Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some parts of my upcoming New Year's Resolution

From Nandan Nilekani's interview on TalkAsia:

I want to be less busy and more effective.
I want to be generous with money and stingy with time.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why half measures?

I tend to be a person with limited political opinion until things start affecting my own life. Mumbai's disaster has shaken me up in a way as has the siege at Bangkok's international airport, which puts my looong planned break in jeopardy. I am actually quite surprised how both the Thai and the Indian government have resorted to half measures in recent days.

Let me first talk about my country. We were witness to one of the worst terrorist attacks in the last decade. In such a situation our government (and that of our neighbour's) has taken nothing but half steps to bring the guilty to justice. For years, we've had intelligence and satellite surveilance reports that have confirmed the presence of terrorist training camps of the Al-Qaida and the LeT in Pakistan. Its been quite some time since Dawood Ibrahim was placed on the Forbes' world's Top 10 most dreaded criminals list. The captured terrorist from the Mumbai attack has revealed that he is from Pakistan and was trained there . I wonder why after repeated evidence we haven't sought the approval of the international community particularly countries leading the war on terror, to storm these terror camps and actually raze them to the ground? I wonder how many more security personnel will be killed and how many more such tragedies the country will have to face before we see serious action? Does Pakistan need another Marriott before they can bring Dawood to the law and stop LeT's rallies in Karachi? Does India need another set of attacks on its civilian establishments, before it whole heartedly accepts help from the FBI and Mossad to pulverize the heart of these terror establishments? The passive action I see, is way too familiar and I know where it ends and I don't like it.

Moving on to Thailand, the country and its seemingly popularly elected governments has been held to ransom by the PAD for the last 6 months or so. Isolating the country by blocking off the Suvarnabhumi airport should really be the last straw, no matter how valid the protest. I find it surprising how the government there too can take a half measure by declaring an emergency asking security forces to help clear the airport sans the Army! The inefficacy of the emergency decree shows, as the police have literally been chased away by the PAD demonstrators. The government is happy to act in exile by setting up shop in remote Chiang Mai than give up power. I wonder if both parties want to drive a nail into Thailand's already troubled economy by continuing the stalemate at the airport. While I can see both parties waiting to see who blinks first, I hope they realize that their country is burning in the background. 100,000 people are stranded in Bangkok; a million people are set to lose their jobs and the tourism industry is in for a huge slump. If both parties are really interested in the welfare of their nation, one of them has to back down for the greater good. Or perhaps, this is something I don't understand!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai bleeds...

My favourite city in the world has bled for the last 24 hours, at the hand of bloodthirsty demons. I feel driven to tears each time I see the visuals. For those that know Mumbai, will know that its a city that doesn't give up; a city that represents the cosmopolitian face of modern India. What damage this does to Mumbai's psyche, time only can tell. I hope in the interest of not giving the extremists a sense of success, that Mumbai can still awake and go to work tomorrow. This said, I am angry; very angry. We've lost many people, many guests to my country died too. Many brave security personnel laid down their lives. I am angry because deep down I fear that other countries will consider this to be an unsafe nation. While I hope we can get the powers that be to sit up and smell the coffee, I also hope that we don't let this metamorphose into a widespread fear psychosis. I hope that politicians in India don't try to cash in and gain mileage from what is a national tragedy. I hope that our neighbours support us in our war on terror; which in itself is a pity considering that we both won our freedom using non-violent means. I hope that the whole country wakes up and realizes that while we have the bravest of men in uniform; we perhaps have the most inept people in khadi and silk. I hope that tomorrow when political terrorists such Raj Thackeray and Narendra Modi try to create division in the country, we tell them that the people that laid down their lives to ensure that we can sleep peacefully, were amongst the 200 commandos from Delhi; I hope we tell them that amongst the people that died there was no distinction of religion; I hope we tell them that amongst people that conducted rescue operations there was little cultural homogeniety. I hope that through this incident, we find a reason to stand as one nation instead of suspecting each other. I say this, because as an Indian and a one time Mumbaikar I am sad, I am angry and I am just tired.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The "Gift" of Feedback

Often we receive feedback which jars us and shakes up what we believe about ourselves. Our natural tendency is to defend against this feedback and find out what's wrong with it. In situations like this I like using my friend Khali's metaphor of equating feedback with a gift that you recieve from someone. You don't know what it is, but you know that its well intentioned. Given that you wouldn't be rude and say "I don't like this gift..." and return it. Instead you'll accept it and appreciate (and even explore) the intent with which he/ she picked the gift for you.

So, maybe its a good idea to explore "why the feedback is right" instead of telling yourself that the other person got it all wrong. I find that this gives me the best way of dealing with feedback as compared to when I refute it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Final ThoughtWorks University for 2008

This is when 18 hours of effort in a day becomes worthwhile. Its been a privilege to be associated with this group of next-gen ThoughtWorkers. They make the entire year worthwhile for me and I know my upcoming break is well deserved. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coaching - Eliciting Well Formed Outcomes

Last night I was was watching a repeat episode from Contender Asia 2008, particularly the Yodsanklai vs Naruepol fight. This may be inconsequential for many, but something I see an important lesson in. Yodsanklai and Naruepol are fast friends, fighters from the same gym. They were both fighters in the Contender 2008 championship. Given that they are such close friends, it was really tough for them to face off against each other in a knockout situation. Now Naruepol was finding it really tough to prepare for the fight, and kept saying right until the last moment, "I don't want to fight my friend." Yodsanklai on the other hand was reluctant but focussed on winning the championship and saw that as his clear goal. His hunger to win showed. It doesn't take guessing to know who won. Yodsanklai won that match and also the Contender title. If you set aside the "he screwed his friend" argument for a bit, you will notice that one of the reasons he won was because of his strong desire to win and because he had a very clear goal. As a coach you cant teach that -- you can't set a goal for someone: you can only elicit that and make it explicit. The desire to achieve something is inherent.

Often in the process of coaching we impose goals on our coachees and that is a bit of an antipattern that I sometimes observe. As a coach you can take your coachee's desire and perhaps mould that into a well formed outcome. The NLP Meta Model helps you convert strong internal desires into tangible, measurable outcomes. One of the tools I love using (and this is taken almost word for word from Robert Dilts) is the Well Formed Outcomes Worksheet. I use this to elicit and qualify goals. Here's the pattern I tend to follow when discussing a coachee's goals:

  • Outcome– Stated in Positive Terms. What do you want?
  • Sensory Evidence – Observable Behavioral Definition of the Outcome. How, specifically, will you know you achieve this goal? What are the performance criteria? How will they be tested?
  • Self-Achievable – Goal Can Be Initiated and Maintained by the Person or Group Desiring It. What specifically will you do to achieve this goal?
  • Positive 'By-Products' Preserved – Positive Intentions and Secondary Gains of the Problem State. What positive things, in any way, do you get from your present way of doing things? How will you maintain those things in your new goal?
  • Appropriately Contextualized – Outcome Appropriately Contextualized and Ecologically Sound. Who and what else could reaching this goal affect? Under what conditions would you and would you NOT want to have this outcome?
I have had great success in measuring progress when using this model and it helps me understand clearly what my coachees wish to achieve. In that it allows me to have greater influence as a coach, when guiding them to resources that'll help them achieve their goals.

Monday, November 10, 2008

End of an age

Often in sporting history, you see an age end and a new one begin. Fittingly, that's what happened today. India's most successful cricket captain, the talismanic Sourav Ganguly called it day -- and what a day to choose! India beat Australia convincingly in a test series with Ganguly reclaiming his captaincy one last time, for the last 5 overs of the match. To know that India is now in the hands of another "all-go, no quit" skipper like Dhoni, is a great symbol of how India's cricketing present models its more recent past.

I make no secret of my admiration for Ganguly -- he is my favorite cricketer and regardless of the unsavory remarks that Vengsarkar made about him sometime back, he remains a legend that towers over most of his critics - Vengsarkar included. My memories of watching Sourav date back to 1992 when he against the Windies and scored just 3 runs. Sourav's (now famous) offside drive fetched him his first couple in an international innings. Sourav was infamously dropped thereafter and left in the wilderness for four years, before he came back in 1996. Now 1996 was a great year in Indian sporting history. In the world cup just gone by, Sachin Tendulkar had become the leading run scorer, Leander Paes won us a tennis bronze and Sourav made a charmed debut with a century in his first innings. Being in Calcutta, home to both Paes and Sourav, I was obviously keen to get face to face with these new age celebrities. I was then the editor of my school magazine and I started to call Leander Paes's and Sourav Ganguly's residences asking for interview appointments. While getting through to Leader was easy, getting Sourav was equally difficult. I must have called him a dozen times, only to be greeted by his brother Snehashish each time. All I'd hear was "Sourav's at practice". And why shouldn't he have been! He was working to be part of one of the most destructive opening pairs in Cricket history. My interview with him was not to be and I caught my first glimpse of Sourav many years later at Test match with the West Indies which unfortunately ended in a tame draw.

I have fond memories of watching Sourav: as a fiesty opener in ODI's who scored 120 odd runs in one of India's first successful 300 plus run chases against Pakistan; as a new captain who rubbed South Africa's nose on the ground; as shirt waving Indian in Lords gallery; as a shrewd strategist that frustrated the Ice-man-Steve Waugh; as a wronged servant of the nation when he was dropped; as a player of tough character when he made one of the grittiest comebacks in Indian cricketing folklore; and as a gentle, outgoing senior statesman of the team when he retired today. Its difficult to express in words, the admiration I have for the man and the countless proud sporting moments he's made me privileged to have watched. India owes it to its ex-Captain Courageous for putting it on the overseas cricketing map. I hope we don't forget his contributions, each time we win abroad, each time we fight fire with fire and each time we win hearts for showing the stomach for a fight. As a fan, I bid Sourav farewell in the hope that I will see him back in cricket albeit in a different avatar. Thank you Sourav for your contributions. As a cricket lover, I owe you this tribute.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Getting feedback from your learners

As a trainer, I feel that the feedback we get from learners is often underrated. Given that they are the direct consumers of what we deliver, I enjoy hearing from them what they think of my performance in the classroom. Piggy-backing on what Pat Kua wrote many months back here, I used the following list of questions to ask for feedback off my students.

  • When in class, how have I created a safe environment? What could I have done differently to better this?
  • How did I involve you in class? What would have helped your involvement further?
  • When you've made points in class, do you feel I've listened to you? Tried to understand you?
  • When answering questions, have I provided the clarifications you sought? If yes, then what specifically would you likely me to continue doing? If not, what should I do differently?
  • What things made it easy to understand my sessions ? What would have made it easier?
  • In my role as a trainer, do you think I was very effective or ineffective? Why?
  • What do you see as my greatest strengths in training and/or facilitation? What do you think I could work on?
  • Did I treat you with respect and acknowledge your contributions? How do you think I did this, and if not, what do you recommend I change?
  • How engaged did you feel in my sessions? Did I demonstrate the flexibility to tune the session to the group's needs?
  • Lastly, did I demonstrate a sense of humour and the courage to laugh at myself?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Siva makes faces in the TWU war-room...

Using Mindmaps in classrooms

One of my favorite whiteboarding techniques in training happens to be the mindmap. I use them often and sometimes even indiscriminately. What I usually do, is get two whiteboards together and mindmap across the breadth of both boards. I do often get limited by the number of colours I have at my disposal - whiteboard markers seem to come in just 4 colours (red, blue, green, black), and my own artistic ability, though the sheer radiant nature of the maps more than makes up for it.

What I like about mindmapping in classroom situations is that it helps you retain the context of the current discussion and represents very clearly the chain of thought that the group followed through the session. They not only give you flexibility to adapt your session to the ongoing discussion in class, they also allow you to alter and add points in a flexible manner. The act of drawing up the mindmap itself is greatly enjoyable both for the audience and you as speaker (or so I think from my experience). As a side effect, it provides an instant takeaway for the group -- they can just click a picture and voila, you have session notes!

I think mindmaps are a really useful tool to have in your training inventory and I definitely recommend Tony Buzan's "The Mind Map Book" if you'd like to learn more about this wonderful technique.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sparky's Learning Log

My dog Sparky can now:
  • Spin
  • Rollover
  • Catch
  • Play dead
  • High 5
  • Shake
  • Bow
  • Crawl (GI Joe)
  • Put his feet up (not beg)
  • Jump when asked

More useful stuff he can do:
  • Sit
  • Go Down
  • Come when called
  • Stay
  • Heel
  • Wait at the door/ road/ gate

Here are a few things he's working on:
  • Lick
  • Kiss
  • Touch
  • Tracking
  • Scooby Doo
  • Beg
  • Wave
  • Fetch (he does this often - but is temperamental with it)

These are a few things I might teach him later:
  • Limp
  • Walk on two legs
  • Stand on my back

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Using Videos in Training

My experiences with training have put me into interactions with various people, who I've either worked with or have expressed an opinion to me. I sometimes agree and I mostly have an opinion of my own. As always, I have an opinion -- this time about the use of videos in training. Videos, I believe are a great tool to when used smartly. This said, I often see videos being used as time-fillers or as a substitute for linear, non-interactive lecture. As it turns out, a video being a linear format in itself is not really any different from a non-interactive lecture.

There are a few things I like to take care of, when running a video in class:

  • do I have a set of key learnings that you expect to get out of the video?
  • do students have something to observe, and watch out for when watching the video?
  • do you have a debrief planned to wrap up learnings from the video?

I also find it useful to think if a video is really necessary. Could that be replaced by a low tech activity? Or by a facilitated discussion or an interactive lecture? Given my experience of training in environments with no electricity, I tend to err on the side of being low tech. It gives the trainer the flexibility to run the session regardless of the environment in which he's conducting the session. More importantly it reduces the setup requirements for your training and allows you to conveniently forget your laptop and your projector!

Entertainment in Training

Many times i hear observers measuring the success of a training session by the entertainment it provides and really, how entertained they felt. What this often results in, is a session that gets tweaked to provide fun as against great value. To me an activity in a training program must be informational and provide some value to the attendees. A fun activity that doesnt provide enough value is what I call "fun for the sake of fun".

I also like to measure the success of a session based on the following:

  • did the objectives get achieved - fully, partially or not at all?
  • did the students seem engaged?
  • did the session allow for stimulation every 10 minutes or so? (if not, think of redesign to fix this)
  • were there long periods of non-interactive lecture? (if yes, think of redesign to fix this)

Its unfair to evaluate sessions as an outsider without associating yourself with the position of the students. For all you care, a session by design may be intended to be "not entertaining". So for an outsider, the session may seem to be "boring", while it can be extremely engaging for the attendees. To dissociate yourself from the trainees' position and to deem the class as "boring" may sometimes be a tad unfair. To avoid this fundamental attribution error, await feedback from the students to understand if your assumption was indeed true.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Teaching your dog to "Sit"

The first command most people would want to teach their dog, is the "Sit". This is one of the simpler commands to teach and forms the base of a lot of the obedience training you will do with your pet.

I've tried to explain this with a set of Back of the Napkin style pictures as you will see below.

Step 1:

Now, the above picture is quite self explanatory. There's a good reason why you need to use a firm tone of voice -- it establishes your role as the Alpha and illustrates your confidence. Its also a way to avoid the dog from interpreting your command otherwise. Remember the dog doesnt understand your words; it merely recognizes the tone.

Step 1 (Situation dependent):

Some dogs dont react to the treat being held over their head. In such cases the above step is applicable. Most dogs would react to the situation described in the previous picture and automatically sit in anticipation of the treat.

Step 2:

I'd like to talk about the concept of markers here for a while. A marker, such as the sound of a clicker or you saying "Yes!" each time your dog does "the right thing" is used to acknowledge appropriate behaviour. Remember to be consistent with your markers! i.e. Dont say "Yes!" once and "Hurray" the next time. Markers also help you build the bond with your dog as it starts to identify you as a fair person (who rewards when the behaviour is appropriate). The key to setting markers is to use them as soon as the right behaviour occurs. In our case, its when the dog's butt touches the ground.

Step 3:

The final step is one that should never be neglected. This is where you reward the dog by giving it one or more of the following:

  • toy (for dog's with a strong play drive);
  • food (for dog's with a strong food drive);
  • praise (give loads of it - dog's can sense the encouragement in your voice);

Remember that when petting - pet gently! Its very easy for a dog to get over excited and lose focus if you subject it to heavy petting.

Repeat this over and over again and you'll have an expert sitter. Remember to do this under distracting conditions as well and once you're sure the dog knows what to do, give it a correction if it errs. Lastly, do keep in mind the Leerburg rule of 30 - a dog needs to perform an action 30 to 40 times to internalize and learn it. So repeat, reinforce and reward.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sparky's Matrimonial Pic -- ha ha!

Is this my favorite photo of Sparky's? Actually maybe. For a dog that won't stay still, the "Down, Stay!" command is ideal to click a photo.

Training your dog - assessing temperament and personality

Its been about seven months since I started training my dog and I thought this might be a good time for me to start sharing some of the basic knowledge I've gained about dog training. I often hear other dog owners saying that certain breeds or dogs of certain ages/sex/size are trained differently from others. This is really far from the truth. The fact is that the principles for dog training (and really all animal training) remain the same (consistency, repetition, recognition, correction) and the variation in your approach depends not on breed or age or sex or size, but on the drive and temperament of your dog. Its important that you determine the following:

  • Is your dog driven (motivated) by toys (Play drive) or food (Food drive)? Is he somewhere in between? Does he need a combination of the two?
  • When given a correction is your dog likely to just give you a stare and get back to what it was doing (hard dog), or does it shut down completely and slink into a corner (soft dog)?
  • Lastly, is your dog weak nerved? eg: apprehensive of strangers, new environments, easily scared. Or is it strong nerved? eg: seeks new smells/ sounds, is calm towards strangers and quite unflappable.

Think of your dog's temperament/ personality as a combination of these factors measured on a set of sliders. If you can get to understand your dog using these parameters, you can tailor your training experience to suit your pet. Your pet's drive determines what tools you use in training to motivate it. Its correction response will tell you the kind of corrections you need to give it when in training and lastly, its nerves will tell you whether you need to maintain a routine or create novelty in your training sessions.

I hope to be writing more about my experiences over the next few months. Sparky -- my lab is a dog with a strong food drive and tends to be a hard dog with weak nerves. For those of you who believe that training your dog is a chore or are avoiding getting one for the trouble you consider training to be; remember that training dogs generally tends to fun and is a great mental stimulation in itself. Its been a learning experience for me in the last few months and I am sure it'll be the same for anyone that's starting up around about now.

Friday, September 05, 2008

New Retrospective Activity - "Eye on the future"

Today, Jaggu and I spent some time debating the best retro format for a team that was taking some learning from a training program and was about to apply it onto a simulation. We were partly dissatisfied with previous activities we'd used, and on the other hand we also wanted to try our hand at something new. Since I was feeling inventive, I came up with a new Retrospective activity - "Eye on the future".

We tried the activity with great success in the retro that Jaggu was running; as did Rohith Rajagopal/ Siva Jagadeesan in the other retro that was running at the same time and apparently Pat Sarnacke tried this out in an end of release retro as well. So it looks like my friends have taken to my invention quite happily.

Coming to the activity; this constitutes dividing your whiteboard/ flipchart into 3 sections as the picture illustrates. The section on the left (illustrated by a book) signifies Learnings; the section on the right (illustrated by the delta) indicate things that the team will do differently and lastly the section at the bottom (illustrated by the cross) which indicates items that the team wishes to avoid. Pat phrased the purpose of each of these sections a little differently for the end of release retro that he was running. The rest of the format is pretty similar to other retros - brainstorm on stickies, group them, vote and decide on actions.

What I really liked about this activity was the fact that this very easily brought out action items for the team that they could carry forward to their next task at hand. I can easily see this as a roll off retro, an end of training retro, an end of release retro and I am guessing this could be an effective one to run when time is short and yet we wish to come out with tangible/ practical outputs from the time alloted to the retro.

If you decide to run this activity for your next retro and need help, please feel free to email me and ask and I'll be happy to assist. Do let me know your experiences with this cuz I'm eager to hear about them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Simple graphics for classroom use

I like many other fellow trainers, have at some point of time believed, "I cant draw even if my life depended on it." As it turns out, the job demands that at on occasions I demonstrate my limited artistic ability when creating flipcharts, explaining concepts, etc. I usually end up drawing stick figures or extremely simple drawings when I do this and generally they turn out to be quite effective.

I spent some time this evening trying to create some simple pictures that trainers can use in class when the need comes by. You can see above the result of the exercise. This didnt take me much time and while I know that the above set doesnt represent a complete toolkit in anyway, I found that making this brought out the child in me. I hope even practicing such simple sketches will help some of my fellow trainers feel more competent when drawing to teach.

Disclaimer: I havent labelled the pictures in the belief that "a picture speaks a thousand words"; though this could be a result of my undeserved faith in my own artistic ability (or the lack of it).

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Marketeer in Arabia

When teaching a new session yesterday, I had to run an exercise that would bring out the Platinum Rule. I somehow got the feeling that it might be difficult to bring that learning out. I decided to keep a trick up my sleeve, which I eventually used. It was this story that I told of a marketeer who was to design an ad campaign for a soft drink in an Arabian country. He decided to design the ad campaign as a story he told in pictures. See below:

Arab and his camel, walking tired in the desertArab and his camel drinking the colaArab, camel and sun happy and now at an oasis

Now, the marketeer was obviously pleased with his brilliant effort and expected his sales to treble. So he waited for the figures to come in and to his utter dismay his sales had reduced by half.

What had gone wrong?
Arabians read from right to left!! (Try seeing what that does!)

Whats the moral of the story?

The meaning of your communication is the response you get!
Platinum Rule: Communicate with others as they would like you to communicate with them! :-D

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Lotus Notes 8.5 beta

Aah! While I still dont enjoy using Notes, I dont mind it as much. The new interface is pretty enough and far more usable than the previous one.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

An absurd Kinng

Is Akshay Kumar Bollywood's most sale-able star? Yes! Is Katrina Kaif really the most beautiful woman alive?Absolutely! Is Singh is Kinng a great movie? Hell no!

I'd read some really great reviews of Singh is Kinng and now I think to myself -- what were the reviewers smoking? Now, don't get me wrong; Singh is Kinng has its moments of fun and if anything Akshay Kumar stands out with his comic timing and screen presence. This said, its nothing different from other Vipul Shah flicks that draw their laughs from absolute absurdity and nothing else. In that, every movie that Vipul Shah has produced after the Amitabh-Rampal-Akshay-Rawal-Sush starrer Aankhein has disappointed me not because they haven't been funny, but because they might have as well been animated movies with the kind of absurd situations they used to create humour.

So well, Singh is Kinng is the strange tale of a bumbling Sikh, Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar) who travels to Australia to bring back to his village, Lucky Singh (Sonu Sood) who incidentally is the self styled "Kinng" of the crime world in Australia. As in most Hindi comedies, this is where the director creates pandemonium by inserting situations that are unrealistic, to say the least. I'll save myself the torture of going through the script here.

I dont have much to write home about with this movie. Watch it if you have few hours to while away. I must say you wont be bored in that time, though I will suggest better use of your time anyway!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Best Superhero movie ever? - oh yeah!

Someone told me that "The Dark Knight" is the best superhero movie ever. I believe him. Christopher Nolan pulls off an incredible tale that just ups the ante for forthcoming movies about men in tights. I've rarely liked Batman movies especially because of the silly portrayal of the villains and lack of credibility. Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were those that I especially detested. Christopher Nolan, however has changed the face of Batman to be meaningful, gripping cinema.

You dont find it strange that Batman is tired of playing vigilante; you dont find it strange that he wants to hand over the mantle to a hero with a face; you dont find it strange that he is upset about losing his lady love; you dont find it strange that the Joker doesnt wish to kill Batman since he completes him; it isnt strange the way Harvey Dent discovers his split personality; it isnt strange that he wishes to decide things at the flip of a coin. The movie is lifelike and flawless and I could keep going on with the examples.

Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart all excel in whats the most gripping bat-tale ever (at least for me). I was almost embarrassed I hadnt watched this movie yet. If you havent you must.

Bachna ae Haseeno is definitely watchable

(I am watching 3 movies over this long Independence Day weekend so dont be surprised if this starts to look like a movie blog!)
If I said I was being forced by my wife to watch Bachna Ae Haseeno, I must apologize to her. While she did insist on watching this movie, her insistence was well deserved. Now all of you movie connosieurs shouldnt get me wrong. The movie isn't and will never be the critics' favorite. This said, if you've never watched a Bollywood movie before and you wish to know how it usually is -- watch this one!.

In very few words, Bachna Ae Haseeno is a movie about a guy called Raj who meets three girls at three separate stages of his life -- dumps two and is dumped by the third, and realizes how it hurts when you're heartbroken. He promptly sets about on a tour across Amritsar, Delhi, Mumbai, Capri and Rome to seek forgiveness from the damsels he'd dumped. And when he successfully returns to Sydney, he's in for a great surprise!

Now that isn't a great story, but when did Yash Raj Films ever do meaningful cinema? Watch this movie if you want 75 minutes of wacky humor, followed by another 75 minutes of Yash Raj chocalaty-cheesiness! Now at this point I must make a special mention of Ranbir Kapoor. Move over Shahrukh -- here's our new chocolate boy. Bachna Ae Haseeno is Ranbir's movie through and through. He displays tremendous screen presence, a remarkable dancing style, incredible comic timing and the ability to ham which is invaluable if you want to survive in Bollywood. Rarely have I seen a newcomer display such amazing Bollywood traits in just his second movie. And how can I forget the girls -- Bipasha Basu (wooh baby.... sluuurp) is very bit the diva we've made her out to be. If there's a stand out lady in the movie, its her! I must say the other girls did a reasonable job, though I thought Deepika's performances seemed extremely rigid and rehearsed. But who cares? She has just 15-20 minutes of the movie!

All in all, I'll say that you must watch Bachna Ae Haseeno for the pure cheesiness and the bubblegummy nature of the movie. Its meaningless fun, but its fun all the same. Its 150 minutes of great entertainment and I while I guess you wont rave about the movie, you wont regret buying the ticket either.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cooking Meen Moily

I love cooking on weekends. I tried my hand at Meen Moily today. Its an incredible dish of a million contradictions, subtly flavored to suit most palates. Let me tell you how this is made.


  • 1 tsp mustard seeds;
  • 1 onion - thinly sliced;
  • 1 tbsp ginger slices;
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste;
  • 1 tomato, chopped into large pieces;
  • 4 slit green chillies;
  • a dozen curry leaves;
  • coconut milk - a cup of thin extract and another cup of a thick extract;
  • 250 gms of seer/ pomfret/ mackrel/ tilapia/ snapper fish;
  • juice of half a lemon;
  • 2 tbsp of turmeric

The history of the Fish Moily as I know it, is extremely interesting. As most people would know, the cuisine of Kerala is very rich in spices and extremely hot! Many years back when the Portugese came to God's own country, they were served an extremely spicy dish that they found too hot to handle. This is when Moily, a local lady added coconut milk to the dish to make the dish palatable for the foreigners. There started the legend of Meen (Fish) Moily.

Cooking Instructions:

Coming back to recipe, the first step is to marinate the fish. This is extremely simple - apply a tbsp of turmeric, the lemon juice and some salt to the fish and put it away for 30 minutes. Remember to create incisions if you're using whole fish, so that the marinade and later the curry seeps in.

Once you're ready to start cooking, heat a tbsp of oil and crackle the mustard seeds and the chillies. Follow this up with the ginger, garlic and curry leaves and finally the onions. As soon as the onions start to become translucent add a tbsp of turmeric and let the color sink into the masala. This is the base for your curry. Wait until the onions gets translucent and add the thin extract of coconut milk. Its important that the thin extract goes first, since coconut milk has a tendency to curdle and the thinner the extract, the better. Drop the fish into this curry and ensure that the curry gets into the incisions you'd made earlier. Place a lid on the pan and let the curry simmer for about 5-7 mins, so that fish can cook. Remember fish is a bit of a sweet meat so its important that you don't overcook it. Once the fish is cooked, add the thick extract of coconut milk, stir for a few seconds and top up the curry with the tomatoes. Leave the curry to simmer for just one more minute, before you get it off the flame. Fish Moily is best enjoyed with rice, Appams, or home made dosas. As you will notice this is a really simple dish to cook (as are most Indian dishes) and takes no time to get to the table. An ideal recipe to impress the wife and to take credit for what will be a sumptuous meal!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

TWU Bangalore Tour

Pictures from the TWU Monsoon 2008 Bangalore Tour are up here ->

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting older (wiser)?

I turned 27 yesterday and for many reasons its a birthday I will find difficult to forget. For one it fell on the day of the serial blasts at Bangalore. It has been followed by the serial blasts at Ahmedabad - one of which shockingly, has taken place in the trauma ward of a hospital. I also lost my forthcoming baby as my wife suffered a missed abortion. While I know these are circumstances beyond my control, I find it unfortunate that the day when I was celebrating my presence in the world coincided and was followed by a personal mishap and some very cowardly actions. Its going to be a memory that will take some time to fade away.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Support Functions - Careers in a growing organisation

There's a rule of thumb that you'd often hear - stick to a growing organisation and you'll grow too. While this is true for billable roles, this often may be complex in case of those skilled in support functions. I was recently reading Saager's post about Versatilists. Now while organizations should be looking to hire Versatilists for all roles, traditionally support functions haven't grown people to the Versatilist standard. I've been thinking about how organizations can encourage employees in internal roles to be Versatilists.

Most organizations formally or informally classify employees under role bands. These role bands could be indicative of salary, breadth of impact, prestige in the organization, career positioning, etc. Lets try to name these bands:
  • A (Executive) - Performs a set of functions that are limited to a particular functional area. Over a period of time, people in this role can generalize solutions to certain problems. For example - Recruiters, Administrators, Tech Support Personnel, Employee Relations Personnel, etc

  • B (Specialist/Small Team Leader) - Performs a set of functions at a high degree of specialization and can usually be in an internal consultative role for team-mates. In specific situations, a person in this role can be called upon to be a leader for small teams.

  • C (Generalists/ Large Team Leaders) - Displays exposure across a variety of functions and has the emotional intelligence to lead large teams. In specific situations that require management skills, this person could provide consultative support and could handle expectations of the organization for responsibilities delegated to his/ her team.

  • D (Strategists/ Functional Leaders) - These people should ideally be capable of handling a generalist profile, and should demonstrate the potential to provide strategic direction for the function that they lead. This person should be able to evaluate the organisation's plans for a given period of time and be able to break it down into actionable projects for his/ her function.

Now pardon me if I am making naive assumptions here - this is purely my observation and not a result of any focused studies in organisational development. That said, I've spent time in three separate organisations with very different cultures and business models, and my observations stem from what I've seen there.

Coming back to being versatile, the challenge that support personnel face is the wide range of work "support" could mean - admin, human resources, infrastructure management, marketing, sales, etc. Now consider a Recruiting Manager moving into a Sales Lead role. When it comes to providing leadership and doing all the good things that a leader should do, maybe this person wouldnt have any trouble. Then again when it comes to learning the nuances of being a capable salesman, this person may need some mentorship. Given this, it becomes easy for an organization to say that this person "needs to start from scratch". While it may seem fair to say this when looking at the problem from A perspective, it may not be the right thing from the perspective of the protagonist (in this case, the Recruiting Manager). In this case, the Recruiting Manager has all the skills/ competencies that he/ she needs to be able to manage expectations, lead people, provide visibility to the organisation -- the skills that he/ she needs to learn are about the art of sales itself. Given this, how fair is it to ask this person to take a couple of steps backward in his/ her career and start at role band A? Similarly, lets say an IT manager wishes to move into a Project Manager role in consultancy firm, would it be fair to say that this person needs to begin at a role band A, simply because that person doesnt have consultancy experience? Or is it important for the organisation to support this person in his pursuit of being versatilist, by providing mentorship on a small offshore project and then moving him/ her into an independent position?

This is obviously a dilemma for most organisations, especially when operating margins are low and we see a shift towards small, high performing teams. A competency based approach to role definition could perhaps be a systematic solution to such problems. I have often found that separating behavioural competencies from technical competencies often helps a lot. When adopting this approach, its important that role bands are defined on the basis of behavioural competencies and not technical. It should be left to different departments to define technical competencies beside each role band. Therefore when looking for growth options it becomes easy for employees and the organization to look for possible alternative roles. Lets consider the following example

Recruiting ManagerSales Manager
Behavioural CompetenciesCommon to bothCommon to both
Technical CompetenciesSpecific to the role (could have an overlap)Specific to the role (could have an overlap)

Now depending on the individual's ability to learn and adapt, the organization and the employee can choose a role that has less or more overlap, without having to take a step backward in his/ her career. Here's what this approach could do for an organisation:
  • Increase the number of Versatilists in all functions - as a consequence look at a huge pool of multi-skilled, swiss knife like people.
  • Increase job satisfaction for those stagnating in a particular function/ profile and thereby increasing retention and lowering recruitment (rehiring) and onboarding costs.
  • Ensure that leadership capabilities are not lost in the pursuit of providing job enrichment.

Once again, I must point out that this rant isn't a consequence of any focused study of human resource development, but more a consequence of my observation and resultant views about the topic. I find it funny sometimes, how complicated career advancement models can end up being, with different measures for compensation, role prestige and growth. Its unfortunate (though undoubtedly practical), that organisations have to choose to define career options for billable functions first and support functions usually end up being second class citizens of the corporate world. I hope though, that organisations also recognise that both these functions share a symbiotic relationship and despite the visible importance of the former, neither can exist without each other.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Teacher Training - my beliefs

Training is something I feel very passionately about and I realize that I of all the things I do, I enjoy my time in a classroom the most. In recent years my interest has primarily been teacher training. Having trained first time trainers that were pushed into the role; moving on to training lecturers in a room with no electricity and then coming back to train subject matter experts with a passion for training; I've come a full circle with this interest. I still ask myself a few questions about what "every trainer should know". I've often faced the dilemma of what's too little or too much and I've realized a few things that Teacher training is about:

  • Methodology over Content;
  • Thinking beyond Techniques;
  • Pre-Exposition;
  • Reflection

Methodology over Content: When training trainers, I've realised that sometimes its not the content that is as important, but the method you use to pre-expose, present and teach it. On separate occasions, I've used extremely simple, elementary content to demonstrate different teaching techniques and I've found it useful to invite some critical commentary on the method right after.

Thinking beyond Techniques
: One of the things I always think teacher trainers should urge their students to do, is think beyond the techniques presented. I've run Facilitation Skills Workshops purely based on my reading and my own limited experience. That said I believe that the collective experience of the group could potentially overshadow my own, provided they can attune themselves to "Facilitation Mindset". Once this happens, people can usually come up with their own techniques and my tricks remain just a part of their inventory. To me that means believing:

  • there's no failure only feedback;
  • every action's preceded by a positive intention;
  • people already possess all the resources that they need -- a trainer/ coach/ mentor only needs to guide them to a resourceful state;
  • there are no unresourceful people - only unresourceful states;
  • if a training goes badly off course a trainer can always bring it back on track and learn a lot in the progress;
  • learning is self driven -- the trainer should be willing to support the process and create the right environment for learning;

Pre-Expostion - I have found that some thinking takes time to anchor and I take the liberty of pre-exposing topics by either placing pointers on flipcharts or making introductory, exploratory and culminating references over a period of time. By introducing the topic early and revisiting it at relevant sections, I've progressively anchored some thoughts that I'd have otherwise found difficult to explain (and make them stick with) to the new trainers.

Reflection - A Teacher Training course isn't meant to take noob trainers from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence. I've often found that depending on the duration, the stage you achieve is between Conscious Incompetence and Conscious Competence. Given this, its important that aspiring trainers spend time reflecting on the day's activities and ask themselves:

  • What did I learn?
  • How was the content presented?
  • What teaching methods did I find interesting?
  • What are the mechanics of these methods?
  • What should I plan to do differently?

While this isn't all that you need to consider when training new trainers, its a set of guidelines that has helped me prepare for every new workshop and refine my approach to building training capability. I am still learning and I hope in time, I can do a progressively better job at this.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Strange Rendering in Firefox

I just started using Firefox 3.0 today and while I am impressed by all the new bells and whistles, I am less than pleased with the way it renders the ThoughtWorks website. Take a look! I wonder what the problem is?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Using Visual Aids in Training - Flipcharts vs Powerpoint

One of the training tools that I find extremely powerful, yet grossly underutilized are flipcharts. I have a huge bias towards flipcharts and whiteboards as opposed to Powerpoint/ Keynote/ Impress (I will refer to this group of tools as Powerpoint for want of a better term in my vocabulary) for two reasons:

1) Flipcharts are low tech and can be used for delivery in a variety of training environments; especially those with limited equipment. For eg: I've trained in University environments with limited or no electricity supply and flipcharts really come in handy in such situations

2) The second reason is simply the issue of learner experience and I am perhaps going to spend some time elaborating my thoughts about this. I hear a lot of arguments in favor of Powerpoint is that "its a visual tool". Yes it is; but not one thats always apt in a training environment. I completely appreciate the use of Powerpoint in presentations where the idea is to get across information and not really to transfer or reinforce learning. That said, in a learning environment, if Powerpoint slides with a lot of text on them are your only visual tools, you should be concerned about the effectiveness of your learning experience. There are a few reasons for this.

When we as trainers build a flip chart based on discussions in class, it provides a strong visual anchor for the shared learning that the group arrives at. When building a flipchart I usually gesture as if I am collecting information from the class and place that on chart itself. This, I observe helps students connect better to the learning they've contributed to. On the other hand, a Powerpoint presentation is a static experience that you cant alter in class. A lot of Powerpoint delivery is aimed at conveying facts as against building shared understanding; which pretty much kills the whole aim of generative discussion.

When you extend this to a course that runs for multiple days; a Powerpoint presentation from the first day, is an experience that is long forgotten by your audience, by the third day. On the other hand if as a facilitator you've been able to build a flipchart with the class and you can place that summary on one of the walls, it provides a strong visual anchor for students to rock back into the previous experience and recollect the shared understanding you've arrived at.

I understand that a lot of trainers use Powerpoint presentations as prompts for their delivery. Often the reason not to use flipcharts is that we don't remember the diagrams or flowcharts that we wish to put up on the chart. Here's a tip -- Use one of the top corners to draw a small and light pencil sketch of what you wish to finally put up on the chart. Your students will not be able to see this and you can also provide the dynamic experience you're trying to create.

I must say that I've seen some intelligent use of presentations in training as well; especially the Takahashi style. I find this a lot more visual than slides with multiple lines of text. These are good placeholders for conversation and don't reduce your training session to just reading from slides.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Leaving home for home

Through circumstances I got displaced to Bangalore for work. Now while my immediate family is in Bangalore, Pune is really my home. I leave Pune yet again to go back to my Bangalore home. I hate this; I really do. At some point, I'd like to come back to Pune and never return. Its no fun to leave home; especially if its Bangalore you're going to.

Using Perceptual Positions

I often use the NLP Perceptual Positions technique to help think about confrontational situations. When doing this, I've enjoyed visualizing the confrontation as if it were being played in front of me on a huge movie screen. By making the experience larger than life, I drop a strong multidimensional anchor that makes me respond to reality in a better fashion.

One of the techniques that I've also found useful in the domain of associated and dissociated experiences is the Meta-Mirror from Robert Dilts. The Meta Mirror adds a fourth position to the perceptual positions pattern. Dilts proposes that the subject assumes a fourth position to evaluate the observations of the third position. So, if in the third position, say you're angry with you in the first position then switch the reactions of the third position and the first -- which is to say that in the resulting state the first position is angry with the person in the second position. Evaluating the second position after this is usually desirable. I've often seen this panning into a much more desirable representation of the perceived confrontation. While I've had varying levels of success with this, its partially because I'm still so much a learner with NLP. I am sure with time I can be a more effective user of my own mind.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Freedom or Openness?

I notice even from my previous post, that I use the terms "Open Source" and "Free Software" interchangeably. While I am a very practical person and completely agree with the practicalities of the term Open Source; but when I spent some time thinking of why I started using GNU/Linux as my primary OS in the first place, (I've switched to a Mac now, I know) I wonder if we're fast losing the context and the bigger purpose of having software that allows us to look under the hood. Richard Stallman's been one of my idols for as long as I can remember - I even have a portrait of him in my room!

Being a defaulter myself, I cant be prescriptive about the term to use but if you've been using FOSS, then please do spend some time pondering over the Essential Freedoms.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Inclusivity vs Equality

At ThoughtWorks one of our values is Social Responsibility. It gives me great pride to recognise some of the work we do outside the company to make a difference in the smallest or the biggest ways that we can. That said, as most children raised in good old Indian families will tell you, I've always believed that "Charity begins at home.". Which is why I feel more drawn towards things like recruiting exceptional women; or Roy's vision of having more African Americans in the firm; or recruiting exceptional knowledge workers with disability. And while I know that while this could be repeating myself to the extent of sounding stupid; I think as an organization, we dont do as much internally as we try to do externally.

Now these are my views and I could be extremely naive to miss some really obvious considerations, but there are two definite areas that I feel we could do much better in:

a) Encouraging more Indian women to contribute to Open Source projects: Now, traditionally Indian ThoughtWorker women havent been great contributors to Open Source projects. A part of me wants to compare the general TW India women population to that of the men and wonder what's different. I'd like to believe that its definitely not the talent or the passion but more the social orientation of women in Indian society. Traditionally, Indian girls or women are expected to be back home at a reasonable hour, either because their parents get worried or because they have responsibilities back home or because late office hours and the return back home from there is simply not safe enough. This puts Indian girls at a serious disadvantage as compared to men. Now one can argue that a high speed Internet connection at home should solve the problem. Yeah right; but not if you've got to help mom make chappatis or if you have a seven month old kid thats bickering away. Being a woman in an Indian household isnt easy.

What can TW do?: Now this is pure conjecture and again I dont mind if this is dismissed if I am not making the right assumptions. Can we offer to given Indian women paid time to work on Open Source projects? How about you can work just six hours a day on a billable project if you contribute the remaining time to an Open Source project of your choice? With the thoughts that are in my mind right now, I'd like to think that this would make a world of difference in helping Indian women take ThoughtLeadership. More women could see women contributing to OpenSource; more women could get passionate about technology by looking up to role models they can identify with; more women can be ThoughtWorkers; more women can help us in our small mission - to revolutionize the software industry. If not anything, as an Indian society we owe this to our women, and in that offers like these could greatly support our value of Social Responsibility.

b) The second area I'd like to think about is supporting people with disabilities. In my experience I've met multiple people with disabilities who are exceptional at the work they do. All they need is an inclusive work environment. Now I'd like to take a pause at this. I've heard a lot of arguments about "treat them equally". Unfortunately, what many of us need to realise is that creating inclusivity is the first step to create equality. For eg: asking women to work late hours and having them fend for themselves when it comes to going back home. "Well, men go home by themselves; we consider women to be equals so they should be able to go home by themselves too!" Well, that to me is lame. Women traditionally have been victims to assault, rape, snatching and men haven't. To turn a blind eye to that isn't equality. To be able to safeguard against that risk and providing the support to do so is a step towards creating equality. ThoughtWorks India has done some amazing work with Kilikili to create inclusive playing spaces for children with disabilities. I'd like us to be able to create inclusive work spaces for potential employees with disability. This includes having restrooms that people with disability can use; this includes creating ramps to enter buildings where we have offices (if there isnt one already); this also includes providing the support to get to office and back home and to training venues. Its important that this is looked at from the perspective of creating equality and not as special treatment. India is an extremely inaccessible country if you're disabled. As ThoughtWorks, if we can provide that bit of extra support, we truly support our purpose of being "a home for the best knowledge workers."

Disclaimer: These views are mine alone and in no way are a reflection of what the company does. I could be making wrong assumptions and naive suggestions. None of this should be taken as gospel. These are just my thoughts of what I think ThoughtWorks could do to support its value of Social Responsibility.

Sarkar Raj is good watch

After having read a rather uncomplimentary review of Sarkar Raj, I was a bit circumspect about watching the movie. But then my good old Indian sensibility kicked in - "...after all if I've purchased the ticket, I must watch the movie!" And I must say, I haven't been disappointed. Yes admittedly, the extreme closeups of men, coffee cups, rings and what not makes the movie difficult to watch, ye t the plot is gripping and keeps you interested right till the end. The movie does finish in a hurry though and a few parts are a bit difficult to believe; but then that's Indian cinema aint it?

RGV keeps the plot tightly woven, and reaches a logical conclusion in the movie (keeping the prospect of another sequel open); though I wish he'd used the support cast; especially Sayaji Shinde and Victor Banerjee better. All in all, the sequel worthy of the original and do watch it especially if you liked Sarkar. My industry eyes see a hit - after all like in the 80's; if a Bacchan dies, the movie's a hit!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Does the new Bangalore airport suck? Yes Sir!

The Bangalore International Airport has created in me a great fear for traveling. I left home at 1300 and reached my place in Pune @1900. My ordeal began when I left home. Rs 711 to travel for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon was just the start. It took me 40 minutes to check in (the photograph is evidence of the long queues that you can expect to see at the airport). This compared to the HAL airport, where I have spent not more than 6-7 minutes for a check-in. The Wi-Fi doesnt work, the aerobridges are not functional, the restrooms are dirty and poorly maintained (and even broken in places) and most importantly the airport isnt much bigger than the old one - so I wonder if this is more a problem than a solution. All that the AAI has done is increase commuter woes, while doing nothing to solve the issue of increasing air traffic.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The IPL's over

Last ball finish to a really exciting tournament; I guess the best you can ask for. Chennai pretty much dug their own grave with some sloppy fielding and by giving out extras at critical junctures and Rajasthan pretty much deserved to win, having been the stand out team throughout the league.

Its a coincidence that I heard Ravi Shastri saying something silly at the T20 World cup final - I remember it to be "India have won the TT world cup". Today he kept saying multiple times, "DLF IPL League". Ravi, IPL = Indian Premier League. When you say IPL League, you're effectively saying Indian Premier League League. Surely, having been a commentator for years, you know this makes little sense.:-)

How many objectives can a training session cover?

My favorite NLP presuppositions are:

  • People respond to their experience, not to reality itself
  • We already have all the resources we need or we can create them
  • If you want to understand, act.

These form the basis of my approach to teaching and what we call "experiential learning". A statement I've often heard in trainer discussions is - "But they need to know ____ as well!" This has often led me to think of whether there is a limit to the learning we can realistically transfer within a training session.

When I started off as a trainer, I was told that if you formulate learning objectives in the S (Situation), A (Action), R (measurable Result) format, then considering that your learners are unconsciously incompetent; to be able to raise their awareness to conscious competence, you should assign no more than 3-5 learning objectives to every 120 minutes of training. The number of objectives that you select would definitely depend on the complexity of the skill and the prior experience of the audience, but I've found this to be a good rule of thumb to follow.

This may seem like a very modest expectation from training, however I've observed from my experience that courses that are any more ambitious than this, invariably require continuous rework and are always in a state of flux. I have a couple of tips for anyone who's looking at designing new training:

  • Follow the SAR pattern to writing learning objectives. This is quite similar to the Given, When, Then format of writing Acceptance Criteria. For eg. lets consider a possible objective for Interview Skills

    Situation - In an interview
    Action - observe eye accessing cues, language and gestures
    Result - state an evaluation of whether the candidate is lying or not.

  • Once you have a list of possible objectives, sort them in descending order of importance. Agree this with another stakeholder, preferably the sponsor of the course.

  • Try to make a mental map of how many of these objectives you will be able to cover during the session through discussion and by modeling reality. Remember "telling-aint-teaching".

  • Set aside the objectives that seem to be unrealistic in light of the previous step. Remember to be flexible with this list as you progress with the the design and development of the session. Be sure to include the sponsor when deciding trade-offs.

  • When designing the session, include hooks to the unfulfilled objectives, to arouse your students curiosity about the topic. Ensure that you link to self study resource for those interested, so that the unfulfilled objectives can be achieved by those that demonstrate an interest.

  • Make sure you account for training downtime, such as questions, stretch breaks, minor off-topic discussions, difficult situations to facilitate when writing and sequencing

I expect resistance to this method, especially in strong hierarchical organizations, where most of the directives come from "above". One of the ways to mitigate this risk is to actively include the business user that expresses the initial training need and to use your training consultant hat to explain the perspectives surrounding each trade off. In my experience as a trainer, I've seen the expectation of a "training magic wand" being all too prevalent, where businesses are naive enough to expect 3 hours of training to cure a skill gap that could have been built over years. Including sponsors and business users in the design of your training solution ensures that the focus towards follow up actions, such as coaching or e-learning doesn't disappear.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is happiness an overrated term?

I write this as an extremely personal post and I apologize if you stumbled on this expecting something better than emotional rant. Its quite reflective of my state of mind. Happiness - I have thought about this before and it seems to be a very overrated word. Why overrated? Because we seem to make it such a difficult thing to get. We try to devise theories around it and imagine numerous ways to get to it. But truly, happiness is just a state of mind. While influenced by the things you have and the relationships you build, you could still have happiness without all of these.

This may sound very cliche and frankly I don't know if I am even saying the right things, but sometimes I look at my life; the routines I've put myself into and often I see myself and others to be victims of a cluttered mind. I see us either brooding over a past which we cant change or awaiting a future that we cant predict. And often so many of us postpone happiness because of an event that's occurred which perhaps means that we "shouldnt be happy" or because we expect an event that'd "make us happy". I wonder how many moments of happiness I've lost in life trying to chase these pipe dreams, when all I should have done was follow my bliss; when I've always known that the only time I can surely be happy is NOW.

I make this resolve to myself very often - that I'd seek happiness; that I'd seek out my smile no matter the situation, but I have also been guilty of not standing by my resolve. I sometimes think of everything in my life; my passion for teaching, my love of the outdoors, the pleasures of reading, the thrill of visiting new places, meeting new people, seeing new cultures; and the beautiful moments that I have had with my parents, my friends, my dog (!) and I wonder how those moments of sadness even made their way into my life.

And that brings me to a few overloaded words - responsibility, commitment, relationships. What good is responsibility if it weighs you down? What good is a commitment if it means you cant do what makes you happy? What good is a relationship if it means that you cant see eye to eye with the other person anymore? Do we still hang on to our relationships, our commitments, our responsibilities? Even if they really have no personal value in the given context? This puzzles me. It puzzles me to think that my life is governed by the strange laws that my society wrote, in a context thats in no way similar to mine.

Somewhere, deep down, there's a young boy who wants to hear his father tell him stories; there's hidden a young man who wants to run; as far as there's nowhere left to go; to be limitless; to be without boundaries; to be loved but not be bothered if there is no love. Somewhere, there's a man who loves time with his dog and his books, because they don't ask for much to bring you happiness. I don't know how many of these people are within me; clamoring for attention. I hear them every morning and every night, but somewhere in hustle bustle of the day they're lost. I know that it'd perhaps be as simple as the click of a finger (in fact I' sure), but as I said it could be me making it difficult. Who knows... maybe I'll know soon...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How real is a training simulation?

In my training career, one of the wishes I've seen a lot of professionals express is; "I want the training to be as close to reality as possible". While I appreciate the intent, its often important to understand that there are various reasons why a training environment should not model reality a 100%. Here's why I think so:

a) A "real" environment generally has a mix of experienced and inexperienced individuals. Trying to mimic that environment with a group of inexperienced folks does NOT model reality.

Note: A simulation is meant to be a ground to fail fast and learn from mistakes. The trainer brings in his/ her experience into such an environment through briefs/ debriefs so that students can learn by way of a semi-controlled activity.

b) A "real" environment gives each participant at least some time to prepare/ plan for the activities that follow. When students have no idea of what's coming up, they have no way to either plan or prepare.

Note: To run an effective simulation, the trainer should be willing to do the background work for the students (preparation for client meetings, deciding agenda, collecting material, etc)

c) A "real" environment could at times involve a mix of roles which could potentially be absent in the classroom. In absence of these roles, students could miss out on perspectives they'd usually have during the real situation.

Note: To ensure that students dont miss out on different perspectives, the facilitator should plan the debriefing sessions to point out the areas that students didnt think about. This will help them relate back to the mistakes they made and reinforce their learning.

Things to remember about Simulations:
  • Please, please, please have a plan ON PAPER. Try to have a logical sequence to the activities that you wish to conduct, with enough time for briefing and debriefing.

  • Make yourself available at all times to provide guidance and to facilitate the process.

  • If you have volunteers helping you out in the simulation, make them understand their role and give them enough information to do it exactly the way you'd imagine.

  • Be clear about the learnings you wish to drive out as part of each activity and rehearse how you'd bring these out during the debrief.

  • Please, for heaven's sake, dont take "reality" to the extreme. Always remember, if your students were ready for reality, they wouldn't be in your classroom!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Retrospectives - Deciding Action Items

One of the challenges of facilitating retrospectives in a training environment is that it inadvertently becomes the trainers' prerogative to act on action items. Its useful to remember that retrospectives are for the team and the trainer is just another member in the team. It therefore is important that all learners contribute to improving the learning experience.

Often it so happens that there's just a handful of people keep volunteering to drive action items. One of the tools I find useful to drive out action items is the "Who", "What", "When". I just draw up a flipchart with those headings and try to break up each action item into those fields. As a result, if someone has way too many action items against his/ her name, it shows up. Unrealistic deadlines are immediately visible too. I find this as a useful way to split responsibility and take action items to completion.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Retrospective Smells - When Action Items dont get acted on

As a retrospective facilitator I realise that if action items don't get completed from retro to retro, they can get really frustrating. I've realised that discussion around previous incomplete items can also be a time-sink especially if there's little ownership. A couple of things I like to do as a retrospective facilitator are:
  • Use the SMART acronym to drive out action items (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Boxed) - Its useful to remember that you have perhaps just a week between retros, so sign up only for what you can complete during the week.
  • Dont take the onus of driving the actions yourself. Assign an owner to drive it and decide what observable results the group is looking for.
  • When reviewing the action item, have the owner give an update and see if the group is satisfied. If not, ensure that it doesnt end up being a blame game against the owner and more an exercise to determine why something didn't happen.
  • Remind the group that improvement is a collective goal and there's a shared responsibility towards it.
Its also important to explicitly identify the action items that may be difficult to achieve. It ensures that the group is aware of the challenges that it could face and avoids disappointment in future meetings.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Teaching Software delivery with Play dough

TWU's a fun experience. Today we used play dough to teach students about "Evolutionary requirements and Adaptive Planning" in software delivery. Take a look at the results of the exercise. Of course you dont see the next gen, Pizza phone!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Articulate - A quick, lean, rapid elearning content creator

One of things I'd like to change in the future, would be to have more time to work on things that can lower the overall cost of training, while lending more flexibility to the way training can be delivered. My thoughts about this issue have led me to meander down the path of e-learning. I have in the recent past been exploring various tools that let someone with minimal exposure to flash scripting and authoring SCORM files from scratch, create engaging e-learning content.

One of the tools I was trying out recently was Articulate. Articulate Presenter, like Brainvisa'sRapidel Enhance builds on the user's knowledge of Microsoft Office, by integrating with MS Powerpoint as an Add-in. Of course you rely on Presenter to provide you with various layouts and use your skill in creating Powerpoint presentations to convert these into Powerpoint, but when it comes to SCORM quizzes and various interactions, you have to rely on the other parts of the bundle - Articulate Quizmaker and Articulate Engage. Articulate Engage is nowhere near a complete interactivity builder such as Raptivity, but is flexible to be able to use flash interactions from other such tools.

Quiz maker steps in, to be the SCORM quiz generator and also helps you generate SCORM compatible surveys (which is a bit of redundant functionality, considering you can easily do this through Moodle). Its a little bit of a concern for firms though, to think that:
a) each of these tools is so bloody expensive (Articulate Studio costs $ 1398, Rapidel - $1999 and Elicitus+Raptivity - $1250)
b) that none of these tools can satisfy ALL of your elearning content creation needs. If you're looking a rapid elearning, then at some point of time or the other, you'd need to use a combination of two or more such tools

Its also a bit of a concern to me that there arent too many Open Source tools in this space, and exelearning, the only OSS tool is really not mature enough to be able to step up to a medium/ large enterprise's needs. In years to come, it'd be nice to see a high quality rapid content authoring tool that comes up in the OSS space, to be able to couple with an LMS like Moodle or Sakai.
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