Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A railway museum in Mysore

There is no greater learning experience than by doing. As a lifelong fan of railways, we landed up in the National Railway Museum Mysore. I had been there before - it is a quaint, small museum located near the Mysore railway station.

From the time we visited last, the museum has grown a little more.

Now, the thing about museums is that, usually there is an exhibit, then a border (a rope or railing) that keeps a safe distance between you and the exhibit. So, at some point, it is all about seeing something and reading a bit about it or seeing a video - for all of which one needs to physically be there. So, it does become boring pretty soon.

(Case in point - the HAL museum in Bangalore - over the years, there is lesser and lesser things to touch and feel.)

Thankfully, the railways are made of sterner stuff. With a billion passengers trampling up and down their infrastructure, they know how to handle people. I mean, the railways are virtually indestructible.

So, the exhibits are all in which one can climb into, touch, feel and pretty much experience the railways. From the ticket counter which is on a caboose - to the small platform to the various coaches, engines and bogies, it is a quaint beautiful place.

And there is some old signalling equipment in place as well.

I have never been to the railway museum in Delhi (and it is high on the list of places to visit) and while there is a ton of things one can do with a railway museum - this museum in Mysore is a good beginning and whoever is managing it is doing a nice job of it.

All in all, a great learning experience...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Go anti-jugaad

Noticed these two ads recently - both on a similar theme. The theme of jugaad:

 And the second:


The theme of these ads (and some recurrent ideas - makes you think if it is by the same agency) - is anti-jugaad. Represents a fairly different strain of thought than I have seen in the last many years. The sentiment over the past many years has been largely pro jugaad - where as these ads are anti-jugaad.

And that is what the popular sentiment is these days - that while jugaad is good upto a certain extent, the jugaad mentality allows us from seeking long term solutions and instead we end up relying on band-aid solutions.

I have seen this clash in organizations. As Indians work more and more with 'anti-jugaad' countries, it is perhaps Indias own evolution into a culture that seeks long term solutions as opposed to quick fixes.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Increasing Awareness

Many years ago, when I was in school - an elderly gentleman told me, "I am amazed at the level of thought that you have. You are blessed to have a high level of awareness. I wish I had this when I was your age"

I did not understand the meaning of this at that time - but I think I am able to see what that gentleman meant now.

I am amazed at the level of awareness that people have today. Not all people. But I think as generations progress, with the vast levels of information available to people - there is a chance - a great chance to be aware - far more aware than perhaps any previous generation.

I wish I had that level of awareness, reading, access to information at that age. Sometimes, I feel my education years could have been better spent with more learning...I also cringe at the low level of awareness I had at that age...(regardless of what the gentleman felt).

People who are say, about 20 years today have a far greater level of awareness than people in their 40s today. And those who are in school now - will surpass that generation with an even greater level of awareness.

There are people on twitter - very young - who completely fascinate me with their level of knowledge, awareness, cogent communication, argumentation and logical skills. The number of books they have read - that they have access to - has no parallel with any generation before this.

This is not to say that everybody is there - they are not. There is a still a huge chunk of people stuck in old paradigms - but the opportunity that this generation has immense.

It boggles me to think what sort of cognitive awareness we will be staring it two generations from now.

Skills for the future

Now, if the future is uncertain (as it always is) - where does that leave us? Our children? What does that mean for us - as we think of developing the right skills for children?

Here is my thought.

As much as the future changes and in whichever direction, some basic things wont change.

The fact is that nothing can be achieved by Effort. Discipline. Building these skills are very important. To know that effort has its rewards - not in a material sense - but in the joy of learning and becoming 'good' at something for the sake of it.

It is good to try out many things - but being a jack of all trades is not good enough. One needs to master at atleast 1 or 2 things.

That means conceptual clarity - clarity which comes with years of education, trial and error - is important.

Having had the above conceptual clarity - how much can you step out of it and view the world that you know well and break those rules - that is innovation.

Whatever else you have or do not have - in any field - I think the above skills are the basis for almost everything.

Notice that I have not brought in human and life skills and all that - that is a longer thought process for some other day. 

Thoughts on the future

At a recent discussion between friends - we wondered how the world is changing and how we cannot, ever, predict which way the future will go. (That was quite obvious, was it not).

Will the future belong to technology - as much as the temptation is to say yes, it will - a friend gave a different perspective - of how a coffee costs as much as a well engineered electrical plug and wondered if, as technology automates everything - what will humans contribute in the future? And if technical skill - valued as it is - becomes more and more commoditised what does that mean?

Will the future belong to the arts? Or to science? Or a mix of everything?

Is the future one modeled on consumption the only way to go?

Or is there a more, self sufficient manner of living - like in the ancient times. Where each craftsman worked on her craft, provided for a community and made a living. Where there was no rush to grow, where greed did not fuel the next step, where an increment was not expected next year - and at any rate - that was not the reason to live. And by the way, until the arrival of 'growth' focussed economic systems - this is how humans lived for millenia - without focussing on the bank balances, without focussing on accumulation, but lived for need, satisfaction and not greed.

Perhaps 50 years down the line, our generation (and the previous few) will be laughed at, on the way we lived our lives. 

Beyond the first page

At a recent school science exhibition - kids had done a great job with the models. There were models of rockets, telescopes, water harvesting systems, forests and so on. Like with any exhibition the children (and the parents) had put in a  lot of effort.

What struck me here, though, apart from the fact that people had put in effort was in some explanations. Many of the charts, explanations - were saying the same thing. Indeed, many of them were from the same source - 'Google' - and specifically - 'Google First page' and 'Wikipedia'.

So, for all the hard work, much of the information sources were common. Not that there is anything wrong in it  - after all it is the most common source of information today.

But as one progresses, one needs to go beyond the 'first page' in anything.

In a world where everyone has access to the same internet - information is democratic - everybody gets the same. Clicking something on google is not 'research'.  It is just the first step. How to go beyond that? Because the internet which was 'different' years ago - is today the commonest resource for everyone.

How does one go beyond the first page?
How does one teach children to go beyond the first page - metaphorically?