Tuesday, January 26, 2016

From Degrees To CVs

I wrote earlier about how, by expecting too much of them, we have positioned college degrees to fail (See here). The college and its degrees became, effectively, a tool for the ever expansive state to control another aspect of lives of its citizens. The poverty of this formula becomes apparent at this point in time, when the state is no longer expanding and the promises of middle class life, that pursuit of happiness, looks more hollow than ever. Yet, despite the 'credential-equals-job' mindset that we have all grown up with - and the brutal realisation that it does not, not anymore - we are somewhat caught in this argument that we do not have an alternative credential that we can trust, and therefore, we have to keep sending people to Higher Ed, keep the spectacle going.

But there is an alternative credential that we can trust, that all employers look for - the CV! A CV, a portfolio of experiences and verifiable references, is the credential we build and carry through our working lives, and it is the only currency in the employment universe. Any other credential, a degree, a certification, a professional status, while they may have value in and by themselves, but in the employment context, they are just components of building CV. So, if we acknowledge that the central challenge in Higher Education is making people employable - because, for all the higher goals, a person is not complete if s/he is not employable and, and the governments promise middle class life through Higher Education all the time - the issue is not to find another credential looking from the supply-side, but rather start building credential that is in demand, the CV!

What is above is really a convoluted way of saying that students need more experience, and we should find a way of assessing and validating the real life experience. So, imagine a degree curriculum consisting solely of projects, that, in a progressive manner, introduce the students to the complexities of real life work. In this, what we assess is not just the explicit, technical learning, but also the development of tacit knowledge, soft skills and human abilities of the person. True, these are more difficult areas to assess and validate, but there is much work done on this already.

The paradigm shift here is to attempt to assess, and validate through credential, skills and abilities which are essentially 'non-academic'. This is common-sense if we accept the goal of a vocationally orientated credential is to create employable graduates, and the other option, assessing an university graduate studying business or engineering in the same way as one would assess students studying for Literature or History degree, does not make much sense. Yet, this shift has proved so difficult, because of the regulatory bias and the narrow definition of what universities do.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Higher Education: Creating An Alternative Credential

As I write this, that Penguin, the famous publisher, has abolished degrees as a requirement for their recruitment, is on the news (see here). They join a handful of firms at the top of prestige and professional hierarchy, such as Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and EY, in their search for a more diverse talent pool. 

One could, and possibly many would, dismiss this as mere publicity, rather than serious moves. And, indeed, this may represent a fraction of their total new intakes. For every Penguin taking themselves off-Degree, there may be an Accenture who would not want to look outside a few elite universities. But the point here is philosophical - degrees having dominated our educational thinking so vigorously that we forgot what this stood for - and not statistical. 

So, what do degrees stand for? Why did we come to accept that this ornate piece of paper, often deliberately evoking medieval imagery,  come to signify our knowledge, and even our abilities? And, how did come to dominate our social being, our conversations, our relationships, our prospects and all our aspirations? Peter Thiel may have been very elitist in urging people to leave college and start businesses, as that may be an unacceptable risk for all but the most gifted, but does he not have a point that many smart people has done perfectly well for themselves without a degree? In fact, there is even some statistical evidence: A study recently highlighted a common trait among very wealthy people, that they tend to self-educate rather than seeking formal education (see story).

Degrees, at its core, represent the power of the modern state. It is one of the various ways of control that the modern state apparatus uses to shape our thinking, making us subordinate to itself. A few generations ago, a degree was needed for Civil Service - indeed, the modern university was created to serve the State - and then to serve the expanding public sector. Degrees, like the other subtle mechanisms, such as the standard weights and measures, define the parameters to live by, overpowering individual choices, and even our immediate communities, and imposing a bureaucratic overhang within our private lives.

People have different opinions about how much control of our private lives should be ceded to the State, and whether such intrusion does more good than harm, but degrees as an instrument of state approval change the nature of the degrees. Instead of marking an admittance in a community - the Bachelors degree was an acceptance of the person in the Bachelorship (of Science, or Arts, as the case may be) - it becomes an end in itself, a credential of state approval. As public services recede from view, we have let the degree to become a proxy of entire social being, using it for jobs, marriages and even friendships - and even the most earnest admirer of the modern state may not be entirely comfortable with such omnipresence. And, indeed, degrees have fallen out of sync with the modern times, not just of commercial requirements of practical skills, but more importantly, the democratic respect that a modern day society takes for granted. Follow, for example, the arguments of Harvard's Lani Guinier's The Tyranny of Meritocracy (Beacon Press, 2015), and one would see how the Middle Class deity of degrees have become a tool of exclusion.

However, when we forget the purpose of a custom, it obscures the possibility of all alternatives. Degrees have become the Gold Standard of our time, a relic which, once the reason for its existence is forgotten, assumed a life of its own, forcing everything else of the table. 'We do not have an alternative' is all too common a justification for doing wrong things, and I am least surprised when middle class families scramble to send their children to universities, who are known to be substandard, just for the sake of the degree. 

If not degrees, what? The conversation has dramatically shifted in the recent times, as the 'Official' policy has embraced the necessity of 'Skills'. Partly to reflect the diminished role of the State in our economic lives, partly to embrace a new reality of contraction of public expenditure, and partly in a mistaken adjustment to new realities of work, the State doctrine has become, generally speaking, a search for new credential. Of course, the problem with this new alternative of Skills Certification is that it is still a scramble for a proxy, a state-mandate in another form, which is admittedly poorer, a degree alternative for austere times. It is not surprising that such credentials fail to take off, as people see them, justly, as poor cousins.

So, degrees as gold, skills certification as silver - this can only go so far! The radical departure in search of alternative credentials, as one of my colleagues put it, will be to construct the CV as credential. Instead of a proxy of one kind or another, this would mark a return to individual worth, the very thing that the employers like Penguin is trying to do. For educational institutions, this would mean constructing experiences, not just of work but of social interactions and connections, not towards earning a proxy credential, but a real projection of abilities. Instead of the mad search for degrees, this would be guided path to earning references and building a transcript of life, so to say. In practical terms, this may look like a Linkedin profile, perhaps with more validation, one that can not be faked.

This is a radical departure, but a practical one - one that rejects the whole idea of credentials as proxies, because the search for a proxy always assumes a life of its own, and installs real abilities at the core of educational experience. One may anticipate the complaints of all those who wants to hire people in the thousands - isn't this a huge logistical challenge exploring the individual worth of all candidates rather than screening most of them out by using a credential - but then, as we know instictively, this is both morally wrong and poor as a business practice (no wonder, these companies eventually get rid of more than half of those they recruit). If the point of degrees is to convey credible and relevant information about someone's true abilities, a CV with references can indeed be a more potent credential.


Monday, January 18, 2016

The Duet Between Education and Technology

One way of seeing the relationship between Education and Technology, the most popular way, is to see it a race. The original observation - that the Civilisation is a race between Education and Catastrophe - made by H G Wells, was alluded to in the title of scholarly and insightful book, "The Race Between Education and Technology" (Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, 2007) - and it stuck. The essential idea is quite simple, that technology is advancing and education is the way for the society to keep up, and we need ever more education to get the benefits of advance technology.

This is a compelling metaphor. And, also a useful one, as this positions Education at the centre of technological development, clearly establishing a link. Important one too, as we are reaching an inflection point in technological development, where many of the jobs previously done by human workers can now be done by machines or algorithms. It is important to argue, now more than ever, that the benefits of technology do not translate into social benefits and economic gains without good education enabling the transformation. 

However, there is more to the story than education being a continuous catch-up as technology drives the agenda. First, education shapes technology. The advancements we make are not manna from heaven, but a result of education and receptive cultural environments. We have decisively moved beyond the 'Lone Inventor' myths, and from the stories of invention and innovation, we know that technological progress is mostly a story of complex collaboration, between people with ideas, people with practical insights, people who find the use, people who accept new ideas and people who popularise them. In a way, education creates the ecosystem for technological advancement, and make it possible.

Second, technology changes education from the inside. It is not just about compulsory education finding broad support as industrialists seek to find educated workers to handle advance machinery, or the current cry for STEM education, but also that Printing Press enabled that most durable of EdTech, the Textbook. One may scoff at various attempts at introducing courses through TV, and there was an element an overreach, but who could deny that video has transformed our ways of knowing. The student today is not expecting an education that a student a couple of generations ago would have, who would have differed significantly from the past themselves. 

Third, the relationship between Education and Technology is more of a duet than a race, because technology, more usually than not, come into being not in a single moment of epiphany, but in a series of baby-steps, small improvements and deployment of technologies in use, with the growth of practitioner knowledge and serendipity gained through practise. James Bessen makes this point in his "Learning By Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages and Wealth" (2015), his central point being that it takes a long time for a technological leap to produce economic gains, as only the growth of practitioner knowledge makes this possible. Successful 'socialisation' of new technology therefore creates its own form of education, and this technology and education together creates the ecosystem that makes the social developments and economic gains possible.

This duet of Education and Technology, hand in hand progress, should be the basis of our policy-making today. The limited argument, that we need more educated workers because of the technological development, should be replaced with an understanding that these are not two autonomous processes but one interrelated development. The current system of IP protection and countries importing technology create one more level of complexity - as all of this is done on the basis of education catching up with technology - rather than education and technology being an interrelated process of progress. But this, the duet, is an useful perspective for a time of globalisation and technological progress, not just to inform what and how we should learn, but also to define the shape and scope of our education systems.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Higher Education: Are We Ready For Alternative Credentials?

While everyone agrees that Higher Education needs new thinking, there is one sacred cow: Degrees! All the private capital flooding into the field with the battle cry to change the world meekly surrender themselves to the alter of the Degrees. To follow the rhetoric, the search is for a better way, not a better credential. The degrees, an early modern invention, look safe and sound, despite the world being claimed to be turned upside down.

Or, is it?

The recent Udacity Nanodegree Plus, which is an employer-backed credential that comes with a job guarantee (which, in effect, is a guarantee of full refund of fees if the learner does not get a job after graduating), opens up an interesting possibility. After a somewhat faltering start, Udacity, among the various MOOC providers, is now finding its mojo through nanodegrees, which, despite the allusion, are not degrees. In a plain vanilla world, this would be called a Certificate. But this, and other similar credentials like Micro-degrees, is more ambitious than mere certificates, and it is worth looking at it closely.

But, before that, the question: What's wrong with Degrees? It is simply that degrees do what they are meant to do, but we have come to expect too much of it. Designed to reflect scholarly excellence, which is needed to advance knowledge and was used in the service of pre-modern, patriarchal state, degrees reflect a high level of rhetorical abilities and persistence and commitment in pursuit of complex idea. But they were not, given the context, designed to represent a high level of practical awareness or abilities, or how to build and sustain collaborative enterprises, particularly with a diverse, socially, economically and ethnically, group of people. But, over time, we have come to demand precisely these abilities from the degree-holder, because we thought of the latter as 'lower' abilities which can be easily achieved by a highly educated person. Degrees, with economic and social change, became a proxy - we sought credential rather than its content! Whether we acknowledge or not - as such acknowledgement may offend our democratic instincts - degrees became different depending on who granted them. 

That degree is the way to unlock the middle class life was a powerful myth, particularly in the newly industrialised countries, which sought to emulate the path taken by the developed nations, as if living in a time-wrap. Universities and enrolments multiplied there, and the myth of the new middle class, who pursued an American dream, drove private investment in proliferation of the degrees. But it was - past tense - as we encountered a shape-shifting event, the global recession of 2008, which is now getting into its second act by spreading the malaise to the emerging economies and crushing those middle class illusions. While the cost of the degrees climbed, the opportunities that the degrees brought, by proxy, shrank precipitously.

So, it may have been the best of the times - because there was an expansion of global demand for degrees on the back of the emerging economies - and worst of the times - because its impact dwindled - for the degree education in the last decade, now it is decisively becoming the latter. Even in India, the young country where everyone wanted to be a government servant and hence wanted a degree, the illusion is now giving away. The degree as proxy is coming up short in a world where the demand for real things, practical knowledge and human abilities, wrongly labelled 'soft skills' (because, there is nothing 'soft' about it - it can be both empirically observed and has very tangible impact on performance), is altogether real. 

The latest great challenge to degrees came in the 1990s, with the unprecedented expansion of the demand for IT skills, particularly in terms of infrastructure and networking skills. A new model of education arose, which proudly calls itself the Certification industry. Backed by technology providers of various kinds, these were gold standards of practical abilities. But the ambition of the Certification providers was not to transform Higher Education, but to sell their software. Closely tied to respective platforms, the fortunes of certification training waxed and waned with that of the platforms, spawning a sizeable industry of tests, content and training, but stopping short of the ambitions to create the complete employee. It was, and remained, a supply-side enterprise, just like the rest of the Higher Education.

Udacity Nano-degree goes a step further. It actively seeks to replace Higher Education. It is not platform-independent, but multiplatform, and being a third party provider, it can set the agenda for education without being subservient to the commercial objectives of selling software. But it goes further in Employer Engagement, involving real and big name employers, and contextualising the skills within real work. Being 12-months long, these are neither 'nano' nor degrees, but tied to high demand technology areas, these intensive, long immersions (as opposed to short bootcamps), are targetting people who would traditionally go for a degree (or, yet another degree) rather than pursuing a certification by burning midnight oil. It may be challenging the Postgraduate rather than the Undergraduate degree, but it has finally made the leap on the other side.

Contrast this with the attempts by some MOOCs to offer College Credits, or, for that matter, my own earlier attempts to create globally delivered pathway qualifications. The problem with those innovations is the umbilical cord that tie them to the regulatory structures and more importantly, values that a degree represent. At the frontier of innovation, that all degrees are not the same are perhaps a clear and present fact, more apparent than the more traditional world of admission tests and offers. Often, the mere presence of a degree, as an outcome or even as an option, obscure the innovator's intent, attracting learners who are looking for a degree (and, hence, sensitive to what sort of a degree or pathway is on offer) and constricting pedagogy with mistaken imperatives of course sequence, unnecessary essays and assessments, and irrelevant pursuit of theoretical skills. 

Udacity nano-degrees is only a nascent experiment, and not the final word in education innovation. It may focus on the practical skills, and take a bold position of challenging the degrees, but may fall short of addressing the human abilities imperative. But this shows both the opportunities and dangers of alternative credentials. For these, as no one would treat them as a proxy of broader abilities except those explicitly covered, they must deliver what they promise. But, the opportunity is the ability to create models focused on practical work and human abilities, rather than being constricted by bureaucratic dictats that come bundled in degrees. In summary, the business of Alternative Credentials is not for the faint-hearted, but they represent the best chance to bring Higher Ed in sync with real world.

Where Would The Citizens' Politics Lead Us?

As Bernie Sanders catches up with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump raves and rages, and Jeremy Corbyn holds on - even if rather precariously - at the British Labour Party, we can reasonably think that an era of anti-Politics has began. The slick politics of the mid-90s, when Centrism took hold, but all it meant was a breed of cynical politicians who stood for nothing but the craving of power (brilliantly represented in Frank Underwood in the US version of The House of Cards), seems all but gone. Ideology, of sensible and insensible variety, is back in the mix, all over again.

This is counter-intuitive. As we entered the Age of the Millennial, we were expecting a sweeping victory for those smooth-tongued Centrists, who wanted to hold the centre-stage, but not any ground in anything else. The millennial would be, we expected, products of a 'liquid' modernity,  for whom the pursuit of pleasure, rather than any fixed commitment, is all pervasive. But their surging support for all these new politicians who 'stand for something', and simultaneous ringing rejection of the 'reed-in-the-wind' politics, now tells a different story. One could say this is the characteristic search for certainty of a generation growing up in the aftermath of the financial crisis. But, the other explanation, more optimistic, is that this is the final turning of the corner of a global generation, united in the shock of discovery that the middle class dream is a con.

Is this, then, the end of the post-modern age, when our social beings were atomised - every person for himself - and our collective consciousness withered? This was a time when no one stood for anything because there was nothing to stand for. The only pursuit of civilised life was, at least for a time being, that of more material acquisition, fuelled by the insane possibility of ever-expanding private debt.  One could feel richer by kicking the can down the road, protests were subsumed in tokenism, arguments were framed around interests and not ideas, and identities were an aggregate of the possessions.

Just as the monstrosities of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia made aware on the limits of social compliance, it seems that the recession has taught a generation that came of age in its midst a disillusionment with the standard-issue middle class story. The anti-Politics rage, expressed in choosing the idiosyncratic leaders and ideologies, seem to represent an urge to find roots, the authenticity that we have let go in most spheres of public life.

That the middle class dream is stunted, is true. The collusion of policy-makers with interests has gone too far, undermining the combative fairness that keep a democratic society, for all its failings, healthy. All the estates have come together as one, perhaps far too cosily, and one set of ideas has become too dominant, all too concentrated, and opened up a space for contrarian views. So, is this the inflection point, when a new set of ideas emerge, or just another false start, for some to proclaim an apocalypse that ends in a whimper?

So far, it seems to be the latter, indeed. For all the disillusionment, the millennial identities are concentrated around the 'coolgevity' (I made that up to mean how long it remains cool) of our devices, and so seems the politics. Sanders, Trump and Corbyn are departures from the usual, may even be a wake-up call, but not signs of lasting change. In Trump, it is apparent how misdirected this anger can be, and how easily the voices could be usurped by a demagogue. In others, like India's Kejriwal, a man of similar intentions, there is a fragmented activism, some flurry of honest engagement, even a touch of sincere anger, but that departure is only partial, as they wrestle with the dominant doctrines of the age. Their rhetoric of change is not the moral call that we long to hear, but rather a manager's manifesto. Reading too much into it is deluding ourselves.

Perhaps such a stalemate is indeed the fate. Revolutions are too painful for people that have, and it has been pushed to the margin of ideas. But the lure, and the fear, of revolution has also obscured other possible ideas of change, limiting the intent to change to mere demagoguery that we see ascendant today. And, in the end, disillusionment lie, perhaps in its most complete form - Hopelessness! It happened before, and this time around, Millennials are just riding the same train, the same rickety edifice that look coolly retro, a blast from past, but to be discarded as one grows up into responsibility. This is not, is not, the moral rage that would change the world.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Searching for Educators' EdTech

Conversations about Education Innovation is often about entitlements, who gets what. The conversations about EdTech plays along these lines too - either you are for EdTech or you are against it. Indeed, the technology vendors claim that this is all win-win, but from the point of view of poor adjunct, whose private time is invaded and paid time is cut, this picture is more difficult to see. And, since the very people who are to implement the technology seems to lose out from its success, the gap between rhetoric and reality of EdTech remains quite wide.

One could observe this tension in most technology debate. From taxi drivers chasing Uber cars out of airports and hotel owners lobbying for stricter regulations to keep AirBNB out, there is a battle going on in different sectors and professions. The usual narrative, one that plays out in mainstream media, is to shrug it off - isn't it inevitable that technology is going to eat the world - and carry on. There has always been winners and losers, we are told, but in the end, technology makes lives better for everyone.

To see what is happening in EdTech, looking out for winners is a good place to start. Now, definition of EdTech is varied and implementations come in all hues, but here is the point - everyone claims that the learners are the winners! It is they who got the power now! They can learn from anywhere, at will. EdTech is unlocking the brave new world of learner-centred approach, tailoring the material to each learner's preference. The tyranny of the teachers are over, the power balance of the classrooms are overturned, the crusty institution of the college would soon wither away. At its most ambitious, EdTech is claimed to be setting Education free.

But the students could hardly care. They go to college and expect teachers to teach. They do watch videos and may take online assessments, but not many of them would consider this as a replacement of sitting in a classroom. They know that a teacher who supports and understands them make lives better than a Nobel Laureate on YouTube. And, indeed, you make better friends in college than on a portal. And, if they are winners of EdTech, they do not want to pay for EdTech, and the best students are still queueing up to join the best universities.

So, who wins? The conversation about EdTech is all about efficiency. A teacher can teach more students, an administrator would suffice for the whole college, and greater profits can be achieved from a virtual class. Like many other conversations about technology, it is about extracting value rather than searching for better outcome. At the very moment when we are searching for a more creative education, as machines challenge us at the workplace and middle class jobs wither, the preachers of EdTech wants to turn college to a factory, an assembly line devoid of humans, unexpected turns and serendipity. 

At this point, the antagonisms arise. The winnings of EdTech accrue neither to students or the teachers, but to managers, owners and investors. Reversing the academic revolution, which may have overreached itself, EdTech creates the possibility of an all-adjunct college, where administrators hold the sway and the only agenda is to drive process efficiency and produce a surplus. The point of EdTech, as it stands today, is expanding the illusion of education, diplomas delivered online along with the associated debt burdens to the poorer people who can not afford college. It becomes not an enabler of education, but the maker of indebted man. 

But this is indeed the essential point of all technology. EdTech is a misnomer, first and foremost. There is no technology for education, but for communication, information sharing and management. These technologies are value-neutral by themselves, and it is only those who control them decides the winners and losers. The teachers and the students have no say in what technologies get deployed and for which functions, and therefore, they lose - teachers get sidelined and de-skilled, the students are roped into an elaborate illusion of education - and the control passes on to a group of bankers and managers, who, constantly looking for new opportunities to extract value, have now zeroed on Education.

The problem of EdTech illustrates two inter-related questions that our society now faces. First, an over-reliance on Finance creates the structural issue that extracting value as an economic activity has become more rewarding than creating new value. So, the questions about EdTech is about entitlements, of shifting privileges to another, and not about making education better. Second, Technology, in this setting, becomes anti-human, with the agenda of replacing human work with technology itself. However, education is essentially a human enterprise. A better education results not from Personalisation, which is the art of seeking universal patterns within individual action, but treating the students as persons, which is the art of seeking out the individual within the collective stereotype of a student. Because both the economics of value-extraction and human-replacement technologies can only operate at scale, EdTech, as it exists today, can not operate without essentially corrupting the idea of education as a personal, human enterprise.

It is possible, though difficult, to recast the discussion about EdTech as a value-enhancing, humanising process. There are activities, of connection and conversation, that can be enhanced through technology within the process of education. This is not part of the EdTech conversation today, because of its misplaced priorities, but could be. This is the possibility of the Educators' EdTech, rather than that of the Technologists', or of the Bankers'.


Monday, January 04, 2016

Educating The Modern Professional: Developing The Culture of Contribution

Adam Grant, in his excellent 'Give and Take', shows how Givers, those who seek to create value for others first, win at the modern workplace. His key point, that Giving, seeking to create value first, is a better professional strategy than Taking, seeking value for oneself, or even Matching, giving after norms of reciprocity have been clearly established. 

He cites three reasons for the enhanced effectiveness of Giving. First, the essential difference between Giving and Taking may have been the focus on Long Term. Givers thought longer term, and they knew creating value always paid back over time. With accelarated pace of our lives, this long term has become shorter, thereby creating a more immediate payback for giving and making it a better professional approach. Second, the increased prevalence of collaborative work, and relative decline of independent working, has shone the spotlight on the Givers, making them more desired as colleagues. As a member of the team who focuses on contributing rather than counting his/her own benefit first, Givers stand out. Third, most people today work in Services, and if we think our Doctors, Lawyers, Financial Advisors are concerned about our well-being, we tend to value them more highly. While it may not have mattered in independently operating production jobs, Giving holds the centerpiece in service work.

This sounds counter-intuitive, and it is. But that may be because our intuition, shaped by the zero-sum mentality, may be out of date. There is enough evidence, from personal experiences and examples and studies cited by Professor Grant and others, that Giving works, and works well. Sudhakar Ram, well-regarded CEO of the Indian software company, Mastek, and an astute observer and author, makes the point about moving away from Scarcity Mentality to Abundance mentality in shaping our career strategies. Features of the modern professional work - 24x7, visible, relationship-oriented - are focusing our minds on the primacy of value-creation, rather than value-extraction, and this makes the Giver mentality a key asset for success.

Our system of education, though, inordinately rewards the Taking approach over Giving. Most educational settings are built around individual excellence, independent work and getting ahead of others. Collaborative work is mostly extra-curricular, and despite the shift of focus on the extra-curricular in the employment interviews, curriculum makers have failed to take notice. Speaking with the employers, we see that this is what they see as the most important failure of the traditional education - that it does not 'teach' people to work in teams and insufficiently focus on the contribution to any collective endeavour. Professor Grant uses a study of Belgian Medical students to highlight how Givers lag behind in the first year of Medical school, when independent coursework is preeminent, but rise to the top in the later years, as it involves more and more work with other people, interacting with patients, doing rounds etc. 

It seems that the divergence of world of education and world of work is closely related to the changing paradigm of work. Besides, because Customer Centricity, Contribution to Collective Efforts and associated behaviour are so important to career progression, one could point of the misalignment of educational values as one key reason why so many people remain underemployed, or suffer from false starts early in their career. One way of attending to this is to install project-based, collaborative work at the heart of the educational enterprise, which should prepare the modern professionals fittingly and with right values.

Friday, January 01, 2016

On To The Future

In a way, 1st January is the strangest day, when the present and the future come together. Our conversations, more than on any other day, centre on things to come. And, that makes this day somewhat special, a brief but momentous journey between the nostalgia of year-end and present-mindedness of the 2nd January. It is, for most of us, both a pause and a spark, to enjoy the present possibilities.

One way of seeing it is that we have one day every year for future and one day for the past, and the balance three hundred and sixty three (or four, as in 2016) for living in the present. That proportion sounds about right. Indulging too much on the future, just like being stuck in the past, can be somewhat harmful, obscuring the wonderful and immediate potential of every day. But, as there is value in our past in providing us with a perspective to live, there is value in the future, as it broadens our horizons.

A good way to live the present, as the self-help books will tell you, is to focus on the tasks at hand. In the very succinct presentation of Stephen Covey, it should be done by focusing on our areas of influence rather than things that concern us. For little people like us, this means getting on with our daily lives, leaving all these other important things, from fighting Daesh to fixing Libor, to our politicians, bankers, and business tycoons. And, this is wonderfully effective, or should be, because all those things can be far too complex, best left to people who knows and can make a difference. 

Indeed, there are times when outside turbulence become far too overwhelming, just as it did during the Financial Crisis, or for a few nasty days in Paris last year. Those are moments when big things, the things we leave at the domain of concern, invaded our little private lives. One way to deal with them is, once the bloodbath is over, to re-assign them back where they belonged, and carry on with our daily lives. That is indeed what our bankers, politicians, leaders tell us to do. Carry on with your daily lives, invest in stocks and bonds, enjoy the fireworks! Show all those terrorists that you are unafraid, they say. Or forgive the bankers and go shopping again, in a different variety. Have faith, have faith, have faith, just as the Priests taught us in an earlier generation.

But, seen another way, all those things that are too big, too complex, too overwhelming for us to be consigned to our sphere of concern, was once in a state where we could have influenced them. Those moments may lie in the past, but they always occur, in different forms and for different outcomes, all the time. Just that they lie in the future, because we need to act to bring our collective influence to the fore. We needed to organise, we needed to connect, we needed to have a dream, to bring all those collective influence to have consequence.

Here is, then, my point. The wonderful philosophy of present-mindedness, while promising to prioritise action over thought, prioritise dependence over action. We are told, three hundred and sixty three days of the year, not to take control over our lives, but to create an illusion of influence in a little private corner, lived through abandoned New Year Resolutions or Morning Paper Outrages. The dreamy flirtation with future, taboo for the little people, may provide us a glimpse of what could be, but our New Year indulgences with the future, in all those promises of eat healthy or work better, assiduously avoid, and indeed obscure, any commitment to the outside world.

So, here is my resolution: To think of the future of the kind that matters! Future is, by definition, undefined, as that depends on so many actions of the past, present and of future itself. But that does not make us helpless, but rather, empowered. The future exists as long as we care for it to exist, and we have a voice as long as we make the effort to have a voice. We will the future, and 1st January is a perfect day to start thinking about it.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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