We admit each day that the only thing constant in life is change. Having accepted it as a reality of life, do we also understand what demands its recognition creates upon each of us? If what is done today in a manner acceptable to present times, it is inevitable that the process, tomorrow and on-wards would go through a change. The impact of new and fresh thought, coupled with the dynamic of technological improvements, will alter the methodologies, the systems, the process and procedures, for undertaking, both, current task as well as future assignments. Can any individual or an entity ignore this reality? Those who would do so, will initiate themselves into the peril of a whirlpool that will sink, the individual or even an entity; they will be eventually thrown out of the market place. Markets continuously demand new products, services and efficient ways of doing business. The university education we receive gets to be outdated, much to our own bewilderment at a pace, faster, than lightening; this recognition happens even before we assume position and responsibilities in our careers, where the demand is to make decisions; hence to make compelling significant decisions, the application of old theories and practices, will not hold water.
New eras demand fresh thinking. Succeeding generations demand innovation and creativity. The transition from landline telephones to cellular / mobile phones or from sending communication by post to electronic mails (E-mails) has been the result of human endeavour to seek faster, new and dynamic means of communication. The pace of obsolesce of technology only gets faster with each succeeding generation. My son, pities upon me, that I as a child lived a deprived childhood, because I had no playstation -V/VI ! But what I had, like the fast remote controlled racing cars, was a marvel for my father less, but for my grandfather, it was a wonderment! Change is, where nothing rests. Everything is on the move.
Those who achieve notable recognition, in whatever discipline they may be are individuals and corporates, who whole heartedly embrace and subscribe to the Japanese thought of continuous improvement ie Kaizen. It naturally follows that those who wish to grab success must never forsake their quest for learning and improvement. When I started my career, the place where we were taught about business was referred in common parlance as “training centre”; even this term has gone through a major metamorphosis of change, where today, the same place(s) are referred to as “learning and development centre”. There is merit in this change. Training in acquiring merely skills; learning is all about “thinking” on the “whys” and “hows”! Training is still taking place but the methodology has been radically changed. Training is restrictive generally to knowing how to do things; learning and development is a shade beyond, that involves abilities on how to do things, possibly in a shorter time with greater efficiency and better profitability.
No career development can happen on a jump start business; those for reasons other than talent and competency, get catapulted into positions of authority, realise their inadequacy and improve through acquisition of fresh hands-on knowledge or else, if the arrogance of the position knocks them down with a sense of superiority, they and the organisation are most likely to descend into the black holes of corporate oblivion. The Fortune-500 of today are not the same 500, say in the decades of seventies and eighties- their management’s disdainful refusal to accept change has been the catalyst for them being mowed down by the shovel of arrogance into being out of business.
Learning and development is a slow process. It is not a winning stallion that once saddled upon, you would reach the finishing line, before others. The pace is always tedious. Only when changes are accepted and introduced gradually do they take roots and acquire sustainability. A colleague of mine of yester years, who in my view took the longest time to decide between, “alternatives” believed staunchly that all new ideas and initiatives must firstly be “socialised’ with senior members of the management; he would allow the “thought” to marinate, before opening the lid for a full blown critical discussion. There was some merit in his methodology; but many like myself were impatient with his patient outlook. In the process of dilly-dallying, we would many a time loose the market to our competitors. The fact, however remains, undeniably that learning has to be in small steps and measure for it to be enduring.
Ptolemy in circa 300 BC, asked Euchid, if there was an easier way to learn geometry. Euchid’s reply has now become an oft quoted adage; said he, “There is no royal road to learning”. The drudgery of toiling cannot be avoided to improve.
To improve oneself, there has to be an unrelenting commitment to reading, widely and persistently. No root, no fruit: Bitter root (toil) but sweet fruit (success). In this context my continuous lamentation about the youngsters is their complete lack of appreciation for reading. The current crop of youth do not read beyond the curriculum, they just read to pass a test or examination.
Those who do read, do not read extensively enough. Personally, I fail to understand how any can be a good leader / manager of people, if he/she doesn’t read history, psychology, sociology etc. Mangers aren’t supposed to be despots or tyrants; to motivate the hordes of human resources at their disposal, they need to demonstrate, in-addition to hard skills, the soft skills of empathy, recognition, appreciation, inspiration, etc. While I have seen many succeed in life, more with soft skills abilities than hard skills, in isolation; the vice-versa has been negligible.
In the many interactions with the youth, I shockingly discover their lack of attention to self-development. At young age, they complain about non- availability of time! They don’t realise that passion creates time. They lack passion. Some use the crutches of creating work - life balance to avoid investing efforts for improvement during the time, beyond office hours. For success to sustain, one must bear in mind that it needs strong foundation, without which no edifice built upon can be lasting. Weak knowledge base will crumble success.
Improvements can happen only if the iceberg of out dated knowledge is allowed to melt. We have to make way for new thoughts to fill our understanding, failing which the brimming past, will not permit, infusion of new thinking into the vessels of our unique personality. To many an experienced manager, the challenge is not to learn, but to unlearn.
The proverbs practice makes perfect has limited applicability to business dynamics. In the arena of sports or a monotonous vocation, certainly practice makes or breaks a player / worker, but for the business manager while practice is important, more significantly is their ability to critically examine the “practice” and change it for better results.
Mangers recognise to their own benefit that teaching is learning. Those who refuse to improve the young are likely to bury their future in the present, while their past is already lost. Those who look at their efforts for improvement as a necessary thing to do, are most likely to find the task pleasurable too.
John Stuart Mill in his biography states, “No great improvement in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought”. Those who know they have much to know, will seek to know. Such learn and also adapt to change.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist