Who grows up to be an employee and who an entrepreneur?

At TalentEase we work with children and young adults on leadership skills and values. We recently played a game on decision making where the children had to hit a target from a fixed distance. To give the challenge a twist, I told them that I’d double the points of anybody willing to go to the end of the room and still try to hit the target. Or, they could still choose to stand at the safer distance and get the more certain, but lower points. Only one child in the whole group chose to go to the end of the room and give the riskier distance a try.

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Do our schools snuff out the risk-taking ability that most children naturally have? What could we do to build more entrepreneurs and more entrepreneurial employees? What can companies do to encourage calculated risk-taking that does not ‘bet the farm’ but stretches teams and organizations to ‘possibilities’ instead of just ‘predictable projections’. Here are 5 practical things we encourage schools and parents to try, to keep the entrepreneurial goblin alive and kicking.

  1. Failure isn’t bad. Learn from it and its a stepping stone to success. Too many times children and young adults ( as with us older adults) are conditioned to see failure as bad for them.So they stay within safe but unchallenging choices.My favourite opening line from a book says it best “Life is difficult”. ( Scott M Peck’s – The Road Less Traveled). The sooner today’s children accept the truth of that, the more chance they will grow to be adults who will not shy away from difficult but higher growth choices.
  2. Don’t just focus on the right answers. Learn to ask smart questions.Drones for delivery anyone?
  3. Try a different ending. A problem to solution chain, a story, a case study – what would a different ending have looked like?

4.Often ask “Why not?” ( I know this might not make us favourites with parents and teachers but then how else are we going to get more Flipkarts and Googles)

5.Experiment. The Silicon Valley mantra of “fail fast and fail cheap” should serve as the fuel for rough-and-tumble activity based projects rather than the safe theoretical stuff. I was chatting with an engineering student yesterday who does some freelance coding and he happily admitted that what he learnt in the classroom was years behind what he did in the evenings in terms of real-world work.

What are your 5 tips at work for creating and nurturing an entrepreneurial culture?

 

Leo Fernandez

Co-Founder and CEO, TalentEase

Being role models

One of the unintended consequences of bootstrapping our way through a start-up is that I get to travel by train now and then. This gives me some long hours to both catch up on reading and writing as well as the often insightful activity of observing your fellow passengers.

This last week my train trip provided me the opportunity to watch two small children from different families. One, the completely spoilt and riotous type, the ones we sometimes call ‘shark-food kids’. She was hardly off the ground but had the whole compartment to ransom with some loud tantrums and screaming fits. A little while of watching the parents and the child was enough to deduce where she had learned that behaviour. The mother spent most of her time screaming at the child at the top of her voice to keep quiet!! And if it wasn’t so annoying it would have been amusing to see mother and daughter go at each other in a decibel topping match.

Right in the next cubicle was a little boy. Entirely the opposite – quiet and cheerful- he spent his time reading and playing with his Mum. Again it was easy to deduce where he had learned his behaviour. His Mum spoke quietly and cheerfully with him. Encouraging him in his little games and enjoying his presence. For me the whole experience was reinforcement of what we’ve been trying to work on with both teachers and parents through our TalentEase initiative. That children follow what they see you do rather than what they hear you say.

A scene in a recent Bollywood movie (Ferrari Ki Sawari or The Guy who rides a Ferrari) showed a father and his son on a scooter accidentally run a red light. There was no cop around to catch and fine them. Surprisingly, the father rides on till he finds a cop – explains that he ran a red light and pays the fine. To the massively perplexed cop he explains that while you didn’t see me run that red light, my son saw me and whatever I chose to do after that would be a lesson he learnt for life.

For schools this means teachers going beyond just teaching to being role models. As we continue our work with schools the insight we keep gaining is simple and powerful. Better teachers make for better schools and eventually a better world. Late last month, we launched TeachWorkz.com –
a social network exclusively for teachers. To help them connect, collaborate and continuously learn on getting better at making today’s children really future ready.

Do send on the link http://www.Teachworkz.com to any teachers you know. They could gain by both getting and giving to what we hope will become a meaningful and growing online community. Any ideas or suggestions are welcome.

Do write in and let me know.

Until next time.

Warm Regards,
Leo

Lessons from down time in Sri Lanka

Greetings !

Forgive the long silence. I have been piling up the kilometres on the odometer that’s now crossed 25,000 in 11 months.

One experiment I’d been longing to try was to actually go mobile-phone free. The opportunity came when I planned to short trip to Sri Lanka. I decided I’d leave my mobile phone behind and see how I’d survive. In 19 years of my working life –okay that’s only 17 years since I actually started using a mobile – this was going to be my first attempt. Apart from the panic of the first hour I found it a wonderful way to actually delink and spend real quiet time. Otherwise you never really are switched off. And switching off now and then is often the secret to leading truly switched on lives. It’s a great way to remind ourselves who is slave and who is master in that sometimes uneasy relationship we have with technology. So go ahead and give it a try – a mobile phone free week!

I was in Sri Lanka for a few reasons. One was to take some time off for spiritual and personal reflection. It is difficult in our busy lives to make time to really be still but I can testify to the benefits. As I often shared with my teams at work – we need both microscope and telescope. Sometimes all we get busy with is staring into the microscope. To draw back and gaze at the big picture of our lives through the telescope is revealing and energizing. With the guidance of my friend and spiritual director, Father Paul, I found time to ask myself some tough questions and re-commit myself to the big ‘whys’ behind the life I’m leading.

I also got to spend some time at the orphanage Father Paul and his community runs in North Sri Lanka. All the children there have in some way or the other been scarred by the war. I met with children who had witnessed their parents and friends killed, some who had trained to be suicide bombers and several who were having their first attempt at any kind of schooling. So while the war fought with guns and mines is over – the war within continues. It is a long road to peace and reconciliation and a new future that the next generation needs to work on creating.

I also saw real giving in action. Teresa and I and a few friends have along the years supported in a very small way the children there. But how small that contribution is, was clear as I got to see the big work that Father Paul and his community put in living with the children, working with them, mentoring them, playing with them – making a daily difference. It takes courage and sacrifice to really give. It reminded me of that challenging epitaph on my grandfather’s grave that Dad penned “He gave even when it hurt”.

That’s some ‘giving’ benchmark to strive for.

Warm Regards,
Leo

The new ‘DINK’

The ‘untended gap’ widens

One of the many acronyms in popular use today is ‘DINK’ – Double income, NO kids”. Meaning a household where both husband and wife work and do not have kids. It’s a trend that has been gathering momentum.

In some households, this is a brief phase. But in some others, DINK status morphs into another version – “Double income, NEVER kids”. In this case, time-poor couples, who are focused completely on their careers and on each other, may come to the decision that the ‘brood’ is just not for them.

For a surprisingly large number of households though, I would apply yet another version of DINK status, but this time to mean – “Double income, NAUGHTY kids”! A bit cheeky, I agree. But true, nevertheless.

Declining attention from work-obsessed parents is now a common malady. Children are often left unattended after school hours or are at the mercy of ‘baby sitters’ or minders. Invariably, when these parents do get back from work, they are too exhausted to be able to share any meaningful ‘quality time’ with the children. Children will eventually choose to fill this vacuum with other pursuits, interests and friends. Unfortunately, unsupervised, they could end up acquiring a taste for deviant or undesirable behavior (‘naughty’ behavior, as we so often pass this as).

We call this the ‘untended gap’.

 

I grew up in a lower middle class family. My dad was the bread winner and my mom was the home maker. She chose not to focus on a job that could have supplemented the family income. Instead, she focused on devoting her time to the three of us – my sister, my brother and me. Mom, by just being at home when we returned from school, helped us de-stress at the end of an eventful day. From her perspective as well, catching up with what happened to us in school, and advising us when we needed it, helped her stay ‘connected’ with us as we grew.

In saying this, I am not being prejudiced against double income households. What I do feel strongly though is that the news of a 10th grade student in a city school committing suicide because of examination pressure should be a wake-up call to all of us parents. When attention is not given to our kids on a consistent basis, we risk losing touch with their world and that could have serious repercussions at some point.

Pradeep

A Tale of Hope in the Hills

Trust you’ve had a great start to 2012. Of course everybody is hoping we’ve seen the last of some of the problems of 2011.Though problems do have a masterful way of disguising opportunities. That was a theme I covered in an article on leadership for ‘HR Matters’ which was the cover feature in the Jan 2012 issue. The link’s at the bottom of this mail, if you’d like to read it and do tell me what you think.

My friend and partner, Pradeep and I found a great example of leadership converting problem to opportunity at a rural hill town called Yelagiri. Last week we drove a little over 200 kilometres out of Chennai to reach Yelagiri. Fourteen hairpin bends later we were on top of the hills and visited the Don Bosco Institute of Information Technology. In an amazing example of how education can transform the villages, rural youth are being educated in information Technology and provided the path to meaningful employment. To top it off there’s a little rural BPO and software development company that has been set up on the same campus that provides students passing out with their initial employment while completing a post graduate degree.

Pradeep and I enjoyed a brief chat with a full class of students. We were bowled over by their confidence – “Do you feel you are at any disadvantage against your counterparts at a city college?” was met with a vociferous “Absolutely not.” Even their English was visibly better than the disappointing standard we experienced on a visit to a top city college. The result of a First semester focus on teaching English that has obviously paid off. For both Pradeep and I it was great validation of the transforming power of education. The small community of Salesian priests at Yelagiri have truly set up a model worth replicating.

Education has been hogging some headlines these past few weeks. India managed an abysmal second from last ranking in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) 2009+ results which were released late last year. We managed to pip Kyrgyzstan!! Bad news for sure, but the silver lining I took away was that India actually participated for the first time. And as years in the outsourcing business teach you – what you don’t measure, you don’t improve. So we finally have an internationally recognized benchmark. Faith in the enthusiasm and ability of the children I’ve been meeting these past few months allows me to predict a much better showing the next time round. But even then we will have much to do – to move from schooling to education.To ensure education converts into employability.

Dealing with the problem is like sucking a whale through a straw, but as Mark Twain put it, “Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”

Until next time,
Leo

“Problem or Opportunity – the Leader’s Choice” – Cover Feature in the Jan 2012 issue of HR Matters

Education and the future of talent

I spent this month feeling younger. No secret anti-ageing medication – just talking to young students. It was invigorating to meet with the next generation and hear their dreams and aspirations. I also got to spend time chatting with teachers, school leaders and parents. What came through was the scale of the challenge and the opportunity we face in developing talent. Talking to students and teachers it became clear how our education system is relentlessly focused on ‘covering ground without necessarily cultivating anything in it’. Teachers are racing against time to cover a curriculum and students on memorizing all that’s required to pass an exam.

I also had the benefit of attending two conferences related to the two passions of my ‘second life’- education and the future of talent. At both, the content was good but my biggest takeaway was the audience. The first was on schooling and innovations in education. It was amazing to see so many school Principals block half a day to discover ways to make their schools more relevant, their teaching methods more effective. If an open mind is the beginning of progress that audience being there and their willingness to learn was a message of hope for me.

At the other conference for HR professionals, what impressed me was how dramatically the age profile of the attendees had dropped- off stage and on it. Much younger, much more willing to challenge the status quo, much more willing to see HR as a business driver function rather than just a business partner function. Dave Ulrich’s session drove this home very well. He spoke of employees but he spent a lot of time on customers, on the community, on investors. These were HR’s new stakeholders not just employees and line managers. HR from the outside-in was the future. It was time, he said for HR to move from gazing in the mirror to looking through the window.

Connecting the dots from those two conferences there clearly seems to be a gap between what the education system is churning out and what employers and organizations of the future need. The pity is that most of the Government bodies that could make reform happen seem to think nothing is wrong- but that’s a little bit like the clock that looks right because it is 12 hours behind!! The hope lies in the many entrepreneurs in India who are picking up the baton for change in education – their enthusiasm is catching.

Trust all is well with you and hope you are making time to relax and unwind over the holiday season. Here’s an interesting article –
“Five Things You Should Stop Doing in 2012” to help with those inevitable New Year resolution lists.

Warm wishes to you and your family for a very Blessed Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

God bless.

Leo

One part is straining at the leash; the other part is the leash!

Greetings from Hyderabad!

Just completed the first month of my ‘second life’. In case I did not reach out to let you know – I finally decided to make the leap to do something on my own. I quit Accenture last month and have relocated to Hyderabad, India.

Scary but exciting!

Still dealing with the ‘phantom limb’ phenomenon of experiencing sensation in my ‘employment’ limb that is not there! Did wake up the first few mornings with my mind trying to figure the schedule around the day’s conference calls, my ears still ring with the Meeting Place Conference call tune and I still say ‘we’ when I talk of my last employer.

Trust all well with you. Thank you for the association with you that was part of my ‘first life’ journey. Looking forward to carrying it through into the ‘second life’ one.

Getting used to life back in India. Still trying determinedly to stay stopped at the traffic red light, while the horns behind are blaring for me to get out of the way. Re-learning the art of crossing the road in the middle of speeding traffic (I did my first leap over the road divider rail since I’ve been back.) If Singapore was gentle, disciplined canoeing; India is wild, wild water rafting at its scary best. And I’m thoroughly wet and enjoying it.

One of the joys of India is having the best of many worlds. At my apartment complex – last week we enjoyed the din of Diwali crackers after many years and then yesterday watched bemused as hordes of children marched in the Halloween parade. “Trick or treat” in Hyderabad – no surprises there!

In terms of my ‘second life’ updates. I have started initial work on my twin passions- rural education and flexible talent. Along with Pradeep Anthony, my college friend and now business partner, have signed up and begun work on our first school consulting project.Part of our homework tour towards Project Light Lives – where God willing we should have a mechanism of working with village schools and institutes.You can expect invites to teach Physics or Maths or whatever subject you are passionate about at a lovely Indian village school and take that much needed mobile phone break!

We have also been piling up the miles driving to a few rural schools and universities. At one village school about 200 kms outside Chennai we were delighted to hear 5 year old Robin recite nursery rhymes in English ! Excited and delighted with the opportunity to learn. At another rural town further away, an entrepreneur setting up a rural university shares his frustration at having to make pay-offs to politicians just to get the necessary approvals to start. Even driving to the villages is a combo experience – miles of excellent highway and then suddenly dirt tracks that would test the moon rover. Visiting India in the villages reinforces for me the paradox of my country – one part is straining at the leash, the other part is the leash!!

On Project 2 – flexible talent – we have got our company incorporated- TalentEase. So don’t think a mail from leo.fernandez@TalentEase.com is spam. And now busy working on our website.

So chugging along and enjoying the buzz of starting something meaningful up. Thank you for your support and friendship. Do keep us in your prayers.

God bless.

Warm Regards,
Leo