Working with young minds – Some Reflections

The last fifteen days presented me with two opportunities of interacting with young minds. Two different groups.

The second was at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). This is placement season at various campuses. The idea of sharing some macro contexts, relating it to what we do on a daily basis was to enable students pursuing their MBA make informed career choices for the present and also keep emerging trends in mind as they navigate their days in different corporate portals. Atleast, that was the hope!

The first opportunity was at the Forum of Free Enterprise‘s. The Forum itself has been around for ages now and has a checkered history with people that were associated with it who modestly could be described as ‘illustrious’.  The forum organises leadership camps for college students from around India in the age group of 18-21, on a regular basis.  To get invited to lead a half a day workshop on ‘Social Presence’ was good enough for me to spend the Sunday on the road. I got more acquainted with the work the forum does during the course of this work and it definitely seems like stellar stuff. Do look the forum up.


I was impressed with the students and their lines of thought. The pictures above are from the entire five days that they spent with professionals from different walks of life. Brilliant stuff, I think.

Both interactions taught me a heap, while I do hope it did leave the young people with a few aspects and ideas to mull over too.

I group my reflections in three points here.

For one, the all pervasiveness of Social Tools in young lives leading them to be such immersive users of these tools is pretty evident.  The ‘fun’, ‘cool’ element of these tools have caused these to be adopted into the mainstream easily. So easily and comprehensively that ‘what else can we do with these’ / ‘what are the underlying triggers to these’ etc are areas of virgin pastures for exploration

The opportunity of triggering thoughts around ‘what these tools really are’ and more importantly ‘what they can do’ when used imaginatively, is massive!

The second aspect of course, is the gap between what gets taught as part of formal education, and the hard reality of the real world seems to be more than yawning. Technology seems to be widening the gap every minute. Or maybe, thats not how I should be saying that. Technology is creating a completely new paradigm, while theories, pedagogy and curricula still belong to an erstwhile era.

Every age does this to the age that follows. The artifacts of the previous age lingering on for longer than they are relevant. Artifacts (and approaches) from the manufacturing era continuing to dominate current day formal education is a gargantuan travesty. The only difference though, this time, is that the reality of the real world (Technology has changed it completely) is far too pervasive and too widely adopted. The tumult of change is fast reaching the gates of our educational institutions. Or maybe, they already are sitting inside classrooms.

The third aspect is the aspect that I often talk about here and other fora : ‘Social’ is not a set of tools. It is a mindset. Limiting our articulation about them to an assorted bundle of tools is, well, limiting! Sure they do seem ‘fresh’ and help in incremental wins, and have commercial value too. But it is the exploration of a different mindset that triggers taking charge of these tools better.

Oftentimes it is not about these tools at all. For instance, I had a great time exploring the concept of ‘hierarchy’, ‘leadership’, ‘narrative’ from multiple angles with young minds. (In hindsight, I think I should have done more). Their perspectives were incredible. The examples that they came up with were powerful. More importantly their examination of ‘what could have been’ was scintillating. The future will be exciting when these folks are in charge.

Of course, the tools come into play sometime. But its not really about the tools. Our contexts and our weaving of these tools imaginatively to resolve dilemmas, tide over challenges and converse with the rest of the world, are pursuits that count more.

Time will tell.

Leadership and Working Out loud

The Working Out Loud Week has seen a wide array of generous sharing. The reads have been insightful and have added momentum.   I found this image in this tweet from Helen Sanderson crediting Jon Ralphs. I thought it to be brilliant and that it captures the essence of the idea, rather well.


But first, some thoughts on leadership in the connected world.

That the connected age we live in, is spurring change and that ‘leadership’ needs a new bag of skills, is a story that has been told so often that it begins to sound cliched and trite. Successful leaders who grew into their current roles on the back of work practices that they learnt and practiced in an erstwhile command-control era, dominated by hierarchy and position, will take a while to change. Organisations that they lead, will perhaps take longer.

Over many cups of coffee and several rounds of conversations with business leaders across industry, I have broached the topic of ‘working out loud’. The good part is this : In general, leaders see the need and appreciate the idea. It is not dismissed as a figment of theory. Of course, there is inherent discomfort with working out loud, themselves. It seems too much, too quick and too difficult for several leaders.

The leader being the ‘perfect’ person, who says ‘profound’ stuff (and nothing else) seems to be a pronouncedly unstated refrain! Thats the mental model that dominates. A leader comfortable with wearing the vulnerable side of himself/herself in public, with a transparent mindset to generously share and grow with (and grow the) the wisdom of the enterprise, is a tough proposition for many. In my opinion, that change in the leadership narrative is yet to translate into ground level changes.

To grow through the various life stages means having pimples, warts, dead skin and such else. It is raw and no amount of ‘treatment’ and ‘glossing over’ is going to eradicate the awkwardness that it can bring under the arc light. But in its raw element, lies reinforcement that growth indeed is occurring. As long as we live. Proof that life is perpetually in ‘beta’ mode.

To accept it and to lead with grace and impact, in the new age, demands a proficiency in a way of working that is markedly different. A way of working that is inclusive. Transparent. Authentic. One that has its foundations on generous sharing and deeply moored to faith in communities. Which is exactly where “Working Out Loud” fits in.

Last week I wrote about Process Facilitation as a key work skill in the times ahead. Working Out Loud is another arrow in the leadership quiver of the future. Something that young and aspiring leaders definitely need to add to their repertoire. It expands horizons and leads to fortuitous opportunities.

Now, for some background.  Context and people whose work influence me.

Harold Jarche through his evocative Seek-Sense-Share framework got me acquainted with the importance of “Narration” years ago. The more I thought about it, not only did it make more sense, it felt like it was the need of the hour. His work, ideas and thoughts have created shifts in thoughts and action! If you havent taken his PKM course yet, you sure must consider it.

Sometime in 2013 I happened to meet John Stepper in a conference in Berlin and post that, I got more familiar with term and the set of basics of #WOL. More conversations over the next few months lead me to the works of Austin Kleon and Jane Bozarth .

The basics of Working Out Loud as enumerated by John Stepper are captured here. My own post on the same is here

A couple of months ago, embodying the true spirit of Working Out Loud, John shared a draft of the book that he has been working on with me for comments and feedback. The book is filled with insightful approaches, easy first steps and a step by step guided practice that can aid the beginner and the veteran in the game of Working Out Loud. Don’t miss it!

Look up #WOLYO on twitter for the week that was. John Stepper started it out with a simple pragmatic post. These and several other ideas have helped shape new thoughts and refine existing ones. The thought that this will be an important work skill to possess to excel and stay on the cutting edge of ones chosen craft seems unnecessary to mention

There have been several others who lead the charge on Working Out Loud. Both in refining the concept with thought, active practice and generous sharing around the world. Simon Terry and Luis Suarez are two names that immediately jump to the mind If you are not actively following their work, well do so now. Their work makes a difference!