Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Design Thinking

I am a huge fan of the Design Thinking Methodology of Stanford dschool. So, I was mighty thrilled to see that their website has kind of made all this information available online as an 'open source cookbook'.

Having done this a couple of times before, it was a familiar process, but to have the site as a ready reckoner was useful.

So I got all the materials done, printed and it all worked like a dream.

The one thing which I faced an 'issue' was the understanding of 'empathy' by my audience. It took me a little while to figure that one out - but I know how I will do it in my next session.

So, thanks D School for putting this out for people to use...

Learning from the internet

The topic of learning from the internet or learning in the internet era fascinates me. As mobile connectivity goes up, facts are on our fingertip - more and more. This is one aspect - so as we travel to say, historical places, our facts are on our fingertips.

Recently, we had the opportunity to visit a few historical places. As we went from place to place, we had all the facts on our fingertip - including directions, history, names and so on. There is much more potential that can be exploited here I think.

That is one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is the long tail of the internet. The fact that you have the internet, makes it easy for you to reach out to experts in almost anything - however obscure. And that is the power of the internet.

Take for example - paper planes. When I grew up, I depended on cousins, friends and parents to learn about a design of paper planes. All in all, I knew about 5 designs. Until I stumbled upon a book in a friends place that had a few more. I learnt those - and I remember them to this day.

Now, the boy, has suddenly taken a liking to paper planes. And off he went to youtube - and there are fold by fold instructions for a thousand paper planes. He outgrew my designs very quickly and went off to learn more complex things.

The process is fascinating. When one is interested, the hunger for knowledge is a great driver to learn more. And the internet helps that process - by virtue of having a ready access to the right kind of information.

And you can go climbing levels of complexity on the same - because the internet has that complexity available on it. So, when we did not have access, your knowledge was limited by those around you - no longer the case now.

And it went upto a point, when he was able to grasp the first principles of gliders - weight distribution, lift, etc etc - and create his own designs.

How cool would it be if we did that for learners...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning and Development 3

Here is a disruptive idea for the LnD world. Make that two. How does one make the coordinatosaurus extinct? Exactly the same way that the internet eliminated middlemen.
What if we had a marketplace of Learning and Development consultants, vendors, content creators and the like available at one place?
Imagine this. A marketplace of Learning partners. With ratings by their users. Searchable by Speciality. Feedback from the companies who have used them. Like Transparent pricing. Transparent usage. (I know that transparent prices may not exactly be to everybodys liking, but bear with me.)
If Redbus can do it and Bookmyshow can do it, why not a Learning portal to sell training and learning to companies (mainly) and employees?
As we speak, companies are trying to reduce cost by either outsourcing the entire LnD or hiring cheaper program managers  - whose only job is coordinate trainings. And this is the apt kind of job that should be eliminated – because algorithm and data can do this better than humans. Even as we speak, in the financial services industry robots are doing a better job than humans as wealth advisors. If robots are good enough for wealth advisors, why not for training advisors?
A portal like this does two things. One is, it eliminates wastage for companies. Once companies register on the portal, they can request trainings, float RFPs, and even trade on training seats. On the other hand, it allows learning vendors to optimize capacity, and make themselves available to a larger range of companies.
And for the companies, you need not hire LnD guys who are program managers in disguise. You can seek out genuine guys who add real value. Who are passionate about the learning process as genuine enablers. Who can consult with you in the true sense and move away from the ‘learning as an event’ that often qualifies as training.
(Yes, there is a website that purportedly does that, but what I have in mind is a slightly more ‘premium’ portal if you will. Is it possible? I don't know, if the idea will work at a macro level.)
But in a smaller way, this idea can be replicated within an organization. All it takes is a set of registered vendors who have delivered programs for a company. These programs are rated by those who engaged them – and once they deliver with a certain level of feedback and effectiveness, it is available for other leaders to use. Thus it reduces the level of coordination that is required from the LnD world plus it allows for much more transparency on what exactly is being used by the organization and by whom. Over time, the best vendors rise up to the process and are sought after by the company. And the company can create criteria for newer vendors to be part of this program and so on and so forth.
(If it can be overlaid with team stages, self-assessments, training algorithms, learning roadmaps – you practically have a learning and development roadmap built in for any team. That means, for any incumbent who takes over a team, the entire development roadmap is immediately visible as well – though this may be a bigger bite to chew.) This can be done for other types of training as well – and it is probably easier to do so when it comes to technical and process training. Since the objectives are easily measurable. And feedback is clearer as well.
It can also be made available for employees – using a logical algorithm to point out to potential next steps on their learning path – whether technical or behavioural or others. And with the rich data that organizations typically have with them, it is very much possible to leverage that to offer a great learning experience. Add ‘social’ into the mix and you have word of mouth as well. Parts of these exist for sure, but clearly much more can be done. Now to find someone who will help implement this! And this can be extended to any ‘service provider’ or ‘middleman’ function.
On a related note: The internet has removed many ‘middlemen’, however the intranet can remove many more! 

Learning and development 2

A typical coordinatosaurus response to the nature of their work is, “Hey, but I manage many senior business relations – or I am into relationship management”.
What is relationship management, especially in the context of service groups like Learning and Development? For a lot of people, their understanding of relationship management is that of a cargo cult science. It means, to drop by someone’s desk, chat a little, asking how things are going and then go underground until the next meeting. It could mean, once in a while, meeting them for tea, taking their opinion on world events or recipes or vacation spots (sarcasm alert).
I once met a Business Unit head who told me quite candidly, “Can you ask your team to stop setting meetings with me. I see no value out of them. Just do the work with the assigned coordinator and let me know when you have achieved something. Don't wait for my permission, get going on a business problem and let me know when you have solved it. At that time, I would be happy to meet.”
That was an a-ha moment for me – coming as I did from the school of thought that believes that relationship is an outcome – it is earned, not gifted for free. What he said was music to my ears.
A lot of times, relationship building ends up being all about meeting the highest paid person (usually the head of a group), taking approvals and using that stick to beat up those who do not comply (and that passes off as Learning and Development). It is a bit like wandering around with a t-shirt that says, “By order - Management”. Not many business leaders are as candid as the above person, but what he is said is true. Business leaders have a limited amount of time. So, unless your meeting adds value to them – don't meet. How would you know that? Your meeting gets moved. Or cancelled. Isnt that signal enough?
The question to ask is not why am I not getting to meet them.
Ask yourself how you can add value and those meetings will magically happen.
Instead of setting up time to ask how things are going – go with a problem and a potential solution. Go with a problem and seek a deeper understanding. Go with a question that keeps them awake at night (to use a proverbial corporate phrase) and then see if you can help resolve it. Go with the solution of a problem you have solved for that group. Seek out problems. Find out those who are passionate about solving them. And help them solve it.
And then watch how relationships get built automatically. Or as an outcome! Sure, schmooze all you like, but this is a surefire route to relationship building. Each time, I see a group that I don't have a relationship with, metaphorically speaking, I ask myself what work did I do for them? What problem did I solve for them? And mostly, I see that we have delivered ordinary day to day work or that we have not solved any business problem for them.
This is happening in other areas as well, including sales, where traditionally relationship building was all about lunches and networking and knowing people. While that is useful, the one who wins is the one who has solved or is solving your burning problem.  

Learning and Development 1

A few years ago, I used to work in the IT industry as a Project Manager. My role was to manage the team. It was my dream job at that time. But the truth was that I was a people manager. I did no real work. Honestly, I had very little idea on what my team exactly did.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was more and more of an administrator than contributing in any real way to the team and the organization. A series of career moves, mostly out of serendipity, I found myself in the Learning and Development space. And discovered that it is my passion. And over the years, continue to build my skills, bit by bit – and yet remain ‘hands-on’ simply because there is no other way to get better at what you do than by doing it.
So, from the point where I should have been happy ‘managing people in IT’ to the point where I became ‘hands-on in LnD’ is the story of the IT and the LnD industry – where the delivery part of IT is facing a crisis. The IT industry today does not want pure people managers. They want people with hands on experience. At 15-20 years of work experience – that was unheard of some years ago!
Cut to the LnD (Learning and Development) space. The LnD world is going through a similar crisis, if you will. There is a shortage of people who have relevant skills. Today the industry has a plethora of program managers – coordinators. Their primary job is that of a middleman – to connect those who need training to those who deliver training. (Some of them are also gatekeepers and do very important things, like manage the training budget and write stringent rules and play god on training nominations.)
Like in the technology delivery some years ago, when software engineers came of age when they stopped coding, the coming of age of a learning and development professional is that they no longer need to create content, design and deliver solid learning enablement programs. They zoom in and zoom out of meetings – organize meetings with vendors/learning partners and have check in meetings with business partners – relationship management. And yes, many of the vendors are hands on – they have to be (indeed, many of those passionate about learning go independent so that they can continue to work on what they love to work on instead of filling out meaningless spreadsheets). The vendors work with the business and come up with an engagement or a program and the LnD manager then basks in reflected glory and maybe gets an award or two.
While working with vendors/partners is good, it is also worth asking, how much and at what levels. Because many training and learning needs go way beyond what a vendor can do – almost anything meaningful will need wholehearted internal participation and championship. And while vendors bring specific expertise, the LnD owner also needs go beyond just co-ordination. Because if this is all they do, like in the IT industry, any company will look to cut costs. And that happens at the first places where there are middlemen. Some companies are looking to outsource entire LnD departments. Others have outsourced the program management to ‘bodyshopping’ companies who supply program managers at a cheap rate. It is like a librarians job. Once books go online, a librarian is no longer needed. So too with training. Once an available list of training is created and put up, the LnD is no longer needed, because business can call up and get any training delivered at their door. And they need a thin staff for doing real work.
Do I hear you say, LnD is not just about organizing trainings? Of course. But unless LnD professionals are able to communicate this to their organizations by delivering solid, value added work, organizations will never see it that way.
Are you a real LnD professional? Are you the first person that comes to the mind of business when they think of a learning initiative? Do you always have seat on the table when there is a learning initiative? Are you able to direct the business to plug gaps in their learning portfolio? Do you give a-ha moments to your business partners? Is the level of collaboration between your HR and LnD seamless? Are you able to address gaps on your own – without always involving a vendor? Are you driving change management programs with the visceral engagement of business? (Notice, I have not mentioned training yet).
If you are, that's great, because coordinatorsaurses deserve to be extinct!  

Monday, October 12, 2015


This is a story I never tire narrating. How I learnt one of the languages  I am fluent in.

When I was a small boy, there was a friend of my mothers who would drop by each day and they would chat - right within my earshot. Day in and day out, for an hour, they would chat in a langauge - that was not my mother tongue. And over a few years, guess what - I knew the language like the back of my hand. A few words were exchanged with me - but I am sure that was not it - it was just hearing two people interact that I learnt an entire language.

And then I realized that I was able to understand any two people who spoke that language. From then to people to movies to songs to conversation was an easy leap.

This process intrigues me...the human process of learning...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The cab driver

Recently,  I happened to take a cab and got talking to the driver. The driver connected with me because I was fluent in his language. And we got talking.

The driver, for his age, all of 23, has probably attempted more things in life than someone twice his age. He runs a mobile shop and one more thing (which I forget). He has driven trucks, has a heavy vehicle license, a commercial driver licence and a license to drive explosives. He is a head of some actors fan organization. The guy has shifted to Bangalore less than a year ago, learnt the language, knows the roads of the city (the GPS helps) and is such a great communicator - one wonders what he is doing as a cab driver. While he arranges for supplies for his shop, he has invested in a vehicle and drives it to make money while he does it.

Needless to say, the guy will not be a cab driver for long. He will go on to do something else for sure.

Now, the thought I got after hearing him was that the guy is uneducated (by commonly known standards of education). But in terms of worldly knowledge and street smartness, go getting ability - the guy will beat many an educated person by a long long margin.

This is somewhat of a recurring thought - about how education makes us reduce our risk taking abilities as opposed to increasing it.

The more we are educated, the more we won't take risks - in general. And is there a way to make education do that to you - make you more confident in yourself so you can take more risks - like some of our best institutions often do...

Developing thought...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The niches of the internet

I continue to be fascinated by the niches of the internet. It is like the long long Long Tail. If there is one place on earth that can bring people of interests together across the world, it is the internet.

Whether is a specific cooking method or a baking bread or a dance form or art form or even something like making paper airplanes, the internet has it all.

In that sense, never before has technology united humans in this fashion ever.

At the same time, because of these niches, there are other areas which one never gets to see (well, that is the same in the real world - so this argument does not entirely wash).

So, well, keep exploring...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

From expert to fun

What fun it is to see an expert have fun is it not? When you see someone improvising on a piece of music or dance or facilitation or sports - is it not fun?

The amazing thing about this is that unless you are an expert you cannot have fun. (Hat tip to better half for articulating this.) Let me qualify.

If you see an expert musician improvise on a piece - and it sounds so good - almost as if she is playing around with the music - it is fun, but it is also good. The expert can have fun in a way that it is still rhythmic, musical, enjoyable - you name it.

It is not the same as clowning around - singing off key or missing all shots that are thrown at you.

This is the magic - where the expert juggler can juggle with more fun than anyone else. See this violin maestro having fun with the violin - a classical musician playing a film song and having fun with it. See his expressions as he does it...

Or watch Roger Federrer try out a new second serve return - that only an expert can do...


Know the rules, then break some - if you don't know the rules you aren't good enough. Knowing those rules and then questioning and being able to bend them - thats genius...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Open mindedness and humility

One of my favorite interview questions is, "So, what are you learning nowadays?"

Learning something is a great way to stay in touch with the learning process in itself.

Ever so often, we build high walls around us that prevent us from learning - there is arrogance  (I know everything) and that often leads to being blindsided.

I have been struggling with learning a new sport these days. Just the other day when I thought I had cracked it, I ended up with a hand injury that took a few days to heal. And then after that I had to face a coach who was making do a bunch of things which I thought was juvenile.

I could hear my mind go, "Am I supposed to be doing all this?" "I am beyond this" "Why is this idiot making me do all this?" "I know all this - I learnt it in class 1"

And then I realized that this is a typical response when we are confronted with change or sometimes with a different situation (at life or work).

Learning ensures that you are humble. Of accepting that the kid who is teaching you, is an expert in something you aren't an expert in. Of accepting that you need to learn more. Of accepting that you need to do more. Persist. Persevere. And keep at it till you get it (if you want to get better at whatever you are learning).

Learning ensures that you need to be open minded. That coach will tell you to move your legs in a particular way and keep admonishing (or encouraging) you to get that last bit right till you do it the right way. It is all about opening your mind to hearing, to listening, to calming, to accepting instead of rejecting...

And just having this exposure ever so often makes one a better human being...I love this process. 

Monday, August 24, 2015


Old TED talk, but it is a continuation of my last post in a way...That we should not and must not confuse between grit and rote learning. Putting in the hours, learning something till they get it right is not rote learning - it is perhaps grit. Perhaps we romanticise the fact that 'I cannot learn by rote' or is it our own euphemism for, 'I cannot work hard'. Questions, questions...

But yes, grit is what makes people successful...sounds simple enough, but as she asks, how do we build it in kids? Or ourselves?

Tailpiece: For me, this has shown up in two separate places. For a year I used to turn up at a class - the only thing in my favor was the fact that I was regular. I was not the strongest or the most skillful nor the fastest. But I was regular. And I asked my coach, well, what have I learnt? And what he said will remain in my mind till the end - he said, "Well, you have turned up every single day wanting to learn. That one thing will keep you ahead of those who did not".

And in another instance, we were at rehearsals for a play. Our group - three of us, turned up, day after day, come rain, wind or run, to rehearse. It helped that all of us believed that we were talentless, but we wanted to do well. And so we did. Rehearsed, played, tried, experimented, rounded the rough edges and worked on it till beyond perfection. And in the end, we were rewarded and how. What we lacked in acting 'talent' we made up with sheer practice. And not once, did we flub a dialogue. And on the other side where supposedly talented people who just did not put in the hard work - and it showed in their work.

Yes, grit works.

I don't know what else will work, ever. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

What is rote learning?

In general, we hold rote learning with utter disdain. Add it to the context of the Indian education system and everybody tells you that rote learning is bad. But is it so bad?

Take the example of sports coaching. You hit a million shots or punches or balls - whatever that is - ultimately you are getting those drills to move from conscious competence to unconscious competence. And that is exactly what rote learning does.

So, if rote learning is bad, so should sports coaching as well? The IIT coaching classes that are a rage today do exactly the same thing. Make the person go through so many drills so that the end of the few years, they are 'experts' just by virtue of having done the same thing so many times that it is internalised.

So, is the disdain for rote learning a disdain for effort? Or is it a slightly more nuanced position.

I suppose the answer that you will get if you put the above hypothesis is that, well, our learning is a lot of rote but with very little build up on top of that. Or that they just learn text book things but without much real learning. And while all of these are real issues - rote learning as a means to get the unconscious competence is a great way. And that means, that the student is just better prepared. However, if  you cannot build on the scaffolding of rote learning - whether it is in music or sports or dance or studies - then that becomes a drawback.

Rote learning as a means to regurgitate textbook knowledge is useless. Rote learning as a means to get faster to the next level of unconscious competence is good...

Let us not confuse the two and imagine that children will learn anything without putting in the hours.

Nobody ever became an expert on anything that they did not work on a day to day basis - putting in the hours.

Or the other way - if you do nothing each day, you become nothing. Whatever you put the hours in, that is what you become an expert on!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Micro Awareness

Some more thoughts on the conscious competence stage of learning. So, let us say you are learning something new - and the instructor has told you to focus on a few things, the feet, the shoulder, the swing, the eyes, the knees...

It is difficult. If the feet are right, the grip is wrong. If the grip and feet are right, you missed seeing the ball. If you did all of that, the knees did not bend. If you bent the knees, the shoulder and everything else was in the wrong place...

It is like juggling balls - struggling to keep them all in the air while they are falling.

The interesting thing is that as you struggle through the process, with the awareness, you know it. When the ball is mishit, you know that something was wrong and later on you know specifically what was wrong. That is what I mean by micro- awareness. Even as you hit the shot, you know that the knees did not bend enough. Many a time you know what is wrong, at other times the coach helps either with an instruction or a smile or something...but that micro awareness phase is quite an amazing one.

You lose focus - the balls fall. You stay focused and you can see yourself getting better, step by little step. Slowly. With awareness. But you can see it happen. Sometimes by slowing down a little, sometimes by listening - to the coach or to your own micro-awareness...

And as the Buddha would say, this micro awareness helps us stay focussed on the here and now...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Learning as a disability

Sometimes, learning erects these high walls in front of us. I was reading the book 'Mastery' and it struck me that, yes, it does indeed happen.

The book calls it as a learning disability. Yes, it happens to every one of us. It happens to organizations, blindsided as it were by their high walls. It has happened to forts and fortifications, literally because of their high walls. And it happens to people as well.

People like us, who are professionally qualified often look at the 'untaught' 'expert' with scorn. Yet it is often these 'untaught' experts that go on to make disruptive ideas, start ups - because they do not come with the 'teaching' that it cannot be done.

Experts refuse to acknowledge a new process or method - blocked as they are from viewing it, thanks to the high walls they raised in the process of being an expert.

We often do it as well - when a child asks us very simple questions, we often wonder how we did not see it ourselves.

And in many organizations, this is known as building kingdoms where other than building forts on desks and manning the turrets with email cannons, everything akin to a war is fought to protect kingdoms and turfs...

How does one ensure that there is a childlike curiosity whenever we look at something new? How to ensure that we look at everything as an opportunity rather than a threat? How to look at a market with fresh eyes every time without having to blindsided by nimble opponents? Questions, questions...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Indian Army - Leadership video

This leadership chat by Raghu Raman is mind-blowing at many levels. Hats off to the Indian Army.

What he talks about leadership is amazing though - something that can be equalled in air-conditioned conference rooms. This is raw stuff - the real stuff if  you will.

Tempted to write a few quotes, but well, view the whole thing if you are in any way connected to leadership development. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Unlearning in the mind...

Caution: Evolving thought and amateur post

So, if unlearning is so interesting, why is it difficult? And whereas (atleast in my experience), unlearning physical aspects seems to be easier than unlearning mental bad habits...

And how does one tackle that?

First up, the age old debate of does body follow mind or does the mind follow the body? In a lot of physical things - the mind follows the body. Get the body to do stuff and the mind follows. Not immediately, not with a whoop of joy, but eventually the mind falls in line. Whether it is acting or tennis or even in body language - as the terrific TED talk by Amy Cuddy shows and we have all felt it.

However, in places where it is only in the mind - like certain behavior aspects or some age old thought pattern one is trying to change, this is a fairly mental game. Sure, yes, your body is around and you can use it a bit, but in these cases, its all in the mind.

So why is the former relatively easier and the latter relatively difficult?

I have my theory and I think it is practice. Practice of physical gymnastics is easier than mental. And unless you get into the rigor of coaching it won't change in either. But the fact is that physical gymnastics have one 'right' way of doing it (with many variations) - whereas in mental, it is really 'to each his own' and arriving at the sweet spot of 'what I can do' and 'what is the best way to do it' to 'what can work here' has too many variables. Plus of course, most mental gymnastics involve another person. And that makes it all the more complex...

Friday, July 31, 2015

The unlearning part of the learning process

Each time I learn something, I am intrigued by the unlearning part of the learning process. And I seem to enjoy that process.

This is the part where, as you learn, you need to be fully in the moment. For example, as the coach (and the coach may be someone half your age) says, don't use your wrist use your forearms. It takes conscious effort of everything in the mind to tell the wrist to stay still and put the forearms to work. It take conscious effort to keep the racket at the right position.

And you have to do it every single time. And just when you think you have got it, the mind slips into bad habits. The wrist suddenly takes over and you feel a stinging pain. Or the knee doesn't bend and the upper body does and you receive a message that, you got it wrong. And there are these delicious moments when you know you got it wrong and you know it just that at point when you got it wrong and then you get into position again and, well, try it again.

As you might have guessed - these are from my own lessons for the two tennis classes I took. Since I have always played badminton, tennis and a bit of cricket - the wrists are always in play. Not so in tennis - so it is an amazing unlearning process.

Previous posts on unlearning, here and here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Story Telling

Twitter is cool - perhaps the entire internet is. I found this piece on Neelesh Mishra (well, I heard this name for the first time - more on this phenomenon later).

And found his stories on youtube.

Wow...this is great. And he is quite a story teller. Never heard a story on radio, I must admit...and this is a first for me...

Am not an audio learner, but this one was surely interesting...I wish we had story tellers in other languages as well on the internet. And may there are...Maybe there are podcasts and radio stations relaying forgotten stories.

Now thinking what can be done with this...

Big Hero 6

That Pixar principles of story telling post was not a coincidence.

The kids wanted to see a movie and as we searched through Chromecast, we saw a movie called Big Hero 6. I had heard from a friend that the kids enjoyed it so I thought, well, why not.

I however, was sceptical. Yet another childrens movie - how different can it be.

But it was and the children were rolling in laughter, gaping in amazement, debating forcefully, hanging onto the edge of their seats and as the movie came to an end, their eyes moistened.

And then the inevitable, post movie discussion - why did this happen? Why did he do like that? How did that happen? Why could it not happen that way? Why did not bring him back?

And so on and so forth...

A great story makes you do all that. Stay with it for as long as it continues and then it stays with you for a long time...And Big Hero 6 does that...

The Pixar principles of storytelling

I had come across the Pixar principles of story-telling some time ago.

And while there is some fabulous advice there, often many movies, stories, just do not live up to the expectations of the audience.

But when they do, the effect is magic! Here are the rules reproduced from the Pixar Touch blog.
[Pixar Touch Blog]
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
My personal favorites are 4,12, 14, 22, but well, you do need all of them!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

How learning comes in the way

Having learnt everything through English for most of my life - learning to read and write another language is proving to be an uphill task.

Other conversational languages that I have learnt have been learnt via informal structures - so we learnt to speak these first before we learnt to write - so the learning process was different.

But as I try to learn a new language (Sanskrit), English comes in the way. The grammar (or whatever little I know of it), the structure - all of it.

This is perhaps true for anything else.

If you have learnt something - unlearning that is an uphill task. Unlearning something and relearning something else (and these have to happen one after after the other) is a tough job. Whether it is a technique, whether it is instinct or whatever else...

When we play a game for example, tackling every next level requires a bit of unlearning, followed by insight and then the solution!

Unlearning is an important component of the learning process!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The joy of learning a language

Most of the times when we learnt languages at school, there is hardly joy in the learning process. There are very few a-ha moments.

For example, when we learnt English, we hardly learnt to appreciate the language. The appreciation happened much later via PG Wodehouse. (Our syllabus did have a PG lesson though - and a chapter out of the Little Prince and one from Sherlock Holmes  - so we had one good lesson a year). But the concept of reading a novel or a good story was not there. Some worthy had replaced it with a pathetic book on moral science or some such crap. Net result - zero appreciation.

Take Hindi - again, there were snatches of some good poems and writings - but overall, Hindi was a dreary learning effort and I was thankful that I would never have to learn Hindi ever in my life.

Marathi - similar lines - the selections was better than Hindi, but the overall effect of learning these languages did not leave us with any appreciation of the subject.

The other languages I learnt are not via formal methods.

Recently, I started learning Sanskrit and it is amazing to see the way the language is 'different'.

Most commonly, languages are either subject-object-verb (most indic languages) and the subject-verb-object (English and others). Sanskrit, amazingly has a structure independent of both these formats. Because in the structure of the language the words carry additional meanings with them so regardless of how you arrange the words, the meaning is retained.

That being said, the word rules are not simple, but the way the language is 'constructed' has led to many an a-ha moment for me - because for one, it is different and two, it is amazingly well though through - allowing one to establish nuances that would otherwise be difficult.

Having just started out, it is interesting to see how it evolves as my lessons get complex.

But since I see the little ones struggle with language (Hindi) or learning a language in a functional way (English) - I wish there were a little more joy in learning a language which is presently absent in the way it is taught.

How could you do it? With some songs of different hues to explore the word play? Great stories instead of mediocre ones? Great poems too? Proverbs (and Hindi is replete with them as are other languages). Maybe even Haiku and make kids create their own and play with language. All of this are absent in the methods that are presently used...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

An archaeological expedition

The vacations are coming to an end. The vacation for education is the human civilizational equivalent of disappearing cities. The books have all been covered with layers of mud, forests and infested with dangerous animals - mostly amnesia inducing. But the schools are about to reopen. And those ancient cities need to be discovered. Again. Now.

The discovery is not easy though. The locals say that such cities never existed. The little ones deny that they were ever educated in the alphabet. In fact they are quite sure that certain alphabets do not exist in the Devanagari script. Satellite images clearly show the presence of lost cities under the earth, but the people around are not convinced. Old books have been produced, with their own writing to show that they were once educated in this language. However, a combination of amnesia and denial can do many things to civilization. And only the bravest of the brave archaeologists can delve deep into the mounds, brave the snakes and animals and dig out those forgotten artefacts of civilization.

Two alphabets which were reported missing have been found after much effort. There is still an attempt to deny that these alphabets never existed in the Devanagari script. These are the two alphabets that were needed. If alphabets can disappear, you can imagine that the grammar structure which held the language must have vanished altogether.

All in all, we are now ready for the great archaeological expedition. Armed with tools, we need to dig deep and discover those alphabets. Rebuild those grammar structure so that at some point in time, the edifices stand up to their erstwhile glory. (Pardon the euphemism, but there were no edifices - they were just fragile structures that needed a bit of a light breeze to topple them over.) But yes, we have begun. Two missing alphabets have been traced. The range of other discoveries will be known only as we undertake this perilous expedition.

The expedition to unearth the forgotten cities of Hindi. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovation at your level...

Solving a problem..Innovation...whatever you want to call it!

A useful video to share...

On unlearning, learning and bias

It is one of those things that do not need explanation! Worth a watch this one...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On challenges

Some years ago at a job interview a candidate told me, "I am looking for a challenge that is why I am looking for a new job"

And I asked him,"Why is staying at your current job not challenging enough?"

A few days ago, the little one was building yet another complex contraption with his building blocks and was stuck. He said, this is difficult.

And off went the parental machine,"Well everything is difficult. Things take time and effort. And you know it. But ask yourself how come you do these challenges very well with patience, time and effort while other challenges like Hindi make you crib"

"I don't like Hindi"

Yes, in both cases, challenges are challenges only if the mind sees an element of positiveness in them.  If the learner does not accept your challenge as a challenge but as a drudgery then you have lost the battle.

The 'why' has to be established in the learners mind - and then challenges become challenges worth taking up...

Games and Trainings

Each time one downloads a new game app - the most likely reason is curiosity. Which is really, "Let me see what it is about." And in an area that we are interested in - that is the big pull. Do I care. If I do not, the existence of it is invisible.

Once you download, what sustains the interest for that immediate trial is the novelty - because it is different - either the genre or the treatment or the format or something like that. The second is the challenge - how easy or difficult is it. And the trick is for it to be exactly in the middle  - not too easy not too difficult. And from then on, it is all about sustaining interest - are we progressing while maintaining the level of interest and challenge and that the parents do not see it as a waste of time and so on so forth.

Until now, only two games have sustained our interest beyond 6 months. Take it Easy and Clash of Clans (now deleted because it was eating up too much time of parent and kid). Threes made it for a few weeks but the challenge got too difficult. Push Cars - we finished it all within 3 months and tried it for a second time. Dragon box  - a superlative app that makes maths as addictive as Clash of Clans. Morris Lessmore was a hit for a briefish while.

A bunch of programming games were downloaded on the premise of it being very exciting (parent) - but they were dismissed by the customer (kid). And so were many other games similar to CoC. Racing games were too fast. Word games too complex (for them). Some too slow. Some too clunky and so on an so forth.

Cut to training.

What makes a good learning experience? One is novelty - of the learning goal and method regardless of the topic. If instead of a person standing in front of you, you see a game board or a set of things or something different - how would that make you feel? The caveat - novelty for the sake of novelty is passe - the audience has to care about the topic at hand - and if that is not happening then one needs to know why and how to create that interest and so on (and perhaps eat humble pie that the audience does not care). (The easiest thing is to do what the audience cares about.) So, the novelty has to be established to take you forward to whatever the learners have come to learn. (I am looking for a strategy game - any new thing in a racing game won't attract me, but a new flavor of a strategy game will.)

The second is usually, "show me something new" and not new for sake of it, but new in a way that adds value to me. That is insight. Even if it is plain old presentation skills, give me insight, that  I can use. Clearly, a whats in it for me question. It doesn't matter which one you establish first - but both these need to be established as part of the experience. (Learning maths by stealth as an example)

Third, within the learning experience, stretch me. Make me think. Make me do stuff. Make me discuss, argue, experience. (all the above games fall in that category)

Fourth - have a bit of competition. Not too much, but just a bit. And make the competition on teamwork or collaboration or a skill that they have newly learnt. Just that make it as a group rather than individual. (Ditto)

All this will not work if the learner in question does not have a strong 'why am I learning this'. (like those programming games).

Developing thought!!

Questions, questions...

I read a fascinating article in Swarajya magazine the other day by Sanjoy Mukherjee (the content is behind a paywall), on Prashnopanishad and on questioning. Apparently the story goes that the students asked 6 questions, one after another and after one question was answered, they asked the second one and so on. Each question took them to a higher level of consciousness and so on from which they never turned back. That got me curious about the Prashnopanishad.

(From the wiki page)
The opening verses of Prashna Upanishad describe students who arrive at a school seeking knowledge about Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Universal Soul).[13] They ask sage Pippalada to explain this knowledge. He does not start providing answers for their education, but demands that they live with him ethically first, as follows,[13]
तन् ह स ऋषिरुवच भूय
एव तपसा ब्रह्मचर्येण श्रद्धया संवत्सरं संवत्स्यथ
यथाकामं प्रश्नान् पृच्छत
यदि विज्ञास्यामः सर्वं ह वो वक्ष्याम इति ||

To them then the Rishi (sage) said:
Dwell with me a year, with Tapas, with Brahmacharya, with Sraddha (faith),
Then ask what questions you will,
If we know, we will tell you all.
—Prashna Upanishad, 1.2[13][14]
This preface is significant, states Johnston,[5] as it reflects the Vedic era belief that a student's nature and mind must first show a commitment, aspiration and moral purity before knowledge is shared.[15] Secondly, the method of first question by the student and then answer is significant, according to Johnston,[5] as it reflects an interactive style where the student has worked out the question for himself before he is provided an answer, in contrast to a lecture style where the teacher provides the questions and answers regardless of whether the student understands either.[16][17] The three ethical precepts emphasized in this verse of Prashna Upanishad are Tapas (austerity, perseverance, fervour), Brahmacharya (chastity, self discipline) and Sraddha (faith, purity, calmness of mind).[16][18][5]
The second interesting part of the answer is the implicit admission by the teacher with "if we know", that he may not know the answer, and thus acknowledging a sense of skepticism and humility into the process of learning.[5][19]

(From the wiki page)

And I found this site which has explanations and links to the questions in short and I was quite fascinated by it. Still digesting that site and the explanations it has to offer.

But connecting it back to learning experiences, how would it be if we structured an entire learning experience on questions? Just questions? From an organization development standpoint, what would that look like?

PS: I had this approach tried out in part recently and it is still WIP because the project stopped midway due to time constraints...but the facilitators were happy because we said just come and we will ask you questions and you need no more preparation. 

Monday, May 11, 2015


As we played Valiant Hearts - the game is free only unto a point - it becomes chargeable. And the game, engaging as it is, stops at a crucial point and says, "Want to know what happens to these heroes?".

It is as great as a pull as you can get. The game was engaging - for all of us across age groups and it was particularly interesting because everyone was involved, taking charge, guessing and working it through.

And as you might imagine - we purchased the first episode. Not sure if we will buy the rest (though they have used some really smart behavioral psychology methods) - because it depends on interest being sustained etc., but the post purchase experience has been good either. The graphics, the game, the clues, the interest - have all been flawless.

What if we did this with learning experiences? What if, we were able to give a teaser of a learning experience (of anything - online, offline, virtual - whatever the mode)? And tell the learner that if you want more, you need to do something - maybe pay, maybe perform, maybe learn...something.

Would the design of learning experiences change if we used this approach?

(And I am not talking of the free sessions organization run - those are marketing. This is something more than that. This is designing an entire learning experience based on the above approach...)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Creativity within constraints

Anyone can build a castle in the air.

But to build a real livable castle on the ground, on time, within budget, with all the approvals and still create a wow factor - that is something.

And that is the reality of any environment.

Whether it is building a house or organizing an event or building a training.

Creativity within constraints is where the ability of the really creative people come out. How can one do a truly outstanding job with the constraints at hand.

But there are times when one sees this creativity in action delivering something truly out of the box and yet very relevant.

What can one do as a leader?

Push the team to think harder. Just that little bit. Like the challenge for the learners in the previous post - pushing the team to think a little more works. (How and when you do it is the secret sauce.)

What can do one do as a person?

This is trickier. Because, for one, creativity may or may not be appreciated. Second, the stakeholder may or may not want creativity (yes, this is true).

And third, by the time creativity meets committee meets consensus, rainbow becomes cloud and then rain.

Developing thought...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Challenging the learner

As we usually do, the little ones and I explored the app store for trying out a game or anything that catches our fancy.

This is something we do quite often. Explore. Discuss. And then try out. Sometimes we try out someone that someone has recommended on the net (and usually paid apps fall in this category). Sometimes, we try out something on a whim. And a few clicks later, some apps fail the initial interest test and are deleted ruthlessly. Some sustain interest for a longer while. Some keep us occupied for a long time. And so on and so forth.

(As customers, someone who explores the app store is more ruthless than a channel surfer on television. But thats for another post.)

As part of this process, we chanced upon an app named Valiant Hearts. It is part graphic novel, part strategy game, part war game, laden with juicy clues as 4 people make their way across a war theatre (WWII). (Aside: There are zero games with Indias freedom story as a backdrop as much there is a ton of WWII stuff out there). There is a lot of information - so it is not just a game. And perhaps, the episodes are from real theaters. 

So, what sort of games do we like? We do not like shooting games or action games that are purely depending on reflex action. We prefer games that are a little slower paced and make us think and so something - rather than just go click, click, click. 

The nature of the game is such that it falls into this category fair and square. At every level there is that perfect level of challenge that makes us want to try - multiple times, not want to give up and try till we crack that level. 

Usually, it requires the intelligence of all of us, some level of effort, plus a bit of serendipity, trying out various permutations and combinations and even a little thinking on resourcefulness before we hit that a-ha moment. Such games are fun. And the challenge has to be just perfect. Not too tough that the user gives up. Not too easy that the users intelligence is insulted. But just about there to make the user think, discover an a-ha moment. And each day for the last few days, we have woken up and tried to 'crack that level'!

(In this particular game, it has been amazing - it has taken a combination of collective patience and intelligence and some fearlessness to get to where to want to get to. It is not just one person or the so called smartest person who can solve it. And therein lies a learning - how we get stuck in paths, miss blind spots and how fresh thinking in liberal doses solves the problem - every single time.)

We have experienced this before in push cars, threes, dragon box, clash of clans - almost any app that has kept us enthralled has this perfectly balanced level of challenge.

As someone in learning, this is a great meta-challenge to think about.

How do we, as we design a learning experience, make learners reach this level of 'play' where they want to engage - not in mindless banter, but in an engaging, absorbing contest of the mind? Where they want to try and reach a different level of learning? Where the learning is sticky and makes the user want to come back to it and later on revisits it when she needs it...

Friday, April 3, 2015

How do you stay up to date?

One question I always ask people I interview is "How do you keep yourself up to date." And the answers are very interesting. I have been taught many things which I had no idea about. Websites, blogs, communities, books (no, not so much).

Sometimes, while talking they talk about something and I note them for looking up.

So, an interview becomes a two way process. Where I get to learn something from those who I meet and hopefully, they go back with a nugget or two (and I try to ensure that they takeaway something - hopefully useful).

But over a while now, through the interviewing process, while there are people learning from Linkedin, HBR (and similar ones), blogs, courses, Articulate - the number of people who mention Twitter (as a learning mechanism) has been zero - which is quite surprising for me. Also, very few people seem to mention books as a source. Thankfully, nobody has mentioned Facebook so far.

Though on balance, people generally mention "internet" as a catch all bucket and then a blog here and there, but there is no one single prevalent source/sources. Very few mention any of the known sites like CEC/CLC, ATD, Bersin. And noticeably almost no one has mentioned any Indian website or blog. And twitter has a significant Indian presence. Worth thinking this IMO - for both sides of the table.

It is also good to see people highlight MOOCs on their resumes...

(Bunch of other thoughts, but thats it for now...)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ancient Fables...

There is a story behind the Panchatantra. And the Hitopadesha. And the Jataka tales.

In the case of the Panchatantras, it is all about teaching a few princes, some things about life. (and the wiki entry confirms it). Vishnu Sharma was entrusted with the task of teaching 'niti' to three princes and he does so using these fables.

The five principles (Pancha-tantra) are all about: (from the wiki page)

The five books are called:
  • Mitra-bheda: The Separation of Friends (The Lion and the Bull)
  • Mitra-lābha or Mitra-samprāpti: The Gaining of Friends (The Dove, Crow, Mouse, Tortoise and Deer)
  • Kākolūkīyam: Of Crows and Owls (War and Peace)
  • Labdhapraṇāśam: Loss Of Gains (The Monkey and the Crocodile)
  • Aparīkṣitakārakaṃ: Ill-Considered Action / Rash deeds (The Brahman and the Mongoose)

I read them mostly through Amar Chitra Katha, as I suspect most Indians of my generation did. But I was reminded of them as I read through some modern fables (which I put out in the last post).

The others are along similar lines and each of them has a beautiful maxim to be put to use. Yes, we humans love stories, don't we. 

PS: Now that got me curious about the difference between a fable and a story. The wiki link gave the difference between fable and parable. (The wiki entry was very useful - it is animals and fables). 

That means Goal and Team Dysfunctions are parables are not fables. 

And clicking from there into a link that says, Traditional story took me here

Alright, I have much to learn :)

Learning from Fables

The Panchatantra, The Jataka tales and the Hitopadesha have been with us long enough (more about that soon).

But, let me write now about three business fables I read.

The first one is Goal. This to me, remains the definitive fable I have ever read. Its sequels were nowhere close the original. But, if one is to learn about operations and concepts, this is an amazing book.

The second one is Team Dysfunctions by Patrick Lencioni. This book actually takes you through how to resolve team dysfunctions and in a corporate environment it shows how to resolve them. And the best part, it also shows that tough decision need to be taken and how that is important in running a passionate team.

The third one is on Critical Thinking - called Engage the fox. This book was a chance that I picked it up to read on the kindle very recently. And it has been an engaging story using animals.

(Aside, Animal farm remains one of my favorite fables, though the context is slightly different)

So, what makes a fable good.

In my mind few elements. A fable is sticky. Very very sticky. So sticky that is impossible to get it out of your heads. Second, it is non-threatening (because of the characters?) Third, in business fables atleast, the context is fairly straight forward. Third, it has characters of all hues, covering most of the bell curve. Thus, it brings situations to life - far better than a case study can (a well written case, does for sure). Fourth, most likely, there are some sort of mnemonics that add to the stickiness. Fifth, fables by their very nature are simple. However complex the plot, the characters, ultimately there is a layer of simplicity. And that is perhaps the most important takeaway for me atleast. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Co-creation and why it is used rarely?

Few years ago, I had the good fortune of attending a few design thinking workshops and learn about it.

I attended a prototype workshop and went on to co-facilitate a couple of sessions as well. There was much energy in designing this approach. For one it was novel. Second, it was beautifully designed. Personally, I believe that the way we structure the first two phases above helps in getting a better third phase.

But this is one of the few methodologies (in my limited knowledge) that harness the power of co-creation.

Wonder why other trainings do not use it as much. Simply put, I think it is too painful for the people to think and design it thoughtfully (that requires time at both ends - design and delivery). And if it is done, it is not very effectively positioned in my view. That means people usually end up doing it was a superficial activity.

And I do not mean creating an action plan - which to me is the simplest form of co-creation, but fairly overused in many aspects of training - but it is something which has potential provided it is positioned the right way. One place where we had attended made people fill a sheet on what they would do in 6 months and 6 months later, it was delivered at our desks as a check to see 'did you achieve what you promised you would'.

I also do not mean just doing some activity there like a case study using instant memory and forgetting about it.

Sure there are sessions like joint business planning where some work happens. But unless it is backed up with pre-work and commitment it becomes just another top of the mind exercise.

I think this is one area that has good potential - of doing something there that has a tangible output and can also be used to build recall later - much later.

Developing thought...

Is a hackathon an example of co-creation? I think it is and it is a tool that usually has very good effects. A great example of learning by doing and co-creation. Plus a host of other benefits. Probably the best example yet of co-creation.

Why are trainings designed poorly?

Lets face it. Most trainings are badly designed. Indeed, training design, as opposed to instructional design is a field that generally lacks thinking.

Pick any vendor you engage. Or any training you have attended.

There are exceptions, but mostly these are tightly designed activities or simulations. Some trainings that are high on activity also appear well designed, but they score more on the engagement side rather than on the learning side.

What may be the reason?

It could range from bad diagnosis to bad execution. It could range from boredom to objectives not understood. Or the lack of engagement from the leader. Or a tick in the box approach. Or too much of subjectivity. Or too much objectivity. Trying to do too much. Too little. Too soon. Too slow.

But is there a single one way to design a training?

I think there is not, but I personally feel that there is a lot of laziness in training design. And that trainings are not meant to be just designed, but crafted, with passion.

Like a curator, you go through the problem, consider the audience, the objective and craft a training that allows you to navigate everyone of those aspects. Curate and design the activity. Curate and design the engagement. And bring it all together. As a process. Not an event.

Work-in-progress...developing thoughts!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why do people learn?

Often we ask how people learn. And that there are adult learning theories and child learning theories. But I think the fundamental question is really less about how people learn but more about why people learn?

And the simple answer to that is, people learn when they want to. Whether it is adults or children.

That want can be a function of passion or fear. It may start from curiosity (I want to know that because I want to know, or because it is cool or because my friends are doing it or it is new or something like that...) or coercion (This is important for my job, for my goals, for my survival - think army as an extreme example, I need to pass, my parents will get angry, whatever).

Anything that a adult or child wants to learn out of their own self interest - they will learn. And if you can get to this point (preferably on the curiosity side, but the other side is effective as well though I prefer the former to the latter, competition also works), you can keep aside all learning theories. If (the big IF) you get to this point where they are convinced that they need to learn this skill.

By hook or crook. By asking. By trying. Failing. Falling. Getting up. Trying again. And finally getting it. They reach there. Every small triumph celebrated. Every small instruction internalized. And slowly, but surely, they scale up to unconscious competence.

Any doubts on that? 

Show me the activity

Many years ago as I worked with a process training team I asked to be shown through the content. This was new to the team since they never expected their manager to actually look at the content they had put together. Not that it was needed, but since I was newbie in training, they proudly took me through the content they had put together.

It was mostly Death by Powerpoint for me, but they said they had some activity. On investigation it was found to be that mostly the activities were about circling words or finding words or joining words. Apart from that, they had one activity that they were justifiably proud of. This activity was called jeopardy.

The slide looked like this:

And on clicking any of the boxes, a question opened and the participants had to open it and answer it. This was the activity that they were proud of. (There are templates available on this on the net I suppose).

And I thought, well not bad.

Turned out, this activity was the most used across all the trainings. Every training upon investigation turned out to have the same activity - Jeopardy.

Finally, there was a new training the team was working on and I asked them which activity are you going to use here? Pat came the answer - Jeopardy.

They never got around to using it. The activity was banned from all future trainings till I was in charge.

These kinds of activities fall into what I think are mindless engagement methods. And a lot more thought is required while putting in activities in training.

Another of my 'favorite' activities is where the great facilitator distributes chits across the room and guess what - they have animal names printed on them and team bonding is achieved when people walk across the room shouting in those animal calls. Once we ended up paying a bomb to a vendor who promised great engagement and came up with this juvenile activity. Needless to say, the vendor was banished for ever. 

On learning by clicking

The connection between learning activities and actual learning is an interesting one especially in elearnings.

In a lot of elearnings, you will find such embedded activities in the guise of engaging the learner. What you get is for learning by doing is mostly flash gimmickry, which may range from dragging a box to the right position to clicking the correct answer (usually a quiz) or even (my favorite-sarcasm alert) jeopardy.

How much does this animation help? Today, in powerpoint presentations, animations are largely discredited - and to be used only sparingly - and that too when powerpoint presentations itself are being used.

So, while building an elearning, how to make the learning faster, better, stickier? There are no easy answers (and we haven't found one yet).

The conflicting demands are as follows, some of them:

On the hand there is an impatient audience that wants everything quick and on the other hand there is a learning team that demands time to teach material that is complex.
On the one hand there is a need for people to own their learning and on the other there is a need to figure out if people have 'got' it.
On the one hand we need training to be a pull and on the other hand it is so much easier to push learning and tick boxes.
On the one hand, everybody thinks more courses are the way forward and on the other hand investments in them aren't always justified.
On the one hand the learning has to be engaging and on the other hand there is a plethora of information to be covered (everything here is mandatory tell the subject matter experts).

And these are just some of the contradictions.

It is easy for learning by doing when it is a simulation of a tool, process or something else. That is easy. But what if we are trying to teach something that is abstract?

PS: Here are my thoughts from an earlier instructor led session design.  Some years ago, I attended a session by Dr. Simon Priest and he had brought this out very beautifully in front of a live audience. But these are about instructor led sessions.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Tell me another story

I was reading a Neil Gaiman introduction to a book and there he identifies the fundamental element of a great story as just 4 words.

As he says, A story should make the person go...and then what happened?

That phrase got me hooked for a while.

I remember telling stories to the little one, when they were quite little and you could see their eyes - they would be totally engrossed in that story, however simple and they would wait with bated breath, patiently, absorbed, hanging onto every word, savoring every twist and turn and then finally either sleeping satisfied that the story had a happy ending or with surprise or laughter.

But mostly it ended with - Tell me another story.

Ah, isn't that that two things we all want from a learning experience!


A learning experience often is not about telling me something I don't know. That is easy. The sum total of what one person does not know as opposed to the sum total of what one does know is far greater. So, telling someone something new may not be that much of a stretch.

However, making them see an existing thing in a new light is far more difficult. If you are used to doing something in a particular way, doing that in a different way is far more difficult than doing something totally new.

Therefore, in a learning experience, insight happens when I am shown something that I already know or rather think that I already know and then use that insight to move me from what I know to what I don't.  Insight is that powerful question that makes you pause, and go, hmmm..that is a different way of looking at it. That is insight.

Insight most probably does not mean a complicated solution - the problem may be complicated for sure, the analysis may be complicated for sure, but most likely, the answer may not.