Sunday, December 23, 2012

Do not rely on aptitude tests to decide your child's career path

Aptitude tests have become popular mechanisms of assessing child's abilities when the child is in Xth class. These tests consists of hundreds of questions with multiple but fixed choices. These tests typically measure 8 abilities. Although, some of them have started including other abilities, aptitude tests typically follow the framework of multiple intelligences of Howard Gardner

These 8 abilities are logical, linguistic, visual, natural, musical, kinesthetic,  intrapersonal and interpersonal. Now a days, some institutes have attempted to increase the breadth by redefining the scope of abilities. For instance, some institutes have attempted to understand the depth of an ability such as mechanical ability to identify the mechanical aptitude. To reduce the errors of measurement, some aptitude tests have also increased the number of questions, changed the nature of questions, and extended the test over a longer period . 

However, despite their increasing breadth and depth, these tests do not measure the abilities accurately, cannot help us predict the future course of ability, and therefore do not help in taking better career decisions. There are many technical reasons why static aptitude tests with multiple choices cannot increase their accuracy beyond a specific level. Here i am attempting to explain to you in simple English, some of the big reasons, why aptitude tests are not useful in helping you to evaluate your child's abilities:

1. Aptitude tests do not measure potential

Many parents and students believe that aptitude tests measure the 'hidden' potential of a student. This is a myth. In an earlier blog, we had discussed in quite details, why this is not technically possible. 

In this study of 120 highly talented individuals who were tracked from their childhood to adult age, for instance, only two of the 120  had won 'local competitions' while one of them had won a 'national competition' by the age of 10. But none of the 3 had shown skill that was comparable to the 'masters' in their respective field. Aptitude tests therefore cannot measure your potential. 

Aptitude tests can measure only your current abilities that you have 'demonstrated' and used in your life. For instance, only if you have used and played with 'mechanical' objects, the aptitude test will be able to measure your 'mechanical ability' with reasonable degree of accuracy.  This is very important caveat to remember. 

2. Aptitude tests are better at measuring 2 cognitive abilities ( like logical, linguistic) 

Out of the 8 distinct abilities , these aptitude tests are better in measuring two abilities: logical and linguistic. However, one has to be cautious in relying on them due to two reasons. 

First reason is language and culture-specific. Many of the tests are designed in English. Understanding of English language and its nuances is important to ensure that the child's response is accurate. Secondly, some responses are culture-specific. A response from a urban student and rural student varies because they come from different cultures. These variations are not captured in these 'general tests'.

Second reason is more critical. As these two cognitive abilities are measured at a very young age of 13-15, where they have just stared developing, one cannot predict the domain in which the student can develop these abilities in the future. Please remember that this cognitive ability can be used in multiple domains such as legal, chartered accountantany, medcine, engineering, software and basic research. So, even if the cognitive ability is found to be higher, aptitude tests cannot help you make any career choice ! Now a days, some institutes have attempted to bridge this gap, by covering 'domains' such as software, however as you would have realised, it is impractical to cover all of them till the age of 15. 

3. Aptitude tests cannot measure 3 senses-based abilities (kinesthetic, visual and musical ability ) better than real-life observations and assessments 

If you are good in drawing/painting, music, or sports, it is easily demonstrated by your proficiency in these activities. If you are good in one of these five senses ( sense of hearing, body-eye coordination, and visual sense), you naturally develop that ability better with practice. Any expert in that field ( be it animation, sport, or music) can evaluate your child's ability and his readiness with far more accuracy than any aptitude test.  

Aptitude tests , because they are measured on class-room questions and fixed choices, cannot measure these senses-based abilities better than real-life assessments and observations of an expert in that field. If your child has these abilities, it is far more safer to rely on experts in these fields. 

4. Aptitude tests measures intrapersonal abiliy very poorly. This ability spells a big difference between good and excellent performance. 

You must have heard about two young cricketers who showed extraordinary potential at a young age,Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, who were studying in the same school. Vinod Kambli however could not achieve as much his classmate despite his acknowledged prodigous cricketing talent, because of his inadequate 'intrapersonal ability'. It is also called as mental growth in layman's language. With inadequate mental ability, even high amount of prodigious talent is not enough to ensure good performance in the future. 

For example,  one of the important component of intrapersonal ability is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is measured by recognizing emotion in faces and asking you to respond to situations like 'what would you do if you find your friend crying'. The answers are multiple choice, and limited. They do not capture your 'real-time response'. The same is true about stress responses, or your ability to manage distractions - the two sub-components of your intrapersonal ability. When we respond to these questions in a test, we tend to be far more logical and smart, than what we actually are in real situations. As these tests cannot measure our real-time response on such issues, these tests are highly inaccurate in measuring intrapersonal ability. 

5.  Aptitude tests measures interpersonal ability very poorly. This ability is one of the key ability of entrepreneurs.  

You will find many entrepreneurs succeeding with very little academic qualification. Examples like Larry Ellison, Dhirubhai Ambani are some of the popular examples. One of the critical ability they possess is the interpersonal ability, an ability to relate with people and collaborate with them. 

Because aptitude tests cannot measure our 'real time response' to people, aptitude tests also cannot measure this ability. We tend to be far more different in answering these questions than when we are responding in real situations. And because of this deficiency, aptitude tests fail to measure this interpersonal ability well. 


Out of the 8 abilities that aptitude tests typically measure, 5 abilities ( visual, musical, kinesthetic,  intrapersonal and interpersonal) are either not measured at all, or are measured so poorly that you cannot rely on their scores. 

Two cognitive abilities - logical and linguistic - are measured with some degree of accuracy but far higher accuracy can be achieved by relying on student's school marks in languages and logical subjects like physics, chemistry or mathematics. And more importantly, they lack the predictive capacity. This means, that even if a child find this cognitive ability as high, he cannot predict the domain ( Engineering, medicine, or accounancy) in which he can use it the best. So the aptitude test score, even though right, is not useful to take any decision. 

We have not discused the measurement of naturalistic ability, the eighth ability. This ability enables child to appreciate and engage with nature. Once again, this ability is not 'measurable' by aptitude tests accurately, as the scope of nature-oriented activity for a urban student is too narrow. It may be more accurate for a rural student !

In other words, aptitude tests do not measure your abilities with any degree of accuracy, and when it measures, it is not useful in making any career choice 

If aptitude tests is not a viable alternative in assessing your child's ability and choosing the career path, what is a better alternative? We shall discuss about a more robust, practical and technically correct alternative in the next blog. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Even autism can be converted into a talent if ...

Watch this video to understand an absolutely fundamental principle of excellence.

Any trait is not good or bad. It is appropriate ( or not appropriate) based on its context 

This is a video that explains how the distinct ability of autistic people can be used to make them best software testers in the world. See the Video.

We tend to assume that a trait is good or bad. And try to change it. Especially, if the trait looks negative. Now we know that even inferiority complex can be converted into a useful trait.We also know that positive traits are also not always positive. For instance, we discussed how a trait like honesty is contextual

Given this principle of excellence, it is surprising why we try to 'fit' all the children in a particular 'mould', assuming that only one type of mould is 'right' for succeeding in life. This entire notion of having positive and negative attributes is a myth. An illusion. When we meet successful musician, we understand how even a negative trait like 'inability to listen to others' is helpful for him. Or a short attention span is good for creative people. Or 'arrogance' is good for salesman. Or inability to communicate is useful for a writer. And so on...

We have seen how the old first law of excellence claims that traits and virtues such as honesty, hard work, confidence, motivation are good and must be pursued irrespective of the context. The second law of excellence claims that no virtue is virtue, unless it has a proper context. And, alternatively, a negative virtue is not a liability if it is used in a proper context. 

I can infact give you a challenge. Tell me any 'negative quality' or 'trait', and  i will show you how it has been converted by someone into a 'powerful' ability that is helping him excel. Or tell me a positive quality and i will tell you how someone converted into a roadblock in his/her career. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our automatic sense making of mind directs us in the school age

We find direction by automatically making sense of situations   

By using our mind, we constantly make sense of the different situations which make or mar our journey of excellence:

We are constantly making sense of a situation, event, challenge or problem. When we can make 'adequate' sense, we feel empowered and take action or commit with a deliberate decision. When we cannot make sense, we feel paralysed in inaction and refuse to take any conscious decision. 

Based on our sense-making, when we take the action , if we produce 'desired' result, we feel that we made the right sense. Our Self belief increases. Self belief emerges from the knowledge that our mind (that is stock of beliefs plus facts) is capable to deal with reality. However, if our action does not produce 'desired' result, we learn and alter our stock of B+F. We try once again. But if it does not work even after repeated attempts, our mind is confused. It downgrades our Self belief. When it works, it upgrades our self belief. Once this self belief grows beyond threshold level, it changes everything for us. Our self belief continues to grow or wither based on this circular loop of action>desired result or not>sensemaking>self belief>action. 

Let us understand this process better through three anecdotal but common examples.

Stories of Sam, Sarika and Lalit

For instance, let us imagine three students, Ram, Radhika and Lalit in 6th class but in different schools. Till 6th class, Sam's and Lalit's self belief is " I am good in Geometry'. However, when Sam and Lalit cannot get good marks in the first chapter in geometry in his 7th class, they stop. They try to make sense of the new problem situation. Based on individual stock of B+F,  Ram and Lalit conclude that ' they have not understood Geometry chapter well'.With this sense, both try to understand Geometry by talking to their friends and teachers. Lalit solves his problem and moves ahead. His Self belief 'I am good in Geometry' consolidates further. On the other hand, Sam does not understand the Geometry chapter. His Self belief may be altered to "I may not be good in Geometry". If the same problem continues with the next few chapters of Geometry for Sam, he consolidates his self-belief into "I am not good in Geometry". Also remember that, in our education system, there is a 'missing-train effect'. If someone fails in understanding the first chapter, he cannot understand the next and so on. So once the train is missed, you cannot catch it. Now with this Self-belief, Sam is stuck up because that stops his learning in Geometry. On the other hand, Lalit's self belief is consolidating into "I am good in Geometry', because he jumps back into the train in time !

If Sam however is good in Drawing, his self-belief that 'i am good in Drawing' continues to grow. But when he talks with others, he discovers the popular belief that 'being good in drawing is not helpful if you have to achieve something in life'. He also slowly finds that his friends, elders and society also subscribe to this belief. Therefore, despite being good in Drawing, he starts worrying about his capabilities and starts wondering if 'he is good enough to achieve anything in life'. This sensemaking colors his responses to all the situations now, not just in Geometry. On the other hand, when Lalit learns about the belief that ' Geometry is helpful in achieving in career', his Self belief further consolidates.

Now imagine Sarika, studying in the same class, who also goes through the same path like Sam. But, instead of consolidating her belief that ' Being good in drawing is not helpful to achieve', she meets a painter in a shopping mall who is painting sketches. She likes the sketches and goes to ask him some questions. Some talk happens. It leads to further questions. For the first time, she finds that there is a different world of painting. Her belief " Being good in drawing is not helpful in achieving in life' is punctured. She becomes curious. Then she meets a friend of a distant relative who is working in Animation. When she meets this friend, her self-belief " I am good in drawing and i can achieve in life' germinates. With more such events, some happening due to chance and some happening because of Sarika's curiosity of drawing career, her self-belief consolidates further. She discovers that there are other careers that are based on drawing such as fashion designing, ceramic designing. Her Self-belief ' I am good in drawing and can achieve something in life' consolidates further.

Lalit, Sam and Sarika may start with the similar education environment, go through the same difficulties, but a small change here and there can lead to a very diametrically divergent consequences.  ( It is a popular myth that big results in life happen due to big moments negotiated successfully.) If you therefore meet Lalit, Sam and Sarika in 10th class, you will find them to be completely different. Sarika will look motivated because she is engaged with her strengths in drawing by finding enough support for her drawing path.While Sam is demotivated because, unable to focus on his strength, he is engaged with his weakness and therefore continues to struggle to perform. Lalit is motivated because he is engaged in his 'strength' of geometry for which he found ready 'support' from others.

In other words, due to some fortuituous changes, Sarika's Self belief has consolidated into 'i am good in drawing and can achieve something in life', while Lalit's Self belief that 'I am good in Geometry and can achieve something in life" has risen to a threshold level.Once this Self-belief reaches threshold level, everything changes. Now one takes the steering in one's hands. This is the first step towards achievement for a student.

Self belief beyond a threshold level is the first step of being Self-directed

Once a person has a self belief beyond threshold level, he or she becomes self-motivated (or self directed). After one becomes self-directed, one starts choosing directions instead of following others. One starts converting crisis into opportunity. One starts finding 'situations' to make things happen, instead of waiting for 'situations'. This step is therefore the prerequisite of achieving anything in life.

Once this level of self belief is reached, even poor performance or failure does not puncture the confidence of a person. If you have listened to the interviews of six speakers in Ved Program, you will observe that their self-belief had grown beyond a threshold level. Because of this high self belief, Abhishek Sen, despite failing 31 times, still continued to work on the problem of his diagnostic haemoglobin measuring instrument. Or Pradeep Lokhande, despite failing to get any response to his 20,000 letters from the villages two times, still mustered enough energy to send letter the third time. Or Sunil Khandbahale, despite performing poorly in software test in his company, still worked on learning software for six months to master the software despite being an Instrumentation Engineer.

If Self belief has grown beyond a threshold level, the person becomes self-motivated. Once this happens, you will see a different individual. This is why you will find lot of difference between Lalit, Sam and Sarika after they reach Xth class. While Sarika & Lalit will surmount any difficulty that comes along the way, Sam will not be able to muster enough energy even to overcome the slightest difficulty. Because Sam is unable to do anything, you will conclude that Sam does not willpower. While, because Lalit and Sarika are taking up challenges, you will assume that they have willpower and confidence.

As Sarika and Lalit are self directed, they can use all the rules of success like work hard, be persistent, have willpower and so on. On the other hand, Sam, whose Self-belief is below threshold level, is so much 'down' and 'demotivated' that he is unable to use any of these rules. If you tell him to work hard, he will tell you that he has done it many times. Advice of working hard does not work for him because he is working hard in his weak area ( like Geometry and physics). With no results forthcoming from his hard work in geometry, he is further demotivated. Working harder is just causing more demotivation for him. How can he work hard?

In the school, a student must gain enough Self belief. With or without academic performance, he has to build this self-belief. For instance, Sunil Khandbahale and Abhishek Sen seemed to have good academic performance which helped them gain Self-belief. But Pradeep Lokhande must have found it very difficult to sustain his self belief due to his poor academic performance. Sometimes, I have noticed that, even with good academic performance, the student does not have enough self belief, because he is not sure of 'how being good in physics and chemistry will help him achieve anything in life'.

Self belief is a basic requisite to become self-directed. In addition to self-belief, a student must at least fulfill three conditions to become self-directed: identify one's potential strengths, find a career path that will exploit that strength in the future and create a  Unique Learning Plan (ULP) to use potential strengths into useful outputs. Without this ULP, his dream of achievement by using his potential strengths becomes a pipe dream.  Therefore all three conditions must be fulfilled to become self-directed 


It is important to remember that, in career-making, factors controlling achievement are endogenous. They are not exogenous.

This means that motivation does not come from outside; it is not an external input in Sam's or Sarika's life. In other words, Sarika's motivation does not come from her character. Likewise, Sam's demotivation does not result due to his lack of willpower. Sarika is motivated because she gets desired results from her sense-making. She finds enough data from the environment to alter her Beliefs in time. Similarly, Sam is demotivated because he could not find timely support for his strengths from his friends and family in time. One is result of sensemaking that has gone right; another is the result of sensemaking that has gone wrong. So the outcome of sensemaking has made Sarika different from Sam.

In the earlier blogs, we had seen how the factor like confidence is not inherent in a person; it depends on one's engagement with the system. We had also seen how our nice looking virtues ( like virtue of honesty) are also relevant in a context; outside the context, these virtues are irrelevant.

But we tend to ignore all this research when we are listening to achievers. Like, when we hear the story of Sam and Sarika, we prefer to assume that Sam will not achieve because he is not working hard or because he is not persistent enough. Similarly, we like to believe that Sarika (or Lalit) achieved because she was self driven, motivated, intelligent and ambitious. But, as you would have realised, these explanations are inaccurate and therefore misguide us. Motivation is both a cause and effect. First it is an effect, and then later it becomes a cause !

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Can a student learn from listening to the interviews of successful achievers?

I had gone to attend a Ved program this Sunday at Nashik. It is a program where Dr Anand Nadkarni interviews professionals who have achieved something significant in their lives.

This time six successful achievers were invited : Pradeep Lokhande of Rural Relations who has used his MBA knowledge and experience to bridge the gap between rural and corporate world, Mukta Avchat-Puntambekar of Muktangan which helps alcholics to get rid of it, Abhishek Sen, a MBBS doctor who has done two years course in Bio-medical science to invent a product of testing haemoglobin of a person without pricking a needle, Vinaya Janjale who managed to convert her love of animals into a vocation, Sunil Khandbahale who converted his intense painful experience of not knowing English into making a web dictionary of 12 languages, Rohan Shetty who is doing oceanography in UK after getting 35 marks in chemistry in his HSC.

Are these interviews helpful for aspiring students ?

The interviews offered window into the lives of normal people who had achieved something unique and significant. The interviews also must have 'triggered' lot of positive energy for the student audience who would have gone home with a 'can-do' view of life, which is necessary to achieve something in one's life. But is this enough? 

If you consider the effort of igniting this energy for conducting this 1-day program of meeting successful professionals, one wonders if this huge effort is worth. The effort of bringing six individuals from around the country, efforts of municipal corporation and other individuals to inform about the program to the thousands of families in Nashik, efforts of about 100 odd volunteers to manage the day's program was indeed laudable and commendable. But, in the end, does this program help the students?

These definitely boost the morale of the six 'speakers' who spoke about their achievements. They also make the organisers feel 'good' about the efforts they put in to gather such a huge attendance of students. But, if the objective is to make difference in life of students, is this objective achieved? 

Getting inspired is a good feeling but is not enough to generate action beyond a week. Because without channelising the generated energy of students, the ignited spark generated by external motivation soon dies away. Huge population of students , at the end of program, feel 'good and positive' for a day or week, but do not know 'what to do next' after a week to direct their efforts. Without internal motivation, the students cannot use the 'positive feelings' generated by the kick of 'external motivation'.

However, some critics argue that students get plenty of useful tips from these interviews of celebrities. Is this true?. 

What tips of career advice do the students get from such interviews? 

For instance, in the above program, i could summarise about five tips that were shared by the achievers: 1> If you work hard, you will succeed someday 2> If you keep on trying again and again despite failing, you will succeed 3> Doing what your heart says is more important to succeed than doing what others tell you 4>  Spiritual foundation is important for achievement and 5> Parental support is essential for achievement.

Now are these generalised tips useful to students to guide their career? These are motherhood statements which have always remained true. They are always right. We have heard about them umpteen number of times in books and newspapers. Infact, for any student, none of the tip would have been a surprise. But despite knowing these tips, most of the students cannot apply them in their lives.

When are these tips useful for student?

So the real question that we should ask to ourself  should be : why can successful achievers 'apply' these generic tips in life, while most of the other students 'cannot'? Do these successful achievers have some 'special ingredient' in them that helps them apply these tips? And you will find the answer.

You will find that achievers have a map and compass set in their lives: a map to tackle the expected hurdles to reach the destination, and compass to negotiate the unexpected surprises ( bottlenecks and opportunities) inherent in anyone's life.

So which students benefit ? If their map matches with the maps of the celebrities, then the tips of interviewed celebrities are useful. For instance, if a student has a map of becoming a entrepreneur, listening to the interview of Pradeep Lokhande who is an entrepreneur will help the student. Or if the student has a plan of using his 'love of animals' to find his work-path, he would have benefited from the tips of Vinaya Janjale. These tips are useful only for those students whose 'planned work-path' is matching with the map of the interviewed celebrities.

But if the student's chosen map is not matching with the work-path or domain of the interviewed celebrities, then does the generic career tips help the student? In this case, the tips are useful only if the 'right questions' are asked to the interviewer.

The questions in the interview should be asked, for instance, on the subject of 'compass values'. For instance, how did the celebrities worked 'hard' on subjects they did not like? Did they specifically pursue the value of 'mastery' or was it because they found a 'good teacher' for that subject? How did the celebrities chase his/her dream? Was it because of the value that 'Process is important than Result' ? Or was it because of some other reason?


In short, the tips of success offered by celebrities are useful only for few students who have similar map. Or they are useful only when 'right questions' are asked to them. If the questions are wrong, and the maps are not similar, the student does not benefit from listening to the interviews of successful professionals.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Do we want our child to rejoice death?

Since Kasab was hanged last week, i have been hearing various interviews of the victims, police officers, and other social activist. One of the common response has been 'We are satisfied that he was hanged. Although there has been a delay in the court sentence, the justice has been done'. Some of the comments on the net, on the other hand, generously took a long term view of hanging, when they said " We should not be satisfied with Kasab's hanging. We should catch the other perpetrators of crime."

Therefore, i was pleasantly surprised when i read this response of Ashish Chowdhry, an actor, who lost his sister and brother-in-law in the 26/11 terror attack. He said

" I do not see any point in rejoicing any body's death. Justice is done to small part of the problem. I am a father, i don't want to set that as an example for my children"

Such incidents, which happen less frequently in our society, are the perfect instances that we can use to help our child learn about life. Because if we try to tell our child about death and life, he will ignore us because death is not a salient context for him at his age. If we try to share a universal principle that ' criminals are produced by the society', he may not agree with us. In short, if we do not help our child learn from these socially poignant and emotionally intense situations, how do we prepare our child to face the challenges of life

It is in these situations that we can help our child understand that Kasab may have been an innocent child like him, but because he was born around wrong people, imbibed wrong teachings and was taught to hate. Kasab did not plan his future, his future was created for him by the people around him. And more importantly, if one Kasab is hanged, there are more than hundreds of Kasabs being produced every month and year. In other words, we can help our child understand the difference of terrorists and terrorism, which he otherwise is not just interested in knowing.

We can help our child understand how educated people are pulled into terrorism. We can also teach our child, that though we may not be able to fight terrorists, we can fight terrorism. We can share with him the stories of heroic people who are fighting terrorism. For instance, how Greg Mortenson is fighting terrorism by opening schools in Afghanistan. Or how an Orissa Collector managed to bring together people to fight terrorism, not terrorists.  And why it it is better to fight terrorism, instead of fighting terrorists.

Instead of letting child rejoice in a death of terrorist, it will help him if he understands how to prevent the emergence of terrorism, because his future lies in stopping terrorism. In tomorrow's society, we will not be able to stop terrorists because they will be amongst us, not around us. Our children therefore have to learn to stop terrorism. As Ashish Chowdhury said it succintly 'I will rejoice when killing in the name of God will stop". We should also rejoice at the death of terrorism, not for the death of terrorist. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Are you really learning a subject?

If you see the Learning plan ( LP) of a student, one important component of planning is 'learning' the core and complementary subjects. Unfortunately, the concept of learning is not fully understood. We confuse learning with many other similar words. We think that learning is being able to recite the 'learnt answers' in the same sequential manner. Or we think that learning is applying the algorithmic solution of moving from x to y on a predetermined path such as in Geometry or Algebra to another similar problem. Because marks in a test only captures 'rote' recitation, marks also do not capture the learning that has happened in a student. So what is learning? 

Stage I of learning

When we listen to someone for the first time, we hear the 'data' that is being given to us. For instance,when a student hears the history of the Jallianwalla Bagh's tragedy of 1919 in a history class, he absorbs it as a data. However, when he absorbs this data in the context of freedom struggle, his understanding of Jallianwalla Bag becomes deeper. Now, the student understands 'fuller' meaning and significance of Jallianwalla Bagh incident. The student has converted 'data' (raw bits of data structured by the 'instructor') into 'information' ( same bits of data restructured by the 'student').  In other words, Learning "does not take place in the act of listening to (or viewing) information explained, but rather in the moments when we are asked to make sense of that information, to wrestle with ideas." When, the student's  learning remains at the the level of 'data', he is stuck up and his understanding is shallow. This data may be useful in answering the question on Jallianwalla bagh in the exam, but it does not halp him deepen his understanding of subject he is trying to understand.

Stage II of learning

But learning can also happen at a even more deeper level. Deepening may happen in various forms.  For instance, when the student compares 'Salt march of 1930'  with 'Jallianwala bag' incident , he or she understands that not 'all incidents' have similar impact on freedom struggle movement. He starts 'building relationship of data with outcomes' newly. He starts gaining 'better picture' of the overall freedom struggle movement by connecting individual pieces of historical events. This is descriptive knowledge. At this stage, he is using anamolies, inconsistencies in the 'data' to get better knowledge of the events ( such as Jallianwalla bag ) and how they are correlated with the outcome ( freedom struggle). 

Stage III of learning

Learning can deepen further. A student may start understanding 'causes' of different events. For instance, why and how different elements of Jallianwalla bagh incident exactly 'caused or helped' freedom movement.  This is called converting 'correlation' into 'causation'. Not just understanding how x is related to y, but understanding why x causes y. (Not just understanding how flu is related to fever, but why flu causes fever.) This deepening enables the student to understand the conditions when x can cause y. At this stage, the student starts developing the 'predictive knowledge'. Here learning is "to apply, synthesize and use what we have learned to create something.” This kind of learning is facilitated when a student learns to develop 'experiements and prototypes' that 'mimic' the cause-effect loop of thinking in real life. 


Typically, a student will deepen the learning of a subject or chapter for which the teacher is good, or deepen the learning of the subject he or she likes. Learning becomes automatic and unconscious.

However, in order to excel in his life, a student has to guide his learning consciously. He cannot spend time on learning non-important subjects. If, in his Academic-excellence plan, he decides to learn 'physics' or 'english', he has to consciously deepen the understanding of those subjects. Irrespective of the poor teacher of physics, or the difficulties of the school, he has to find options to deepen the understanding of physics. He has to use multiple methods to deepen the understanding of a given subject that he has planned in his AEP. For instance, he may have to e-learning tools on internet to deepen his understanding of physics. Or he may find expert teachers in physics who are in different schools. Or he has may use Physics Olympiad to gain deeper understanding. Or he may find friends who are equally interested in 'physics '. Excellence is not possible without a deliberate plan. 

Excellence also happens when one uses the limited time effectively. An LP enables student to prioritise his time judiciously. Deeper the learning, the longer it takes. And because there is limited time in a day, a student has to 'prioritise' the subjects he has to learn. He cannot learn all the subjects to the same depth of learning. With LP, a student learns to prioritise his time carefully, so that he can achieve excellence in given subject. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why should a student make a plan instead of only choosing career option?

In my coaching, I have never observed a student making a plan in their student life. In my observation, students do not draft a plan due to three reasons. One, students do not know how to plan. Two, they do not know what to plan. And three, students do not know what to do if the plan fails. In other words, they do not know the purpose and benefit of planning. They are just happy to choose one career option and hope that it will work wonders automatically.

Why should student make a plan?

Single biggest reason of making a plan in student life is to 'excel' academically. If the students IQ is well above average, he can excel in many subjects and areas. He may not need a plan. But most of us need focus of efforts and time to excel. That is why a student must first choose a career option to focus his energy. And then he must also make a plan to channelise his efforts to excel in a chosen career option. This is not possible until he draws a plan. Drawing an action plan in the school life is a plan for 'ensuring excellence in academic life'. Therefore let us call this plan, Unique Learning Plan, or ULP in short.

Unlike a student excelling in entertainment or sports ( such as Lata Mangeshkar or Sachin Tendulkar), a student in cognitive field ( please see this distinction of cognitive and Aesthetic field here) requires a ULP. A student in entertainment and sports field starts his race (playing music or playing sport) at the age of 8 and therefore has a greater chance of excelling. On the contrary, until the age of 21, a student in cognitive field (also called as knowledge field) is engaged in reading and understanding concepts that he may or may not use in the later age. Until the student starts working, he will not apply these concepts in real life and verify his knowledge he has gained. ULP is required because it enables a student to focus his efforts in his long academic life on meaningful actions.

Two critical areas in Unique Learning Plan (ULP) 

The Unique Learning plan should cover at least two type of subjects: Core subject and complementary subjects.

One, it should help the student to build deeper knowledge in his chosen core subjects to become 'excellent'. More often than not, student chose core subjects such as physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics because they are traditionally considered to build the skills that are demanded in a skill-market. These are the left-brain oriented subjects. To ensure admissions, a student has to work with dual objective:  Work on getting good marks in the subject, say physics, and also work on acquiring deeper knowledge of Physics. Most of the coaching classes today help in scoring higher marks in the subject, say physics. But it requires a different type of teacher ( and also some additional avenues like Physics Olympiad) to help the student gain deeper knowledge of a subject in physics. This deeper knowledge helps develop excellence in physics which is later useful in student's work-life.

Two, ULP should also include a plan to understand and apply complementary subjects. Complementary subjects are those subjects that complement the benefits of core subjects. For instance, subjects like Language develop the art of communicating one's thoughts and ideas in a cogent manner. Without this basic skill of communication, a student excelling in physics and maths cannot benefit. Because of this lack of focus on language, you will meet many brilliant students who are unable to express their thoughts coherently and therefore fail to maximise the benefits of their academic excellence. Likewise, subject like history helps student understand the history of our country, and how the philosophies of leftist or rightist political parties are influencing today's policies and governance. Without knowing where he stands in his community, a student feels like a traveller who has lost his way in foreign land. Subject like Geography helps the student understand the inter-related variables of environment and therefore appreciate the dynamic complexities of one's environment. These right-brain oriented subjects are therefore very useful for the student to 'develop the qualities' that will complement the student's core left-brain oriented subjects. For more detailed exploration of right-brain and left-brain, please see Ian Mcgilchrist's detailed exploration.

In earlier days, students typically chose left brain subjects as core subjects to excel in their career. But in today's economy, the right-brain subjects are equally in demand. Today, you will find many students choosing  right-brain subjects like Language and History as core subjects of choice. For them, complementary subjects therefore become physics and chemistry, as they have to learn left-brain subjects to 'structure' their thoughts. Core subjects for one student could be complementary subject for another student and vice versa. Therefore, depending on their ULP, every student has to spend different 'time' and 'type of effort' on each subject.


An ULP therefore helps a student start the race, because there is no benefit in waiting for the race to start. The earlier you start running the race, the ahead you are in the race. The biggest benefit of ULP is fully utilising the years you spend in the academic life to excel. This excellence helps considerably in the later work-life.

However, the biggest benefit of ULP is indirect. It channelises a student's bubbling and restless mental energy  ( adolescent age also brings its own energy and force) in a focused direction. This helps a student discipline his whimsical mind. For instance, taking all the necessary actions in the ULP - studying core subjects or complementary subjects - requires a disciplined mind. As a student mind in this age is easily distracted, ULP enables him to reduce these distractions. LP enables the student to develop the required willpower to focus. As LP requires taking assistance from friends and colleagues to understand a subject; this forces a student to interact and collaborate with friends. In other words, ULP enables student to develop his mind. We have also seen the definition of Mind growth and how it is different than academic or intellectual growth. Mind growth is facilitated unconsciously by LP.

Earlier we had seen how mind growth directly influences work-life excellence. Mind growth also impacts academic life equally strongly. Later we shall see how it impacts the academic excellence and what steps should one take to consciously plan for Mind growth.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Selecting the right career option is less important than making a Unique Learning plan

Anushka went through a thorough process of selecting her career options when she was in 10th. She also gave aptitude test where she discovered that her logical skill is very good. She wanted to go outside India, have a career that has got lot of potential. So she chose Diploma in software, and wanted to take a degree course in software later. She did very well in all the three years. She scored first class throughout. However, in third year of diploma, she discovered she cannot continue with software discipline. But everyone strongly dissuaded her. Her friends told her that her marks indicate that she is fit for software. She was thoroughly confused.

What did Anushka do wrongly? Did she go through wrong aptitude tests? Or did she select a wrong career option? Or did she make a mistake because her mind was 'used' by her emotion ( instead of using emotion to take the right decision) that she wanted to go out of India? What do you think went wrong?

Aptitude tests are only indicative. They will tell you that your logical skill is good, or your numerical skill  is poor, or your spatial skill is OK. Aptitude tests do not tell you that the career option you must choose if your logical and numerical skill is good. With good logical and numerical skill, you have many options: Mathematics, any engineering discipline, physics and others. Infact, by going through your past exam scores in different subject, you can find 'which skill' of yours is good. You do not need an aptitude test ! In other words, aptitude tests are not useful in taking a career decision at all. As Benjamin Bloom, the researcher who has researched talented people found out, that not even the best of the talent have unusual talents at a young age of 12-15.

But Anushka did a much bigger mistake. She got satisfied by selecting a right career option. Because of too much data about the skill market and too little information about yourself, no one can choose an ideal career option at such an early age. In other countries, career options are taken in early twenties. Because of this inherent complexity, it is more prudent to draw up a Unique Learning plan, a plan that will enable the student to develop his/her abilities.

In other words, Anushka should have made a Unique Learning Plan to develop her abilities. She may use her abilities in different domains depending on her interest ( such as software, other engineering disciplines). , She may design an engagement that will her develop her abilities deeper, and change her future options by finding her growth in her chosen abilities. What Anushka needed was a Unique learning plan, not a career-option which will come later? Career-option is just using one's ability in a domain. Career option taken at an early age can never be accurate; because one has to get ready to face different scenarios which are different than predicted. A flexible career option required to tackle different emergent scenarios can help you prepare better when your chosen career-option turns out to be wrong. If she had made a plan, Anushka would have been ready with the next option without feeling confused and lost.

The second feature of unique learning plan is equally important: the feature of engaging with the external world that will help you engage 'fully' with the chosen abilities. Although Anushka did not make a plan, she engaged with the field of software completely; not half-heartedly. Her marks in software proved her full engagement. Project work that helps one apply the learnt principles, is another indicator of full engagement. Anushka did her project work well. So when despite full engagement, one finds that one does not like the field, like Anushka did, it is time to take a call. That she got good marks in software is a proof of her engagement, not a proof that software suits her. Anushka's friend confused her, because they misunderstood the 'meaning' of high marks. This confusion happened because Anushka had not prepared a Unique Learning Plan. Software domain is just an option to use her abilities, not a fixed path that has to be taken.

Third feature of Unique Learning plan is the design of cross-road point ( the point where you can change your chosen abilities if something went wrong in the growth of those abilities). In Anushka's case, this cross-road point (shifting from software to some other engineering discipline) automatically got created because she realised she is not so good in software. Imagine what would have happened to Anushka if she had decided to do software degree course after 12th. She would have discovered that her choice is wrong at the end of degree course. She would have perhaps done what most other engineering students do: Do MBA after finishing engineering. That is why you find, that even today, 80% of the students in IIM come from Engineering. When a student chooses career option at 12th class, with very little engagement with outside world, it is bound to be wrong. This is why a Unique Learning plan is required to develop and use those abilities, not just making one single career option.


Designing a flexible Learning plan is more important than choosing one best career option, because that allows you to readjust your plan with the changing realities. Your plan should help you chose alternative options (based on alternative scenarios that are applicable to the specific student), chose engagement that will help you find if the chosen path is right for you and design cross-road points that will help you change the path, if required.

What are you doing for your child? If you are just trying to find one ideal career option for your child, you are not helping your child. If you are really wanting to do something meaningful for your child, please help me make a career-plan.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Excellence is about making numerous choices daily

Many self-help popular books and counsellors advocate that excellence is about getting big macro choices right, such as choice of right discipline after 10th, or the right college to graduate, or right job after graduation, or even the right partner to marry. Because of this mistaken belief, students and their parents spend considerable time in deciding what to do after 10th class ! But excellence is not about doing one thing right; it is about doing things right daily ( at least most of them).

In other words, Excellence is a habit. It is not a mindset, or a one-time skill. Taking one decision right does not guarantee excellence. Taking the decision to do 'engineering', for instance, does not guarantee any excellence in engineering, until you do numerous small things right while finishing your high school till 10th class. For instance, if you have decided that your potential strength is physics, one of a critical subject in Engineering, you have to find methods and ideas that will daily help you increase your strength in physics. Your strength is not going to increase by understanding one chapter right, or passing one exam of physics with good marks. Your strength in physics will increase only if you make most of your micro choices - of doing well in physics -  right.To excel in life, one has to practice the habit of excellence consistently with conscious effort.

Because excelling is a habit, you have to practice it again and again consciously. Like driving habit, excelling habit has three characteristics. Firstly, even though you have learnt driving, you still have to drive the car every time with focus and attention. You cannot just put down your guard and hope the car will be driven automatically. Once you learn driving till a threshold level, you may require less conscious effort, but you still require some effort. Similarly, excelling habit, even if you learnt it once, has to be practiced again and again in every situation. Secondly, when the situation changes, you have to re-learn the habit again. For instance, if you have to drive in Ghats, you have to learn driving again. Thirdly, a contextual situation may  require a very different kind of similar skill. In such situation relearning the same habit takes lot of practice and time. For instance, if you want to enter the competition of car-racing, you may have to unlearn some of the practices useful in city driving, and practice new way of driving. Excelling habits, even when they look similar, require quite an amount of relearning for each situation.

So how can you develop this excelling habit to achieve anything meaningful?

1. Excelling is making micro choices daily (again and again) to gain knowledge

Many students assume that excelling is about making one right choice - Engineering, medical, arts, or any other discipline - after 10th class. Unfortunately, it is just the first step. If you do not do the micro-work, nothing will save you.

When you, for instance, choose to use Physics Olympiad to deepen your knowledge of engineering, you have to make numerous micro choices consequently : how to study every day for olympiad despite the school schedule, where to find other students who are also working for physics olympiad, how to locate teachers who will teach you the depth of physics, how to find websites that will help you learn some concept of physics faster, and where to meet older students who had gone to Olympiad and so on. These micro choices ultimately determine if your macro decision of doing engineering will help you excel or not.

2. Excelling is using the 'forced situations' in your life to grow mentally

We do not have choices in many situations. We are, on the contrary, forced into situations. Forced situations push us back into the corner and make us take a stand that primarily determine our mental growth. Remember the definition of mental growth: Mental growth is our ability to see as-is reality without any bias.  For instance,  we are born into a particular type of family, a specific kind of town or city, and in a specific culture or community. All these forced 'situations' bias us unknowingly. Our ability to be aware of these biases and utilise them in our life ( either as crisis or as opportunities) determine our mental growth.With mental growth, we develop qualities like patience, concentration, persistence and courage which are necessary to complement your intelligence.

3. Excelling is about using every situation to tame the mind beast so that you can take the above two actions with commitment 

Mind has features which are good and ugly. Despite knowing 0.001% of the world ( or even less), it still has to function in this world and help us find our place to grow. This is the power of our mind. But to use this power, Mind is forced to adopt certain practices. For instance, it has to use 'fast and instantaneous'** emotion to take quick decisions without enough information. But one cannot always rely on these 'emotions'. For instance, when we are going to stage to deliver a speech, we have to learn to ignore the discomforting signals of emotion. In short, we have to learn to tame the mind beast : sometimes consciously go against its orders and sometimes follow its powerful orders.

When we use stress, that mind generates to keep us wary of danger signals, to channelise our efforts in studying more, we are taming the mind beast. When we use self-doubt to prepare for the next exam, despite doing well in the current exam, we are taming the mind beast. When we ignore the belief ( mind unconsciously adopts beliefs to help it take decisions with less information) that 'drawing is just a hobby', and decide to pursue career in drawing, we are taming the mind beast. Some self-help gurus advocate the opposite: instead of taming mind beast they tell us to believe that our mind can do anything and everything. But mind, because it is always functioning with very little knowledge about the world, cannot be all-powerful! This strategy therefore fails.


In short excelling, first of all, is a habit. Excellence is not a mantra or rule that can be practiced once in a while. Excelling is habit that has to be practiced daily. You will not learn to excel always. Sometimes you may not succeed in excelling. Excelling is about using daily situations in life to guide your actions and behaviour that slowly and surely enhances your knowledge( strengths) step by step, help you grow mentally by tackling forced situations differently, and above all use every situation to become aware of the mind's beast so that you can tame it . Taming the mind beast is necessary if one has to use the power of mind without falling prey to the mind's unpredictable demons of emotion, stress, belief and self doubt. We may not get right all these choices and decisions. But overall, our averages will improve and help us lay the solid foundation of any excellence.

Do you practice the habit of excellence consistently?

** To know more about mind's fast and instantaneous process, read Noble Prize Winner Daniel Kahnemann's book ' Thinking slow and fast'.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Excelling in life is Not about winning the battle against external odds

Excelling in life is generally seen as winning the battle against external circumstances like poverty, or against competitors, or even against tough situations. But it is none of this; it is about Winning one's battle against oneself. We cannot win the battle against oneself in one go, we have to win this battle one step at a time.

For instance, we make multiple choices in our lives to develop our strengths slowly and steadily. Excelling is about making most of those choices right. But in life, we also encounter 'forced' situations that we cannot choose. We need to use these forced situations and not be at their mercy. And, more than anything else, winning the battle against oneself is winning the battle of mind. It is battling the fear of carrying one's mashal (flag) alone despite others telling us that we could be carrying a wrong flag. Let us explore this further.

Excelling in life is about winning the many 'micro' choices that we take every day to focus on something (or defocus on something else) to develop knowledge in our areas of strengths. When we decide to play, and not study, we are making a choice of which strength to focus. When we decide to study on English, and not maths, we are making a choice of English versus maths. When we decide to see a movie, we are choosing to focus on arts and find meaning in life. When we decide not to ask a question to teacher, even when we have not understood anything about the subject, we are making a choice that directly influences our progress. When we decide to drop from the essay competition, we are making a choice of not choosing the path of writing. When we decide to break away from a studious friend who speaks English well, we are making a choice of learning English in a difficult way.

But excelling in life is not only making choices in 'unforced' situations. Excelling in life is also about using every forced situation (good or bad) that comes in our life in a way that will help us win. We do not always have the liberty to choose situations in life, many a times we are forced into a situation. Winning in forced situations enables us to use these situations to complement our strengths ( be it in English, Maths or Art). Mental growth is using situations to develop qualities such as patience, motivation, confidence, tolerance of different views - that will help you complement your strengths. For instance, excelling in life is about using the forced 'poverty' to motivate yourself , it is about using forced TV/Internet culture to hasten learning instead of just entertainment. Sometimes excelling is about tolerating incompetent teachers to discover your own learning difficulties, while sometimes it is about using difficult social environment to learn the qualities of patience and waiting. Sometimes excelling in life is about encountering death of close family member and learning to use it appreciate the fickleness of life.

Lastly, but more importantly, winning against oneself is winning the battle against mind's hidden demons.  When , despite our knowledge of physics, we fail to score poorly in physics exam, we have to tolerate the mind getting swamped by failure.Winning the battle of mind is learning to battle stress ( that accompanies any uncertain task) even when stress threatens to derail performance. Winning the battle of mind is about avoiding the distractions of environment that threaten to defocus our mind.  Winning the battle of mind is about conserving mental energy during 3 hours of exams so that one can answer all the questions to the best of one's ability. And more importantly, winning the battle of mind is reminding oneself again and again that it is OK to lose a point or even game ( or even match) to win the ultimate battle: the battle of excelling in Life.

In short, excelling in life is about making the right choices in unforced situations to gain knowledge in your strength area as well as using forced situations to grow mentally while battling with the mind's demons that we have not deciphered. As you would realise, this whole battle happens in one's mind and cannot be monitored from outside. It is therefore battle against oneselfFor better understanding, see how Andy Murray won his battle to win the US Open.

Surprisingly, we need only one key to win this battle against oneself. We will learn about that key in the next blog.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Seminar on 5 August 'How to choose your career after 10th class'

A free seminar was organised on the above subject at Nashik in collaboration with Yeshwantrao Pratishtan, at their Hall at Gangapur Road office, Nashik.

Harish Nair ( in the chair) and Sanjiv Bhamre ( who is on the mic) in the seminar 

Harish Nair, Founder and CEO of a Executive Search Firm which finds CEO's and seniormost managers  for corporate world was a key speaker. He spoke about the emerging trends in the corporate sector and its impact on the careers of today's students. He urged students to specifically focus on three careers : Careers in High technology segment, Careers as Entrepreneurs and Careers in Social Sector.

Sanjiv Bhamre, Career designer, on the other hand, talked about the issues that a student should address while choosing his career. Career is about unfolding one's potential to excel. Therefore, decision of 'which career to choose after 10th' is really a decision of choosing 'Which potential should I decide to unfold and why'. 

Sanjiv Bhamre highlighted the key differences between the unfolding of potential of sportsman and musicians ( who are engaged in senses-based careers) and those who are engaged in knowledge field such as Engineers, Doctors, Accountants, Consultants and Researchers.

For instance, Sportsman and musicians identify their potential only once in their life and then continue to strengthen that chosen potential area throughout their lives. Be it Sachin Tendulkar or Lata Mangeshkar, they continue to unfold one chosen potential ( be it cricket, golf or singing) throughout their lives. On the other hand, knowledge workers have to constantly 'identify and chose' their potential strength at different stages.

At every stage, a student has to choose a potential strength from his available choices to proceed further. At 10th, he has to decide which potential path to chose - Science, Commerce or Arts- from the available choices. At the stage of 12th, the science student has to chose which potential strength to unfold further " Engineering, Science, Mathematics  or something else'. At graduation, he again faces another choice of potential unfolding path  "Post graduation in his earlier field of graduation, diversify in MBA, or do a job in some specific skill." In other words, a student in knowledge field cannot just identify and chose his potential strength once, but instead has to learn to 'identify and chose the potential strength again and again"

This difference compels students ( who are engaged in knowledge field) to learn three skills that are required to master the process of Excellence cycle ( CTS) of potential Unfolding: 

1. Choosing the Potential strength: To be able to identify and chose a potential strength from the available choices, a student must learn basic skill of converting data to knowledge. Without understanding this conversion process, a student does not understand which of his potential area ( history, maths or literature) has got better 'chance' of unfolding into 'knowledge'. Only when he can do this, he can chose a career at 10th/12th stage !

2. Tapping all the opportunities to enhance the chosen strength: Choosing the potential strength to unfold is however not enough, he also has to learn to 'tap all the opportunities to enhance it constantly't. Without tapping the opportunities, the first step of choosing will not produce any fruits.

For instance, if a student decides to take up 'Arts' at 10th, he has to initiate and take certain actions in the field of Arts to tap opportunities in Literature, Psychology or Journalism, the three paths available in Arts. Only if he 'taps' opportunities in these fields, he will know if he has the 'capability' of  converting his potential strength of Arts. Tapping the opportunities means engaging in the chosen field and using all the options to practice in the chosen area.

To tap the opportunities, a student has to learn to spot and use the available interconnections around him. For instance, he  has to find group of students who have similar interest in English Literature to talk and discuss topics in English, or write short stories after attending 'Story writing' workshop, or appreciate different aspects of English Literature by reading English Novels. The more he is interconnected with the world around him, more easily he can utilise all the opportunities. This is the skill of understanding and exploiting interconnections.

3. Sticking and choosing the potential area of strength for sufficiently long time: "Strenthening a chosen area of potential strength" requires focused attention in a specific direction without getting distracted from it. Our emotions, for instance, distract us. Gaining emotional intelligence is therefore critical in helping the student gain focus. A student also has to learn to train his Willpower to focus his energies on one subject or area. This skill of Regulating  Self is critical for the student in sticking to a chosen potential strength for a sufficient time and then deciding to continue with it or let it go.


In short, choosing the career after 10th is not a simple decision of finding colleges, courses and matching with our interest. It is understanding the Excellence cycle process of unfolding one's potential and taking actions after  choosing the career for sufficiently long time to excel in it.

As we have seen above, a student not only has to choose the unfolding path of science or arts after 10th, but also has to tap all the available opportunities to enhance the chosen potential in a given field after 10th, stick to it for a sufficient time so that he is once more ready to take a more informed decision at the stage of 12th. This sequence of identifying and choosing a potential (C) > tapping it (T) > and sticking ( S) with it and again choosing the next potential path is repeated again and again in a student's life. For instance, this is repeated again after graduation.

Infact, this sequence of steps are repeated again and again in one's life till the age of retirement. For instance Manmohan Singh ( a professor in economics) had to chose his potential in 'Policy making' when he decided to become a RBI Governor at the age of 52. Nandan Nilekani  also had to choose his potential after the age of 50 when he moved away from corporate sector to join Governmental arena.

Oversimplifying the decision of 'which career to choose after 10th' does not help a student to identify and fulfill his potential. Instead a student will benefit more if he understands the CTS cycle of excellence and use it for his own benefit. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to actualise your potential

Ideal time to commence actualising one's potential (i.e identifying and converting your invisible potential into a talent) is when a student is in 8th class.

At this age, the landscape is open and unlimited. At this age the slate is clean with no baggage and therefore  is open to take any view. At this age, a student has lots of energy and curiosity to question the established tradition and even take a course that is uncharted, if it is needed. But the student is unable to do so because he has several disempowering beliefs that prevent him in actualising his potential.

For example, a student assumes that the most important step in actualising one's potential is choosing the 'right ideal discipline' (science, commerce or arts) after 10th class. This notion is unrealistic and imaginary. Finding one's 'right ideal potential' is not practical because researchers have found that one cannot predict one's potential early in life.  Even sportsmen, who are forced to start early in life, do not show 'extraordinary potential' at an early age. On the contrary, they have a small difference of 'above-average' abilities visavis other students of comparable age.

However, what distinguishes the successful from the rest is the way they spot and capitalise on their unfolding potential ! Researchers have found out that potential unfolds over a long time. It is not a one-shot method. It is a long duration process. The student must therefore possess the necessary skills to watch this invisible process of unfolding of their potential and smartly utilise this understanding for their own benefit. 

Specifically, converting the unfolding potential into a talent requires three foundation skills to be built in a student at early age: ( If you fail to develop these three skills, three possible scenarios emerge. Also read about them)

Foundation skill 1. Regulate his/her Self:  Because future can never be predicted, this foundation skill will help a student to become adapt and flexible to the opportunities that come his way. By knowing the functioning of his emotions, stress points, and willpower, the student learns to regulate his Self ( not control his Self). He also understand his strengths and vulnerabilities. This provides a 'stable and confident mental state' that is necessary to guide one's actions amidst the various distractions. 

Foundation skill 2. Chose a potential area in academic area to focus: The second foundation skill required to actualise one's potential is the skill to chose a potential area to focus.  Most of the students possess an average IQ of about 110-130. Einstein had an IQ of 160. To use his available IQ tactfully, a student has to focus on few areas of strength to gain in-depth knowledge in few areas that is required later to sustain excellence later in the life. He has to utilise his academic life productively to gain the most from his long academic life. 

Foundation skill 3. Understand and exploit interdependence of skill markets, people, knowledge and domains to deepen his academic skill : Because the world is getting more and more interconnected, a student has to understand these interconnections to find opportunities ( or negotiate bottlenecks) to actualise his potential. For instance, by understanding these interconnections, a student can use interdependence of people to gain more knowledge of a specific subject, say a language like French, by joining learning community of 'French-learning' groups. Or use interconnections between domains to learn English language to develop his 'right brain' which is as useful as his 'left brain' that is being developed with the subjects like physics and maths. Or use interdependence of markets, to monetise his skill of 'teaching' through internet.

On the other hand, if a student fails to understand this chaotic interconnected environment, he suffers on both counts. Not only he misses the opportunities, but like a man who is unable to make sense of what is happening around him, he is paralysed into inaction and waits for others to guide him. We feel he lacks initiative; but what he lacks is the ability to make sense of this chaotic interconnected environment ! 

Once the foundation is properly built, a student will identify and realise his fullest potential even at a late age!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Seminar on Careers in Software Industry

First of the series on career-seminar was held in Nashik on the 'Careers in Software". Mr N.C. Gosavi, Training and Competency Head, Manufacturing Vertical, TCS and Sanjiv Bhamre, Career Designer at Nashik presented  views of software career.  While N.C.Gosavi presented the view of 'careers' from Industry point, Sanjiv Bhamre presented the view of careers from individual's angle.

From left to right : Vinayak Ranade, Sanjiv Bhamre, Vishwas Thakur and N.C. Gosavi

Many misunderstandings of software careers were clarified in this seminar. For instance, Software career is not just one career: Career of developer. There is also a career of 'Enterprise and Industry Expert' who works with Ready made Package products like SAP, or Qualcom in Telecom, or Banking softwares. There is also career of 'Tester' and 'Engineering and Industrial Solutions' engineer as well as high end BPO career in knowledge based services like Legal ( where LLB and LLM graduates work) as well as  Analytics ( where CAs work).

Some of the notable characteristics of software careers identified in the seminar were as follows: 

Pros (positive points) about Software careers

  • Software careers are both in customer facing functions ( where extroverts thrive) as well in internal facing functions ( where introverts are more likely to succeed). Luckily software companies also have jobs which are a mixture of customer facing and internal facing function.
  • Unlike in other industries, but similar to music and sports, career growth in Software industry is both vertical ( up the hierarchy) and horizontal ( across functions and technologies)
  • Like in the field of acting and cooking, Developers in this industry do not need any professional qualification.
  • Software career can be initiated at the young age of 22 as well as after the age 30. I know professionals shifting to Software at the age of 45. 
  • In Software, careers can be done part time as well as from home. This flexibility is very useful for girls.
  • Because software careers have various options, even after joining a software company, one has to be keep eyes and ears open to search for the 'Next Direction'. Joining a software company is not the end act.
Cons (negative points) about Software careers 
  • Software career is a one way entry: Many students join a software company because software jobs are easy to get. However, it is very very difficult to shift the career back to one's domain after joining software( say from software to electronics or accountancy)  if one does not like software job. Due to this difficulty, students with some interest in their domain ( be it mechanical, civil, electronics or domain) should never join software company in their first job. 
  • Software careers are very stressful for two reasons. Working hours are too long. One has to work after 11 pm because US client day starts at that time. Secondly, because of the desk bound nature of the job, the stress accumulates in the body constantly.
  • Software careers demand constant learning and upgradation of knowledge. There is no plateau. One cannot stop one's learning. 
More importantly, many careers will continue to be discovered as software is spreading to more and more functions. For instance, careers in retail shopping, or careers in tourism, or careers in training and teaching can be done from any town in India today without a help of big software company. Today one can find an Indian teacher in Nashik teaching mathematics to a child in Chicago if he can use software expertly. Or an tour operator organising tours of US sitting in Nashik. Or an astrologer catering to international clients. As software impacts various day to day activities of a common man, familiarity and mastery of software has become a must for everyone. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Learn to use the feedback of your child's marks properly

During 1995-2000 and 2001-2012, Gujarat increased its annual rate of growth from 8.01% to 8.68%. During 2001-2004, the rate of industrial growth for Gujarat was 3.95% and during 2005-2009, it was 12.65%.

If someone shows you this kind of data, you will think that Gujarat is growing at a rapid rate. But this is data. Data, by itself, does not help. It helps only when sees it in relation with the proper context. When you see data in context, data becomes useful information.

For instance, if you compare this data with other states, you will find that states such as Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have grown as fast as Gujarat. For instance, between 2001-2012, Uttarakhand grew by 11.81%, while Haryana grew by 8.95%. What is remarkable, Bihar and Orissa, the two most backward and poverty-stricken states, also had a growth rate of 8.02% and 8.13% during this period. Even smaller states like Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh grew by 11.01% and 8.96%, respectively. The same is true about industrial growth. For instance, you will find out that industrial growth for Orissa was 17.53% or Chattisgarh was 13.3%. 

Data, in isolation, often distorts the real picture. To make it speak the truth, one has to see it, in its proper context. Sometimes the ready context is available, as in the above picture. Sometimes it is not.

See what happens when you see the data of your child's marks in a test without context. For instance, if your child gets low marks in physics test, what does it mean? Is it low because the test was tough? Or is it low because your child was not prepared for the test that day? Or is it low because your child cannot manage the 'last minute anxiety' of test despite knowing everything? Or is it low because the child did not understand the 'chapters' involved in physics test?

Sometimes the marks are also low, not because of your child's inability. It is low because of inadequate teacher or teaching method, such as Mathew's teacher.

Mathew had been scoring poorly in physics till VIIth class. He found a teacher in VIIIth class who made it so easy to learn physics, that Mathew's learning disability of physics changed by 180 degrees. His marks in physics jumped up considerably in VIIIth. 

Sometimes the marks are low, because the 'teaching method' was not suitable for your child's learning style. For instance, did Mathew learn physics from his new teacher, because the teacher was using a 'working model route' to teach physics instead of 'conceptual route' as is the usual method followed by schools.? Or did Mathew learn faster because the teacher managed to teach 'concepts' in a lucid manner? 

In other words, the 'low marks' of your child may show your child's inability to learn something through the teaching method, or the teacher's incorrect use of teaching method? Both possibilities exist. But we often tend to use 'data' without it's proper context. We need to take effort to understand the context and take the action, and not jump to the first 'conclusion' that comes to our mind. Only after finding the 'right cause', we can 'correct' it. Otherwise we will be spending effort on useless activities.

Worse still, we convert data into knowledge and misuse the data.Data becomes knowledge, when we use data to convert it into action. For instance, when we conclude that our child is 'dumb because he is getting low marks in 'mathematics', we misuse data. When data is used for such purpose in a hasty manner, we do grave injustice to our child. We 'brand' the child as 'poor'. That prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. As the child loses more and more confidence, he starts believing that he is not really 'good enough'. And then it causes unintended consequences in his other life too. 

How do you use your child's data of marks?