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


Lead India; don’t Bleed India

This article is published in the March’2008 issue of the magazine Management compass

What is an idea without execution?

RK Mishra’s readiness to get hands dirty made him Lead India winner

The lead India campaign launched by The Times of India to provide an alternative platform for those desirous of joining politics culminated on February 9, 2007 when RK Mishra from Bangalore was declared winner and Dewang Nanavati was declared the runner up. The manner in which the entire campaign was conducted and the kind of response it drew made it seem that the process itself was the biggest winner. No wonder former President Abdul Kalam declared, “Lead India is the best movement I have come across in the recent past.”

Victory apart, Mr Mishra has an interesting profile and is quite a role model for young people. Born in 1965, he is an ME graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. Having been a successful entrepreneur, he left the lucrative corporate world in 2005 to bring about large-scale social change. Mishra specialises in policy planning and investments and works with the governments of Karnataka and Rajasthan among others. He is obsessed with making a difference in infrastructure and rural education, as reflected in his blog http://rajendramisra.blogspot.com.

What clinched the victory was a plan that he outlined to set up a co-operative dairy farm to transform the life in the village where he was born. He presented a well thought- out plan with time-bound targets and actionable goals, which impressed both the audience and the jury. The Times of India further reports, “The combination of Mishra’s story — rags to riches to social service — and his successful track record both as serial entrepreneur and activist proved to be unbeatable. His ability to think big, coupled with his willingness to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty, made a big impact in the one sided 6-1 verdict.”

He reminds you of Shah Rukh Khan’s role in Swades, where he plays an NRI who becomes determined to help bring prosperity to his village. Around the time the movie was released, India Today, in one of its issues, highlighted how some other NRIs in reality were actually doing the same thing. It is not everyday that real life follows reel life in such matters and it should form a complete virtuous circle when they are again highlighted on reel — on television. Shah Rukh had said in one of his interviews, “It takes a show off to be a show on.” Who would have known about Mishra if Lead India and TV had not highlighted him. Such committed people can do a world of good to politics.

Both the winner and the runner-up complimented each other’s strengths. Nanavati conceded that “RK is a doer, not a talker” which probably gave him the edge. Mishra acknowledged Nanavati’s skills “Dewang argues his case well. I must learn from him.” Their comments reminds one of the Japanese proverb “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Articulating one’s vision effectively and implementing the same are equally important. Even venture capitalists say that they fund teams and execution, not ideas. Our entrepreneurs are now being respected in boardrooms and markets all over the world for their ability to combine vision and ambition with execution. There is no reason why it should be different in politics; the hand is the cutting edge of the mind.

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh made an interesting remark
“Lead India is a very good concept. But it deals with the classes. Only when these finalists have their share of blending with the masses, will a real leader emerge.” Being proved competent is one thing but that need not always translate into votes. Former Pakistani captain Imran Khan is a case in point. Being a national icon because of being a very good all rounder and a great cricket captain, who won them the world cup in 1992, he also took the initiative of having a cancer hospital constructed, which also won him a lot of appreciation. But when he joined active politics, he could not translate his achievements into votes. Even accounting for the fact that Pakistan is not really a successful democracy, one cannot take the voters or a mass base for granted.

Talking of Pakistan in this context brings to mind Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Murtaza and grand daughter of former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. An established newspaper columnist in her own right, this is what Fatima had to say about dynastic politics after the recent death of her aunt, Benazir, “The idea that it has to be a Bhutto, I think, is a dangerous one. It doesn’t benefit Pakistan. It doesn’t benefit a party that’s supposed to be run on democratic lines and it doesn’t benefit us as citizens if we think only about personalities and not about platforms.” She also rejected her own claim to the Bhutto legacy. The Times initiative has created a kind of alternative platform of sorts in India at least and it is only a matter of time before other personalities emerge.

In India’s context, a prominent former US secretary of state had once said, “The most powerful job in the world is that of the president of the United states but the most difficult job in the world is that of the prime minister of India.” He probably said that because of the different kinds of diversities that we have in India which can make a politician’s job tougher and implies the need for really talented people. Whether somebody should come from a political family or not, he should be and seen to be competent. Ability should be supported by visibility and the Lead India has shown how TV can be used effectively for this to fructify.

One of the best performing politicians in recent times has been Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Being a Delhi based Gujarati, one cannot know the ground reality in Gujarat but whenever I go to Ahmedabad, I am amazed at the kind of popular support he enjoys. The people there not only keep reiterating that he knows how to run the government but also speak about his clean image. Having won the election for the third time in succession, he has proved that the anti-incumbency syndrome can be an exception, not the rule. The February 18 latest issue of India Today has reported that voters across the country voted him as the best chief minister. Though 77 per cent of the voters in Gujarat rated him the best chief minister ever, he got a nationwide approval rating of 19 per cent and polled double the number of votes than his nearest rival, UP chief minister Mayawati. This shows that for people, development and not emotive issues is the prime agenda. Maybe television could also be used to highlight the good points of Modi’s governance for everybody’s benefit, just as young MBAs used to go to Karasanbhai Patel’s Nirma once upon a time to learn about how it took on Hindustan lever.

Unfortunately, unlike the two major forces that unite India, Bollywood and cricket, politics is not transparent enough for the wrong kind of people to be weeded out. Unlike the corporate world, where in addition to short and long term goals, job description, competencies and role analysis are identified and followed up by performance management, nothing like that takes place in politics, which is strange because the scale of operations and implications are far greater in a country than a company. One gets to read several newspaper reports that the public in the US is not only disenchanted with President Bush but also dissatisfied with the kind of leadership options that they have in the current Presidential elections. When people like Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj singh can be criticised strongly for non-performance, there should be no scope for poor performance in politics even in the short term and there should be a mechanism for removing non performers instead of waiting for five years. Such mechanisms should also prevent them from taking grossly unpopular moves like the Iraq war for instance.

At the same time, one should have realistic expectations from politicians. The book Mind of a Manager, Soul of a Leader says that charismatic leaders get organisations started and then pass on the baton to the bureaucrats, professionals or scientific managers who can run them. In the BJP, while Vajpayee is credited with brilliant oratory and charisma, it is Advani who is perceived as the capable organisation man. Thought leadership and executive leadership does not necessarily have to emanate from the same person. There should be a proper follow —through to ensure that they are performing to their potential.

Modi had said in one of his interviews that development without security does not have much meaning. In a similar vein, talent without transparency does not have much meaning. In the past 15 years, business has increasingly discovered the virtues of good governance, not necessarily because of a sudden stab of conscience, but because of the premium that foreign investors place on transparency Why should voters not do the same? In the age of mass communication, if the media does not make latent political talent transparent, who will? Lead India is an effective rebuttal to those who say that the media only focuses on negative events. The rest of the media should follow the lead of The Times of India, which in turn should also try to highlight non —performers — Lead India; don’t Bleed India.


In my original submission to the editor, I had mentioned in the context of different thought and executive leaderhship that the current ruling party team of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh also reperesent different leaderships. While Mrs Gandhi can sway the masses with the background of her political legacy of the Gandhi family, Mr Manmohan singh is the head of the government on merit. The orator/charmer/rabble rouser does not have to be a part of the govt and vice versa. One can only hope for the day, when like our cricket and filmstars, politicians too acquire a mass base on good governance instead of parochial emotive issues or diversities fuelled by the illiteracy of our masses.

For those interested I had also covered Talent Management in Politics in my earlier article Pahle Aandhi Phir Gandhi published in the same magazine in October’2007.

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.

Aamir Khan’s “Taare Zameen Par”

This article is published in the January’2008 edition of the education magazine “Educare”

Aamir Khan’s latest film raises very crucial questions

The film Taare Zameen par is a sensitive portrayal of the ordeal of a dyslexic child, Ishaan Awasthi, whose abnormal behaviour is misunderstood and mistaken to be something else both by his teachers and parents. Unaware of dyslexia, they think that he is lazy, stupid, naughty and even arrogant on occasions. Dyslexia is a neurological language processing disorder that affects a student’s ability to process written and spoken information. Students with dyslexia have difficulty pronouncing words, repeating phrases that are spoken to them, understanding the meaning from spoken phrases, and following detailed instructions. They particularly have difficulty in distinguishing similar sounding words and letters.

Ishaan’s agony and ordeal is reduced and gradually overcome when, in the form of Aamir Khan (Ram Shankar Nikumbh in the movie), he meets a teacher who has himself suffered from the problem as a child and is therefore, able to guide him correctly. He is able to draw the attention of both the parents and other teachers on the right focus – on what Ishaan can do or his strengths, rather than his weaknesses. After building his self- confidence by drawing out the painter in him, he gradually manages to reduce the child’s weaknesses through other unique teaching techniques.

Aamir Khan’s first directorial venture does a very good job of highlighting the real and ideal direction of education – drawing out innate potential rather than blindly stuffing facts. Since the film brings that out very well, Azim Premji’s words in my earlier article “Teacher, educate thyself” are worth repeating:-

“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.
In that article, I had mentioned some famous dyslexics in passing reference, which are mentioned as examples in the movie. Their details are engrossing:

Loenardo Da Vinci: a great painter, designer, scientist, futurist and thinker. Most of the time, he wrote his notes backwards, which is exhibited with a mirror in the movie by Aamir. Although unusual, this is a trait shared by many left-handed dyslexic people. Leonardo’s spelling was also considered erratic and quite strange. He also started many more projects then he ever finished – a characteristic now often considered to be ‘ADD’ or attention deficit disorder. However, when it came to drawing illustrations, Leonardo’s work is detailed and precise. Loenardo’s words are revealing: “You should prefer a good scientist without literary abilities than a literate one without scientific skills.”

Thomas Edison, the famous inventor: he was noted to be terrible at mathematics, unable to focus, and had difficulty with words and speech. He was unable to read until he was 12 and his writing skills were poor throughout his life. His teacher thought him to be mentally ill. His mother withdrew the child from school and taught him herself. In his own words “My teachers say I’m addled . . . my father thought I was stupid, and I almost decided I must be a dunce.”

Albert Einstein, history’s most prominent scientist: he could not talk until the age of four. He did not learn to read until he was nine. His teachers considered him slow, unsociable and a dreamer. He failed the entrance examinations to college but finally passed after an additional year of preparation. He lost three teaching positions and then became a paten clerk. In his own words “Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.” He also said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”

Pablo Picasso the famous painter: his dyslexia made school difficult, and Pablo never really benefited from school or learning. Dyslexia troubled Picasso for the rest of his long life. Pablo’s father taught art, this got him interested in painting. Picasso also painted because he was born with an ability to see people the way they wanted to be seen, the way they were seen, and the special way Picasso saw them. In his own words, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” That is possible only if children realise their innate potential or essence as very few have multi-dimensional talent.

Picasso’s story is closest to what is shown in the movie. Ishaan is shown to be a very good painter despite being a severe dyslexic, a fact that is highlighted when Aamir joins the school as a temporary arts teacher. The manner in which Ishaan is shown staring out of the window on occasions reminds one of an extract of Osho’s discourse:

“The teacher goes on telling to the small children, ‘Give attention to me. Be attentive.’ They are attentive. But they are attentive somewhere else. A cuckoo is crying his heart outside the school building and the child is attentive. Nobody can say that he is not attentive. Nobody can say that he is not meditative. Nobody can say that he is in deep concentration. He is. In fact, he has completely forgotten the teacher and the arithmetic that he is doing on the board. He is completely oblivious. He is completely possessed by the cuckoo. The child is attentive. It is happening naturally. Listening to the cuckoo he is happy. The teacher is distracting and the teacher says that you are not attentive. He is simply stating a lie. The child was attentive. The cuckoo was more attractive to him. The teacher was not so attractive. The arithmetic has no such appeal. But we are not all born to be mathematicians. There are few children who will not be interested in the cuckoo.The cuckoo may go on madder and madder and they will be attentive to the blackboard. Then Arithmetic is for them. Then they have a meditation, a natural meditative state

Since every weak child is hardly likely to become an Edison or an Einstein, there should be special education on how they fit in. Since many of these great people struggled in humble skills, humble talents should not be taken for granted. The Gallup corporation in its book “First, break all the rules” highlights examples of waiters, bartenders, housekeepers, nurses, data entry operators etc as to how the best were different from the rest even in minor jobs and were compensated highly without necessarily being promoted, if they did not have the talent for man management. The best bartender was someone who remembered names of 3,000 guests and their drinks and the champion data entry operator was four times faster than the rest. Even something like housekeeping is studied in great detail so that the rest (poor housekeepers) learn from the best.

Though the movie shows the child making some headway in overcoming his weaknesses, real life does not always turn out to be like that. Apart from Picasso, there are several famous dyslexics, who have had similar problems throughout their lives – General George Patton, President Woodrow Wilson, President George Washington, writer Agatha Christie etc. Another famous dyslexic, Tom Cruise, despite being a success in his chosen field, can learn lines only by listening to a tape. If one googles for dyslexia, one comes across sites with a message like “famous people with the gift of dyslexia” Lesser-known celebrities also have severe reading difficulties but are yet successful in their respective fields. An extreme case is that of Ronald Davis, author. “At the age of 38 I could score 169 on the IQ test but I couldn’t read a menu in a restaurant. What the average person could read in 5 minutes would take me an hour,” the author once said about himself.

The lives of two famous dyslexics not mentioned in the movie – Henri Ford and Winston Churchill. Henri Ford: His father, a farmer, had only that career in mind for his son and tried to equip him with all the relevant skills – tending plants, eliminating pests and weeds, ploughing etc. Henry occasionally went with his father to the farm, but, his mind hovered around the hoe and the mechanical plough, the tools of his trade. His father, often exasperated, pleaded, cajoled, shouted and screamed. These had only a temporary impact. Henri’s heart was not in farming. In the movie Aamir Khan says, “Bachche ka hunar kya hai?”. His “hunar” or functional talent may not be necessarily reflected in his qualifications, which is why it is said, “Choose your career not on the basis of what you know but who you are”. It is very hard to believe that a mentally disabled child can do well in a field not of his liking. If that were so, they would not have so many problems with conventional education. Can one imagine Henri Ford achieving the same success in farming or any other field?

Churchill failed grade VIII, did terrible in math and generally hated school. In his own words, “I was, on the whole, considerably discouraged by my school days. It was not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the beginning of the race.” Being in the right occupation is probably how the problems of some of the dyslexics got neutralised and how they were able to sustain their success despite suffering for a lifetime. On the other hand, being in the wrong occupation can entail a lifetime of suffering despite having no mental disability.

Since some psychologists try to identify childhood interests to solve this problem, the views of the other great mystic/intellectual J Krishnamurthy are worth noting: “In building enormous educational institutions and employing teachers who depend on a system instead of being alert and observant in their relationship with the individual student, we merely encourage the accumulation of facts, the development of capacity and the habit of thinking mechanically, according to a pattern; but certainly none of this helps the student to grow into an integrated human being. A large and flourishing educational institution can turn out bank clerks and super salesmen, industrialists or commissars, superficial people who are technically efficient but there is hope only in the integrated individual which the small school can bring about. If the classes are small and the teacher is able to give his full attention to each child, observing him and helping him, then compulsion or domination in any form is obviously unnecessary. It is intelligence that brings order, not discipline.” This can be witnessed in the movie when Aamir starts giving individual attention to the Ishaan and is able to help overcome his difficulty. Both Osho and Krishnamurthy have stressed the importance of helping the child find his right vocation in their discourses.

Since Aamir’s role fits into Krishnamurthy’s description of an ideal educator, his comments on the teacher’s role are worth mentioning “ If the teachers are not sure of their own vocation and interest, there are bound to be superficial bickerings, jealousies, misunderstandings etc, which can be passed over only if there is a burning interest in bringing about the right kind of education. To observe each child’s tendencies, his aptitudes, his temperament, his attitudes, to understand his difficulties taking his heredity and parental influence into account requires patience, alertness, intelligence, skill, interest and above all a sense of affection. To produce educators endowed with these qualities is one of our major problems today.”

Aamir has shown basically what talent management is all about. There are people like Dhirubhai Ambani, Bill Gates and Jack Welch, who have been able to see the latent talent and been able to draw that out, despite different degrees and qualifications. The focus always has to be more on uniqueness of the individual – what the individual does with the knowledge rather than knowledge per se, or what he can do uniquely. All life is talent management. If that were not so, books like Working identity would never be written. Since it explains how tough career transition can be, special efforts should be made to help people who may have made the wrong choice. In a recent article in Readers Digest, the great mathematician Hardy says that he may have mentored maths genius Ramanujan but he learnt much more from Ramanujan then the other way around. This is what happen when teachers see their role as educators- just as Aamir has directed the film so well, they have to provide the direction in real life.

The sentences in bold above should also have been included. Though the editor omitted this paragraph, I personally feel that after the para in which Osho describes the child obsessed with the cuckoo, this should have been added:-

Though Osho probably said this in the context of detecting the different kind of child, it has to be taken in the right perspective. Just as television is considered to be the “chewing gum” or “idiot box” , too much idle day dreaming without applying brains at all can be a case of “Use it or lose it”. The brain also needs other exercises apart from imagination for an evenly balanced growth.

These views of eminent dyslexics also deserve a mention-

It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction- Picasso

“Working hours are never long enough. Each day is a holiday, and ordinary holidays are grudged as enforced interruptions in an absorbing vocation”- Winston churchill

“I never worked in my life. It was all fun”- Thomas Edison

This is a humorous story that on Sir Issac Newton that could also have been added:-

Apart from Einstein’s comment on Income tax , there is a humorous story of the great inventor, Sir Issac Newton and his cats. Whilst studying color and the order it came in a prism, Newton used to go up to his attic where there was only one window and in order to control light, he needed to black out the room. His cat loved to be with him, and she constantly nosed the door open, which would then let the light in – thus spoiling his experiments. Not wanting to upset her, he decided to cut a small opening in the doorway which he then covered with felt attached to the top of the opening Now cat and master were happy – the cat could come and go at will, and Isaac wasn’t disturbed by her comings and goings, and could continue his experiments in peace. It is said that all geniuses sometimes have a blind spot and when his cat had kittens, so anxious was he to please them, that he cut several smaller holes alongside the original one so that they could come and go whenever they wanted to. It didn’t occur to him they could use the existing one! As they say, “common sense is most uncommon” and even geniuses are not immune to that.

Former International HR consultants Morgan and Banks had expressed the view that niche individuals who were good at only a few things had the worst time in the wrong profession. Dyslexics/ADHD children have high IQ but often have such one dimensional intelligence.

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.”


“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..

Talent tapping, an art

This article that was published in the HR magazine called “Management Compass” on July’2007.

Notwithstanding many self-help books, you can’t change your talent set. You can only help yourself by fitting into the right role

I joined the Kedia group of companies sometime in September 1992 as assistant manager (MIS) and was pleasantly surprised when my childhood school friend, AK joined as assistant manager (exports) fifteen days later. From the very beginning, his razor sharp alertness, street smartness in dealing with people and superb communication were so evident that within three weeks of joining, I told him, “You have the talent to be among the best in the corporate world”. I could not have been more right because AK also turned out to be a superb organiser and administrator, a very good strategist and team builder and because of these and other qualities, a good leader. Since he was very versatile and good in all major functions (finance, marketing, operations), he got several double promotions and in just about an year’s time, the chairman made him chief executive of the international division. Considering that they had a turnover of Rs 150 crores at that time, the chairman had many people to choose from and this was no small achievement.

Later he left and set up a big project consultancy business within a span of few years and further diversified into hotels and BPOs.

Around August 1995 when we went our separate ways, when I wrote a couple of poems on him and the company’s expansion and diversification, he told me, “You are better suited for this than the corporate world,” which subsequently proved absolutely right. He also added “You should do what you can do spontaneously and effortlessly”. This, to my mind is the most obvious definition of talent. When we joined neither of us knew of our own latent abilities but after the interaction, we were able to guess each other’s potential with pinpoint accuracy. When we came together, I was both well- read in management and much more experienced but I and some of the others stood absolutely no chance against his prodigious talent. Three other people joined from the same institute as AK but he was far better in practical application. Even today, he is head and shoulders above his equally and better qualified partners.

Current situation

Talent management is in vogue these days. Though the term is usually used in the context of celebrities in field of creative arts, when one considers a broader spectrum, the problem is that companies from a cross-section of industries — ICICI Bank, Pantaloon, Ernst and Young, TCS, Infosys etc — find conventional management education grossly inadequate and are tying up with academicians to provide customised solutions for their respective companies. One article even stated that only 20 per cent of the talent pool was suitable for corporate India and people had to be groomed for becoming industry-ready. This is critical as success in the future would depend on a company’s ability to find and retain talented people

In a country whose scriptures boast of terms like svadharma (one’s calling in life) and claim that the Sukshma (subjective-person) is more important than the sthula (objective-knowledge), how could conventional education fare so poorly? One reason obviously is that functional talent is evident only after the person tries a particular occupation. Nobody can really determine a talent in advance till he/she tries a particular job.
In today’s competitive environment, companies need to be nimble and flexible. The manager needs to probe each employee, look for differences in approach, needs and drive of each individual and then try to change his unique talents into performance in the context of the company’s goals. The manager should set realistic expectations and motivate and develop a person accordingly.

Talent defined

The most important thing is to understand what exactly the word “Talent” implies. Concluded from a survey interviewing the world’s top managers, the book First, Break All the Rules defines talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied to a particular situation or role”. After every child is born, the child’s mind tries to reach out aggressively and by the third birthday, makes fifteen thousand synaptic connections (between the cells) for each of its one hundred billion neurons. These mental pathways are the filter which produce unique patterns of behaviour, which create her enthusiasms and indifferences and basically define where she will excel and where she will struggle. These pathways are indications to the child’s character and according to neuroscience, beyond a point, there is a limit to how much of her character she can recarve.

The book disproves the conventional wisdom that “Human beings have unlimited potential”. Every now and then, self-help books appear on how one can win in life on the basis of having the “right attitude” alone. Some of these so-called consultants even say that it is attitude more than talent that matters in performance. It may be true sometimes but on close examination, one can find that no two individuals do even the minutest of jobs exactly alike and in the long run. It is talent which is likely to have a greater weightage on how a person performs in all

Types of Talent

The book further says that talents are of three types — striving, thinking and relating talents. Striving talents explain the ‘whys’ of a person — is he altruistic or competitive or both, is he task-oriented or result-oriented or both? Thinking talents define the ‘hows’ of a person — is he a linear or a lateral thinker, is he disciplined or carefree etc. Relating talents define whom he relates with, confronts or ignores. The core activities of a manager and a leader are different. It is entirely possible for a person to be a brilliant manager but a terrible leader or vice-versa. But a few exceptional people excel at both. Mike Brearly is perhaps the only cricket captain in history who continued in the English cricket team on the strength of his captaincy alone as he was not much of a player. In the Indian context, Sourav Ganguly may pale in comparison to Tendulkar as a batsman but made a much better captain, which is something that nobody could have predicted. Tendulkar, being a great batsman, could have easily led by example but it was the lesser gifted batman Ganguly, who really excelled as a leader which is doubly

This difference between “performers” and “leaders” is very well brought out by the book. Distinguishing between talent and non-talents, it gives examples of waiters, bartenders, housekeepers, nurses, data entry operators etc as to how the best were different from the rest even in minor jobs and were compensated highly without necessarily being promoted, if they did not have the talent for man management. The best bartender was someone who remembered names of 3,000 guests and their drinks and the champion data entry operator was four times faster than the rest.

I once had a ringside view of a continuous clash between the best salesman and the sales manager he reported to. The outstanding salesman could not be promoted because of certain personal limitations and since he was a star, the “nobody is indispensable” rule could not really be applied to him. The sales manager was not so good at sales but was a good man manager whom others reported to. The salesman always tried to indulge in a “one-upmanship” with the sales manager all the time who was compelled to reciprocate at times. The management did not know how to manage the conflict and lost the star salesman.

The real solution is broadbanding, which defines different ranges of salaries for different posts for both performers and man managers. Following this, it is possible for a superb police officer to be paid more than a less efficient sergeant without being promoted, a brilliant teacher can similarly earn more than a novice principle, an excellent flight attendant more valuable than an average pilot etc. This is talent management at its best as the concerned people remain motivated despite not being promoted for roles, that do not suit them.

The book also gives due respect to humble talents. A well-known management consultant stated in his book, “An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher. The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because it is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will neither have good plumbing not good philosophy. Neither its pipes not its theories will hold water.” Excellence need not be confined to what are considered “intelligent” or white collared roles. It is possible to have a role excellence in every role and talent in every individual who performs that role well. In the minds of great managers, every role performed with excellence deserves respect. For instance, a chore like housekeeping was studied and the precise behaviour traits that made the best housekeepers were defined which constituted “housekeeping talent”. Then, every effort was made to make housekeeping publicly revered and a genuine career choice.
It would not be out of place to mention here what lateral thinking expert Edward de Bono had said once that just because you have solved a complicated problem is no guarantee that you shall be able to solve a simple problem. Albert Einstein is a case in point when he admitted frankly, “The hardest thing to understand is income-tax.” He even refused the presidency of Israel because of lack of experience in working with human beings. This clearly shows that nothing should be taken for granted just because a person proves exceptional in one field no matter what it is. What Bono actually implies is that one type of talent is no guarantee that a person shall do equally well elsewhere whether as a subordinate, a boss or in a peer function or whether it is an exalted talent or a humble talent.

The father of management, Peter Drucker had said once that life is a relay race and the person who has the talent to start a company is not always the best to carry it forward. Since mental and emotional talents are not always so tangible or transparent compared to sports talent, expressions like “attitude problem”, “excuse”, “you can do it”, “reinvent yourself “etc are readily used without verifying whether the person has the requisite aptitude. Amitabh Bachchan has been able to reinvent himself even in old age but none of his contemporaries have achieved even moderate success. Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar have 35 and 34 centuries respectively in 135 and 125 tests but in one day cricket, the ratio is 40:1 in 378 and 108 matches respectively. It clearly reveals the more talented batsmen overall and the fact that

Gavaskar was not such a great one day player. All this clearly shows that domain expertise is not enough and one needs to know his particular sub- domain or his niche strength specifically. Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar aptly called cricketer VVS Laxman a “one dimensional talent”, which is probably the reason that despite being respected by the Australian bowlers, he could not make it to the world cups in 2003 and 2007.
In the context of a company, the nature and ambience of a company determines individual talent. A broker with a lot of desire and focus would be better in an entrepreneurial company and a broker blessed with achievement and discipline would be better in a more structured company. Lacking this knowledge, if both companies hire each other’s brokers, it may prove disastrous.

The main thrust is to make a person feel that he is in a role that uses his talents while simultaneously challenging him to grow.

The book further reveals that great managers know that there is a limit to how much remolding they can do to someone. They try to help each person become more and more of what he already is by focusing on his strengths and finding him a role that is aligned to his strengths rather than try to fix his weakness to be able to do the current job better. There is an example of a boss telling his subordinate “I love you and therefore I have to fire you” and then taking pains to find a job for that person to suit his talents rather than forcing him in the current role which did not suit him. This is the best example of tough love that a person can expect to find and is at variance with giving too much importance to attitude.

If everybody were to practice
this brand of socialism, the
world would be a much better
place to live in.

Talent, Skills & Competencies

First, Break All the Rules says that talent primarily depends on certain behaviour traits that are not easy to change. Many companies send their employees to training classes to learn new behaviours — empathy, assertiveness, relationship building etc. However, great managers believe that people don’t change much. The less articulate fellow shall never excel at debate and the intense competitor will never learn to be less assertive.

Competencies are part skill, part talent and part knowledge. When one refers to them, one should be clear in one’s mind which are skills and knowledge and can be taught and which are talents and cannot be taught. “Implementing business or management control systems” is a skill but “calm under pressure” is a talent that cannot be taught. It can be disastrous to suggest that the only way to become more effective is to change your nature. For example, if a person is persistently pessimistic, rather than telling him continuously to be positive, it is better to fit him in a role where skepticism is a key to success.

Talent and formal education

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan recently said in an interview about his son Abhishek’s movie career,” Family background does help but ultimately it is individual talent that matters.” One wonders how much education is required for the really talented considering the famous maxim “To do easily what others find difficult is talent; doing what is impossible for talent is genius”. In the movie Krrish, Naseerudin Shah is seen telling a prodigious Hritik Roshan, “Others are trained but you are gifted”. Natural talent manifests itself quite well without formal education — neither Amitabh Bachchan nor Dhirubhai Ambani received any real formal education but both were outstanding and enduring successes in their chosen fields. The book Ancient Wisdom for Management puts it very bluntly, “Academic degree is just an entry pass nothing else in any job.” Ambani himself admitted that for management tasks, he gives more attention to who takes more initiative and gets the job done rather than “paper qualifications.”
While skills and knowledge can be taught, talent cannot. Skills are ‘how to’ of a role that are transferable from person to person and can be improvised with practice. They are often situation-specific and faced with an unanticipated scenario, they lose much of their power unlike talent which is transferable from situation to situation.