Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Accents (and a bit of grammar)

Many months ago, when I was training a set of people, someone told me, "I have a bad accent, therefore I cannot train people in Oracle." I have heard quite a few variants of this. One is - My accent is not good, therefore, I have to take on a different accent - and this at a job interview. And so on and so forth. The one which takes the cake is this one- "His grammar is not good therefore, he cannot conduct 'Oracle' training". To this one my response is "My grammar is awesome, but Oracle is zero - you really don't want me taking your Oracle training do you?"

Somehow, we in India seem to prize foreign accents - mostly American or European, never Arabic or African (and there is an answer somewhere there). We do not like our accents - so much so that we even have a term for it - Mother Tongue Influence- we call it. I personally feel that this accent thing is overrated.

My favourite example is at a cricket commentary - the West Indians have their own accents - Michael Holding for example, the Brits and the South Africans as well as the Pakistani and the Lankans - each speaks their own accent of English. And if I may add - even the Indians. And none of them are trying to change their accent to sound like someone else.

At work, I have seen Chinese speakers at ease with their accents as much as Polish and German and Australian. Why, even the US itself has so many regional variations in accents and pronunciations. In fact, every language has accent and pronunciation variations (think of any language and I will show you variations) and that is what makes the language beautiful and grows the language. 

Perhaps (and I do not buy this fully), an accent was needed when the call centre industry was at its infancy and we wanted Indians to sound like Americans. This is a bit of an impersonation if you ask me and a smarter way would have been to continue with our own accents and do a great job at it. After all, if you do a great job does your accent matter? And if you have an accent, can you get by with lesser quality work?

And today, when the industry has made a name for itself, do we really need to focus on accents or focus on work? I would think work. And definitely, comprehension and articulation - but accents? Sorry, I dont buy that. Maybe a bit of polishing of grammar here and there, but no, one does not need to be a Wren and Martin specialist to get work done. It is all these idiosyncracies that make our language beautiful. Without that, no language would grow and evolve.

So, embrace your accents - talk a little slowly, explain a little slowly, ask if people are able to comprehend you - and do great work.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Diversity thoughts...

Diversity is a buzzword these days. Anybody and their uncle are after diversity. If you can talk about diversity, rest assured that you will have an audience that will eat out of your hands.

Last week, I met an interesting person who argued that diversity the way we see it  - especially from a gender perspective often just involves making a woman compete in a race where the rules are set by men. His point was that while we talk diversity, we often want the woman to be more like men - driving hard deadlines, setting tasks etc etc. The larger discussion was about masculinity and femininity and perhaps even larger around the 'left' and 'right' brain.

And that begets the question - what exactly is diversity. Is it just hiring a few women into the workplace - which is the easiest thing to do - especially when you want to show numbers.

But (and this has been my view for a while), is that diversity really resulting in thought diversity? And I dont mean you hire sociopaths and misogynists for thought diversity. Thought diversity means hiring people who have sharper strengths as opposed to rounded strengths. And then some. But the question I have in my mind - are we hiring for thought diversity (and this may or not may result from cultural diversity and educational diversity and diversity of experiences) as opposed to plain gender diversity.

So, are the creative people in the team given space to be creative and the process oriented people given the space to be comfortable in their processes and yet being accountable to the same high standard - just an example.

Caution: Developing thought

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Expert Facilitator

Had the pleasure of watching and working with an expert facilitator in action. Most of us think that facilitation is about standing and talking. That is not facilitation - that is just reading news. Or sharing information.

Facilitation is about engaging with people, teasing out viewpoints, hidden thoughts, the bullies, the soft voices, the games, the tactics and all not with a sense of superiority or grandstanding, but as an equal participant. Even as the room is going in a single direction, the facilitator can sense the need for changing direction. Even as the room is smug in its understanding, the facilitator can drop a bomb exposing the ignorance. Even as the room grapples with itself, the facilitator kindly assures them that grappling is fine. The facilitator is never on the pulpit or on the victory podium. He is there, but not there. In the shadows usually, helping the room. Sometimes, on the mat - sometimes putting someone on the mat - not for her personal triumph, but in getting the participant realize themselves. 

It is the verbal equivalent of a martial arts match - ever alert, prowling along, watching, knowing, understanding - and in the end, there is only one winner - the participants!

Such joy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clash of Clans again

We are still into clash of clans -the third week running. We have joined a clan, we donate troops (good citizen), we attack and defend with gusto etc etc. while keeping up with the levels.

It is engaging. No doubt. Addictive – perhaps yes. But then, well, the positive side is that if something so engaging is addictive as well, surely, it means that one has the capacity to stay engaged and get deep into something. And the addiction can be controlled by setting a few rules to the children, who in turn follow it.

But what is fascinating is the learning out of games like these – not a direct learning, but an indirect one.
In games, unless your resources are kept rolling, victory is not assured (whatever victory means). And these games, help you get there by small victories – in the form of points, trophies, achievements and so on.

Almost any game with resources follows this simple premise. Keep the money in circulation. Make your money work. If you have played Monopoly the only way to win is to keep the money rolling and invested. 

Games like these teach one a lot about resource allocation. Unless you allocate resources wisely and build the right things – it is tough to progress. And most often given limited resources, the choice is a tough one – makes one think logically as to what to do with the resoures. Even the design of the village allows for quite a bit of creative thinking.   

And then of course, influencing skills – the more you donate, the more the chance that you can become a clan elder – which he is now fascinated about – that gives you ‘influence’ within the clan. And nowadays a lot of conversation is about this logic – what to do next in clash of clans.

Interesting parallel to life as well. Hoarded knowledge never helps – it stagnates – bit by bit. Like money. Unless your knowledge is shared and growing, it is practically useless.But knowledge shared makes you a clan elder and gives you influence.

What level are you at again?

Don't Worry

A few days ago, our internet connection went down. The modem which has rendered yeoman service kicked the bucket. And we were suddenly like fish without water. Imagine no internet. No google. No download. No customer service numbers. 

And of course, our progress in Clash of Clans was affected. And I thought that the little one would be distraught. So, I asked him how do we progress without the internet and what if we logged in back and found our village destroyed etc. etc. (I wanted to check his feeling - and if I may admit sheepishly, I was missing clash of clans.)

And he said, “Only if you have the internet you will worry about it. If there is no internet at all, then why will I worry about it. Whenever the connection is back, we can see what to do.”

Ahem, I told myself, that is a humbling response. That is a great lesson. Why worry about factors not under our control and feel bad about something that might happen.