4 Skills they don’t teach at school critical to succeed today
The biggest emphasis of Indian educational system is directed in creating pressure rather than helping students identify their strength and build skills. While fighting pressure or ‘fire-fighting’ is key to making a good executive, it doesn’t equip one to be a leader. Here are 4 skills that students need to pick up to be leaders of the future :
- Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
School & college curriculums often claim they work on critical thinking and problem solving. A tool as important as Case based learning continues to be missing in Indian education in both school and undergraduate curriculum. While it is taught at the post graduate level, even that is subject to criticism on not including enough India focused case studies.
As per experts like Vinay Hebbar, Senior Vice-President, International Markets, Harvard Business Publishing, “You are not reading about the cola wars to understand about the colas themselves or become an expert on cola wars. You are learning some concepts that you should be able to take across markets and across industries. In a sense, it teaches you how to think, how to break down a problem, define alternatives, select one based on a framework or the thinking you have and see how you can apply it.”
Outside of his expert advice, I strongly believe, CBL helps one learn from classmates who come with diverse perspectives on approaching a particular problem. Reflections help understand how a problem can be solved effectively. The key is knowing there is no 1 right answer. There are multiple right ones. One needs to figure it out for themselves.
While undergrad institutions offer group projects, they are often limited to power point presentations often copy pasted from senior batches to buy 15 minutes of skip time in lectures.
So what can you do differently?
If you are interested in developing critical thinking and problem solving, you could do the following, here is what you can do as a student :
a. Read about market relevant cases on HBS Publishing, Mckinsey, Bain, BCG and other consulting firms reports and work to understand how folks are looking to solve these problems.
b. Download FREE version PDFs of Case in Point, Tuck Consulting Case book or any other relevant reading materials to identify common business problems/ opportunities to solve. Understand what frameworks can help solve problems, learning how to identify a problem and structuring how to solve it is key. I used to love solving guesstimates, and it helped me truck loads in all interviews I prepared for ( Job/ MBA etc.)
c. Reach out to companies ( SMALL, BIG doesn’t matter) for live projects to work on case studies. Experiential learning can be a great tool to learn.
d. Take part in case study competitions, where you actually get to solve these problems. Choose a different peer set to work with every time.
e. Join consulting clubs/ committees in colleges. If your institution doesn’t have one, open a committee and organize a group of students to hone your problem solving skills.
f. Leverage reading comprehension skills for root cause analysis. I spent a lot of my school years reading magazines/ business books/Published Journals trying to up my analytical acumen. English RC passages help too :)
g. Try to write a 400–500 word essay on how you would solve a case and share it with an interested audience (friend circle/ LinkedIn/ twitter network), the world might surprise you with their feedback.
If you are interested in growing critical thinking and problem solving as a skill, you could do the following as a teacher :
a. Attribute some share of grade evaluation to an individually authored problem solving essay (20%). Fortunately, we have enough problems in India to make for unique assignments and assessments here.
b. Dedicate some time of lecture learning to case based learning (40%), where you encourage participation from different students and actively moderate perspectives.
As a parent, you could do the following to encourage problem solving :
a. Encourage your kids to have a diverse set of friends, specially those with unique perspectives and be inclusive & respectful of their opinions.
b. Encourage debating and discussing ideas at home. When your kid comes home, tell them what’s for debate before you announce the dinner menu. Gobhi with a healthy side gender equality is my favourite main course item these days.
c. Avoid referencing news-hour debates as the benchmark for voice of reason, that will only diminish the practice of active listening.
d. Be okay discussing financial planning at home. In a world full of ambitious people, we are not encouraging these conversations enough. You encourage problem solving when you discuss the biggest matter of the house. My Gen-Z brother often solved my mom’s budgetary concerns with his creative thinking, which always surprised me.
e. Encourage travel, when possible.
2. Curiosity & Imagination
The problem with Indian education system, right from primary education, is the fact that we are told ‘what to think’ than ‘how to think'. You are applauded for getting the right answer and not asking the right questions.
As a student, here is what you could do :
a. Learn from current affairs and not archaic narratives from history alone. E.g. Ask questions to your professors of the top 10 businesses in the space industry and not earth alone.
b. See if there is a What IF condition you could add to your class. I used to enjoy History in school, because I loved arguing how India would be a different nation if battle of 1857 turned out differently.
c. Read a lot, a lot lot. Multiple sources. Multiple interests. I would encourage reading research papers. There is tons of undiscovered gold mine online. There are Stanford GSB lectures available on YouTube but people watch ‘How to make 1M doing nothing’ videos instead.
d. Optimize more time on Quora/ Reddit vs Instagram. This will just optimize for time as the algorithm of these platforms fosters creativity and serendipitous discovery of knowledge. You will always get hooked to engaging but less value adding stuff on visual first platforms. Their algorithms are optimized to get you to spend more time on them, not add value per say.
If you are a teacher here is what you could do at an individual level to foster curiosity:
a. Encourage curiosity by appreciating questioning and not dismissing tough questions as out of syllabus.
b. Teach by example, ask the students a curious question to which you yourself don’t know the answer, which is outside of course work and see whether that curiosity can spark some inventive minds in class. A professor asked me a question which I couldn’t answer immediately. It probed me to write my first research paper.
c. Keep more open book exams, see who can solve more problems with all the resources in the world. We are living in the age of information, I find it dumb that math tests continue to proscribe calculators.
d. If you can make even a small proportion of the grade attributed to curiosity, you might get some more folks attracted to it, even if it is by compulsion.
As a parent, here is what you can do :
a. Ask your kids what questions they asked today instead of which answers they gave correctly in class.
b. Avoid dismissing questions stating , “You’re too young to know.”
c. Encourage Travel, that’s how the world was discovered.
Incremental improvements, inventions and disruptions come from good questions alone.
3. Effective oral and written communication
Ornamental language and fancy words only help Board Exam, GMAT, SAT scores and nothing beyond that. The business and academic world is so diverse, nobody wants to work with people who make them feel less. Elaborate vocabularies can host a complex and uncomfortable environment. Speaking short sentences and easy to understand language is a plus in a globally connected and culturally diverse world. Writing succinct emails, documents and presentations are lauded by all kinds of leadership.
What can you do as a student?
a. While job hunting or communicating with professors, learn to draft good emails. Even a well written LinkedIn DM goes a long way. What good means is content that is clear, transparent about your intentions and efforts. Nobody reads 3000 word essays except professors grading you in masters. ( My apologies to them), but even they need a 500 word research proposal. I have myself helped out candidates who wrote me stellar emails.
b. If you fear writing, start by reading and actively listening. I commented on 1K+ posts prior drafting my first post on LinkedIn.
What can teachers do ?
a. Reward for clarity of thought over command over language.
b. Brevity over verbose language. Grade students who can get across the word done in lesser words.
What can parents do?
a. Create an environment where your children can express well and put across their POV. Encourage transparency at home, even if that leads to some arguments.
b. Encourage active listening at home vs forced respect for elders. It’s okay to question practices with rationale.
4. Analyzing information
Everybody talks about BIG DATA. Data being the new oil. I struggle with fresh college grads synthesizing insights from already scraped data. Experts says learn excel and you are sorted. I am sorry, the problem lies with you reading data effectively and not necessarily on efficiently mining it, which excel can enable.
What can you do as a student?
a) Spend more time understanding the fundamentals of the business or entity you are planning to associate with. E.g. if you are looking to enter the impact investing space, please brush up basic economics.
b) To get efficiently scrape data, learn to mine it faster. Excel helps ;)
What can you do as a teacher?
a) Give more interesting assignments beyond class usage of VLOOKUP to find common candidates. Find more relevant real life examples to make the tools useful
b) Leverage Case based learning in your class.
What can you do as a student?
You may refer to the section on critical thinking & problem solving as that should help out with this.
What can you do as a parent?
a) Explain your kid how you file your taxes, there will be much more learning in that conversation alone on analysis than anything else. The number of what if scenarios alone will present so many possibilities to your growing child.
The biggest emphasis of Indian educational system is “creating pressure” rather than helping students identify their strength and build skills/ expertise. While fighting pressure is key to making great executives, to build thought leadership, we have a long way to go. I strongly believe, students themselves along with educators, professors, teachers, parents and the eco-system need to put in a lot of effort. But how else can a student learn?
If you agree with the POV/ suggestions made below or even better DISAGREE (I enjoy a good debate with strangers online), feel free to write to me over LinkedIn and I shall take our DM seriously for my next post. I am new to medium, so will learn the tricks of the trade here.