulated the winners nor thought it necessary to be courteous to judges, who had encouraged them all along. Cinestar Salman Khan also had to comment that winning and losing is a part of life and they should show some sportsman spirit. In the other dance programme, Jhalak dikhla jaa, all the three judges spoke very highly of Sandhya Mridul throughout the programme but she still lost to Prachi Desai. Last year, it was more or less the same scenario, where, despite the judges speaking very highly of Shweta Salve, she still lost to Mona Singh. Both Shweta and Sandhya were more dignified in defeat. Why is one person able to take defeat so graciously and not everybody?

Talking of sportsman spirit brings to mind one of the finest sportsmen India produced, Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj. Though he was extremely talented and gave some of the most established players a run for their money in his time, he never ever won a single grand slam. Whenever he is asked whether or not he regretted it, his reply is, “That would be looking at the glass half empty. I try to look at it as glass half full. The atmosphere and the ambience at Wimbledon makes participation itself a great achievement.” In this context, one can also mention former cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. After being dropped from the Indian cricket team for poor batting form, it took him almost a year and a half to make a comeback. Considering that he had been playing for almost a decade and in the last five years as captain, being dropped must have been a huge disappointment. It is like a managing director of a company being removed and asked to try to rejoin along with other trainees in full public glare. Though in some quarters, he is deemed the greatest cricket captain ever, in metal strength and resilience, his stock he is even higher. If this is dadagiri (Ganguly is often referred to as dada), I am all for it.

Sawant hardly has such a reputation to speak of. Maybe, she could learn a thing or two from Amritraj. In the good old days when only Doordarshan was there or before that, a talented dancer could not even dream of such platforms to showcase her talent. That apart, despite the proliferation of reality shows on television, when one considers India’s total population, the percentage of people who actually get to display their talent is still abysmally small. One should consider oneself fortunate if one is able to participate and even if defeated, be thankful for the experience which is what Shweta Salve did when she said the despite the fact that she lost, this was her first big exposure despite trying for several years. One should also keep in mind that this is a reality show and though they are indicative of popularity, they may not reflect real merit. Lots of bad commercial films are hits and good art films struggle at the box office. In the practical world, a good actor like Govinda may do better commercially than a brilliant actor like Naseeruddin Shah but that cannot obviously be the sole criteria for judgment of success. Everything that is good is not necessarily successful and vice- versa. Though god alone how much of that applies to Ms Sawant, she could have also taken solace from that fact.

Apart from artists, scientists and inventors too are known for their patience and persistence. When a young reporter asked how it felt to fail 2000 times before he got the light bulb to work, Thomas Edison replied “ I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000 step process”. This was rephrasing the experience in a way which reveals a positive attitude that enables such persistence. The Wright brothers had to try 805 times before they could achieve sustained flight. When he was constructing a rocket that the Germans hoped would destroy London and end World war II, Wemher von Braun was asked how many changes he had sent to the factories, the ridiculous figure was 65,121. Van braun acknowledged so many mistakes and estimated that it would take 5000 more before the rocket was ready. It takes real passion to go through all this and one wonders whether his bosses would have had second thoughts had they known it would take so many trials. All these people really live up to the famous saying “Failure is the stepping stone to
success”

In this context, the most famous management example that comes to mind is that of Lee Iacocca, who was President of the Ford Motor Company before being humiliated and fired by Henri Ford II. The change in circumstances would have broken a lesser man. His new office at the Chrysler corporation was in a small cubicle in a warehouse with cracked linoleum floor and two plastics cups on his table. In contrast, at Ford, he was served by white collar workers at his huge, spacious office. This particular chapter of his autobiography makes the most compelling reading on how he motivated himself and bit by bit, step by step was able to gradually turn around Chrysler and become a national hero. He was even considered an ideal candidate for the Presidency of the United states for quite some time. None of this would have been possible had he not been able to keep his chin up when he was down in the dumps.

It would be a gross injustice if one were not to take an example from politics. The obvious example that comes to mind is the most revered President of United States, Abraham Lincoln. He failed in business at the age of 21 ; was defeated in a legislative race at age 22; failed again in business at age 24; overcame the death of his sweetheart at age 26; had a nervous breakdown at age 27; lost a congressional race at age 34; lost a senatorial race at age 45; failed in an effort to become vice-president at age 47; lost a senatorial race at age 49; and was elected president of the United States at age 52.. To face serious health, relationship repeated occupation failures and yet rise to the highest office in the land over a stretch of 32 years is a fantastic achievement. Another of their greatest Presidents Franklin. D, Roosevelt who is remembered for his leadership during both the great depression and World War II. He was stricken with Polio when he was 39. Yet he remained active in politics and was elected thrice the President of United States of America, the only President to be elected three times.

Talking of the handicapped President brings to mind Helen Adams Keller , the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college who went on to become an author, activist and lecturer. Her sight and hearing were destroyed by brain fever before she was two.. She was living as a deaf-mute apart from being blind. After her teacher Annie Sullivan was able to make contact with her mind through the sense of touch, she could read and write in Braille within three years. Though she could talk only in sign language upto the age of ten, her determination to speak enabled her to enter preparatory school by the time she was sixteen. She lectured on behalf of the blind and the deaf in more than twenty five countries and her books are best sellers and translated in more than fifty languages. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ highest two civilian honors and in 1965 ,she was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

The movie “Black” was inspired by her life . Nobody can guarantee long term commercial success as it depends upon the forces of demand and supply which is probably why the Bhagvad Gita advises to act but not be obsessed with the fruits of the action. However, being able to take setbacks in one’s stride improves one’s chances with factors that are in one’s control. Transitory periods of set backs in between may seem like eternity but they maybe life’s way of molding us for a higher purpose for the next phase of our lives. Just as a lower bottom in the stock market can result in a higher top in the long run if taken positively, unless short term failures are taken in the right spirit and attempts are made to learn from them, one’s long term future can be precisely like the movie-Black.

Mission impossible? (Movie Apna Aasmaan)

This article is published in the November issue of the Education magazine “Educare” under the title “Mission impossible”. The portions in bold are dialogues from the wonderful film “Apna Aasmaan” which furthurs the casue of real education and human resources management.

With parents not letting the child discover his calling in life, a majority of people are stuck up in wrong roles. This is the theme of movie Apna Aasmaan

Though largely a work of fiction, the movie Apna Aasmaan is based on the real life story of Onko (character Budhdhi in the movie), 16, who was mildly autistic and suffered from minimal brain dysfunction due to his problem of epilepsy. He was not able to attend school and until the age of 11 had severe motor control — he was not able to hold a pencil to write a sentence. Later, Onko displayed a talent for drawing pictures. He had a successful exhibition at the Nehru art Gallery in Bombay, which can serve as an inspiration to people with similar problems. It reflects the real meaning of the term “education”, which, based on the word ‘educare’, implies to draw out what is already in. Or in the words of Erichch Fromm, “Education is helping the child realize his potentialities.”

The movie is actually insightful for those people who have faced such problems. According to its website, http://www.apnaaasmaan.com, the basic theme of the movie is, ‘How far would you go to make your child a genius?’ In the movie, they show an autistic child, who cannot do anything except draw. He is given some kind of magic injection to convert him into a mathematics genius. He does become a maths genius but as a side effect, he also suffers from amnesia, forgets to draw and in contrast to his original, lovable, jovial self, becomes obnoxiously rude and monstrous. His parents realise their folly and want their original child back, which they manage to do with an antidote. The fictional magic injection and the antidote may seem somewhat far-fetched, but the movie succeeds in conveying a strong disapproval of the obsession of Indian parents to mould their children according to their whims and fancies rather than let them do their own thing, which the word ‘Apna Aasmaan’ implies.

Some insightful dialogues from the film, before the autistic child becomes a monster:

Doctor: “Look, How Budhdhi’s sketching has improved. Very nice.”

Budhdhi’s mother: “Sketching karke kya banega? Main logo ko kyan mooh dikhaungi (What will he earn from sketching. How shall I face society?”)

The doctor: “His IQ is 70. He is a slow learner with few Autistic traits. Sketching ko encourage karne aur shortcomings ko accept karne main hi tumhari jeet hai”(It would be better for you to encourage his sketching and accept his shortcomings).

This conversation reminds me of a write-up by an Indian vocational psychologist a few years ago: “At least in India no one is surprised at children aspiring to become engineers, doctors, CAs or MBAs. Almost 60 percent think in terms of engineering or medicine and nearly 15 percent fancy their skills as CAs, but in reality only 10 percent become what they dream of becoming. Have you ever wondered why children do not want to be artists, dancers, singers, painters or carpenters and plumbers? The reason is not far to seek. These professions do not have the ‘class’ or prestige associated with it. When they actually start working, they realise that they don’t have the mental makeup for a particular type of job, despite being suitably qualified.”

The great mystic Osho’s views on people hesitating to take up humble occupations are equally profound: “Somebody is a great carpenter, somebody is a great shoemaker, somebody is a great scientist, somebody is a great money-maker — they are all contributing whatever their potential allows them to life, with totality, not holding anything back. Naturally they should have equal opportunity to grow, and they should have equal respect.”

In the film the doctor further explains:

“Har bachcha toh doctor ya engineer nahin ban sakta na (every child cannot become a doctor or an engineer). That’s why so many students are committing suicide. Why? Because their parents keep pushing them. Pata nahin parents ki kab samajh mein aayeega ki unki Lakshman Rekha kya hai. (God knows when parents shall understand what their Lakshman Rekha is).”

Though the doctor talks sense, the couple still persists in making him a genius but when he becomes a monster after the injection, his father remembers his original son. When the child had made a drawing in the pre- injection phase, this is what had been the conversation between the two:

Budhdhi: “Baba, I have drawn a monkey for you.”
The father: “Table yaad kyon nahin kiya (Why didn’t you remember the maths table?)”

The father then breaks down on recollecting how wrong and cruel he had been.

What the doctor fails to say is that even if the child succeeds in the wrong occupation forcefully, later on in life he may yearn for what his essence is, which can be gauged from the following examples of career switches reported in The Times of India on August 5, 2007 where most have shifted from their earlier exalted occupations to arts and sports:-

Srinjoy Banerjee – tyre technologist to classical singer
Dr Mahesh Chitnis- doctor to actor and film producer.
Jayesh Morvankar- advertising to adventure sports
Varun Khera and Manas Wadhva – Jet airways stewards to restaurant owners
Arun Pai- financial consultant to tour operator
Mrinalini Batra- engineer to marketing education
Sanjeev Chopra- engineer to theatre person
Sachin Patil – IT professional to winemaker
Sidhu- doctor to rock star

Osho had once advised a very successful surgeon to spend the last fifteen years of his life as a musician for personal fulfillment. This is what he had to say on the subject:

“Happiness happens when you fit with your life. When you fit so harmoniously that whatever you are doing is your joy. Then suddenly you come to know that meditation follows you. If you love the work that you are doing, if you love the way you are living, then you are meditative. Then nothing distracts you. When things distract you, it shows that you are not really interested in those things. It is deemed that happiness comes when one is meditative; it was just the other way around — meditation comes when you are happy.” This implies that one loses awareness of space and time in an occupation of one’s liking.

A couple of dialogues from the film are worth stating here:

When the child becomes famous in maths, he is asked, “What is superior, numbers or words”

Budhdhi’s reply: “Numbers woh signals hain jisse do intelligent brains baat karte hain. Words aadi maanav ki bhasha hai jinko poets ne romanticise karke human progress ko barbaad kar diya hai” (Numbers are those precise signals through which two intelligent brains communicate. Words is the language of the underdeveloped man, which have been romanticised by poets to the detriment of human progress)

It reminds me of what international HRD consultants Morgan and Banks used to say, “Are you comfortable with words, numbers (data), things or people?”

At this point let me tell you my own story. When I started studying seriously in high school (late Seventies/ early Eighties), I had a strange attention problem, which I could not properly understand or explain and this was more so with subjects such as science and maths, which I didn’t like. After 20 years of struggle and half a dozen psychiatrists I discovered what Osho had said, “When things distract you, it shows that you are not really interested in those things” Once my boss said, “There is nothing wrong with you. The day you find the work that you can do spontaneously and effortlessly, this attention problem will go away for ever”. He diagnosed correctly what half-a-dozen psychiatrists could not do or tried to hide from me. I came to know through a magazine of a particular type of depression, which affects writers and poets. Since all the symptoms were tallying exactly, I tried to confirm with another psychiatrist in 1998, who replied, “You are not a poet. You just rhyme”. Subsequently, during the same time, a publisher liked one of my poems on nuclear weapons and said that if I could write 25 more like that, they would publish all of them. This left the doctor stupefied and after 20 years of suffering and half a dozen doctors, that was the first correct diagnosis. A couple of my other poems also got recognition. Though not being formally trained in writing or being in a related occupation, I now have more than 15 articles under my belt, which is not bad for an untrained writer.

The issue is not of being superior or inferior but what you feel comfortable with. I have never been comfortable with numbers and I love the personal computer and Microsoft excel because it facilitates any task with issues like accounts and costing, which I cannot do manually. I hate doing anything manually with numbers. This reminds me of the maths suicides that one hears about from time to time, especially in the context of the board exams. I had a lot of difficulty in coping with maths and I had a full time tutor for that. He would tell me abruptly, “Haath chalna chaahiye; haath chalna chaahiye”. When I am in the mood for it, I can fill up a number of pages with poetry, which he may not be able to do. Should I also tell him, “Haath chalna chaahiye, sir, haath chalna chaahiye.” It is a great pity that teachers are not trained as vocational psychologists or talent scouts, or they could be real educationists. In the year of the board exam itself, I once wrote a very good essay, which my English teacher made me read out in front of the whole class. How was a child to know that this was a signal of his true vocation in life? Similarly, whenever I wrote to anyone, I was appreciated for my writing, but it took me a very long time to understand that that was my vocation in life. I considered writing to be a sidey thing and corporate management the real thing.

As for some occupations like writing not paying off well, poet laureate Amit Dahiyabadshah, who has started poetry readings in different parts of Delhi to enable poets to show their work, comes to mind. On being asked what he meant by the statement that he was a working poet, Dahiyabadshah replied that the term implied making a full-time living out of poetry, which is a rare exception. On googling for working poet, I found several who had written poems on how miserable they were in the wrong occupations. Another transparent platform is television, which through programmes like Boogie-Woogie and Indian Idol is revealing singing and dancing talent to enable artists to express themselves and have emotional and financial fulfillment.

When children are assured of their talents and proactive attempts are made to improve the commercial profile of their occupations like poetry above, the root cause of their problem is removed. Dealing with symptoms may work in the short run, but is not likely to last or work with most, if not all people. Some people should pursue two paths with equal seriousness till one of them bears fruit.

The crux of the movie is in this wonderful comment:-

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. You may house their bodies but not their souls. Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit.”

In another great movie in recent times Iqbal, this is what Mohit sir (Naseerudin Shah) tells the child’s father to convince him to let the child play cricket:-

“Mera yakin hai ke ham sab is duniya mein ek khaas kaam ke liye bheje gaye hain. Zyaadatar log zindagi bhar bhatakte rahte hain, yeh jaane bagair ke unki
zindagi ka maksad kya hai. Kuchh hi khushkismat hain jo is khazaane ko paa jaate hain. Aapka ladka cricket khelne ke liye paida
hua hai. Cricket sirf khel nahin hai uske liye . Uski zindagi ka maksad hai. Cricket
khel ke usko zindagi ka salika milta hai.
Saas lene ki koomat aati hai. Yeh sab aap chheen lenge usse.”

Translated:-

“I am certain that we all have come into this world for a special purpose. Most of the people struggle throughout their lives without knowing what their purpose in life is? Only a few fortunate ones are able to tap this treasure. Your son has been born to play cricket. It is not just a sport for him. It is his life’s purpose. His zest for life is supplemented through cricket. Would you like to steal all that from him?”

Would you like to steal his very life away from him? When you actually study the lives of those people, you realize the magnitude of that statement.

Thomas Carlyle says, “The person who has found his vocation in life is a blessed human being. Let him ask for no other blessedness.”

Benjamin Franklin says, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know oneself.”

It is as much Apni Zindagi as Apna Aasmaan..

Teacher, educate thyself

This article was published in the September 2007 issue of the Education magazine, Educare.

Will a gardener ever insult the plants he is nurturing? Then why do educators do so?

Recently, a story made front page news in the national newspapers about how school children should not be admonished with condescending words like ‘idiot’, ‘fool’ etc and such acts too should come under what is called ‘corporal punishment’. One newspapers reported, “Making a student kneel down or stand for hours and pinching or slapping him or her could land teachers in trouble as all acts involving insult or humiliation to the child could soon be banned in schools. Taking a serious view of increasing incidences of violence on children in schools, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has expanded the definition of corporal punishment to include even small acts. NCPCR chairperson Shantha Sinha has written to all chief secretaries recommending that there should be no gradations while judging corporal punishment and noted that ‘small acts’ should not be condoned as they actually lead to gross violations.”

In a similar article, somebody had even suggested that an FIR should be lodged against the teachers for behaving like that. A week later, teachers and principals from various schools replied that while children cannot be addressed like that, penalizing the teachers in the manner suggested was taking things too far. A teacher even asked that if the child is disrespectful to the teachers as some students are likely to be, would that child be similarly punished?

The story above was preceded by a couple of stories on how children had grievously suffered physical punishment at the hands of their teachers. There cannot be two opinions about the fact that children cannot be punished physically or humiliated. “Words harm more than the sword” is a saying that is applicable to adults and is even more so to sensitive children. Children tend to be sensitive and their self-esteem should not be hurt at all. The NCPCR person is right about the expression ‘small act’. It is said that a small leak can sink a big ship and a small spark can cause a big fire. Who knows how the child takes it and how it multiplies in his or her mind? It could create a permanent grouse against the school and studies in the child’s mind, which may be very tough for both the students and parents to handle. I know a couple of cases where the so-called “dumb” children did much better when shifted to another school. How is one then to decide whether it is the school, which is at fault or the child.? Even well-experienced vocational psychologists are not always able to pinpoint a grown up person’s potential. Who then is the teacher to decide the child’s potential?

Ironically, the teacher’s role as educator is diametrically opposite of what has been reported in the papers. In this context, Wipro’s chairman Azim Premji had once said in an article as a parent a couple of years ago in The Times of India.

“The primary purpose of a school is to guide the child’s discovery of herself and her world and to identify and mature the child’s talents. Just as each seed contains the future tree, each child is born with infinite potential. In the article, he suggested that many teachers and parents try to be potters instead of gardeners in moulding their children’s future. Imagine a school which sees children as seeds to be nurtured — here the teacher is a gardener who tries to bring out the potential already present in the child. This is very different from the current view, which sees the child as clay to be moulded where the teachers and parents are potters deciding what shape the clay should take. There is an old Chinese saying, ‘Give a seed to a potter and you shall have a bonsai.’ In a nutshell, as a teacher and parent, be a gardener, not a potter. Has anybody seen a gardener insult a plant? He nurtures it like his own child. The fact is that some genuine practical compulsions apart, teachers are simply not aware of their real role- Education is helping the child realise his potentialities.

What happens when teachers do not behave as educators — they end up in the wrong professions.

Maybe the teachers are idiots because they did not behave like educators. This is because some vocational psychologists try to know the victim’s interest as a child which, ideally, is something that a teacher should probe proactively as according to the great philosopher Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”. Teachers, when they behave like instructors end up mistreating children.

I once had the opportunity of visiting a school of ADHD children where I saw a big photograph of Albert Einstein at the reception. When I asked the reason this is what they had to say, “Mr Einstein suffered from dyslexia. His photograph is installed here as an inspiration to parents whose children suffer from learning disabilities”. Many so called intelligent people need inspiration when they face problems that are beyond their control. From that perspective, in school, the so called dumb child is facing problems that are beyond his capacities vis-à-vis the so called intelligent child. Even grown-up adults need a high degree of emotional intelligence to cope with such problems; then, how can the child be called an idiot? Coping with conventional dumbness requires a lot of intelligence. People who are good at conventional education and go on to become doctors, engineers, CAs etc and live with a high degree of self esteem in contrast to some of the fields in the arts sphere where it can take a long time to determine even the basic occupation. (In many examples of career switches, people opt for arts later in life). The emotional and financial implications are not easy to face as creative people, because of mood swings, tend to suffer more in the wrong occupation. In a larger perspective, they are facing tougher problems. How can they be called idiots?

The school authorities handling children with learning disabilities feel that they should be handled carefully as they are often deemed ‘careless’, ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’ etc and if not carefully handled, they may end up as juvenile offenders or have substance abuse problems. Often their problem is not of comprehension but lack of reading, writing and arithmetic skills, but deficiency in one field often mean efficiency in some other field. Some of the world’s most famous dyslexics apart from Einstein are Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Alva Edison, Mark Twain, Winston Chuchill, Woodrow Wilson, Tom Cruise etc. This clearly shows that circumspection of a high order is required before judging someone harshly and prematurely.

The basic issue is to enhance the self esteem of the child. There are some schools which have abolished the grading system so that some children should not feel inferior and like in boxing, only children of like abilities are pitted against one another. (heavy weight with heavy weight etc). There are several examples which state that the functional talent is something that can be revealed only in real life situations — dumb students reveal better practical intelligence and vice-versa. Some Nobel Prize winners have conceded that not being conventionally well qualified worked to their advantage as they could get creative ideas, which may not have been possible otherwise. Some companies prefer to take candidates from less prestigious institutions because the students from the topmost institutes are egoistic. So the so-called dumbness can actually be an advantage in real life. Calling any child an idiot is not only premature but is something beneath basic human dignity and diametrically against what the teacher as educator is really expected to do- develop potential and enhance self esteem.

The problem is, who educates the educators. Teachers enhancing the self esteem of their students can be explained by one of the all time great songs of Hindi Cinema, Amar Prem which explores what can happen when people do not play their real roles or do the reverse of what they are supposed to do.

Chingari koi bhadke to saavan use bujhaaye,
Saavan jo agan lagayee, use kaun bujhaye