Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

What may we learn from Oxford Interview Questions?

October 6, 2011

Oxford University, considered one of the toughest universities to get into, invariably challenges potential students with interview questions that push them to think on their feet, think independently and laterally and show an ability to apply theory thereby showing their real ability and potential.

Some of the questions are:

a) Is violence always political?

b) Does ‘political’ means something different in different contexts?

c) Why do lions have manes?

d) Why ladybirds and strawberries have red colors?

e) In a world where English is a global language why learn French?

f) If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines were death and therefore nobody did it, would that be just and effective law?

Compare this with the Indian education system that is geared towards rote learning rather than cognitive development and imagination.

Do we need to change?

How do we practice this style of learning?


WOW! — The Cup is Full

July 15, 2011

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Obviously wanting to impress the master on his knowledge on zen he kept on lecturing for an hour. The master listened intently.

The master then invited the professor to tea. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”


What did the master mean?



Where has it gone?

June 8, 2011

Junnaid was a remarkable saint and a Sufi master. He was constantly learning and getting enlightened from numerous interactions he kept having with people whom he acknowledged as his masters.

Here is one of his stories.

One day, when he went into a small village he saw a little boy carrying a lit candle. The boy was obviously going to the small temple of the town to put the candle there for the night.

Junnaid asked the boy, “Can you tell me from where the light comes from? You have lighted the candle yourself so you must have seen. What is the source of light?” 

The boy laughed and said, “Wait!” And he blew out the candle in front of Junnaid. And he said, “You have seen the light go. Can you tell me where it has gone? If you can tell me where it has gone I will tell you from where it has come from.”

Left me wondering — where did the flame come from and where did it go? Any guess?

Learning, Aging, Leadership

May 23, 2011


These Chinese characters represent learning.  

The first character means ‘Study’.

This is made up of two parts.

The first part means ‘to accumulate knowledge’ by various means and methods. 

The second part which is at the bottom represents a child in front of a door. That means in order to learn one must be blessed with a child like curiosity and innocence. 

Now we shall examine the second character.

The second character stands for ‘constant practice’. Understandably there is no substitute for hard work and constant endeavor to practice and hone a skill to perfection.

This character is also made of two parts.

The upper symbol represents ‘flying’ showing a bird developing its ability to leave the nest. So it means ‘being on one own and being a leader too’ signified by one’s ability to leave the nest. 

The lower symbol or the second part of the second character represents ‘youth’. This is an important benefit. With constant learning, rediscovering and reinventing oneself one probably never ages mentally and psychologically — perhaps even slows down biological aging.

When we put all the four parts of the two characters together they holistically mean — to learn one has to be like a child accumulating knowledge in bits and pieces, which is then followed up by constant practice with the strength and perseverance of youth in order to come up with something original like ‘flying’ (signifying ease and competence of some skill gained) to become leaders by leaving their nests and making their presence felt in the world through their own ability. 

However, the most important thing in the whole issue is to become like a child. Christ’s teachings also reflect the same when he says, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matt. 18:3

Constantly learning is indeed the ‘kingdom of heaven’, which is symbolic in the sense that in heaven none grows old, which is just the same as what the Chinese meant by ‘youth‘ (inability to grow old while learning).

The process of learning can therefore be divided into three parts —

a) Accumulating from a teacher (accumulation of information, knowledge and the path to self mastery)

b) Self Study (to be the child at play with whatever one is interested to master)

c) Dialogs with peers and friends and application in real life (constant practice, refinement, development of leadership and the abilty to stand on one’s own feet).


1. Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Senge, et al.

2. New Testament, King James Version.



The Power of 3 – Changes in Management Thinking.

February 14, 2011


February 10, 2011

Celebrating Knowledge – The Music of the River

February 8, 2011

Today everything would be closed in the state. The streets would wear a deserted look. Schools, shops, offices and even Government offices would be closed.

Why? Are people protesting or rising in revolt like the Middle East and elsewhere?

No, not exactly. It is a day of celebration and happiness.  Today is a Public Holiday. India as a nation celebrates this day as a “Day of Knowledge”.

This is more popularly known as Saraswati Puja (Puja means offering of love and deep respect). Saraswati is the Goddess of Knowledge representing speech and creative expression of science and arts. Most things in India are symbolic and the image of Goddess Saraswati is not exception to this fact. The image is therefore a metaphor or representation of what knowledge is all about.

Want to know the story of how it all came about?

Well, as most things in India, the story goes back thousands of years to the era of the Vedas, which most historians agree was around 5000 years ago.

A group of wise sages were travelling all night. Just as the day was about to break they reached a river. The river was gently and rhythmically making its way down the snow clad Himalayas. The water was pure and sparkling. As it gushed over the numerous pebbles it encountered in its way, a sweet tinkling noise emanated. They could see the bottom of the river clearly and were fascinated by the numerous ripples that danced around merrily occasionally catching the glitter of the sun rays as the sun peeped over the distant hills.

They were mesmerized by the whole experience! It suddenly struck them that knowledge had the exact characteristics of what they just experienced. How was that?

They realized that knowledge is dynamic and always changing and flowing like the river. One can’t capture it. It can’t be imprisoned. If held it soon loses its freshness and flow

They understood that knowledge is a product of numerous ongoing interactions that produced music. The music is only produced by the flow going against the resistance offered by the pebbles. More the obstacles (pebbles) more subtle and more varied is the music. The deep experience provided them the insight that knowledge develops through repeated movements of passing over the numerous pebbles and emerges in a chaotic fashion in the form of waves.

It was also clear to them that the primary source of knowledge was through transparent observable (through all our senses) work that flows — an understanding gleaned from the transparent flowing waters. Everything was observable but transient.

They likened the occasional glitter of the sunrays ricocheting off the waves to the sudden flashes of insights that create new knowledge. 

Such a splendid metaphor remained with them for years before they decided to give some physical form to it so that people recognize the importance of knowledge in their lives and live with a vision or mental image to go for it and develop it for themselves. With this in mind they came up with the splendid image of the Saraswati.

The image of the beautiful lady represents the creative nature of knowledge, the force behind all human activities. .

The swan reminds us of the river and also the sharp discriminating characteristic of knowledge. This is because a swan has a strange ability. If offered a drink of milk with water a swan drinks the milk without taking in a drop of water. It can separate the two. In other words knowledge helps us to discriminate between the real and the unreal.

The musical instrument called the vina (a much older form of the present day sitar) reminds us of the music of knowledge as it flows over pebbles and obstacles.

The symbol of the white lotus is significant. While the whiteness of the lotus stands for stainless purity of knowledge the lotus informs us that knowledge is rooted to reality which might be full of dirt, muck and darkness from which the purity emerges. It depicts the journey called knowledge from the unconscious or unseen or unknown to the consciousness of reality or the known.

It is also interesting to note that the image tells us how knowledge is created. This is shown by the four hands of Saraswati. Her two hands are engaged in playing the vina (Playing and Hearing). It means that the fundamental way knowledge is created is through transparent observable work that flows (remember how the sages could clearly see even the bottom of the river and sense everything around them). The image of the rosary that she holds in one of her hands depicts the need for deep mental reflection and repetition to gain real knowledge. The fourth hand shows a slim volume of documents representing that only a small part of the knowledge can be really documented and read.

The scattering and reflection of the golden sunrays on the waves representing intuitive insights are shown in the form of the golden crown that adorns her head meaning that all intuitive insights come from the mind. And the halo behind her head represents the energy and brightness that emanates from ever increasing wisdom.

So, to summarize:

1. Knowledge is rooted in reality. It then moves from the physical reality to the energy field of playing, listening and engaging in our chosen domain from where it moves to the mental plane which then makes its way to the planes wisdom and enlightenment.

2. Like the flowing river, knowledge can’t be captured (it is not an object but waves and a field) since it an on-going phenomenon of the numerous interactions, always changing course and fleeting in nature. Such movement of knowledge is only possible through facing resistance and overcoming obstacles encountered in its path generating the necessary music.

3. A very small part of knowledge can be really documented. That represents the explicit part of knowledge.

4. Major part of knowledge is implicit in nature that is created by constantly playing in a chosen domain, improvisations, repeated practice, deep reflections and sudden insights.

5. True knowledge in any field can be obtained through discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the meaningful and the worthless. 

6. Knowledge leads to enlightenment and is the creative force behind all that we do.

7. And above all knowledge must be free and shared to maintain its flow that benefits all. This is the only thing in the world, other than love, that keeps growing and developing in strength and character when shared. It is unending and beautiful but can’t be precisely defined or described. The more we try the more incomplete it seems.

Today we usher the coming of spring signifying the blooming of the hidden, the latent and the unknown into conscious reality just like the first baby leaves that spring to life after winter. Isn’t that what we understand by knowledge?

It is therefore not surprizing for Indians to believe River Saraswati to be an underground river hidden from view only to meet the great rivers Ganga and Yamuna at Kumbh. Another great symbolic abstraction underlying the fact that Knowledge plays between our actions and emotions to elevate us to our true human potential. Those who use it rise to meet their potential. Those who don’t are unfortunate.

So do we listen to the music of the spheres and celebrate the joy that is knowledge?



1. The video is there to highten the visual experience of this rather deep and 5000 years old philosophy on knowledge.

2. India is probably the only country in the world to celebrate a special day in honor of Knowledge. What a country!


Igniting the Spark through Social Media.

January 13, 2011

We can ignite the necessary spark of an welding electrode in two ways:

a) Scratch and lift — go along for a short time and let go
b) Touch and lift – just touch for a fraction of a second and let go

We do the same thing while developing people.

For some, we would have to go along with them for sometime and then let go.

For others, one interaction would be enough to create the spark to a fire that keeps burning for life.

However, creating that vital spark is important.

With traditional education we neither ‘scratch and lift’ nor ‘touch and lift’. We go drumming year after year till the person would have had enough of it and is bored to death. That is why after some years we remember only a few teachers and professors who have made an impact in our lives. The majority goes into oblivion.

Undeniably, the traditional approach has its use in the initial years of making of a person. The mistake is that we extend the thought and the process right into the professional period of a person’s life. People don’t like it. More than 80% of the people I meet want to quit their jobs even in this time of recession. Why? They simply feel that they are no longer learning anything new or exciting in their jobs to keep their vital spirit alive. At the end of the day they go home with a heavy heart and an empty mind. It sucks; killing the spirit to be curious, to be innovative, to discover, to search for mentors, to take responsibility to be awake and learn and fend for life.

However, Learning through Social media is quite different. It can ignite the fire in the belly in both ways – ‘scratch’ and ‘touch’. Since it is more dependent on what we search and want in life. We take what we need and not what is thrust upon us. It gives us time to reflect and create meaning. It creates a democratic, egalitarian and perhaps more prosperous societies.

Therefore, it is important to ignite the spark that keeps the fire burning for life.

So, it does not surprise me a bit as to why fire is so respected and revered amongst all civilizations across the globe.

It occupies a special place in our lives.

That is the energy when harnessed helps us to achieve anything worthwhile and lasting and build better societies. 

Social Media is the right means to achieve the end.

In Search of Fame!

December 24, 2010

Mr. Pogolal De, CEO of a public limited company, is currently busy shopping for new clothes. After all he has to look at his best at the prize giving ceremony.   He has been invited by a national daily based at Mumbai, as a nominee for their annual function. Every year the newspaper felicitates the best CEOs who have demonstrated exemplary contribution in their field of work. The newspaper also had a TV channel and they had regularly started beaming the prelude and promos of the “much awaited awards function”.

Mr. De is excited and so is his small family consisting of his two sons and almost dwarfed rather midget wife. “Dwarfed” in the sense that she is only 4’8” tall and does not in any way match the stature of the nearly 6’ tall Mr. De. The Des have become “NRB” meaning “Non resident Bengalis”. They have adopted the local custom and tradition. Sometimes “Pogo “as affectionately called by his proud mother, sits with an “esraj” or listen to the songs of Rabindra Nath Tagore. “You should not forget your roots”, he often tells his sons, but who cares.

Mr. De is a Chartered Accountant by profession. He always tries to speak Queens’ English but unfortunately his “roots” doesn’t allow him to copy the immaculate intonation of Queen’s English. After hopping many a company he finally descended on a steel company. His bosses are happy as he is giving results. And what exemplary contribution Mr.Pogolal De had done as a CEO? As per the prelude of the TV channel—- Mr. Pogolal De had conceived and executed the idea of connecting the plant to the harbour by building a bridge thereby saving lot of money for the company. Imagine what the company engineers were doing?

Pogo and his family came to Kolkata for the big day a well twenty days in advance. It was more like athletes coming for the Olympics well before time so as to acclimatize themselves for the biggest sporting event. Pogo again went for a shopping spree. He and his sons brought Kurtas; wife brought traditional Bengali “Dhakai Jamdani” saris.  They would have to look and feel like true Bengalis at the show.  This is what they thought would win them some brownie points. Pogo’s proud mother started campaigning for his son well in advance The newspaper had designed a SMS voting system whereby the nominee who garnered the maximum number of votes would win the “coveted” prize. The people will vote for the “greatest CEO“of India.

The D-day arrived. All the action was captured “live” on TV. Mr. Pogolal De uttered something which common people couldn’t decipher and comprehend at all. After all common people seldom understand Management jargon. So, Pogo narrowly missed the mark. He just got a plaque and a chance to meet some “extremely beautiful” film and TV actresses. Next morning, Pogo was roaming in the local market only hoping someone will recognize him and start a conversation but no one came forward.  His childhood friends intentionally avoided him. Pogo had overtaken them in every sphere but what has he done for them and the unemployed youth of his locality. With a heavy heart Pogo boarded the flight back to his adopted home.

Many awards are conferred by government agencies, different institutions and companies which make a mockery of the whole thing. People strive to get awards, which help them to enhance their social status and fame. Liberal doling out of awards to the wrong people robs the very purpose of these awards. The best example is Dr. Chitranjan S. Ranawat who did a knee operation on Atal Behari Vajpai — the then Prime Minister of India and immediately gets a Padma Bhushan award. He was not awarded before for his services in the field of medicine. Similarly, cash awards are given to those employees who are close to their bosses. This sends a wrong signal to deserving individuals who really toil and sacrifice their lives often neglecting their families for the organization.

Organizations exhibit the same zeal in gunning for this award and that!

They are in the mad Search for Fame not prepared to work silently In Search of Excellence.


Sitendu De is the author of this post.

The Learning Pyramid

December 5, 2010

The old ways of learning, training and education are so obsolete. Wonder why people still hang onto it.