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Preparing For Success In The Real World

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Author: Sudhakar Ram

"Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world." ~ Colin Powell

The late Dr. Kalbag's Vigyana set up an Ashram as an experiment. His goal: teaching school dropouts vocational skills to set up their own businesses. Against all odds, it has been very successful. More than 800 of its alumni are now running their own businesses. has success stories as well as a video documentary.

The Ashram is driven by a simple principle behind - the best form of learning is while doing. Started in Pabal, a dry rural area of Maharashtra in 1983, Vigyan Ashram takes on rural development projects on a paid basis; it then executes through its students, giving them a chance to earn while they learn.

The experiment has gone so well that the State of Maharashtra has recognized Vigyan Ashram's Introduction to Basic Technology course as a regular subject in the SSC exams. More than 70 schools in Maharashtra rely on the course to provide hands-on learning experiences to their students.

I came to know about Vigyan Ashram through a Dutchman, a futurist and scenario planner, who interviewed me on the Future of IT and the role of India. I talked to him briefly about the New Constructs initiative and it struck a chord. He told me that he was so disillusioned by the schooling system that he was homeschooling his 3 daughters, the eldest being 8.

When his 8-year-old wanted to buy a laptop, he offered to fund half of the cost if she would earn the other half. After considering several ideas, his daughter decided to bake muffins and sell them in the neighborhood. She earned her share of the cost of the laptop within a few months. I was amazed that a girl, all of 8, could do this. I am now encouraging my daughter, Samvitha, 14, to start a business - an idea she is enthusiastically pursuing.

Our entire system of education is artificial. Performance is judged on the basis of exams that have a single right answer that can be memorized. With a good degree, students take up a job where they expect the same structure and assessment. For most people, the situation remains artificial in the working world: performance tends to reflect what their boss thinks of them rather than what they actually contribute.

Most real world outcomes are a function of factors beyond the influence of the individual - environment, strategy and positioning of the organization as a whole, the performance of an entire team, and luck. The contribution of an individual is often difficult to isolate. Hence, bright people who know the 'answers' tend to grow almost automatically, up to a mid-level. It is when they take up leadership roles that we see their true ability - or lack of ability - to perform in the real world.

In contrast, any craftsman or small business person has immediate feedback on how effective they are in the real world. And they have a mechanism to self-correct much faster. It makes them truly intelligent (not just intellectually bright), responsive and agile. Is it possible to bring this level of intense learning within a large organization? If so, what's the most effective mechanism to do so?

These are questions that we need to engage as we look at the future in the Connected Age. Is the future bright for large organizations, or any organizations? Do organizations limit natural intelligence and talent? How do we overcome these limits in our educational systems as well as organization design? Do share your own insights around these issues.

About the author: Sudhakar Ram is Chairman and Co-Founder of Mastek, a leading IT solutions company. He believes that we have the potential to create a sustainable world and live in harmony with our environment. However, this would require a fundamental shift in our mindsets - the "constructs" that drive our attitudes and actions. The New Constructs is an initiative to leverage Connected Intelligence in realizing the Connected Age. Please feel free to comment. We look forward to your active participation.

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