Thursday, February 25, 2016

The learning challenge in (some) organizations

I read this piece with some amusement. That Infosys is de-layering itself. The interesting part for me in that article was this:

As India's largest software firms have added tens of thousands of employees over the past decade, many layers of middle management have in the process also been under-utilised since they are not billable employees anymore as they are not directly involved in day-to-day software coding. 

"We've seen that people who are not getting billed, they also tend to get a ittle bit away from technology and so on. The best way to address that is o make them more active in project execution - that's  .. 

In a way this is the hands-on crisis in the Indian IT industry. Few years on, people lose their ability to work hands on - and that usually translates into lesser billing for the company. Unless of course, they have taken their abilities and become consultants - which can then be billed by the company. 

The fact is that unless you keep at it, once you become a manager, there is a very high chance that skills get rusted. And that is the learning challenge in some organizations. Regardless of which team you lead, how do you ensure that your skills  are upto date with the current realities? Why technology, in everything the world is moving ahead. 

I have heard similar stories in teaching, biotech and even other industries. Managers often tend to lose touch with the emerging trends in a field.

As  long as you are hands on - and in tune with the latest, as long as your are learning something new (almost every day), you are learning. Otherwise, you are rusting!

What can the organization do? Hire people who are hands on. Promote individual contributors. Have fewer and fewer administrator and 'people' managers. Celebrate knowledge. Celebrate sharing of knowledge...etc etc etc

Teaching creativity

Does creativity need to be taught?
And if so, what are we teaching?
How does one teach creativity?

My own belief is that creativity does not need to be taught. Neither can it be taught. Because it is not like physics or music that it can be taught in the manner of a process.

But creativity is all about opening minds - and if that is the definition, one can take people/students through the process of openings one minds so that one is more open to ideas, receptive and so on.

The second part is that creativity is often an attitude. A person who is creative is just as creative in life as well. Creativity requires one to be open minded, open to new learnings, experiences and therefore, it is but natural that it will flow into ones lives as well. (Note: Logical, but does not always work - so that is a caveat.)

So, what can we teach? We can teach people possibility. We can teach people to observe. We can teach people to pause. We can teach people to question. We can teach people to unlearn. We can teach people to experiment. We can teach people to play. But they know all that already - so the teaching process can gently take them in that direction and then let them figure out the rest...

But the best thing we could do perhaps is to allow people to be aware of each of those above processes...etc. etc. etc.

How can one do it? So if it were a workshop, it would have to include a bunch of things (yes, thats in my head for now). That enable people to explore all of the above. But that alone won't be enough.

It is important after that for us to be able to give them something to take back that they can continue to work it after the 'event' is over.

Evolving thoughts!

On creativity and art

A lot of times when we discuss about inculcating creativity into peoples lives, one of the most obvious ways people come up with is 'art'.

So, in general, a typical session on 'creativity' is about painting (mostly), theatre (sometimes) or some other art (rarely).

There are two issues with this approach. One is that someone who is a theatre artist or a painter or a follower of some art  - also knows this craft very well - that means that she pursues this art over many years and masters it. This does not imply that they are 'creative' though this is the cliched approach to creativity.

Second, just because a nuclear scientist paints one (or ten) picture (s), will not lead her to discover a new atomic particle.

So, if someone attends a session on creativity - and paints a bit and dances a bit, it will do zilch to their creative life at work or otherwise. Sure, it will open their minds - but like in any learning experience, unless it is followed up with, made meaningful or given a connection/tool to work with - it remains just that - an event.

A lot of times we see people do creative things - be it in their gardens or kitchen or even tinkering with something - at work or otherwise or anywhere.

The question here is...what do you do at work from a cultural standpoint to allow for that?  Do you encourage that or is your employee only expected to paint in the creativity workshop and then return to a place where such tinkering, experimentation is strictly discouraged?

And while reading about it, I found an excellent resource on creative thinking here...

A fusion band

Recently, I got a chance to see a fusion band - Kalarava. These guys mixed Carnatic music with non-traditional instruments - and interpreted the music in a more eclectic fashion. The songs were fast paced, the instruments non-traditional - yet with a traditional undercurrent - and the kept the audience wanting for more at the end of it.

And just a few weeks before that I got a chance to see a Carnatic maestro perform. The concert was fairly traditional - but the maestro gave a virtuoso performance.

Now which of these is creative? The fusion band is a young set of people - trying out various combinations. The maestro is also fairly young - but at the same time - pushing the limits of his art by virtue of talent and experimentation.

Obviously both are creative - in their own ways. There is no good creativity and bad creativity (there is, but not in this context).

So what is the creative element here? One is where the fusion band pushes the envelope by bringing in different instruments and sounds into traditional music. The other is pushing the envelope by sheer magic of talent.

And yet, both of them obey the basic fundamentals of Carnatic music - obviously - creativity is important but the output of the exercise has to also be liked by the audience - whether connoisseurs or cannot pass off noise as music!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Innovations in the learning space

It is impressive to see some innovations in the learning space. Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to see many different companies founded along these tenets.

There are companies looking at assessments in a different way.

There are companies revolutionizing anytime live training.

There are companies looking at using videos to accelerate learning.

Of course, simulations and gamification companies are been around for a few years now.

And these are just some of the companies I have encountered.

But what is even more impressive is the way that 'anytime' training has taken off. People and companies no longer expect to be trained tethered to a room or a desktop. It has to be whenever the person has time and wherever the person is, regardless of whether one is at office or not.

And of course, learning is everywhere. I learn more from my twitter feed than perhaps any other place at a given time...

Evolving thought...

Learning Something

Learning something, especially that is kinesthetic, can be a very tricky exercise. One has to be prepared to go through my 'failure' cycles to get it right. Passing through the four stages of competence is a learning experience in itself.

This was repeated when I recently tried my hand at surfing. Much of my time of the 90 minutes course was spent lugging the board the wave, being pushed around the water - over and under, drinking copious amounts of sea water and finally bobbing up to see which direction I was facing and to have yet another wave hit me.

The good news was that everybody goes through this cycle. Nobody learnt to surf in 90 minutes - it takes time as one passes through the stages of competence.

And as I saw someone much higher up on the learning curve - I smiled. Each attempt the surfer made to stand up, she fell into the water again. That was inspiring and humbling at the same time - that I do have a long way to go before I become anything of an avid surfer.

This experience mirrors my skiing experience where I spent most of the time tumbling in the snow and picking myself up.

But learning is fun!