Selective Learning…

As humans, we possibly start learning when we are born and it may be ending only when we die. At least we are not aware as to what happens to us post our death. Every stage of life teaches us new lessons every day. It is upto us to learn from every experience and every person we meet in our lives

If we walk through every stage of our life, we realise how much we learn. As a child, every action of ours is a new learning. Starting from learning to crawl, walk and run, we have so many opportunities to learn every day.

We learn from everyone around us. Our parents, siblings, friends and neighbours teach us new things every day. We crawl, walk, fall down and get up again to run ahead in our lives. We cherish every moment and are grateful for the people who enable us to learn every day.

As we grow into an adolescent, we tend to learn what we want to. We ignore things which does not interest us. We also rebel when we are forced to learn things against our wishes. We have a world view of ourselves and believe there can be no alternative view.

As an adult we tend to become more rational. We learn by our own choice. We categorise things based on our mindset. We decide what we want to learn and what we don’t want to. This I would call as “Selective learning”. All the curiosity of our childhood gradually fades into selective interest and learning. In this way, we lose many opportunities to learn from experiences and people around us.

One good example is learning when we travel around the world. While we want to learn all the things which we possibly need not, we ignore things, which we should learn. We learn to accumulate things more than we need in our day to day lives but we ignore the self discipline which we see on the roads or even in everyday life.

We learn to be self centred in our lives but we fail to learn to give back to society. It is important to realise that every experience of life is an opportunity to learn. Every person we meet and interact with can teach us something if we are inclined to learn from them.

Out of our own ignorance or ego, we decide what we want to learn and what we do not want to. This leads to selective learning. A side effect is that we lose multiple opportunities to learn and grow in life. It may be worthwhile to challenge ourselves and ask why this happens.

One of my best experiences in learning is my travel around India and the world as in the photo above.

I believe it is never too late to learn in life. I was recently reading an octogenarian lady attending computer classes since she wanted to email her grand children and chat with them online. I also have read of grand parents pursuing research or post graduate degrees when they do not need to at their age. This proves learning ends only in our mind and not with our age.

Lets us learn to learn unconditionally from everything and every person around us all the time.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th November 2020

Education & Intelligence

 

Today in most situations formal education does not prepare a kid for a career. It only enables the award of a degree and certificate. While we may say that the current education system possibly lays a theoretical foundation, it lacks in application. Further, it assesses the ability of kids to memorise and reproduce and not apply their intelligence to solve a problem.

What do we need to do to change the system ? In my view, education should prepare kids to assess themselves and realise their full potential. As a kid, I should be clear what my strengths are and what my passion is ? We should take children to places where they can live their passion. Imagine a creative child working in an organisation like a BPO where the job is process driven and not much scope for innovation. On the other hand, imagine an analytical child trying to innovate and create new designs in an advertising agency. Both the kids are likely to be unhappy and may not be fully equipped to do their jobs.

Our system conditions the child to believe that some careers are more prestigious than others. The inequity in salary and wages also makes children force themselves to take up high paying jobs although they may not be enjoying it. Similarly, the environment also does not encourage entrepreneurship. It is generally believed that smarter people take up certain kind of jobs only.

All these fallacies in our system makes us believe that it is time to reset our education system. Starting from schooling we need to delink education to our ability to memorise things and reproduce. It should be more vocational after an objective assessment of the child’s potential. Some kids are analytical, some creative, some love sports and others dramatics. We need to create a system which enables each child to make a self assessment on what they are good at and what type of work will give them joy.

My experience teaches me that we need to enjoy what we do in life. If we enjoy what we do, we give our best and live our passion in life. Otherwise, it becomes a ritual and adds to stress and agony in life. It does not matter if we are playing a sport or teaching in a college. We need to do what brings out the best in us. We need to experience joy in doing it and add value to ourselves and society at large.

At primary level, kids should not be in a competitive environment like today. They should be free to play and learn and understand what they enjoy doing more. This will take them to their area of strength. At the mid school level , it should help them self assess and then decide on which area they would like to study. At senior school and college level, it could be a right blend of theory and practical application in the field of their choice. This should be supplemented by compulsory internship as part of the curriculum to test their application skills.

All the above steps will prepare a child to go where they want to go. No destination is final. If a child realises that they have made a mistake on the way, our systems should be flexible enough to for them to choose an alternate path. This way we can ensure that children find their passion in life always.

As in the photo above, a child is not the most educated when young but could be more intelligent and creative and can trouble shoot many issues if they enjoy doing what they do.

Organisations needs to support internship for children so that they can assess themselves and make them industry ready. This could include businesses who can prepare kids interested in starting their own ventures and improve their risk appetite.

After all education is the foundation for a better tomorrow.

The journey has to begin today.

S Ramesh Shankar

2nd June 2020

 

 

Power of Music

I have always wondered as to what is the power of music. I can share some of its healing properties through my personal experiences. I listen to ghazals whenever I am on a flight and can write blogs non stop listening to them. They relax my mind and thoughts flow through my fingers onto a iPad like water flowing down the river.

I always listen to music to relax my mind. Instrumental music from all parts of world fascinate me. They have the power to heal my mind and calm my soul. They can make me sleep or bring out the best of my writing skills too. Music can make me creative and enable me to give my best too.

Many of us enjoy music while driving. It not only makes us enjoy the journey but keeps us relaxed and enables us to drive for long hours without getting bored. Of course the choice of music could differ from one individual to the other but almost everyone enjoys some form of music.

I know people travelling hundreds of miles just to listen to their favourite music. The good thing today is that youngster who are passionate about music are willing to take it up as their life long vocation and passion.

The good thing in the world today is that everyone is open to live their passion. Music can change the world for people and humanity. It can heal the world and cure a person of a dreadful disease. Music can be used as therapy to cure the incurable. It can cast its magic on everyone who needs it.

Music can relax our mind, body and soul. In these days of hectic everyday life, music can help us calm down. It can help us to relax and enjoy every moment of life. It can enable us to think differently. It may help us to resolve conflicts within us or with others.

Music an be life for many. The power of music is not yet fully harnessed. It’s potential is unlimited and it is upto us to realise it. I have seen the impact of music even on animals. An angry dog can cool down if she listens to a music of her choice.

Let us learn to enjoy the music of life.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th July 2020

HR

“H” stands for being human and “R” stands for being responsive. Many people have asked me the role of HR especially post the pandemic. If I have to simplify, it is just to be human and responsive to every employee who needs help.

Although, it may look simple, the most difficult things in life are the day to day things, which we fail to do consistently every day. Someone once asked me – “What it means to be a professional ?. I had stated that responding always, keep your time and commitment, dressing for the occasion and being empathetic always.

Today I would think its simpler. Just be human, grounded, accessible and respond to the stated and unstated needs of every employee. During this pandemic, quite a few young employees reached out to me and expressed their concerns. I would share two case studies to share their anguish.

The first was a young employee working in an multinational. She reached out to me knowing that I had retired more than two years back from an active corporate role. When I asked – “Why she reached out to me – she said that I was always accessible and she was sure I will respond to her call. She sent me a message on social media and I did respond.

We then had a call and followed up by multiple calls. Her concern was that “work from home” has ruined her work life and personal life. She said that she had to respond to international calls even at 11pm and her spouse was not amused nor were her kids. She said she was more stressed than ever.

The second case was a mid level manager from an Indian corporation. His query was – why is it everyone is under stress nowadays ? Can stressed employees deliver their best ? He went on to state that this sort of stress neither is good for the employees nor the organisation. Again, when I asked why he contacted me as I have not even met him, he said that some of his friends told him that I would respond positively.

The two cases are symptomatic of what is happening in organisations today. Employees, managers and leaders are all under stress. They are finding it difficult to balance work and life and the pandemic has made it more complicated for them as the line between office and home has blurred.

What can “HR” do to help employees ? I would say – lets keep it simple. HR needs to be human and responsive. They need to be accessible to the employee all the time. They need to be empathetic listeners and employee champions. They need to respond to every employee irrespective of them being an introvert or an extrovert, a junior or senior employee in the hierarchy. I would rather say, HR needs to reach out to the quiet employees much more and respond to their needs.

Some may ask – “What it means to be Human ? “. Being empathetic and responding to every employee by putting yourself in their shoes will make you respond in a human way. If we respond the way we expect others to respond when we are in a crisis, is the human way.

It is like the murmuring of birds in the sky. Nobody knows who the leader is or who HR is. They sway together and support each other when attacked by a predatory bird always as in the photo above. HR needs to be like the invisible saviour of the birds in the sky within organisations.

If we are human, grounded, accessible and responsive, HR will be the function, which employees will hail as their messiah in distress. Otherwise, they may wonder as to why HR exists in organisations ?

It is time for HR to be human and responsive always.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th September 2021

How do you define success in life ?

Success in life could mean different things to different people and that is absolutely fine. It is like beauty could be defined differently by everyone based on their own perceptions in life. While some of us may think that creating wealth is success, there could be others who define success as helping as many people in their lives.

Each one of us look at the world through our own lenses and define success in our own ways. In my view, an individual has a right to define or redefine success the way they want to as long as they do not decry the definition of success by others.

The word success is defined by us based on our own life experiences and perceptions of the world. We are born in a family which is the basic social unit of society. Our family moulds us in a particular way and we form our idea of success.

Then as we grow up, go to school and college, our teachers help us in refining our concept of success. This further gets reimagined when we enter our career as a professional or an entrepreneur. Our journey in life adds to this definition and we keep re-inventing ourselves as we grow up.

Our friends and colleagues also influence our thoughts, deeds and actions. Certain life events impact our world view and we keep reflecting on “ what success and happiness means to us in life ?”

As I said earlier, there can be no right or wrong answers to this fundamental question of life. Each of us have a right to look at it the way we want to and keep changing our definition as we experience life over the years.

The only caution could be that we should not look at others from our world view of success. A sportsperson may look at an Olympic medal as their ultimate success in life. A career professional may want become a CEO. On the other hand, a social worker may be interested in saving human lives in every possible way.

We cannot say one is more successful than the other. If we look at so many ordinary women and men, who have been conferred with national and international awards, we realise that success can and will mean different things to different people.

I would go one step further. Let us define and redefine success with every learning in our lives. It is evolutionary and has to be so. There can never be a beginning or an end to success. It is like excellence. Success is a moving target in life and it can best be defined by the individual only. The moment others try to define success for an individual, it becomes redundant for that individual.

Let us learn to experience life in our own way and define success the way we want to see the world. It is like some people may like to see the sun rise, while some others may enjoy the sun set. Neither of this group is right or wrong.

If you do not like to see sun rise or sun set but want to enjoy only the moon, it is your choice and you have the absolute right to ignore the sun and only watch the moon. Success is indeed ephemeral and it is up to us to make it tangible the way we would want it to be.

As in the photo above, success could mean “capturing the right moment” for a professional photographer.

We need to learn to live life in absolute and not in relativity. As long we want to compete with everyone around us and live life vying with others, success will always elude us.

Let us evolve success in life our own way on every single day in our lives.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th August 2022

Valuation versus Value creation

One of my friends, who heads HR of a large start up group  suggested that I should write about this topic. At first, I felt that I had no experience of a start up and hence may not be qualified to write. But later realised that life is no different than a start up in its own way. So I agreed to make an attempt.

Many start ups around the world are born out of a great idea and then the promoters convert that idea into reality and try to commercialise it so that they can make money. Most enterpreuners have succeeded in life this way. However, it is important to remember that not every start up succeeds and not every idea fails in the market place.

If we look at the Indian IT and services industry, they all started as service providers and are growing up the value chain. In the services sector, cost of operations is the competitive edge for the organisation. So , we have seen in our life time that many shared services have already moved away from high cost countries to lower cost countries. Similarly, IT services will also transcend to markets, which can provide the same service at a lower cost.

One of the reasons many IT companies have focussed on product development is because products create value to the customer and cannot be replaced by lower cost products unless they can create the same or higher value to the customer. This is possibly the reason why a high quality product always sells at a premium and cannot be easily replaced in the market by competitors.

However, in the start up eco system, the competition today is not to create better value to customers but more value for their own brand to later sell it in the market place. This is the “key difference” between value creation and valuation. Many start ups are vying with each other to create better valuation so that they can make a fast buck when the market is hungry and they can disappear from the competitive landscape. However, the start ups which focus on value creation for their customers are the sustainable ones and will always sell at a premium. In short, “Valuation” could be creating value for self while “Value Creation” could be considered as creating value for others.

I realise that our life is no different. Whether as individuals or as professionals, if we focus on our valuation based on our income or wealth, we are in the race for valuation of ourselves as a commodity. It does not matter if we are selling ourselves as commodities in the marriage market or in the organisation market place. On the other hand, if we evolve as balanced individuals creating value to our family members and society at large by contributing more than what we get from the communities around us, we create value and that becomes sustainable and invaluable.

So, it does not matter if we are a start up or an individual growing up in our respective space. We need to learn to create value to our customers or family or community around us. If we focus only on accumulating wealth without any value addition to others, we may fade as fast as we made an impact. The choice is ours always. It is upto us if we are interested in value creation or not. Either way one can make an impact. One is positive and sustainable when you create value for others and other is negative since wealth does not necessarily create positivity and value for others always.

Just as in the photo above, the time we spend with our friends is value creation as long as we do not evaluate it in terms of return on time spent with them. As otherwise, it would become valuation.

Life is like a start up. Let us focus on value creation and not be swayed away by the ephemeral cycle of valuation.

S Ramesh Shankar

27th July 2022

Gurus in our lives

Who is a Guru ? Someone who teaches you something in life. It could be your teacher in the classical sense of the word. But, in my view, it could be anyone around you. I would like to explore people in my life, who have always taught me something. I am every grateful to them and I would call them “Gurus in my life”.

Let me start with my family. My parents taught me simple living and groundedness. My father taught me patience and my mother resourcefulness. My spouse taught me organising my life. My daughter taught me hard work and my son has taught me to live life king size every day.

If I look at my career, there are innumerable people in my life, who have taught me many things. My first boss taught me magnanimity and selflessness. My colleagues have taught me almost everything I learnt in my career. Whether it is learning about computers when I first used them in the late eighties or about apps which I use them today.

My friends have made me what I am today. I remember my first days in my career, when one of my best friends of my life evolved and he taught me what fairness and humanness is all about. Some friends have made me experience giving without expecting anything in return. Others have taught me as how you could be around for someone without even physically being there.

If you look at the place you live, you realise that the people who work in your community teach you something every day. My house help has taught me to live life smilingly irrespective of all challenges you face. Another person has taught me how to be creative with the available resources you have and only mind is a limiting factor to our imagination.

I have learnt a lot from the public at large and even from people whom I have not met a second time again in my life. I remember travelling with a sportsperson once and he taught me how to learn from failures. I learnt how one could serve the community without expecting anything in return from many people in public life.

I have learnt a lot from politicians too although we generally think they are useless people. I have learnt how one could be a great orator if you can master a subject of your liking. I have learnt how one could serve your constituency to the best of your ability even though you may not have all the resources to support you always.

I have learnt a lot from animals too. A Labrador at home as a pet taught me loyalty, gratitude and selfless behaviour. Birds teach me to live life frugally every day. The cats teach me how you can keep your environs clean all the time. The bees teach me how you can contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Life is a teacher. Everyone around you – human or otherwise teaches you something or the other. It is upto us to learn. A good student can learn from anyone. Age, experience or vocation is not a qualification for a teacher. It is the genuineness of the student and the eagerness to learn, which makes anyone a teacher for you. Our ability to observe and our willingness to submerge our egos may make us learn from everyone around us.

As in the photo above, our parents are our first Gurus in life and will always be for our life time.

Let us learn to be good followers. Teachers will always find us.

S Ramesh Shankar

30th May 2020

Learning by doing…

Choosing the right pan

I have always believed that learning best happens when you “learn by doing”. Today this concept got reinforced in my mind. A simple incident in my life but a great learning for my life time.

I normally have a half day fast once a week mainly to cleanse my body of all toxins. It is generally observed on Sundays but this week we were travelling and hence we observed on a Monday. Our routine is simple. No coffee or breakfast and fast till lunch with only water. Then break fast at lunch with fruits. Evening we take some dosas and end the day with curd rice.

Both my spouse and me undertook this weekly fasting exercise about a year and a half back. It helps us give some much needed break to our digestive system which works 24 x 7, 365 days otherwise. It also helps us refresh and rejuvenate for the week ahead.

We generally have fruits and then have a nap. When we get up,, we have dosas made of pulses as our first normal meal for the day. This not only is healthy but enables necessary intake of proteins and vitamins for the day. Normally my wife makes the dosas. Today she was a bit tired and hence I decided I will venture into the kitchen and try it myself.

I always thought making dosas was child play for me. This was because I had grown up as a child eating dosas and have had it at home and outside for my entire life. I have seen how dosas are made from the batter to the plate. The batter was already made and kept ready in the kitchen.

I had to just make it. So as I entered the kitchen I realised that I was not aware where the dosa pan was kept. Searching for it was the first task. Then I had look for the oil. As I got the oil I was not sure which of the two oils I should use as there was oil in two containers and both looked the same.

Then as I speak the batter on the pan, I thought I have made it till I realised after a few minutes that the dosa got stuck to the pan. I had chosen a wrong pan, which is normally used to make rotis. I did not know the difference between the two.

So as the dosa got stuck, I gave up my experimentation and waited for my wife to get up and help me with the making of the dosa. She got up and immediately pointed out that the dosa got stuck on the pan because I chose the wrong pan.

It stuck me that this was a simple exercise and just theoretical knowledge or observation was not good enough to do my job. In organisations, we think if we know the subject from college or have seen others do it, we can also do it. It may not be that simple. We need to learn by doing it ourselves.

This dosa experiment taught me and reinforced my learning that “ Learning by doing” is one of the best ways to learn and make others learn. We may end up making mistakes but that’s a learning too. I burnt the dosa and it got stuck on the pan but I did learn how to do it the right way , this way and hopefully next time will not repeat the same mistakes.

Our ability to accept our mistakes and learn from them makes us a better learner in life too. We need not feel bad that we have goofed up. Everyone does in some thing or the other. As long as we have the courage to accept and learn from it, it is great.

Life is always “Learning by doing”

S Ramesh Shankar

21st Dec 2020

Changing world of HR – Hire to Retire

When I started my career, we joined organisations where we could spend our lifetime and retire. Now, the scene has completely transformed. Nobody joins an organisation with the intent to retire from the same. People join organisations to propel their career as a launch pad.

In this context, the world of HR has transformed too. It has changed from “Hire to Retire”. Let us look at each phase of the employee life cycle and understand how the role of HR has changed over time.

Let us start at the recruitment stage. In most organisations, campus recruitment used to be the main source of recruitment since people joined and retired. Now, recruitment happens at all career steps of the organisation. Earlier it was a pen a paper process of recruitment. Now it is digital. We recruit through portals, apps and even social media. So the world of recruitment has completely transformed.

If we move to Induction and placement, most organisations do not have the luxury of time to induct an employee and in most cases the employee joins for a role and is not keen on the organisation deciding on which place you have to place the person.

If we move to learning and development, the concept of classroom training has given way to everywhere learning. This means that learning can be enabled in all forms. It could be e learning, app based learning, podcasts, videos or webinar’s. It could be supplemented by class room learning where it is absolutely necessary. The onus of training has gradually moved from the organisation to the individual. Organisations enable individuals to learn from all mediums possible and from everywhere.

If we move to performance management, the concept of yearly target setting, annual performance review are yore of the past. It is possibly monthly goals and could turn to weekly or daily ones in the near future and ongoing performance reviews. The concept of annual appraisal and salary reviews could be replaced by ongoing reviews and salary corrections linked to dynamics of the market place.

Employee engagement is stratified and targeted at different segments for maximum impact. It is no longer a one feed for all. It is an ongoing process and looks at retention more than engagement. Loyalty is no longer a virtue and attrition is no taboo to organisations.

Rewards and recognition is also not necessarily monetary. It is a mix of financial and non financial incentives. The schemes are also designed to suit the different generations and different segments of employees in the organisation. For eg, while the aged population may be happy with long term incentive, the youngsters prefer instant gratification.

The exit management process has also radically changed. Earlier organisations had a structured concept of exit interviews to understand why employees are leaving so that they can learn from such exits and improve their processes and system to retain employees better in the future. Now it is managed instantly. Just like appointments are made through social media, exits are announced through social media too. Both individuals and organisations are treating employees as tradeale commodities and it seems working although I am not sure how sustainable this model is going to be.

The world has changed and so has HR. It may be time to challenge some of these changes and adapt to many of them. While it is desirable to change with times, it may be useful to check if it syncs with organisational values from time to time.

Time to check is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd June 2020

How to make unbiased decisions in life ?

We make decisions every day in every aspect of our lives. Many people have asked me as how to have to make unbiased decisions. I have also been reflecting on this subject. Then suddenly a few incidents happen in your life and you realise that the best way to make unbiased decisions is to put yourself in the position of the person or persons for whom you are taking a decision before you decide.

This may appear simple but may be the most difficult thing to do in life. I recently came to know of an incident where a HR manager hired an employee and offered her 10 percent less salary then she was earning with her previous employer. I was stunned when I heard of this incident. When I enquired as to how this happened I was told that the employee joined a new organisation in a new place. The average salary in this place was lesser than what the employee was already earning so the new employer offered lesser salary to the potential employee stating that the market offered lower salaries.

One may argue that the contract is between the employee and the potential employer. This may be factually true but ethically wrong. It is exploiting the situation of an empoyee. We have to ask the question if we would be happy if someone did that to us. Of course, if an employee is losing a job or voluntarily taking a cut to move to a new location or market of choice then it is different. But if an employer offers a lower salary to a potential employee on the pretext of lower market wages, this could be a biased decision.

We make such decisions every day. How do we become unbiased ? Let’s take the situation in the family. We decide for our kids. Are we able to put ourselves in the shoes of our daughter or son before we decide ? Or do we decide based on our own assumptions and are least concerned on how it would emotionally impact our kids. In most situations it is the latter than the former. I am not advocating here that we need to make all decisions in favour of our kids to be unbiased. I am only stating that before we decide, if we can put ourselves in the kids’ shoes, our decision could be less biased.

The situation is not very different at the work place. We decide for our teams or our customers and suppliers as if we are least bothered about the impact of our decisions. If we are again able to empathise before we decide, it may help us to be less biased. I am aware of leaders very disappointed on getting lower increments for themselves but for the same year want to give lesser increments then even they have got for their team members and argue unabashedly that they deserve only that.

It is like advising a child to sleep on a swing without trying it ourselves as in the photo above.

It is time to realise that life is better when we are able to look at the world through the eyes of others before we look with our own eyes. Let’s try it.

S Ramesh Shankar

6th May 2019