Category: Learning (page 1 of 2)

Identifying Experts To Follow In Today’s World

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We live in a world where there are many who claim to be experts or share expert opinions on multiple topics. The amount and impact of ‘pseudo-experts’ seem to be increasing. On all forms of media, lots of expert opinions on varied topics are shared constantly and many people buy into them and trust quickly without realising the quality of information, the individual who is sharing or the actual source. As a result, low quality or unreliable perspectives find lots of eyeballs and mindspace.

I wanted to share 3 tips that have helped me in figuring out right experts, better quality information and perspectives.

1. Understand background and experience, both of the expert and the source

Look for the background, expertise and experiences of the individual(s) in the relevant areas. The quality, depth and breadth of those experiences and their contributions track record over time also matter. Look for how deeply they may have studied that area and shared quality insights. A basic search on the internet or LinkedIn can help. Do note that the number of connections or titles don’t translate to being an expert.

Ideally, there needs to be a mix of conceptual/theoretical and practical experiences for high quality insights and perspectives. Being an expert in one area does not translate automatically to being an expert in other areas. We tend to see that error or bias quite a bit. It also helps to observe who have liked/endorsed them or their insights or shared further. Credibility has to be developed over time and with consistency.

If studies and researches are quoted in articles or conversations, it always helps to see who or where the research was undertaken. Ask the logical questions about the relevance and environment of those studies. The quality of the institution or individuals who undertook the study can be an important factor in the validity of results that are quoted.

2. Openness to alternate views and discussions

The best experts are open to listening, discussing, learning and debating alternate or contradicting views because they understand there are multiple variables to explore, some that they may not have foreseen or others that may be worth learning or engaging further. An open mindset to a quality discussion and exploration improves the outlook of an expert perspective. Keep in mind that we generally tend to read and believe in topics that we want to believe in or have an internal bias towards. We relate better to certain conversational and writing styles.

3. Observe patiently and do your own research over time

Hold off from jumping to conclusions from one expert opinion or view, unless you have done your homework and looked across multiple expert views or studies. The predictiveness of quality is better if you have been tracking someone’s work over time. Even then, it helps to maintain a broad perspective and expand your senses to multiple experts. If the opinion relates to your own area of work, it helps to reflect on your experiences and the links to the perspectives shared.

As a result of all these, the quality of your insight and perspectives will improve over time and chances of being misled will reduce substantially. Your quality of thinking, actions and growth will be on a better curve.

Have other approaches worked for you?

“Logic, it is often said, is the study of valid arguments. It is a systematic attempt to distinguish valid arguments from invalid arguments.” – William H. Newton-Smith
Logic: An Introductory Course (goodreads)

Prepare Students For Future World Of Work – 3 Behavioral Elements

There is tremendous amount of discussion about the fast evolving future of work. While there are many assumptions about the future, many experts agree that it will be difficult to predict clearly and continue to evolve quickly. They also seem to agree that machine learning will become faster than human learning in near future. Some work may continue to be local in nature and highly valued. Some may get automated. One way to succeed or even survive in future could be to proactively develop an ability to continuously observe, reflect, learn and take adaptive actions at an individual and systemic level.

So, from an education or learning perspective, how do you prepare students for the future of work?

We can start with couple of basic premises.

  1. Success at work or life will continue to depend on a set of distinguishing abilities, behaviors or habits.
  2. The environment we are in can influence and impact them.

If educators can figure out ways to develop the following key behaviors for students through interventions and, if students can consciously develop them, readiness increases.

Three key behavioral elements for learning to inculcate early are:

  1. Curiosity, Continuing To Explore and Asking Questions
  2. Openness To Experimenting, Failure and Rework
  3. Achieving Independence Through Confident and Responsible Actions

Educators should consider various ways in which the above behavioral elements can be developed early in their students by designing their learning environments and related processes. As we know, habits once formed early are not easy to change.

Some examples on potential interventions – Classrooms should be include quality time for reflecting on the learning process, explore and develop multiple approaches and seeking out answers together in different ways. In a fast evolving and uncertain world, lack of curiosity in individuals or organizations leads to quick decline. Teachers should become facilitators of the learning process rather than aiming to become the database of answers. The process of figuring out answers should be encouraged and rewarded. Teachers should be open to exploring and learning together with their students. Labs should be places where students should enjoy experiments and figuring various approaches towards answers while becoming comfortable with working through failures. The focus there should not be on getting the right result but rather experimenting and figuring out. The “growth mindset” should be encouraged across the board. Teachers should encourage students to step up at every possible opportunity and experience the different aspects of taking actions with confidence and responsibility, inside and outside the classroom.

Educators have to themselves think deeper and modify their approaches to help prepare their students for a fast evolving future where the nature of work may evolve. Doing what made them and their students successful in the past may not apply for the future. There are of course various aspects to thinking through this. The fundamental point is to start looking at developing fundamental behaviors that enable students to navigate and adapt effectively in an unclear future, when the content itself may not matter as much as the context and behaviors. Start with and focus on one or two. Exploring these scenarios will also force you as educators to effectively contemplate and redesign your future of work.

Leadership Development For Smaller Organizations In The New Year – 4 Topics To Consider

Happy New Year to all readers!

Many smaller organizations find it difficult to figure out relevant activities in the area of leadership/management development. Related questions come up frequently and at times, a mistaken perception exists that leadership/management development is only applicable to larger organizations.

If left ignored, this is one area that will hurt any organization in many ways. Worrying symptoms start showing up in different areas for the organization including stakeholder engagement, execution and it becomes difficult to diagnose the real problem as time passes.

Here are four topics under leadership/management development for leaders and HR teams to consider.

  1. Any development effort starts with developing self awareness. Leadership self awareness development can start with understanding oneself deeper through facilitated 360 degree/other feedbacks, personality assessments (like MBTI, Hogan etc.) and follow-up reflections/coaching sessions. These sessions can be facilitated at the individual or team level, or a combination of both for quality reflection and action. Periodic follow-up interventions are invaluable for any development effort. Self aware leaders also recognize coaching opportunities for themselves and their team members toward meaningful results.
  2. A related impactful area to consider focusing on is leadership team development. Many leaders miss the opportunity or don’t take the time to consciously reflect on establishing the building blocks of developing an effective team and co-creating a focused agenda with the team. When teams are not developed consciously and carefully especially at senior levels, it leaves room for potential confusion, conflict and frustration. Even for well established teams, this is an important topic to revisit consistently and not to be taken for granted. Supporting leadership transitions in this context also become highly relevant.
  3. Building a shared understanding of what “leadership“or being a leader in the organization means (leadership constructs) will help clarify expectations. Support can be provided through training programs for first time managers, middle managers and leaders. The more leaders understand what it means to be and is expected from a leader in the organization, the more impactful results organizations can consistently achieve through them.
  4. Building a shared understanding on the organization’s strategy, values and culture is often an important item that loses focus. Many times, the clarity on values and culture stays strong with only the founding or early members. As a result, many people tend to apply their own interpretations which leads the organization’s value system in different directions and dilution over time. Sometimes, there is a need for a discussion on how the culture has evolved or needs to change in the context of business direction. Reinforcing and aligning the organization’s understanding and shared beliefs will ensure stronger cohesion, commitment and execution across the board. This can be facilitated through various well designed OD/HR, engagement and communication initiatives.

If you are a leader or HR professional in a smaller organization considering impactful activities to implement in leadership/management development, these may be some practical and actionable ideas to think about for the new year. It is important to constantly be aware of the paradox of busyness & development.

Best wishes for a Meaningful, Impactful and Successful 2017.


Learning to Learn Differently – Thoughts For Students (& Teachers as well)

There’s a huge emphasis on education and learning in many parts of the world.  People recognize the importance, tangible benefits and positive impact it could bring to one’s life, society and the future.  While the importance and acknowledgement is visible, many aspects and approaches related to learning seem to require a rethink.

In India, the value of application of education to life seems to be less important than the rank or scores in an examination.  Without doubt, exam scores do matter but everyone needs to think seriously about the value of learning to life beyond schools or university.

Earlier this June, I had shared few suggestions for primarily educators regarding employability of their students.  This post is more focused on the individual learning perspective, mainly for students but may help teachers as well.  Having been through multiple learning experiences in different levels, subjects and countries (including losing a year due to low marks in school), I thought it would be useful to share from multiple experiences.

1. Build self awareness on one’s own learning preferences and styles
Most people have different learning styles, preferences and paces.  It is important to identify one’s own learning style.  At least understanding your learning preference (visual, auditory, reading-writing, kinesthetic) can improve the experience and effectiveness.  It is also important to build self discipline into any learning process.  Similar to building physical muscles by exercising constantly, it is important to build mental muscles and focus through a disciplined process.  Without discipline and direction, it is easy to get lost in various distractions.

2. Learn something that you’re passionate about and is aligned to your strengths
A starting point of any learning process is to answer for oneself, “Why I am learning this, why is this important for me?”.  If your answer is aligned to your own interests, values and priorities, the probability of a successful learning experience is high. The only time when I personally truly enjoyed learning and did really well was when I learned something I badly wanted to, and felt very interested about.  I went much beyond the requirements of the program to learn and absorb as much as possible.  It is very unfortunate and a huge waste of your and others’  time, if you spend most of your life learning or doing something you don’t like or want to do.  Many students choose a profession because it seems glamorous from outside or due to external pressure.  I’ve heard from professors and teachers that it is very difficult for any worthwhile learning to happen if someone is unmotivated or uninterested.  If you don’t have your own specific answer, it is fine to experiment and listen to other’s (someone you respect) inputs.  Unfortunately, many parents in India force their children to streams that they absolutely don’t want to be in.

3. Reap the benefits of social learning
Learning becomes deeper and much richer when one is exposed to multiple perspectives.  Having a peer discussion group to discuss your learning topics can be valuable exposure.  Start with a common purpose for the whole team – what are we trying to achieve?  Being able to synthesize from various inputs is a highly appreciated skill in today’s world.  It helps to have positive peer pressure to keep moving forward, and work with one’s negative emotions as they creep in.  This is also a valuable way to learn to work with contradictory opinions.  Awareness of the potential of one’s ego to disrupt and to work on it early is extremely important.  Extra curricular activities like sports or arts that involves teamwork serve as great learning experiences.  Working effectively in teams, including those you disagree with or don’t like is a major requirement for any organization.

4. Use multiple sources and media
It is a huge opportunity missed in today’s world to not enrich one’s learning using multiple, available knowledge sources.  Please do not wait for the university or professors to give you content.  There so much of it available today, with a mobile device and internet connectivity.  In addition to using your faculty, laboratories, peer groups, and libraries that may be accessible locally, there’s so much content, online courses and global resources accessible through the internet today.  The opportunity to stay updated on the latest developments in any area and learn from the best sitting in any part of the world is tremendous.  Keeping industry interaction active also always gives you the employment perspective.  Try to find people in your own first or second degree network who can share their valuable first-hand experiences from workplaces – culture, ways of working, what it takes to be effective etc.

5. Make the environment attractive
Last but not least, it is important to feel good about learning.  Neuroscience studies show that the brain functions much better when it is in a ‘reward’ state, not a ‘threat’ state.  Even if learning may involve difficult work, an enjoyable collegial, fun, open physical and social environment, refreshing variety of methods used, great people around are factors that contribute to an enjoyable learning experience.  Each one of you can contribute to that in the way you turn up.

For teachers, they key question to ask is how you can play a key role in facilitating the learning process, thinking, acting and guiding students to find answers for themselves through multiple knowledge sources.  In India, we  have long held the notion that a teacher should have the answer for almost everything.  As the popular Chinese proverb tells us, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  A good practical start would be to spend time in your class just discussing about creating an effective and impactful learning experience together.

Success comes when the students and teachers work together – with a common purpose or vision.

Deep learning involves learning beyond the prescribed boundaries by a school or university.  One feels personal growth, a sense of achievement and confidence to take on the world.

What has worked very well for you? Your input or shared experience could influence a life in a major way.

Best wishes…

I dedicate this post to my father on his death anniversary today, for allowing me to choose my own learning direction.

Improving Employability – Suggestions for Administrators, Educators and Students of Professional Colleges

One of the common discussions I’ve run into with friends and ex-colleagues in India, especially in Kerala is regarding ’employability’.  A useful definition on wikipedia refers to ’employability’ as a person’s capability for gaining and maintaining employment (Hillage and Pollard, 1998).

Multiple contacts of mine on the corporate side from small and large companies confirm that they’re finding it more and more difficult to find and hire quality candidates among fresh graduates.  On the other hand, the number of professional colleges and students passing out have gone up by a big margin in recent years.  The gap seems to be widening in a different direction.

Having been involved in multiple related discussions and activities like university hiring in small and large organizations and with the development of a global graduate program for a multinational organization, there is little doubt that there needs to be an active dialogue on this among educators and addressed early in the educational system.

How could we look at improving employability?

In simple terms, organizations generally tend to look for three fundamental categories, especially among fresh professional graduates.

  1. Technical or Hard Skills (Competent knowledge on a specific engineering, software programming area, related thinking approach to solutions, financial skills etc.)
  2. Soft Skills (Visible and measurable aspects like communication, interpersonal skills, learning agility etc.)
  3. Attitude (Approach to tasks, mindset, ability to take responsibility and accountability, resilience in difficult situations etc.).  There may be some overlap with the second category or be combined with the second.

Skilled recruiters and hiring managers try to combine all the available data points like grades, responses to questions in interviews, visible behaviors, resume, group discussions, extra curricular activities, psychometric test responses if & where relevant, while finalizing a hire.  Students with high degree of self awareness and emotional intelligence generally seem to stand out from the crowd.

Most of my corporate connections seem to agree that the second and third categories are equally  important, compared to the first category of technical skills or knowledge.  Many jobs/roles that hire professional students today may not relate to their primary area of study but look for the ability to adapt their learning process and approach to other areas.

Designers of professional educational programs may need to rethink their effort, energy and overall investment across these categories.  It would be useful for them to seek support from internal and external experts, including alumni, recruiting organizations to ensure impact for their students and programs.  When professional education programs are designed with the intent to develop well rounded personalities, they result in  higher probability of success in career and life, even in difficult environments.  Working with some of the behavioral skills could go a long way to helping students navigate through their career beyond the initial  years.

It would be worthwhile for individual students to ask themselves how much of their time and energy is invested on developing themselves beyond learning their normal curriculum in professional institutions.  Students can take responsibility for their own development, in a digitally connected world and instant availability to brilliant sources of knowledge and wisdom.

I close with the following humble suggestion for students – Your investment in your continuous personal development will always pay off in the long run.  Even for those who may not land your first campus job, please remember that your first job is only the start of a long working journey.  There is a long way to go and there will be lots of ups and downs.  As much as possible, select work that you will enjoy doing and seem to hold at least some opportunities – not what everyone around defines or tells you is good.  Be open to experimenting early in your career.  There will always be opportunities with patience, resilience through difficult times and hard work.  The earlier you can start, the better.  I also encourage you to seek and find mentors to help you on your journey that you should take responsibility for.

PS: Taking this opportunity to remember and thank one of our engineering professors, Dr. K. Usha who spent lots of extra personal time and effort to prepare her students on topics beyond engineering,  scheduling extra sessions during lunch breaks and available hours, on her own initiative.  We need more role models and educators who can think and act beyond ‘normal’.

Importance of ‘Practice’ in Training Programs & Leadership Development – From ‘Primal Leadership’

Improving an emotional intelligence competence takes months, rather than days, because the emotional centers of the brain are involved-not just the neocortex, the thinking brain where technical skills & purely cognitive abilities are learned…But the basal ganglia & its links to the emotional centers learn differently: To master a new skill, they need repetition & practice. That’s why it’s hard to learn leadership abilities effectively in a classroom.

A teacher can’t instruct your brain circuits that carry old habits of leadership to relearn new habits. What’s needed is practice: The more often a behavioral sequence repeats, the stronger the underlying brain circuits become. People thereby literally rewire their brains: Learning new habits strengthens pathways between neurons, and may even foster neurogenesis-growth of new neurons.

Airports & Our Travel

Airports are increasingly becoming relevant to millions of people around the world as air travel becomes more accessible and infrastructure development picks up. I remember doing a study on airport management during my engineering days.

For most travellers, airports create the first impression of a location. Having a world class airport makes a big difference to the image and branding of a city and country. I’ve had the opportunity to travel through few airports in the U.S., Europe and Asia. It is sometimes surprising how some important basic elements are not given adequate attention even in large international airports. I’m sure some of you would have felt related frustrations.

1. Crowd/Queue Management
As simple as this may sound, this is sometimes the most frustrating aspect for many travellers. Even in airports that have great infrastructure, this sometimes can be an issue. Basic training on this topic would be useful for airline/airport staff and immensely beneficial for travellers.

2. Seating availability
Sufficient and ergonomic seating availability should be among the most basic requirements but surprisingly many airports lack quality seating facilities.

3. Automated Walkways and Elevators
Large airports and transfers that result from one terminal to the next, and the trek between two gates far apart can be very tiring for many.

4. Screens and Information boards
This can sometimes be surprisingly confusing for even seasoned travelers. There’s got to be a better science of understanding how information for travellers is easily visible and understandable.

5. Airport Information Services
It is very useful to have direct customer service at the airports, to cater to the diverse groups of travellers who may not understand the language and services available. If one does not have enough time between connections as well, this is very helpful. Additionally, every airport should have a tourist information center with competent staff who should be able to address various questions about the city in multiple languages.

6. Spacing between baggage carousels and related information
The chaos around baggage carousels can be very frustrating. Information about the flights served should be conveyed through multiple large screens. Expected wait time for luggage arrival should be communicated to passengers – as the waiting times vary quite a bit. Quick, efficient and high quality lost baggage services should be present as these passengers can be expected to be impatient and frustrated.

7. Free wireless connectivity, Internet facilities and plug in ports
In today’s connected world, this should be a basic expectation.

8. Good restaurants with multiple dietary options

9. Public and other convenient transportation connections to the city 24×7
The planning should take into consideration various flight times and frequencies. Quality of service and interaction should be assessed rigorously.

As in most services, the competencies of individuals providing customer service can influence and contribute heavily to a traveller’s overall experience and perceptions about the local culture. Service quality and employee development should be assessed constantly with high expectations. An airport is a window to the city.

Knowledge management and our daily experiences

All of us receive a tremendous amount of information in multiple forms through various channels every day. How can we understand the context better?

I first started seriously thinking about this while reading the book, ‘Working Knowledge’ by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak. The “Knowledge Vs. Wisdom” discussion is very interesting for me due to its relevance to decision making and assessing various types/sources of information.

An article titled “Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom” by Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, Anthony Mills on the website has useful information on the topic. Here’re some selected notes.

“According to Russell Ackoff, a systems theorist and professor of organizational change, the content of the human mind can be classified into five categories:
1. Data: symbols
2. Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions
3. Knowledge: application of data and information; answers “how” questions
4. Understanding: appreciation of “why”
5. Wisdom: evaluated understanding.
The first four categories relate to the past; they deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design. With wisdom, people can create the future rather than just grasp the present and past. But achieving wisdom isn’t easy; people must move successively through the other categories.

Knowledge is the appropriate collection of information, such that it’s intent is to be useful. When someone “memorizes” information (as less-aspiring test-bound students often do), then they have amassed knowledge.

Understanding is cognitive and analytical. It is the process by which I can take knowledge and synthesize new knowledge from the previously held knowledge. The difference between understanding and knowledge is the difference between “learning” and “memorizing”. People who have understanding can undertake useful actions because they can synthesize new knowledge, or in some cases, at least new information, from what is previously known (and understood).

Wisdom calls upon all the previous levels of consciousness, and specifically upon special types of human programming (moral, ethical codes, etc.). It beckons to give us understanding about which there has previously been no understanding, and in doing so, goes far beyond understanding itself. It is the essence of philosophical probing. Unlike the previous four levels, it asks questions to which there is no (easily-achievable) answer. Wisdom is therefore, the process by which we also discern, or judge, between right and wrong, good and bad.”

How do we perceive individuals we consult with, articles or books that we read?
I think this note from a Fast Company expert blog (by Donna Karlin) has food for thought – “If we listen to all the knowledge that we’re bombarded with, we will close down and start ignoring it. There is way too much information to remember coming at us at the speed of light (thanks to technology). We can’t possibly retain it all. We can however look for guidance from those who have a wealth of wisdom because they see context, relevance and how it impacts us.”

Why Is The Knowledge Landscape Changing Quickly

The internet has changed the world completely.

Access to information and knowledge in any part of the world today provide great opportunities for anyone with the curiosity, interest and drive to learn. It also enables the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge among all levels of the ‘knowledge society’.

‘Knowledge power’ is not the special privilege for a select few anymore.

Individuals and organizations would have to be very careful not to be arrogant about their past successes, about what they know or where they are currently. Openness to ideas and feedback from individuals or groups from any part of the world could be highly critical to success in the internet world.

This also means higher levels of transperency. Insensitivity to or negative feedback from the customers, markets or communities can quickly be communicated and shared across the world.

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