Monday, September 05, 2011

Developing insight

Insight. It's a loaded word.

I remember a time, it was around two years ago, when one of my fellow classmates raised her hand and asked of the professor 'Prof, I get what's happening... but, what's the insight?' The prof peered at her with a shrewd smile, and said a couple of sentences which he thought must have answered it. I don't remember the answer, but what I do remember is that for the duration of the course, spanning ten weeks, every once in a while, when he remarked something that seemed awesome, he'd turn to this lady and say 'THAT's your insight'. Made me look at the person and the course in a different light. The prof, as always, remained awesome in my eyes, I went on to attend his last PGSEM course, probably the last academic course he taught.

Since then, classes have been a blur, some sessions so remarkable that you leave the classroom feeling so rich. Yet others have been so bland that you could only wait for the class to get over, and stay amazed at the fact that what seems like an eternity is just five minutes. However, this quarter I had the opportunity to be in a class where we were forced to ask 'Why?'. 'Person A was just 23 years old, and she took charge of the company after her father passed away. Why? She could have sold it, and made a lot of money, and done something else that she wanted to, but she didn't. Why? She took the enterprise along a very different direction than her visionary father wanted to, and it is doing extremely well. Why?' Sometimes, it gets crazy... You're giving a presentation and the prof asks you to speak up louder, and jokes if you didn't have breakfast. You say no, I didn't.. and he asks Why?

Actually no, the last didn't happen. It was something else... but you get the point. However, this prof made us think a little deeper than what was given in the case. He encourages us to ask 'Why?', and in turn hopes that we come away with some insight into what happens in the background... to read the story through the blank spaces between the written lines. He hopes that someday we'll gain the wisdom that comes from understanding the context, and being able to form our OWN opinions, such that we have a point of view, one that WE have, not one that is given to us by someone on top. In his mind, if we are to become leaders tomorrow, we better learn to come away with our own individual minds. To think separate, from the collective. Now that we have our project presentations going on, he makes a blanket statement - I guarantee that all of your presentations will have oodles of information, but will have very low insight. Through all the presentations, but for a couple of them, this turned out to be hauntingly true. If anything, he's left us with the last strong lesson - one I'll remember for a long time - strive to form your own insight.

These are the same profs who tell you that we know you PGSEM students won't be able to do as analytical a job as the full-time PGPs, you guys just don't devote the same amount of time and dedication towards the tasks we set you. They mock us in class saying we can do better, we're just trying to stay normal. They sometimes go so far as to remind us that we might have thought that IIMB is a conveyor belt, where we go in bumbling techies at one end, and come out spiffy managers the other, and that as profs they stand in the way to belt us into realizing that we need to do a lot of work if we are to take away anything from this course. Yet, these VERY SAME profs tell us that we made brave decisions of trying to balance work-life, family-life, and academic-life, and stuck to these decisions for close to three years. We show dedication and discipline in not letting any of these fail, and in that we have taken a braver decision than the full-time students do. Making an Either-Or decision is easy, they say, choosing to do an 'AND' requires a commitment that is not easy to come by. Of course, they go and diss the PGP students also, saying you guys think you're smart and working hard, go and see what the PGSEM guys can do. Looks like the formula is the same, just applied differently for the different student segments.

The first prof I spoke about could have just asked the student to shut the hell up, and stop questioning him, the way some of us have seen our school/college profs react... but he didn't. The second prof I spoke about could have just let us spout our theories, wonder to God about why he's still teaching numbskulls who don't understand and apply what he's teaching them, yawn and go home... but he doesn't. All our profs can also tell us that 'we sympathize with you in terms of the multiple loads you're balancing... here... let's lighten the load so much for you that you can walk straight', or 'You guys are the brightest of the bright in India, organizations will be lucky to have you'... but they don't.

Do they know something that we don't? Is it that they've learnt that teaching adults is very different from teaching children, you can't punish them into learning, the way you do with kids? Do they see something in us, that we don't see in ourselves? If so, that's quite some insight they have there.

Academia typically have so much theory in them, that it's spouting out their ears... they will throw dates and research paper info at you, and make us read and comprehend the driest of research, and with eyes gleaming with excitement, they say 'See???', and we're staring blank at them, thinking 'WTF?'. But through the duration of the session, they take the pains of explaining real-life situations to us, examples where they ventured out into the real world to get back nuggets of practical examples, to make us realize the insight that they have received, not by spoon-feeding it to us, but by actually helping us realize it. They take us through a process, whereby the next time, we're able to move similarly, and arrive at conclusions. They don't teach us insights, they teach us how to arrive at them.

It's not easy to live amidst all that theory and research, and identify examples of practice that can be used to demonstrate the learning. It's even harder to whip up energy and a sense of doggedness in a bunch of students who have spent their lives thinking that they're not as good as those from outside their country. I remember that one of my interview questions was on why Indians aren't so crazy about starting ventures, and I kept giving round-a-bout answers, and was almost guided into the realization that we just don't have confidence. It's not just my problem, it's all of ours. We might have been technically smart to get into IIMB, but that didn't stop us from having an inferiority complex when compared to other nations. Our professors have helped us realize that we're equal, if not better. They imbue us with so much confidence, that people around us think we're arrogant or cocky. Maybe they're right, maybe some of us do take it too far... but we're at least poised to take risky steps, without being too fearful. As teachers, they've helped us recognize our potential, and make use of it.

IIMB is not the place where I learnt what to do, it's the place where I learnt what NOT to do and why. It's not been a place for me to learn the skills of management, it's the place where I was shown that I.. we.. can be SO much more.

I wish that, some day, every educational institution has the privilege to have teachers with a similar mindset. I know that we'll get there.

Dear profs, on behalf of all of us, we wish you a happy Teacher's Day.

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