The behavior of men and women at the workplace has been the focus of many seminal studies over the past 15 decades. Social scientists, psychologists, philosophers and acknowledged thinkers have dissected their attitudes, perceptions, motivational drivers and their personality with a view to understanding the factors that influence, shape and control their mindset. If not their genes, it has to be the enfolding environment in terms of the socio-cultural parameters, religious beliefs, scientific temper and prevailing value systems that mould their manifest behavioral patterns. The debate rages as to whether they are creatures of nature or nurture. The jury is still out as to which has a greater influence.
The journey from the womb to the workplace is not a quantum jump. In organized society, men and women essentially transit through a system that feeds them with information and educates to infuse them with knowledge and wisdom. This transitory process and its myriad trappings, the academic system, nurture them over a 15 to 18 year period from childhood through adulthood into a career.
While there are a plethora of factors that influence individual behavior in society at large, to what extent does this academic system that occupies and demands about 70% of wakeful hours, influence learned behavior? If that be the question, it can be reasonably argued that the academic system has a more significant impact in directing behavior at the workplace and shaping the culture of organizations as a whole than is perhaps generally appreciated.
In most teacher centric systems, as opposed to student centric systems, content change (revision of syllabus) is confused with or seen as a substitute for the systemic corrections and process re-engineering that would be required to foster learning. Syllabi are periodically revised to contain more of the exploding information base and to stay in tune with current semantics, to the detriment of knowledge transfer. Little thought is devoted to fostering wisdom, for wisdom is rationalized as the preserve of age and experience. Pedagogic systems are however slow to change. Androgogy, the science of learning, is little understood. This inertia is often attributed to the trappings of culture and societal values, little realizing that knowledge transfer processes, in other words academic systems, are the vicious building blocks of culture and values.
Recognizing the need for change, more so as industrial societies evolve into knowledge societies, attempts are continually being made, in fits and starts, on a piecemeal basis, to overcome the limitations and negative influences intrinsic to teacher centric systems. Presently, they are but little rivulets, easily obliterated by the overwhelming tides of the mighty ocean. Mainstream academic traditions, sunken investments and apparently inflexible resources and misplaced anxieties militate against change. Taken as a whole, the pernicious and debilitating issues appear so complex and weighty that even progressive thinkers, well-meaning policy makers, academic administrators and aspiring reformists are easily discouraged. Yet, a few persist. With the world outside the system being more composed of the time-hardened products of the mainstream system, the pressure to maintain status quo is very high. Need this be so?
This paper details the plausible linkages and drivers from the academic system that shape mindsets and manifest behavior at the workplace and perhaps society at large. In doing so, it attempts to break down the humongous situation with a view to providing pointers to downsizing the apparently insurmountable constraints. It is based on the experience of the author who is an engineer and a management professional, from the best of academic traditions in India. It is based on the work experience of the author, spanning some 30 years across a diversity of domains. It draws on the experience of the author in creating an offbeat, mid-career management education system with a telling difference. It draws on the experience of many well-educated, successful and like-minded industry veterans. It has been enriched by the incisive perceptions of many progressive teachers and academicians from primary school, high school, through arts and science college and postgraduate professional education. It draws on the perceptions of eminent reformers attempting systemic transformations in India. It draws on the views of many well-educated young and old parents. It accommodates the views of, the bright and not so bright (by conventional yardsticks), school and college going youth in India. It has been moderated and enriched by the dissenting voices of many constructive and destructive critics drawn from the establishment, academia, industry and the lay public.
This analytical paper lays no claims to being backed by very rigorous research. Yet, it is not a casual view. It finds correlation with and validation in the works and published writings of eminent teachers, researchers, thinkers and philosophers of the genre of Abraham Maslow, Alvin Toffler, A P J Abdul Kalam, Carl Rogers, Charles Handy, Chris Argyris, Christina Tong, D Ausubel, David H Hargreaves, Donna Brandes, Douglas R Hofstadter, Douglas McGregor, Eric Burns, Fritjof Capra, Henry Mintzberg, Howard Gardner, Ivan Illich, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, Jeffrey Pfeffer, J Krishnamurty, John Dewey, Jonathan Gosling, Kaoru Ishikawa, Kautilya, Ken Wilber, Kurt Levin, Leonard Shlain, Malcolm Knowles, Michael E Porter, Neville Bennett, Paul Ginnis, Peter M Senge, Plato, Rabindranath Tagore, Russell L Ackoff, S K Chakraborty, Samuel P Huntington, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Socrates, Stephen R Covey, Tom Peters and W Edward Deming to name a few. It generalizes and simplifies to the extent of appearing to be very simplistic.It is essentially intended to open wide the eyes and minds, which are already open.
Men and women at the workplace and the organizations in which they work realize that there is a yawning gap between what is expected of them and their own experience of what they are capable of delivering. They realize that the gap is ever widening. It is a humbling experience that only a few are frank and sincere enough to articulate. In a short while after entering the workplace, they realize that information alone is passe. Information Technology, a boon on the one hand, is on the other continually annihilating the arbitrage of information power that seems to have sustained them in the past. With time, they realize that knowledge power and technical skills acquired through the processes that educated them have a very short life, in a shrinking world. It is a disturbing and frustrating thought. Intuitively, they realize that it is their ability to think and their ability to continually learn is what would help them to continually add value to the work they do. Such propensities, which are presently hard to cultivate, could alone empower people and radically reform and transform the organizational cultures reinforced over time by those who came before them. Looking back, barring a few notable exceptions, most of them realize that the academic processes that they were subject to, all through school and college, have not conditioned their minds and glands to acquire such thinking and learning propensities. Their hearts yearn to change but their conditioned mindsets and attendant anxieties militate against such change. Looking around, barring stray exceptions, they find that academic processes, no different from what conditioned them, are conditioning their offspring. They silently lament that the vicious cycle would continue to perpetuate itself unless radically transformed.
Reconciled to such a future, within their own organizations, at the workplace, many of them tinker with existing mindsets and behavioral patterns on a hit and miss, patchwork basis, through various developmental and transformational interventions. A few of them realize that the changes brought about such interventions are not durable. Unwittingly, the methodology of such interventions seems to borrow heavily, perhaps exclusively, from the trappings of the pedagogic processes that conditioned them and those which have now become an intrinsic part of their psyche. It always appears to be a case of too little being done too late. They sense that globalization is churning the business environment and debunking established mantras. Work and careers are fast losing the structure of a ‘linear narrative’ that characterized them over the past 3 millennia. The half-life period of many established professions and businesses is fast decreasing. New opportunities are fast emerging and newer professions are being born. How are they to stay ever employable in the nonlinear, asymmetric and potentially discontinuous future? They yearn for new kinds of learning systems that could transform their thinking and learning propensities so that they in turn could transform the organizations and the environment in which they work. They know of none. With inadequate knowledge and existing mindsets the very thought of having to act local and think global is frightening. They fervently pray that at least the portals of management institutes could provide an answer. Their muted cries grow louder and louder, yet the mainstream academic systems are loath to listening. The inertial trappings of their own past shackle the few educationalists and administrators who understand and would want to make a significant contribution. Are we to wait for economic development to drive radical changes in mainstream academic systems or is it to be the other way around?
The world awaits; India awaits a mainstream learning system that is comprehensively different from what has dominated man over the past couple of centuries. India awaits a system that focuses more on learning than teaching. A system where the teacher is seen to be a friend, philosopher and guide, a guru, rather than the repository of all knowledge and wisdom! A companion on the road to discovery rather than the voice of authority! A system where technology is leveraged to raise learning efficiencies, while liberating the teacher from the drudgery of numbing transmission! Where, quality of learning is not inversely proportional to scale. For scale is critical to the future of a billion people. A system where the ‘right brain’ is also developed along with the left! A system where the emotional quotient (EQ) and spiritual quotient (SQ) have an equal role to play along with the intelligence quotient (IQ)! A system, which is egalitarian! Where, along with information and knowledge transfer, cherished human qualities and healthy values thrive! A system that harmonizes commonalties without tending to just accentuate differences! Where men and women learn to think and learn to learn! A system where rote, routine and restriction are replaced by the power to foster imagination, innovation and initiative! A system where science syncs with art and spirituality! Where learners learn to reflect and collaborate. Where learners abandon parochial sentiments in favor of a worldly view. A system, which shatters the pernicious functional caste system at the workplace! Metaphorically, a system that produces more of one-day all-rounders than just five-day specialists! Where academic institutions, from nursery through the higher institutions of learning, rediscover their roles as a continuum of body-mind incubators rather continue to be seen as a chain of factories mass-producing human machines that are rendered obsolete by the day! A system that truly resonates to the epithet "Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktayè"
India awaits a new Avatar.