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.