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How Recognizing Aptitudes helps us go from Good to Great+ #25

+Upcoming Courses | External Events

Quote of the Week

A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.” -Peter Drucker

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

In this week’s main post, GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri, talks about why high performance requires recognising one’s aptitudes and interests.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.


How Recognizing Aptitudes helps us go from Good to Great

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Upcoming External Events

How Recognizing Aptitudes helps us go from Good to Great

This week’s main post is written by GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri.

The idea of working at the ‘intersection’ of what one is good at, what one is interested in, and what the world needs has been around for a long time now. The first time I came across this idea was in a book on ‘resource-based view of strategy’. I came across this idea again later, in the form of the ‘Hedgehog Concept’ popularized by the book ‘Good to Great’. Both these models were targeted at businesses, but it was obvious that the idea was applicable to individuals as well. In the last few years, I have seen an extended version of this 3-circle diagram on social media, that includes a 4th circle of ‘values’ or what is important to you- apparently this is a Japanese idea called Ikigai that has been around for a while.

While the idea of considering ‘where there is a need/ demand’ and ‘what you love’ were familiar to me and my friends and colleagues, the idea of building on ‘what you are good at’ (talents/ aptitudes) was rather rare. I have wondered why this was the case and I think it has something to do with the following-

The talents involved in doing a job well are often invisibleFor example, when I was working with a team of test developers whose job was to make multiple choice questions, it took me several months to realize that one of the talents good question makers had, was the ability to put themselves into the shoes of a young child when answering the question. It was indeed possible for intelligent people with good subject knowledge to have difficulty in appreciating how children might think about a question.

We are often not aware of our talents clearly, or how rare they areFor example, I have realized only in the last couple of years that I have a talent for breaking down work into sequential and parallel tasks and keeping the momentum going, by having some task move ahead at any point of time. Perhaps I did not realize this because for some years I was in an environment where quite a few project managers were doing this as second nature. It was only when I later worked in other organizations that I started realizing that this was a fairly rare quality.

We think strengths can be developed through effort and trainingThis may be the most controversial statement in this post because it seems to imply that effort and training are not important. Indeed effort and training to gain knowledge and skills are very important, but if you do not have talent for something, it does not become a strength. You can become pretty good at something through effort, even do better than someone who has talent (if he doesn’t put in effort), but how effective can a person be when he’s not leveraging his talents? The Drucker quote at the top of this articles suggests that strategy should be built on strengths (or talents).

We get used to the status quo and do not appreciate how fulfilling it might be to work in areas that leverage our strengthsIf we have done well in school and college, and are fairly competent at multiple things, we may end up in an industry or domain that pays well- say in IT, or sales in an FMCG company or something. We may enjoy the material comforts and the recognition we get because of the position we hold and may believe this is ‘as good as it gets’. It’s only when we see others who are working at the intersection of the 3 circles, where the lines between ‘work’ and ‘life’ are blurred, we realize we could do better. And many do not come into contact with people working at this optimal intersection and thus do not realize that such a thing is even possible.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had as a manager was reading the book ‘First Break all the Rules’ by Marcus Buckingham, and realizing that

“People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”– Marcus Buckingham

Reading this book helped me realise that knowledge and skills can be developed at any time but talents and interests need to be RECOGNIZED.

Once I realized this, my approach to hiring, and assigning work roles changed very consciously and some of the people I worked with also realized that they could be performing much better in a different role than their current (once they became aware of their talents).

It was still a challenge though to ‘hire for talent’- to some extent because it was not always clear what exactly was required to succeed in a role, but to a greater extent because it was not clear how to assess these talents at the time of recruitment. However, as a person worked for a few months in the organization, it was quite easy to spot the talents she had or didn’t have.

It is revolutionary when people recognize their talents and devote their energies to cultivating them. So it stands to reason that the earlier one recognizes one’s talent, the more powerful it is. But if one’s talents will primarily be discovered by going through various projects, learning experiences and life situations, how can one discover these early?

There may be no drastic ‘shortcut’, but I believe that this journey can start earlier and be ‘pulled in’ in the sequence of things. Early recognition of talents (even if it is tentative and subject to revision) helps us choose the ‘right path’ and invest valuable time, effort and money in choosing a vocation that fulfils us and gives us an opportunity to excel.

This past edition of our newsletter shares some insights from Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, the director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University on what parents can do to identify a child’s talents early in life. This post on the GenWise blog also talks about some approaches to identifying talents early in life. This is a topic on which much can be said (and debated) and we will return to it and discuss it in more detail in later editions.

Note on the use of terms– In this post, ‘Talent’ refers to an inborn ability, where something comes far more easily to an individual as compared to others. ‘Aptitude’ is used interchangeably with ‘Talent’. Talent is different from ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Skills’ which can be acquired through effort and training. In practice, a person brings to bear a combination of talent, knowledge and skills to the task at hand. (Of course, the person’s values, interests, ability to regulate himself and other factors are also at play.)

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of upcoming GenWise courses are available here. The next few courses are listed below.

Upcoming External Events

The below events are free to attend, though registration may be required.

Why do We Age? This week’s edition of ‘Talk to a Scientist’ features Tushar Patel from IISER Bhopal who will break down the very complex topic of aging. On Sat, Sep 25, 2021 at 5 PM IST for children from ages 6-16. Register here.

Redesign the World– This talk by Sam Pitroda on Sat, Sep 25 at 6 PM IST, based on his recent book of the same name outlines the new world’s vision with a clear focus on the planet and its people. It is based on the unyielding recognition that we need to improve the environment to take care of our planet and improve everyone’s quality of life. Each human being is created equal and has dignity and self-respect and the right to stand on a par with all others. The manifesto is based on optimizing environmental and human capital and not financial capital, trade or growth. It focuses on sustainability, inclusion and a hyperconnected world. The talk will be live here.

Sam Pitroda, inventor and entrepreneur has spent 55 years contributing significantly to developments in telecom. He has been Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission and Advisor to the Indian Prime Minister with a cabinet minister’s rank. He was also Chairman of the National Innovation Council, Smart grid task, Railway modernization, and Public broadcast reforms.

Computational Thinking in Schools Conference (CTiS): Our friends at CSpathshala  proudly announce the third edition of this conference CTiS2021, The conference is from 29th September to 2nd October 2021 at School of Scholars, Nagpur. Owing to the pandemic the conference will be held in the virtual format. Here’s what they have to say about the conference-

CTiS (Computational Thinking in Schools) conference is an annual event organised by ACM India (Association of Computing Machinery) and the CSpathshala community. It aims to bring together teachers, educators and researchers to discuss issues of curriculum, pedagogy, policy and implementation, related to bringing computational thinking to schools.

Our 4-day conference features keynote speakers, Hal Abelson, MIT, USA, Manish Jain, IIT Gandhinagar, Patricia Ordóñez, University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras and Wolfgang Slany, TU Gratz, Austria. The conference also features a workshop on CT and inclusion, conducted by Supriya Dey, Vision Empower and Manohar Swaminathan, Microsoft Research, Bengaluru and presentations of selected abstracts with sessions on implementation of computational thinking, fun activities and innovative examples used by teachers in classrooms!

For Program and registration details please visit: CTiS2021 Conference Page

The event is open to all educators as well as those involved and interested in computing education. Registration is free. Registration Link


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