Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When disruption happens

Some days ago I attended a technology presentation. On Learning and Development. The vendors (like many others) have a grand (working) platform of technology enabled learning. And with the season being one of analytics and data – they offer a bouquet of data and analytics as well – more than what you know you can do with it.

As technology becomes more and more prevalent, traditional trainings are taking a back seat. There are e-learnings, e-assessments, MOOCs and e-everything. Traditional trainers have a reason to run scared. And this is true across the spectrum – any type of training.

But very often, the first state is one of denial. "This wont affect us". But the fact is that it will.

Whenever a technology reduces cost, improves scalability and provides consistency to anything – any industry – the industry will face a shake up.

When mass manufacturing came by, this happened and the hand crafted industry went through a dip.
Automatic watches wiped out the HMTs of the industry.
When cinema happened, theatre faced the same issue. Ironically, video made the same threat to cinema.
When e-learnings happened, training faced the same threat. And now MOOCs threaten universities.
When IRCTC happened, training clerks were thrown out by Indian Railways. (No, you can pause your breath on this one for now)

You can take any example and the answer is the same.

Denial was the first recourse for all these industries. But denial wont help.

Because this will shake up the industry. Like all the earlier disruptors did in their respective areas. The laggards will be wiped out. And then, like with all disruptions, those who reinvent themselves will prosper significantly.  So, the question is, how does training prosper? Ah, I wont say it that easily, will I?  

All I can say that there is a significant set of people and training organizations who really need to do better. Deliver better trainings. With passion. Explore. Push the boundaries. Ensure knowledge. Consistency. Recognize that the learning process is a constant and that as trainers they need to learn as well and stay on top of the game. Dive deep. And not stay in mediocre platitudes. Every single time. With every single customer. Open new markets. Open new customers.

And it is not just vendors who face the threat. And this is true even if you are in a training department in an organization. Your job is not safe anymore – especially if you think you can exist as a pen pusher to execute vendor solutions. Imagine an Amazon like marketplace where all vendors are listed, with ratings from peers and all vendors a click away. Ah, that whoosh was the sound of the pink slip. Yes, the same- exact same thing above is needed for a training team as well – more passion, more understanding, more value.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tough questions

Why is only a water melon a water melon?
What is an orange not a water orange? It also has the same amount of juice. Or sweet lime. Or Lemon. Or passion fruit. Or pineapple.
Why is a coconut not a water coconut - it has real water inside.

I don't know. I give up.

On Leadership

Yesterday, a historic election result happened in India. For the first time, a non-Congress party, the BJP got a majority by itself. This is unprecedented, even unexpected. But the last 10 years Congress has provided insipid, corruption ridden, uninspiring leadership that has led India slip in all possible indices. On the contrary, the incumbent, Narendra Modi has turned his state over his 14 year rule into a powerhouse.

The leadership styles could not be contrary. I will not delve into the political nuances of it - since this is a blog on learning.

What is leadership? Some lessons for people in the corporate ladder and worklife and perhaps in life as well - since leadership lessons largely tend to be the same everywhere.

Leadership is being visible, being active, right at the front. Back seat drivers exist only in cars, not in leadership. It means, facing questions, talking, communicating.The Prime Ministers victory speeches exemplify this and his style of functioning so far - which is unlikely to change.

Leadership is staying in control - this is not about control like in control freak - but leadership is about not losing control. Staying on top of every situation.Not shrugging shoulders and claiming 'hun kee karan' like a victim. The bomb blasts at Patna during his rally and how he held is calm.
Leadership is about taking decisions. That often means, that some people may find some decisions unpleasant. But leadership is not about making everybody feel good. This quest of being good to everybody usually ends in disastrous leadership. You will be seen as a vacillating, indecisive and procrastinating. Modi had to move many old entrenched leaders as part of this campaign.

Leadership means, always, always, always doing the right thing - not what is easy or expedient. The latter is usually easiest when one is following the 'I want to be good to everybody' path. And that path is a myth. It does not exist. Doing the right thing takes guts. It means tough messages have to be given. And the best part of doing the right thing is that your team sees you as meaning well for the team. Do something expedient and there is a marginal short term gain, but a massive long term loss. This is well known - on many things, Modi has continued to do the right thing - without ever taking the easier path.

Leadership means showing faith in people. Letting the next level do what they are assigned to do. And if need be, following their instinct. The way Amit Shah ran his campaign in UP - he had a free hand - and the dissenters went whining to him - they were asked to shape up or ship out.

Leadership is all about connect. Many of his twitter followers got a personalised message for working with him. Yes, it was perhaps sent by a automated software, but well, he cared to send that. 

There is much more to be said and perhaps I will, as we see our Prime Minister start working through the many things that will come his way. But this much I must say - for the first time, we have an inspirational political figure in India, in our lifetime.

Yes, not everyone can be a leader - see our outgoing leadership. These are the people who are on vacations when asked to take difficult calls, do the easy things because the right things are difficult, spout spiritual quotes and do the exact opposite. Believe me, the nation can see it - and if the nation can see it, so can your teams.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The decline of youtube

As summarised by the ten year old while trawling through youtube lego and carnatic music videos.

First there were no ads,
Then there were ads on some videos, but you could skip them,
Now there are ads which you cannot even skip

 Google, please do not be evil - even the ten year old can see it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When disciplines intersect

Creativity, Breakthrough ideas, are often found at the intersection of disciplines it is said. A recent book, The Medici effect looks at exactly this. This great example which I found on twitter yesterday (via @KS1729) blew my mind away. It is simple - Carnatic music notes set to 19th century British violin (the kind, which my non musical mind thinks was heard in Disney fairy tales like Snow White). The effect of it is tremendous and so creative. So, a multi disciplinary approach could result in a higher degree of creativity.

Update: Turns out that the story is much more interesting. This was composed in the late 1700s when Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the Carnatic composer greats was exposed to English music - and composed a set of forty odd songs based on various European/English notes (hence called nottuswara). The effect is mindblowing to say the least. That a great carnatic composer was able to stretch his mind, appreciate another type of music and come up with something totally unexpected - what a phenomenal result.

Here is one more (again via Keerthik on twitter). What all creative minds can achieve - if they stretch their boundaries!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to teach Ekalavya

The story of Ekalavya in Mahabharata is soul stirring tale and has quite a sad and gory end. Ekalavya is an epithet that is best used to describe someone who learns on ones own - in this case, Ekalavya uses the statue of Dronacharya to learn - all the while learning by himself with the guru as inspiration. Dronacharya himself, had no idea of this, until he meets his pupil in person at a later point.

The internet is giving rise to several Ekalavyas. There is a generation of adults and children who are making immense use of the internet to learn. If there were an age of the autodidact, this would be it.

Yes, there are courses, MOOCs, spanking websites with videos, but there are many others who with the power of the long tail - are reaching audiences they would otherwise never dream of reaching.

Case in point - the little one, who alernatively is a fan of Jay Stepher, JangBricks and Zazinombies. Yes, I am very sure you would have never heard of these names - he found them somehow on youtube. And one of his friends also knows these guys. So, as a Lego fan, you get to learn stuff that is otherwise impossible to learn if it were not for these 'gurus'. And he is pretty good at building stuff from blocks - from all these random teachers on the internet. He gets inspired and makes his own creation. He is not going to get any certificate from any school for any of this work, but does this go and sit in his brain somewhere - I am sure it does. And perhaps as a learning methodology - this approach seems to work wonders than the rigmarole of learning Hindi at school - which is neither cool nor adding value as he sees it.

The other person he is a fan of is Jeremy Clarkson and his show on TV - Top Gear. He knows more about cars than any other person of similar age I suppose - and then again I might be wrong. Somewhere, in the backyard there may be a zillion kids inspired by these shows.

These are just two examples. But corporate learning has not got to this stage - atleast not yet. It helps that the Ekalayva generation is just about getting in to workplaces. But more importantly, how are schools and colleges going to cope with this ultra knowledgeable, ultra passionate, self learning generation?

And what are the opportunities in the real world that we can create to tap into this? What other things might Ekalavya be interested in? And how does one get them interested in those?

What is creativity

What is creativity? There are a zillion answers out there and I have explored some of them here itself. While I am no authority on creativity and while I am no famous creative 'type' there are occasions in my life when I have been blessed with creative output.

During one such discussion where we were playing around with a new concept, one person said, "Look it has already been done before. So our idea has lost the game before it was in the reckoning"

But that was the beauty of creativity. The idea may be out there - but to do it differently is creativity. For example, public transport exists - in whatever form in the country. But to do it differently - better comfort, higher speed, greater safety, greater reliability - is creativity. We have been learning for ages - but an ipad app that lets you learn through play is creativity. We have been working out for ages - but a wearable is creativity. We have been cooking for ages - but a new recipe is creativity.

The idea can be a constant - it is always letting the user do something. Every idea is about the 'user experience'.

How that user experience can change by virtue of the creativity you apply is the moot point.

In a nutshell, "Yes, we did it. But can we do it differently? Very differently? Turn the idea on its head? Make it flow with passion?" Now if you can answer yes to any or all of those questions, you may be onto some creativity.