Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning In A Digital Age - Part I

This post is a part of series on learning in a digital age which focuses on advantages of Online learning over class room model of learning.  The classroom model of learning where professor is teaching and students listen, sleep, talk and even learn sometimes is absolutely flawed model.  This model has worked in the premier institutes where best of the breed approach is selected. It turns out that this model works when you have the following:

1.) You have Best Professors in the world who can make any subject interesting (How many colleges have it?).
2.) Every student learns at the same pace (I don't think so.)
3.) Every student asks questions (Many students have questions but they are afraid to ask.)
4.) Every student will think creatively at the same time
5.) Professors should always have answers to all kind of questions that students have.

Reality Check: Even in the premier institutes this is not granted as not all the students graduated till now have equally outperformed in the history.

If premier institutes can't produce equal results then why we have borrowed such class room learning model into our schools.  This is where Online Learning comes to the rescue and something that I believe will take over traditional form of learning in next few years.  Here are some benefits Online Learning provides. 

1.) Any student can learn at their own pace and literally whatever they want to learn, really they can.
2.) There are many Q&A sites flourishing in many categories and they will explode in coming years, where students can ask to industry experts in forums.
3.) They can progress and achieve heights which otherwise they wouldn't have achieved in classroom with fixed curriculum.
4.) Different students have interests in different fields and they can achieve great successes in their own niches.
5.) The classroom model takes mass production into account whereas Online Learning takes mass customization approach which is superb. 

The best example in action is where you can learn basic math (even 1+1=2) to graduate level mathematics.  Khan Academy knows this point that not every student knows everything and it wants to give a message that literally anyone can learn.  You can track you progress, ask questions and put your knowledge to test.  Wonderful progress tracking features are available for professors and parents.  Amazing stuff.  (See more buzz in few days about Khan Academy once Salman Khan who started this revolution features on TED Conference in March this year).

If you want to learn and you get excited you can finish learning mathematics in a very short time compared to classroom model where you progress on a semester basis.  This is ridiculous.  Do we have to wait in this fast age for one semester to advance in a certain field?  

There are so many videos available online nowadays that in certain fields you can finish up 4 year degree in less than 2 years.  Isn't it amazing !

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Future Is Not In Our Hands

Few days ago I wrote on preparing ourselves for the future because truly future is not in our hands.  What is in our hands is present.  Today is yours.  This is very idealistic statement but realize this fact no body knows what is going to happen tomorrow.  The only thing that we are in control is today or now.  Whatever you do now is in your control.

The following thought motivated me to write this post and here it is:

"I may not know the future or where I will be, but I know exactly what I want to do today".  What we can do for the future is prepare.  Now I am know the importance of choices, work ethics, relationship, wisdom, humbleness, honesty, integrity, standards, best practices, quality, service, innovation.  And I exactly know how these and more can affect a person's development and the whole company's future.

So by doing above few things I know what I exactly need to do so that I will be some where at a better place.  While we were young right, like very very young, we didn't knew what we need to do to become doctor or engineer.  All we knew was to get good and the best grades in class.  Once upon a time, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut  but as time changed I didn't find passion in becoming an astronaut.  As great men say, "Things rarely turn out the way we plan them", but we can control what we do today.

Companies should know what they need to do and what they don't need to do equally so that where ever they land in the future it would best for them.

You know what frustrates people and what makes them unhappy?  It is their expectations about future and their planning when it doesn't turn up they way they intended.

Continuous Learning

If you believe and do continuous learning then after few years you will not believe how far you have reached.  And if you stopped learning then after years you will not believe how far you were left behind.

Continuous Learning leads to Continuous Improvement and Continuous Improvement leads to Excellence.  Excellence differentiates market leader from the rest.

Continuous Learning also leads to Innovation.  And innovation differentiates a leader from the followers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Common Sense Can Be Misleading

A 6' inch sandwich worth $4.25 or 12' inch foot long sandwich worth $5.00, which one will you buy?  As common sense dictates that we should buy something which is the best deal.  And the best deal is to get more with less.  The above option tempts you to go with 12' inch choice since it gives you more at a better price.  Most people choose the later option.  But this is a no brainer according to me.  This is all price gimmick.  They definitely make enough money in both the cases.  This is a trick to make us consume more.  I used to fall in this trap and even I have done it many times, only to realize later after adding inches on my belly.

If we go with the above common sense and buy the 12'inch sandwich then it is like consuming double the fat content by paying just $0.75 extra.  This is totally misleading.  Indirectly companies are promoting us to over consume and simultaneously making us think that we made a smart choice.  However, it is actually not.  To make conscious choices in life you would have to forgo your common sense sometimes and believe in what you are, what you need and what is in your best interest.  A conscious health decision I now take before buying any food from restaurants is to consume less no matter it is at a higher price.  I buy only what I can consume and be content, even if it I have to pay more for less.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Will You Deal With Failure?

Google celebrates failures (Eric Schmidt's Video) and they do in a big way.  Even Microsoft has failed many times as it is evident from its past search efforts until Bing.  Failure is good if it teaches you and makes you better.  Microsoft improvised and came strong on their recent products like Bing, Kinect, Windows Phone 7.  So is Google improving their search efforts to make them more social.

One thing world cultures should incorporate in their DNA is embrace and celebrate failures.  The best place to take inspiration is from silicon valley, where entrepreneurs talks about their failures openly.  Silicon valley hires people who have failed in their previous startup efforts because they bring something to the table. They have learnt something.  They not only know what to do but they know what not to do.  The fear of failure has to be eradicated from our memory chips.  In Indian culture and many cultures route for success and race to the top.  That makes us more guarded and closed, which is not good for entrepreneurship.

One of the best advise from Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India, said, "A Leader should know how to manage failures"(See this video).  In past two days I have seen dozen's of interviews of CEO and presidents of some great companies available for free on YouTube.  It is so amazing to hear how they learned from their failures.  What I am learning about failure is that it happens to everybody right.  We fail everyday and at different levels and perhaps at different times.  That is not important, in fact that is good.  But more important is how we deal with failure.

I feel we should deal with Failure like this.

Step 1.  Recognizing Failures
Step 2.  Embracing Failures
Step 3.  Diagnosing Failures
Step 4.  Taking Corrective Action
Step 5.  Prevent it from happening it again.
Step 6.  Make  your learning available to everyone.
Step 7.  And I am open for suggestions.

Previous Posts on Failures:
1.  Why Failure Is Not Included In Our Curriculum?
2.  Success And Failure Credits
3.  Fail Frequency

Friday, February 18, 2011

Take Nothing For Granted

Something we should avoid and do least is take anything for granted.  Until last few years, I was very confident that my eyesight was very powerful and I will never wear specs.  I never realized that my eyesight was getting weaker.  One day I was telling symptoms to my friend about having this weird issue with eyes and having headaches.  It struck like a lightning to me when my common sense was awakened when my friend told me, "You need glasses to see properly".  All my confidence was shaken up.

Things can change in a matter of seconds.  If nothing has happened to you that doesn't mean that nothing will ever happen.  Companies realize long after competition has taken them over.  Sometimes companies take their dominant position in the market for granted.  Microsoft and now even Google were threatened by fastest growing companies like Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Foursquare etc.  Anything can happen tomorrow.  I am not a pessimistic but this attitude enables us to prepare for the future.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Independence And Relationship

The best gift you can give to a person in a relationship is giving them the Freedom to become Independent.  Relationships can flourish if each individual realizes, respects and stays within the limits of their Freedom.  Independence helps people to have their own identity.  Your power doesn't exist in controlling the other but your power lies in giving them the freedom so they can do whatever they want and still respect you.  The best you can do in a relationship is become less possessive,  exercise least control, educate and inform the maximum you can, love them immensely and unconditionally, and make them independent.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marketing And Story Telling

Marketing is all about how you want to tell your story to the world.  If you have a great story, you would want to  tell it to as many people as you can.  If it is going to change lives of people you would want to create a kind of buzz so that people pay attention.  And in all this process if you are able to live up to people's expectations then you can keep people's trust and build brand loyalty.

If you are to tell a story to your kid, then you would want your kid to pay attention to it.  You would not tell a story if the child is sleeping or playing Xbox.  You need attention.  Bingo! Similarly you want to market your products to those group of people who pays attention.  That's means selecting the right demographic to put up your advertising at the right place during the right time.

Why People Share On Facebook?

I don't have a definitive answer but I have penned down my thoughts on why people share and why they don't share too.

People share different items or objects (sorry a programmer's mind) for different reasons.  So don't judge people based upon what they share(Can't judge a person from just his hairs, look at the person as a whole.)


Unintentional and Accidental shares
1.) Sometimes they accidentally share due to clicking and taking part in different applications.  May be they didn't knew it.  Not their fault.

2.) Attended a party and friend shared and tagged my photos.  Oops ! did I allowed it?  Friends causing troubles...Once again not their fault.

Intentional shares
1.) People sometimes share because they want to be perceived in a certain way to certain groups of people

2.) People share to express their feelings and emotions

3.) They share because they want to play a part in spreading social awareness.

4.) They share because they felt someone might find it useful, funny and interesting.

5.) They want to be a part of a revolution.

Do you know any more reasons?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Can't People Decide Or Take Action?

Why can't people decide or take action, for something they want to do, for something they believe is true?  Yes that's my question.  What is going on in people's mind that causes periods of indecision?  You are mentoring someone and giving all the signals, information that should lead to decision.  But still that someone can't decide.  What lacks here?  Where is the gap?

For example,  I told my friend the importance of going to a premier institute and then he should only apply and go for those universities to study.  I gave an over all perspective of how thing can change if he chooses to go a top university.  But once I left, it was all the same.  They aren't motivated and they hesitant to take a major decision.

The biggest reason I believe is confidence.  People lack self-confidence.  To take a giant leap towards something that they have never achieved or never tried before they, it takes lot of self confidence.  Self-confidence cannot come from even thousand sessions of class room exercise or one on one coaching.  Self confidence comes from action. And it is built over time by doing it over and over again.  

Sometimes confidence can come from a personal tragedy, natural calamity, or even from a combined effort of a team.  Imagine some one who has survived from a life threating disease struggling and by not giving up.  What would be the confidence level in that person?  He might feel, "If I can fight this, I can do this".

Confidence is nothing but a feeling that repeatedly says, "I can do it, No matter whatever happens, I will make it happen.  Not even I can prevent myself from doing this".    People can decide and take action if they have confidence.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Now Is The Time To Save

Last November I wrote "Simple Saving Mathematics", an article on how easy it is to save and there is very simple logic that people find it hard to follow.  In this post, I want to mention few trends, which I found it interesting as it signals that this is the right time to save money.

1.) Economy is on the rise.  That's the right time to save.  The time to invest is passing fast by.  The best time to invest was in 2009.  Moreover inflation is also rising (see here) which means we have to pay more for everything we buy.   Noticed rising gas prices?

2.) Recently Mr. President announced that lots of money they were giving to oil companies as subsidies will now go to clean energy companies.  Which implies that oil and gas companies will now have to cover up for those subsidies.  And from where they will cover up?  Yes by raising gas prices.  If you have noticed lately oil prices have started increasing like 2008 summer.

3.) Look at this chart, rising consumer credit card debt which is also on the rise.  People are more relying on credit card and are spending more.  That is good for the economy but as a caution, it would be better to rely less on credit card and have a check on balances.  Make sure if you aren't relying too much on it and having a payback and saving in place.

What An Attitude Mr. Brandon Fisher!

In the Presidential State of the Union address, at the end of the speech one name emerged and that was of Brandon Fisher, CEO of Center Rock drilling company in Pennsylvania.  In this video featured on CNN, he describes their experience rescuing the Chilean miners in 2010.  I am impressed with the attitude of Mr. Brandon, who wasted no time to make the phone calls to Chilean authorities when his company saw a hope that their technology can make a difference in saving the trapped miners.  

We need more and more people like Brandon in our economy worldwide.  We need people who can make the call, who can lead, who can take initiatives and who can make a difference in the world.  When the Miners were rescued, Mr. Brandon was not even there as he left for his next mission home.  An attitude can really make a difference in our life.  And as Oprah says it, "You can change your life by changing your attitude".  Yes Mr. Brandon your Attitude made a difference to not just 33 miners but to the whole world.  It is a great case study indeed.

Long live the Attitude!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hello Doctors

In our economy, we have people who aspire to be big and rich.  Well nothing is wrong in that, but their behavior doesn't match with their expectations.  It is the main reason behind unhappiness.  As normal logic goes in our society medical doctors are considered to be wealthy.  One reason I believe is due to their hard work they have put up these many years.  And even after that they are ready to run at any time if there is an emergency.  For them the TGIF mentality is not at work.  After all, they believe in a greater cause: saving someone's life, which goes beyond themselves.

If we expect to be richer or want a better life or even change something for the better of the world, we would have to act like doctors.  Even though there are many different disciplines to be a doctor but as general perception goes they know everything regarding their domain of expertise.  A skin specialist is expert at skin related issues.  Over time these disciplines are increasing and fragmenting.  So more and more specialist are required.  And no wonder they will command a premium.  In the meanwhile, the average and the generalist will be found in abundance.

The same analogy is true for any field you can imagine.  But we have never approached them with same mentality.  Imagine if you are a specialist and an expert in the field of accounting, aka the master of accounting.  Any second guess that you won't be making million dollars?  The problem is we are easily satisfied and we give up easily.  This is due to our mindset that I can't become a doctor because it requires too much effort.  But why you couldn't be a doctor at your own field of choice?

Few reasons why I love doctors' mentality:

1.) Ready to work any time
2.) Their purpose in life beyond themselves
3.) High expectation and performance is rooted in their DNA.
4.) They have amazing wisdom.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Are You Prepared For The Future?

Worried about competition catching up with you?  Good.  You should be and you shouldn't be.  Well you should be if you aren't prepared for the battle.  And you should not be if you aren't prepared.  

Tim Cook, Chief Operating Officer(COO) and acting CEO of Apple said in his commencement speech at Auburn University in Spring 2010, "In business and as in sports, the vast majority of victories are determined before the beginning of the game.  We really can't control the timing of the opportunity but we surely can prepare."  That was so striking  to hear and almost made perfect sense to me about the importance of preparation.

Today, I read an article about CEO of Finnish cell phone company Nokia, Stephen Elop's  internal memo send to his executives about competition in the smartphone business.   One paragraph that really stand out in his memo is mentioned below:

"The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable."

Why Nokia fell behind in smartphone business was because they weren't prepared for the future.  Almost four years past initial iPhone's launch, very few companies are not even close to iPhone.  This shows Apple's preparation which took years before anybody was even thinking of a smartphone.  

If you know that weather is going to be bad and the outlook is not looking good then you should not go out unprepared.  We certainly don't know how future will turn up, but we can certainly prepare for it.  So when our chance comes we are ready for it.

Winning the future is all about preparation.  Start it now.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Religious Business Rituals

With this post, I want to emphasize on the importance of rituals in our daily life and how they co-relate with business world.  Public Speaker Tony Robbins often says about having some kind of ritual in our life.  Rituals also habits, are our routine activities which we perform  daily with our willingness.  Rituals for some could be going to Gym daily, checking finances, practicing and perfecting their everyday art.

I have been observing some of my close friends and their habits since last three years.   I am not interested in their personal lives but I try to co-relate their behaviors with some top business executives and their habits.  I found that people who follow rituals (check their bank balances daily, pray to God, checks all of their accounts, who are detail oriented, follow instructions with diligence, call friends and family regularly) tend to excel financially and make up for good managers.  Eventually, if these people make right decisions then they can become good businessman.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and the everything Virgin empire, conveys his message to young entrepreneurs that they should check and personally sign all their business checks.  This way they can keep an eye on all the expenses and have a better control of their company.  When you do something daily or weekly (which constitutes as rituals), it is impossible to ignore hard facts.  As Allan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor company, likes to say often, "you cannot hide a secret, when you do this every week, you can't hide".  (Bloomberg article)

Having some kind of rituals will help you some way or the other in making you a better person managing yourself.  The direct and immediate implications are difficult to visualize for having any ritual but there are always long lasting effects that pay dividends in the end.  In business, you need to have your rituals in place.

Monday, February 07, 2011

When Do You Need To Change?

In this post, this is a very simple question I want to ask, "When do you need to change?"  Now.  But how will you know that "Now" is the time to change.  Business books and programs talk a lot about organizational change and how it can impact organizations.  It is very important to recognize and sense the changing atmosphere within an organization to implement change.  It is also very difficult one.

At a personal level, it is even more difficult.  For organizations, individuals will fight their ego and work harder to drive the change.   When it comes to individuals, people tend to give up.  Many are not able to recognize the changing atmosphere around them.  Long after time has passed they realize that it is time to change.  The harder part is not about implementing change, the harder part is recognizing change and implementing it.  

If you ask yourself this question then you will get the signal to change something.  The question. "Do you really want to do what you are about to do today? And what if this was your last day on earth?"  If the answer is NO, for too many days in a row then you got your signal.  You need to change.  

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Resume Product Life cycle

Every product has a product life cycle.  Products goes through different stages(Introduction, Growth, Maturity and Decline) during their time line.  As products gets older, companies make changes or introduces newer products with different specifications.  Sometimes they might even get rid of aging products.  Apple every year introduces newer line of its consumer products and breaks record sales in its product categories.

Your "Resume" also has a product life cycle.  Which ultimately means that the product (that's you) with a current specification (Resume) also have a life cycle.  For example, assume that you get graduated with a Bachelors degree and you get a nice job.  Your resume is set and you will enjoy all benefits of a successful product.  Once your product is getting saturation point you will have to improve yourself.  Else your product will decline.  So you decide to get a Masters degree or some other kind of associate degree.  Again product is updated.  And the cycle is restarted.

It is not a one time launch.  You have to update your resume continuously (Tip: If you get your first job, update your resume every month till two years.)  Very few people take the time and effort and make it a regular practice.  It is only when they get fired or are hunting for a better opportunity they make changes to their resume.   To update your resume you will have to continuously grow professionally as well as personally.

Resumes can be much much better if we understand them from a product, a brand stand point of view.

Related :
1.) Few facts about Resume
2.) Build Your Track Record

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Invisible Power Of Restaurants

Have you ever noticed that when you go to a certain place, you feel like eating?  Even though you are not hungry you want to eat there or sit there or even have chat with friends?  In a city you have few places which are known for food and they have a magical attraction for food lovers.  I meet and talk with my wife everyday but whenever we go outside for dinner or lunch to a restaurant, the feeling is different, we talk different, we feel relaxed.

Food can attract lots of tourists to your city and has the potential to become a great business attraction.  It is very common practice among business people to meet over lunch and dinner.  If your city has nice restaurants then people would be attracted more and more by its food.  It turns out that best hangout places are those which can feed us too: Restaurants.

In this Ted video, Steven Johnson, author of the book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, says that good ideas generally comes from public meeting places like restaurants, coffee house, town halls.  These places aren't like offices and they allow people to open up and people can think without worrying anything.  So if great ideas and innovation can happen at these places then we should have more and more places like these in our cities and companies.

More and more startups and corporations are having restaurants and they serve food all day long.   Facebook, Twitter, Google and I am sure more companies will doing, they all have restaurants within their campuses.  Offering Free food.  Just that thought made me rethink about switching my job.  Providing Free food to your employees can really make a difference to their affection and productivity at job.

If I were a mayor of a small town or city, I would hire few dozen best chefs and open up best restaurants in the city.  They work in many different ways for a community.  In one of the future trends, I noticed that more and more cities will embrace this phenomenon.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Do Exams Matter?

Open book exam or Closed book exam?

Or even Exam or No Exam?

I believe that if you teach conceptually and devise a better methodology for measuring and evaluating knowledge  then we don't need exams.

If you are able to perform a certain task then that's what should matter.  If you are able to prove it then thats it.

10 Factors That Affect Happiness

Last year I wrote on The Happiness Guide, in which I discussed about two factors related to staying happy.  One was connectedness and progress (inspired largely by the Zappos book).  Today I want to highlight on few more factors that affect our Happiness which are as follows:

1.) Beliefs
2.) Assumptions
3.) Level of Satisfaction with our personal, professional and social life.
4.) Successes and Failures
5.) Emotional Growth and Stability
6.) Level of Connectedness
7.) Accumulation of Regretful moments in life
8.) Level of forgetfulness (the more you forget bad moments and move the more happy you would be.) and the ability to remember(the more you remember happy moments, the more happy you would be).
9.) Perceived Progress Towards Goals
10.) Content

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Challenging Assumptions

Our assumptions shape our beliefs, thinking and our actions.  Our underlying assumptions of our belief system are very rarely challenged everyday.  They need to be challenged every time for our belief system to be strong.

Our assumptions are challenged when we go to school, job or social setting.  How?  At school we get knowledge backed by research and we trust professors.  At job our bosses and colleagues even friends ask questions(the key) which forces us to think for logical answers.  It is only when we ask right questions continuously we can challenge our belief system and we acquire knowledge.

In our personal life, however this is different.  We form opinions and judgments about people without even realizing.  We start hating (even though we may never realize it) people, brands, things, weather, health and more.  The opposite is also true.  When we make important decisions in life we have to keep in mind about our underlying assumptions.  Critical thinking requires us to challenge our assumptions.  MBA schools require it.

I want to give you an exercise (I know you will hate me for this) about challenging your assumptions.  Write down in a piece of paper what your goal is five years from now.  And assume that you will definitely achieve it.  Now start challenging this basic assumption by asking yourself repeatedly "What makes you think that you will achieve?"  At the end, you will be more clearer about your vision and how to go for it.