Travel For Growth

Travel is a pathway for growth and development. That’s why I say travel to grow. After years of conscious travel, I can say with emphasis that I have packed and unpacked disproportionately large self-awareness, new learnings and beliefs than I have of bags and suitcases. If there is one more thing that I can add with equal if not more emphasis, then it is this: Travel is hugely under rated as a catalyst for development.

My love for travel got accentuated after reading Pico Iyer’s famous ‘Why We Travel’ piece from March, 2000. It was comforting to realise that there was nothing wrong with me if I just didn’t want to go check places off a “must-see” list. For I was (and continue to be) slow in soaking up a place. In small conversations, observations and just hanging out!

There are four paragraphs from Pico Iyer’s post that have been my guideposts. They are here.

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”

“Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle.”

“Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.”

Shorncliff Pier, Brisbane

“So travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keeping our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau with whom I began, wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.“

Every time I have stood in the queue of a land where I clearly am ‘foreign’ irrespective of the passport I hold, I learn something new. Especially so, when am not peering into my phone or consumed by the desire to see more. Just being present to all thats happening around me and reflecting on the experiences and thoughts those experiences brought alive for me have been life-altering in many ways. Because, even if I dont immediately change or do something different, I am very present to the fact there is a different way.

When I get back to where I start from, I rarely find that some pronounced changes have taken place since the time I set out. But to my eyes that sprout new lenses because they have absorbed different places, everything seems different. My mind colours old realities with new beliefs, ideas and hopes. Giving new energy for action and reflection.

If that is not a pathway to development and change, I don’t know what is.

Pico Iyer’s essay is here. Go read.

Arrivals and Departures

I have been on a break and taking the time to examine the life I lead. Between quiet times, copious notes and filter coffee, unvarnished truths strut around. I hope to write and post some thoughts, ideas and “notes to myself” here. This post ‘Arrivals and departures’ is based on some notes I scribbled sitting at a roadside coffee shop.

Many moons ago, English August by Upmanyu Chatterjee gave me an unforgettable line. A line that I have used many times over now about arrivals and departures. It goes like this.

“The excitement of the arrival never compensates for the emptiness of the departure.”

Arrivals are filled with joy and celebration. A birth in the family. Joining a new organisation. Starting a new account. Buying a new car. Or a phone. Arrivals are joyous. Departures in contrast are quiet affairs. Sometimes, happening without a trace with a hint of “let’s get done with this quickly’. At other times, they are solemn. With a muffled tear, a hint of sadness or a full throated wail.

The ceremony of the arrival and departure obscures the time in between.

Arrivals and departures through the lens of learning and change

I view every new learning is an arrival of sorts. There is an aha moment and a flicker of bright lights. A new piece of information or skill brings a heightened moment of possibility filled emotion. There is a genuine happy emotion of discovery. An arrival that is filled with excitement.

But change is a different matter altogether. Change requires a ‘departure’ of a way of living or working or being. It requires a letting go for the letting in to happen. That is not an easy act. The excitement of picking up a new skill does not automatically translate to change happening. That is a long boring process by itself.

Every departure is its own arrival. And every arrival, a departure. To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll not only win now, you will also develop the foundations for future victories.

If you instead remain one of the many who skim the surface, for whom depth is uncomfortable, life will be on the hamster wheel.

My current challenge levels at work have gotten me to stare at a new horizon. A horizon that spans newer geographies, greater scale and an incessant complexity that redraws the ‘Normal’. It’s a good problem to have for it reveals areas that I am out of depth in!

To discover new depths I have to depart from my old ways that have brought me success (and comfort). And for that, I have to depart from where I have been.

Arrivals and departures are inevitable part of our lives. When we live our lives consciously, we chart a plan to live by. In more than one way, it makes the journey worthwhile!

Why am I interested in the future?

I have been interested in the future for a couple of decades. Perhaps more. My wonder years went by between my indulgences in daydreaming and the whimsies of those days. The future was a good escape chute from the pressing dilemmas of the present, back then. Ironical, when I consider how often I dip into the nostalgia of those times, to escape the difficult times we live in now! Those were pristine days. 

But the future has always given me hope. Back then and now. Hope about a better life.  

The trouble with the future. 

William Gibson said it well. The future is already here – it is just not very evenly distributed. 

Sample this. 

A few months ago on one of my rural sojourns, I was at a small village in rural India. I was shooting the breeze with villagers and as always, they were saying some rather profound truths. I reached for my iPad and started scribbling some notes.  Little did I think that the iPad would become the cynosure of the village’s attention for a bit. They had never seen an iPad. To them, it seemed that the iPad was a magical device! Imagine that happening in 2019. 

Another example. 

Two different organisations I consult with had similar asks of me. They both wanted to decipher their futures. They operate in different contexts but the pictures that emerged for them were a study in contrast. One team spoke of robots, holograms and the like. The other team’s best version of the future was video calls and not relying on emails to communicate. 

Both were valid and predicated by their present worlds, their exposure and expectations they had of the future.  

The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed. What is a magical dream that will come alive in the distant future for some is already alive and kicking for a few!  The other deceptive element about the future is that it comes in trickles. One day at a time. It does not arrive with cymbals chiming and trumpets piercing through the air. The future is amoebic. It seeps in steadily and occupies centre stage for a bit. Only to be swept away by a newer version. 

So, why should you be interested in the future? 

Well, for one, the future is where we and our children will spend time in. Plus, the future bristles with possibility while being cloaked by uncertainty. We have ideas about what might be. We have hopes about what perhaps should (and shouldn’t) be. 

While what will be will be. But there is no limit to human curiosity about what will be.  There are different providers for this market that extends from the local astrologer to Linda Goodman to futurists!  

My interest in the future extends far beyond it being an escape from the present. It has a simple logical premise as the base. It reads something like this: The present is a product of the past. Our futures are going to be a function of what we do now. Our understanding of what can possibly shape the world will help us sculpt our action now. Wayne Gretzky the famed ice hockey player said it well. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. 

Reason number two. The rate of change that is accompanying our everyday life is at such a fast clip, that a lack of understanding of the change would be debilitating. I don’t want to be the person who brings morbid news to a happy world. On second thoughts, I might as well be. We need to be aware and prepared to be able to embrace the change. If not, the inequality between the haves and the have nots will have a new dimension. A defining dimension at that. 

The flux will create will mean that the ones who are better prepared have a better chance at adapting and surviving. 

Over the years, I have a four-pronged way of working on my understanding of the future. 

Indulge in reading, listening & conversation. (Soaking). Indulge in experimentation at the edge of your comfort levels. (Playing)
Indulge in reflection. (Reflecting). Feed the reflection back into the conversation. (Re-soaking). 


Read up. Listen in. Speak up. The more I read and indulge in conversations about what I have read and listened in to, I am left with more questions. It is almost like a curious detective going after clues. That’s the thing about thinking about the future. I have learnt that I stop looking for answers, but more for clues! 

One result of this endeavour is The OWL Despatch (OWL standing for Our Work in Learning) that I publish every other Tuesday that reaches the inbox of numerous subscribers around the world. Just putting it together has been such a fulfilling experience that its the best example I can think of for ‘soaking’.  


If soaking it in is one component, experimenting with a sense of play is another. Experiments at the frontiers of comfort zones test levels of comfort and push learning. Often asking myself ‘when was the last time I tried something out for the first time’ has kept me on alive. 

Experiments in robotics, in new technologies for everyday work, in play etc always reveal something new. Many are hopeless flops. But the few that remain make it worthwhile. They reveal more about blowing winds of change in the world. Even better, they reveal a thing or two about myself! Over to you, what was the last experiment about the thing of future you have had? How did it go?


That question, ‘how did it go?’ is a question of reflection. Having a reflective conversation about my experiments with sparring partners has offered me insights that would have been otherwise beyond me. Yes, a sparring partner helps quite a lot. I have been ever so thankful for the handful that I have! 

Feeding forward.

Feeding the reflection back into the soaking and playing anew is a crucial part. Sharing ideas, collecting conversations and continuing the ideas keeps it in the perpetual beta mode. 

By the way, there is a webinar coming up. Hosted by the International Association of Facilitators. I am so looking forward to it. 

One such is this webinar at the International Association of Facilitators. The IAF has such amazing people that a fantastic conversation is guaranteed. Conversations are the ideal stages for learning and change. Stay tuned for more updates on how the conversation went. 

Image Credit: www.unsplash.com

New Horizons & fresh hopes

So, 2015 rushes hurtles towards its end, with the unmistakable charm that every ‘end of a year’ proffers, I wonder what stood out for you. There is a bouquet of aspects that caught my attention. Here is one such.

The education system that Finland is putting in place is quite something indeed.  The fact that a successful and much acclaimed system like Finaland’s, is getting disrupted by themselves, even when its working so well, is something thats so obvious that it can be easily missed.  What wouldn’t get missed is the fundamental changes to the approach to education.  It spurs new hopes and joy.

Finland is moving out from a subject based education that we are all so very used to. Very soon, students will not have classes on ‘Physics’ ‘Geography’ and the like but more outcome based topics which will have elements from different subjects woven in ( For instance, as : ‘Automobile Maintenance’ Services could well be a topic with different subjects of physics, chemistry, maths etc woven in.  It readily appealed to me, for subjects arent taught in vacuum but with an application orientation.  They call it ‘Phenomenon based’. It will quite something when this catches on.

If this wasn’t big enough, the mode of teaching is changing as well.  The “One to Many” approach of a teacher standing up and lecturing is getting replaced with students huddling in groups and working out solutions.

It spurs new hopes for a variety of reasons. The chief amongst them : The fundamental changes that have taken place in the world around us, in terms of technology mainstreaming,  gets factored in here. A world where asymmetry in ‘information / knowledge’ is sliding down, seeks a new set of skills from students and teachers alike.  The changeover is going to be any easy, even if its going to be a progressive leader in education, like Finland.

The exam focused, soaking in and dumping of information in the guise of knowledge is surely past its prime. Its survival ( & thriving ) in large pockets is more a function of the momentum and success that it has brought us over several decades to generations of teachers and learners.

And finally, that hopefully should nudge corporate learning and development teams approach their work very differently.  The narrative is already beginning to shift with programs like this in our midst. We need more of these. More fundamentally, we need to think differently.

The times, they have changed and there is a new wind blowing. Its time to adjust our sails and catch early glimpses of the new horizon! The time to do that is now. Finland is showing how.

Am tired of social

I am getting a bit tired of ‘Social’.  ‘Enterprise 2.0’. ‘Social Learning’.  And labels of that nature. Every conference has speakers waxing eloquence on it and its magical prowess of transforming organisations. The usual smirks by those that dont agree and the vigorous nods by those who do, follow. I used to be another who vigorously nodded. Now, my nod is less pronounced, if at all.

The power of what essentially is ‘social’ hasn’t diminished one bit. In fact, it has only gotten augmented by all the conversation about it. But there is something that just isnt right. Infact something is wrong, when you realise that nothing is changing on the ground.

Some poking around the ground and some conversation later, these are my thoughts.

a. ‘Social’ is not a set of a skills. Its a way of working. Its a mindset, in my opinion. Sure, it does help to have  set of  ‘social’ skills that can be built over time. In the absence of a fundamentally different mindset however, we begin to use these newly acquired skills of using social tools, using the mindset that fit a different era.  It is easy to mistake familiarity with these tools as presence of a social mindset. It can be jarring.

b. This means, significantly unlearning (and sometimes dismantling) what we are so used to doing as routine and approach work, learning and life, ground up. Jane Hart wrote very interesting post about ‘Fauxial Learning‘ a while ago. It is a pointer to how and where the conversation must move to : helping people see value in fundamentally different areas.

c. Our focus and our conversations revolving around  ‘outcomes’ and how seamlessly we reach there will be far more fruitful. More often than not, thats going to involve fundamentally redesigning work. That is tough work. It is just not technology. It requires change processes to be deployed over time. But thats the work that needs to be done.

The more the time we spend on discussing features of the next “new, improved, shiny social too” we are going to be that much more longer away from fundamentally impacting organisations, by leveraging social.

So there. Am tired of the noise around ‘social’. Am tired of the wrappers that announce ‘social’. The wrapper mistaken for the toffee can cause more damage to what the toffee is perceived to be.

I understand that we have to go through this phase too. Its just that I am impatient for it to pass, ushering in a time when we debate our dilemmas on the way our social mindsets are evolving.

On reflection

When was the last time your calendar had an entry that earmarked time for ‘Reflection’. Of course, “Reflection” could take any label and many names, but with the intent of ‘reflecting’, or ‘intensely synthesizing” an experience or a result. My questions on this to a variety of people over the last couple of weeks, have saw a handful of ‘’overwhelming ‘yes’s” and a heap of hemming and hawing!

Nobodys fault. We just live in an age where ‘action’ has assimilated all the space that it had and shared with ‘reflection’ and ‘thought’ as the route to success. Having structured experiences has a huge focus on the experience, while as much focus must go into reflecting on these experiences. These hardly happen, except perhaps when this happens to be participants in an ‘outbound’ programme.

First things first. Reflection helps in learning and assimilation. Research has consistently pointed in this direction. The works of Dewey, Donald Schon, Kolbs and several others, consistently alluded to this. A new working paper by Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano and Bradley Staats lends further credence to that with greater aplomb. ( Get the full paper here  )

This piece that Duke Today illustrator Jonathan Lee put together, is awesome on many counts. Amidst all the wonderful illustrations, this illustration below stood tall besides being very pertinent to this post.

Reflection Magnifies Learning

Don’t we reflect? Of course we do. Thinking about various thoughts, conversations and ideas whilst doing something of routine is more often the case. Nothing wrong with that. While reflecting on the go, may quite well be a natural occurrence to many of us, intentional, focused synthesis of events and experiences lead learning to a different sphere. That is uncommon. Or rather, these are not practices in the mainstream. Reflection itself can be a natural consequence of several aspects.

‘Reflection’ facilitates the process of transforming tacit information and accrued experience into a codified knowledge base, adding several degrees of confidence. Just the possession at the end of the day, of such codified learning boosts self efficacy. This of course, requires cognitive investment.

Some of the best leaders who I have worked with over the years have always been those that have been able to hold conversations that helped me intensely reflect on several experiences on the job. In a connected, fast paced world, the ability to be able to hold the space for reflective conversations is at an implicit premium.

Journaling, having to ‘present’ the understanding etc help a big deal. Personally, teaching and further sharing of the results of reflection (including Working Out Loud) have helped me greatly. Surprisingly the paper mentioned above didn’t find evidence of increase in learning resulting from further sharing of it.

If you are a leader who is keen on facilitating a group into reflection this piece can get a good start. At the heart of it all, are three things in my opinion
a. Complete listening
b. Questioning
c. Allowing people to be

Being able to ask the right questions that facilitate reflection solves three quarters of the problems. That is a skill that can be acquired with constant practice. After asking the questions, to listen intently without interjecting with a point or two is also crucial. Some of my best conversations have been ones that left me thinking about it long after the conversation was over.

Gautam and me had this conversation on twitter.

Gautam’s point is well taken. It is my view that if it is made important enough, time will get created for it. It cannot remain in the fringes and remain and optional extra but must permeate as an essential means of completing work. It is every manager and leaders interest to give it the space it deserves.  Of course, it needs to get into the calendar!

Reflection has continued to remain one of those things that we either take for granted or consistently undervalue its necessity. In my view, it has to be woven into work. Developing and exercising the muscle around facilitating reflection takes a person a great distance. Besides, it perhaps offers the simplest and most potent tool in developing people on the job!

Follow effective action with quiet (1)

Internal leverage!

The world has a ton of problems. And sometimes, you cant help but thank God that some of them are there. For they make living and life worthwhile. The quest for solutions may not lead a person to solutions always. But invariably the learning that comes from such quests are far more important than the solutions themselves. But on that topic, another time. Another post.

But pause for a moment and wonder at what kind of creative solutions are needed to solve the problems that we face today?  Not at all times can we have a ‘total revamp’ or ‘blue sky’ technology as an answer to our problem. Yes, it would be good and in some cases pretty much necessary too. But most cases, as in life, we do not get presented with the cleanest of slate to restart from scratch.  Yet, the solutions that ordinary people come up in their lives are both incredible and ‘just what is needed’ from what is already there.

Take a look at these one minuter videos that have been around for a while now, but always never fail to inspire every time I view them!

May I invite you to pause and think about organisational equivalent of problems like these. And solutions found.

Large organisations boast of such a fabulous diversity and depth of knowledge and talent , that it is a shame that much of it goes under leveraged! If you are a leader in a large organisation, when was the last time you looked within in the quest for answers to problems you are confronted with, before dialing for help outside?

Large organisations and their talent can be better leveraged. Lets say you are seeking a solution to say, ‘how best to design a workshop’ (an example I choose, because of frequently being faced with it). How many times have you thought of asking the folks in sales ? Or maybe Marketing ? Or administration? Or manufacturing? I mean, anybody in the building.

The answer may not be directly something that could help, but it sure is going to be something that I could build on. People may not know a thing about learning design, but they know the organisation pretty well! And when structured approaches to seek their thought and apply it well are sought, the solutions work like magic.

What perhaps is required is a problem that is not only large enough, but for a which an answer is sincerely sought. Combined with a diversity of intelligent minds some of who have are seeking those answers and buffeted by some quick first steps!

Leaders and managers who have the ability to entertain and examine ideas objectively without necessarily embracing them, are an important component of such collaborative on the ground innovation. More such managers in a system, more leveraging and energising that comes by the organisation!

Now, now, does it not have challenges? Ofcourse it does. The solutions evolved sometimes aren’t the best in class. They may not have the gleam of a finished product from an assembly line. But they are precisely that. They aren’t from an assembly line! They are put together!

The other challenge with such a solution is the fact that it may not have the best of whats in vogue outside of the organisation. That needs to be consciously built. Knowledge of best practices and latest research is so available on public platforms that if you are determined to get it, there can be no stopping!

Having worked on several such projects and veering to believe that organisation intelligence and talent needs to be grossly better leveraged and makes life easier on several counts!

  • At one level a non-assembly line but the most appropriate solution is found.
  • At another, far deeper level, it energises the organisation no-end! People who find themselves valued and whose views and opinions are sincerely sought do not mind giving an extra bit to help the project through!
  • Add, diversity of work! I have been coding all day and suddenly someone swings by and asks, “hey, we want to fix our leadership issues. Would you like to play a part?”
  • Plus, once all ideas are incorporated, guess what, change management and implementation is held by a far wider set.
  • At yet another deeper level, could you think of any better way of cross pollination of ideas and forming of relationships between diverse groups who otherwise maybe quite oblivious to the other’s existence, leave alone work and problems? Organisations give an arm and a limb for something like that!

The next time you have a problem that you want to solve, look inside around. Sometimes, the people standing very close to you can have an idea or two that perhaps no can come to you with!

Don’t get me wrong. External consultants have expertise and specialisation that are hard to match. It is important to build that expertise on the foundation of assimilation of internal strengths as well!  I have cherished working with several external consultants. And all of them who have left an imprint are ones that began by leveraging on diverse thought streams within the organisation!

The ugliness in learning

For several months now, I have been working on picking up some photography skills. But more on that later.
A few years ago, I started clicking around with a prosumer camera in the perpetual quest for a new stories, ever since I started blogging. I recall it being tough to use it.

But I did all the typical things. Read up-Click-Review-submit-get feedback etc! The learning progressed and the quality of the pictures improved. And as the blogging gained traction, there were quite a few appreciative comments about the photography skills as well.

After a few years of playing with it and becoming aware of the camera’s and my own limitations further fuelled by a desire to better quality pictures, a few months back, I invested in a professional DSLR camera. Yes, investment is the word.
Ever since then, its been a battle of sorts. For all the money the camera sucked in, it comes with a multitude of bells, whistles and hooters. It took me a good two days to figure out the basics and many months to get comfortable with it.

Infact I still am on the journey.

Every day, was is a new learning. But it was is clumsy. A struggle. Sometimes, the best of family moments reduced to a plain white sheet or a thick cloak of black in the quest of capturing the moment to perfection.

But guess what, am getting better. I still have to think about every single angle, button and setting. Still messing up. But the gap between mess-ups have only increased. Which is good news.

The four stages of competence  holds my transition rather well. Where I reasonably assumed that the virtue of clicking around for a few years with a prosumer camera automatically gave me the skill to click good pictures with the DSLR as well. How wrong I was.

Very quickly I became conscious about my what a fool I was making of myself. Especially when the family frowns at a lousy mess up of a snap, usually of a critical family moment and wondering aloud, ‘whatever happened to you?’. Pregnant in that question is the automatic upgrade in expectation because of my upgrade to a far more sophisticated camera!

From then on I have been at it. Reading. Reviewing. Clicking. Sharing. More clicking. And seeking feedback. Some feedback is not sophisticated or polite. Yet others are. All of it is valid. But now, by the constant seeking and playing the new tricks that I pick up, I am consciously getting more competent with it than before. At a slower pace than several others, but hey, am enjoying the journey clicking snaps like this! It may not be piping hot but hey, its spewing action!


Hopefully there will be a time, when all of this would come easy. When I would be unconsciously competent. When flicking a the buttons based on the time of the day and the mood to capture, would be second nature.

But until I get there, there is going to be a process of learning. But the point to this post is this : That the road from now on is going to be clumsy! With a collection of gross errors and gingerly mishaps and lousy pictures as proof.

A learning process runs a high potential of snapping or not starting because of the ‘ugliness’ if I were to call it that, of the trying out of the new learning. A workshop could have been energizing and the learners left with a keen desire to try.

But the real learning comes in the trying to implement the learning! In the trying, there is a good chance of failure and making a fool of oneself. Learning professionals must increasingly devote time to this phase where learner performance and trial is supported. There could be a multitude of things that could be done.  And needs to be urgently.

Will Thalheirmer‘s work has been illustrative.

Lets face it, learning is inherently challenging at this phase. A phase where well intentioned goals melt. It is this phase that needs L&D folks to shine their torch on. Especially so, if the context for learning isn’t anchored well and transfer of learning isn’t a mandate. Alas in the melee of organizing programs, collecting feedback and presenting budgets, this is missed.

While performance support tools are many, the role of the immediate manager and colleagues play a role that is often neglected as part of the learning design. In my experience, even an expression of interest on the learning by the immediate manager, has remarkable results for starters.

That brings to bear the question, my pet peeve of sorts: how are immediate managers of learners being involved?
See, as far as my photography where this post began, my wife, family and an extended array of friends, play the role of the ‘interested colleague / friend/boss’! Keen on seeing what new pictures have been clicked and often offering their views!

That in itself has helped me stay the course.

Someday, I wont be consciously reaching out for buttons and manuals. Towards that quest, I am clicking away. Of course  all support is deeply appreciated!

The power in conversations

Imagine you have a four year old daughter. All sprightly, playful and extremely fun to be with. Assume that you have been away on work. Making full use of your absence and in her constant quest for exploration, she touches a hot tea pot.

The hot tea pot gets her to pull her hand back in a quick reflex action. Chances that she would go anywhere close to the tea pot reduce dramatically. Some learning has taken place there.

Meaning Making

You get home from work and ask her, ‘what did you learn today baby?’, chances of her saying ‘I learnt that the tea-pot in the corner of the kitchen is hot and can be very dangerous’ is remote. Remote is a mild word there!

In all probability, you will hear a ‘nothing’ or something or about the latest game that she picked up from her best friend or whatever. And getting on to the next game.

This scene is something that keeps repeating all over our lives. We are all learning. All the time. Or rather, continuously making meaning  of things that happen to us or around us. Constructivism holds meaning making right at the centreBut that’s as far we’ll go into that aspect.

In an organisational setup, the meaning making can take a collective hue as well. Most often, leaders abdicate a responsibility to help team members REALISE their meaning making and helping assimilate / moderate / augment the ‘learning’ that occurs all the time.

One key skill that is seeing more and more remote practice of, is the ability to hold reflective conversations with team members. In a high tech, connected world where email and the keyboard become THE interface, having good old conversations is becoming a rarer ‘event’! Yet, it is a such a vital tool in a leader’s arsenal.

If it is so vital, why isn’t it practiced as much as it should be?

For one, it is difficult. It is seemingly easy, but it is difficult. There cant be anything more easy than sitting down and having a good chat, it would seem. For one, it goes beyond ‘small talk’ and exchanging sounds about the weather or seeking basic information about each other!

A good quality conversation which can enthuse team members has a few aspects to it. It means, listening exceeds the speaking not with an intent to convince, but with a desire to bring complete ‘PRESENCE’ to the conversation. And listening happens both with the eyes and ears!

A good conversation means indulging in the lost art of curiosity and staying with asking questions to help the team member discover answers for himself or herself. It means patience. And it also means, living with the possibility that it perhaps will not head the way it was desired in the leader’s mind! Candour and sharing help establish trust from both sides and are great catalysts!

And no, a good quality conversation cannot be had over mail. Yes, ‘conversations’ sounds simple. And ‘simple’ is not always, ‘easy’! Or effective.

Some of the best leaders I have worked with have been great at conversations. Not necessarily, the funny-slap-on-your-back-laughter kind of conversations over a few drinks. But ones where they were fully present. Not for a moment looking into their mobile phones or into their watches. They listened intently, with curiosity ruling the day. And always, always, asking searching questions the answers of which I was in search of, sometimes, long after the conversation was over.

Many a time, these chats didn’t give me straight answers or ‘to-do’ lists but helped me formulate a thought and create my own ‘to-do’ list!

Even as the ultra fast world gets comfortable with clicking on the ‘like’ button, putting down a two line comment and drafting mails as a means for communication, they are just a patch on the power of a simple conversation!

It is a vital skill in a connected world to connect deeply!

Another classification of learners!

Often, when speaking to sets of participants attending learning programs, I find myself share a ‘classification of learners’. I wish I could remember where I had read it, for me to cite reference here.

The classification in itself is a rather telling and usually elicits some shifting of feet, muted laughter, smirks, smiles and sometimes,  guffaws!  Broadly, this is what I say.

There are four classes of learners who come to attend a ‘training program’

a. Prisoners : Participants who have been ‘sentenced’ to a few days of training. Who would much rather be doing m(any) other things, but who are there in the room, because they have been forced to ‘attend’ the program. Left to themselves they’d much rather be doing other things.

b. Vacationers: Self explanatory, isn’t it?!? A training program seen as an opportunity to stay away from work, get paid for it and yet enjoy the best of venues / food and generally catching up with long lost friends and colleagues. A meta coffee machine of sorts, to catch up on all whats happening in the organisation.

c. Experts : Participants who consider themselves as ‘experts’. With ‘expert opinion’ at the expense of leaning something new. Sometimes that may be well founded. Many times not so! Perhaps its their background, the colleges that that they have gone to, the experiences that they have accumulated, the seniority in the organisation. Past learning inhibits future learning !

d. Explorers : Explorers are those that are possessed with a sense of curiosity and discovery. People who know a few things, but are always seeking for learning something new. Building on what they know, treating it as an adventure, taking risks, assimilating experiences of all in their line of sight and daring to go where they havent gone before. For those reasons, explorers are all great learners. Learners are also ‘explorers’ in their contexts !

This classification applies to all of life too. For learning is a life long event. Nay, journey! True learners are those that are filled with curiosity. Those that approach every moment with a sense of possibility and with a spirit of exploration. For that is the spirit of life. One look at our children teach us that. Filled with questions, playfulness and armed with a surfeit of curiosity.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we become ‘experts’ or vacationers of life. And sometimes prisoners too. Perhaps its time to unleash to the child in us. To be real explorers to get to be good learners.

“Learning is a journey” is a much abused and clichéd phrase. One could go through that journey as any one of the above and yet up going to a completely new land or not traversing any distance at all.

The key to the ‘Journey’ must be realisation that journeys always involve change. A change of scene. A change in speed. Many times, new eyes too. And change is inherently uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so key to learning. So key to life.