Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Paradox of Studious Professionals

The Paradox of Studious Professionals

Throughout our student life, we wanna grow up, step out, try to be creative, imaginative, do our own thing, don’t want to blindly follow instructions or simply cram the books. In a nutshell, we are so damn eager to be Professionals!!
Cut to our Professional avatars. We will strictly follow our set KRAs, walk with blinkers, never attempt what we were never asked to, never question set processes, rarely look beyond our silos. Our student-mind, so restless to get out of the box, suddenly goes blank and numb the moment we turn professionals. Professionals happy to stay cocooned within our comfortable boxes (also called as Job Profiles).
As students we hated the concept of 'ratta maar' education?. However, the same ourselves are now seeking some divine help (in the form of sample papers and paper patterns) in our professional roles. We hated our teachers for favouring the by-hearters, the quintessential good boys & girls, the front-benchers who won’t know an iota beyond the books. We titled these single-trick ponies as Bookworms, immersed in their books, oblivious to the world around. However, the same inquisitive and brimming with ideas ourselves now hate our bosses for not providing clear instructions. Not being specific in exactly laying down the expectations from us – A, B, C, D…
It’s much akin to the children versus grown-up syndrome. As children, we try too hard to look, behave and project ourselves as mature grown-ups. And by the time we actually grow-up, the reverse process has already started. We try too hard to look, behave and feel younger, cuter and not necessarily smarter. No wonder the repeated reassurance through “I am still a child at heart!”

Corporates have long been emphasizing and underlining this aspect of there being no correlation between Education and Employability. The seemingly sharpest of Engineers are happy doing some of the most redundant jobs. They were refrained from asking too many questions as students. And now, they are too conditioned to not ask questions in their existing job profiles.  Some of the sharpest Engineers from some of the sharpest institutes, but never sharpened to be imaginative. Never engineered to be enterprising. Look around and it’s not a case of over-qualified professionals stuck in monotonous jobs. It’s more a case of under-inquisitive professionals very rightly mapped to the jobs they are possibly the best at – clear, unambiguous, process-driven. Ratta maar’ jobs!

Growing up in value-chain can never be achieved by being served highly intellectual projects on a platter. As it goes in the Bournrville advertisement, “You do not buy a Bournville, you earn it!”

An exciting job profile is necessarily an acknowledgment and award of some exciting ideas. You don’t graduate to intellectually-stimulating projects by demanding for it. You exhibit Intellectually-stimulating ideas and thoughts and then graduate to such projects. Your clients and stakeholders will never ask you to do rocket science, till the time you don’t educate them about the impact of rocket science and infuse (their) confidence in your capabilities to do so! But how will you exhibit such rocket science traits amidst your existing ‘A, B, C, D…’ job profile? Now that’s a classic Catch 22 and that’s something that you’ll have to imaginatively figure it out for yourself.

It’s odd to be quoting a cliché in this piece on imaginative thinking. But perhaps some clichés are unavoidable and necessary to drive home a point - “Ask not what your job has done for you, rather challenge what you have done for your job”.

Look around for all those goody-two shoes toppers and front-benchers in your school and college. Are they necessarily at the top of their game? Are they the front-runners in their professional avatars as well? Ummmm….not exactly, right?

During an interview for the position of head of an analytic team, I questioned a potential candidate on a simple aptitude problem. A problem that involved calculating the area of a circle. He fumbled and had retorted “But how is that important to my role? And as it is, it was too far back in school. Can’t exactly recollect the formula.” Can’t recollect the area of circle formula? You were the Math topper mate! “But we do have Google and all the advanced tools and techniques for formulae.” 

Another potential candidate, who had been at a very senior position in a reputed consulting firm, was asked to run me through his most acclaimed project. Some project where advanced analytics was put to best use with some very insightful and actionable results.  I requested, “Walk me through your statistical/analytical approach to the problem”. He was deadpan in his response “But, I had teams doing it!!”

Yes Google will answer everything and there will be teams doing the groundwork. But as leaders if you don’t know the basics of flying, why would I hand you a pilot’s license? Won’t it be a recipe for disaster? Yes, leaders are meant to provide directions, navigate teams and clients, steer thought processes. But it would be dangerous to be led by an explorer captain and hope to discover America. As they say, Hope can’t be a strategy.

Yes, the area of circle formula was way back in your school. You crammed it up then, topped the grades and then started focusing on the new syllabus and paper patterns.

There is a wonderful book from Marshall Goldsmith, ‘What Got You Here Won't Get You There’. It argues that at the top level, the problems are behavioural, not skill-related. You may have been a meticulous and diligent student throughout. Crammed through your books and sailed across top schools and top colleges with top grades and have now landed a top job. However, what got you here won’t get you there! Welcome to the corporate world, the real world. From here, life won’t be an instruction manual. It’s time you finally apply what you’ve learnt and be your own guiding star.

The true sign of Intelligence is not Knowledge but Imagination. Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere. - Albert Einstein
But unfortunately, Imagination, Lateral Thinking and Creativity were never full-fledged courses in our education system. Coming back to the crammers from your schools and colleges. Yes, so have they made it large? Have they arrived and are thriving in their professional roles?  Some of them, definitely Yes! Some who had the foresight to adapt to the new rules of the game. They have leveraged their cram-abilities to land up at the right place at the right time. And are now doing the right things, by being rightfully self-driven and imaginative.

Ofcourse, there are many others from those batch of crammers, who are still struggling to make a mark. Perhaps, they are still looking for sample question papers and paper patterns to decode the corporate jigsaw. Perhaps they were never forewarned in their schools, that a major part of what happens in life will be ‘Out of Syllabus’!


  1. Apt! Reflective of the entire generation's way of life. There is whole load of people contributing to this method of living. Not just the student but everybody that she leans on for guidance is guiding her wrong. I am not taking pot shots here but quoting facts. How many relatives that we meet in a family get-together ask what has your child learnt in school? Rather the question is how much did your child score? Take survey - tell a bunch of people that you have changed your job. Record whats the first question that they ask. A good majority will ask; so whats the raise? a minority will ask so is the profile what you wanted? This is an era of quantifiable results; score, pay, position etc. Not knowledge or academic relevance. We are the victims but before that we are the contributors! Keep up the thought process.

  2. Trully said 'Click on the Move'. High time, atleast some of such contributors (beginning with us) realize one of the most profound things about success - not everything that can be counted, counts. And not everything that counts, can be counted!

    I can almost visualize Creativity, Imagination and Individuallity jumping aggressively and demanding to be counted in this 'counts but can not be counted' list! Yes, all of you make the cut guys! You're counted...atleast in this space.

  3. Well siad Himanshu..that is the sole reason our education system is unable to produce Mark Zuckerberg,steve jobs etc, and we are used to an educational system where knowledge is about mugging up without understanding it in detail..i think most of us are trying to get the basics correct 'education for getting a job, a job to earn money and money to live a normal life'..the irony of this country is that we believe management means 'Jugar'.

  4. Thanks Rahman! On a positive side, quite a few of the B-school grads from our country are doing exceedingly well as well! MS Banga (HLL), K V Kamath (HDFC), Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Naukri), Chetan Bhagat, Harsha Bhogle (all from IIMs) are doing great! Indian education has contributed with great corporate professionals and entrepreneurs. Infact ‘Jugaad’ is a great Indian word that is now finding global resonance as well. I think, it’s a very positive word that stands for innovation amidst theory of constraints. And as Indians, we are very good in dealing with constraints.

    But, then as I said, Education (in any country) will only take you from point A and B. Beyond that it’s your imagination and creativity. It is we the professionals who have to change. Not just Indian professionals, but global professionals. Beyond a point, flaunting your certificates and credentials won’t matter much. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from….what matters more is where you’re going!

    Please do keep coming back with your thoughts.