Wednesday, March 09, 2011

“I’m not an idiot!” – A Letter from an Agonized Adult Learner

I’m an adult, literate, and a professional. I manage my finances, my investments, wealth and health with equal ease. I manage my family, team, career, and social needs effortlessly. I see no reason why I cannot manage my learning and training sessions. But my training managers tend to think otherwise.

Here’s what my training managers think of my ability to learn:

I cannot spot Next and Back buttons. I need to be told, “Click Next to proceed.”

Do you know, I navigate using maps both offline and online - in fact I refer to them almost everyday on my mobile phone, laptop, and especially love my treasured paper maps. I operate DVD players, music system, home theatre, and the multiple remote control sets in my house with ease. What makes you think I cannot navigate back and forth through an eLearning course?

I cannot read text on screen - I need the same to be read out!

I have been reading since I was 5! Most of my official communication happens over email with people across geographies - and so far I have not had the need for an email reader. Although, it’s not a bad idea considering I receive around 360 emails a day! I perform all my online activities with ease, whether it is fixing an appointment with my doc, booking a movie ticket, or transacting online with my bank - so far I have never had the need for audio assistance to reiterate on-screen instructions.

I cannot decide what is important and is unimportant - so block out headers, highlight too many things on the screen, force me to go through all the tabs and clicks...

Do you really believe that if you force me to 'look' at all the tabs, you ensure that I 'learn' all the crap that’s out there! If I can navigate through heaps and piles of information around me and filter out what I need the most, what makes you think that I cannot discern between critical and non-critical info in my learning material.

For that matter, why offer me something that is not critical – it’s good to stick to things that are relevant to me? But yes, I realize where you are coming from - You want to cut down your effort and design for all! In the process, everyone like me is pained to receive things that are not meant for them!

My attention span is too short!

Well, who told you this is a problem? I drive to work everyday and have a record of zero tickets despite listening to music on the way and with 5 other vehicles around me at any point of time.
All my official communication happens over phone and email - and neither my wife, my boss, or for that matter my kids have ever complained to me about my lack of attention. What makes you conclude that I have a short attention span?

Further what makes you think that you can counter that by making me click unnecessarily on an image 5 times (to make it interactive?) Didn't it strike you that if you really wanted to hold my attention, you could make the content more engaging? Next time, try engaging my mind rather than my fingers - you may get a better feel of my attention span!

Ah, how can I forget the tests and CYUs...

While I really appreciate your efforts to help me reinforce my learning, but may I request you to put in more effort in creating these tests? Smart tests are those that tease my intelligence and not question it? Most trying are those tests where your options attempt to confuse me rather than challenge me.

Fool me with layered content.

"The course has only 15 screens; it should not take you more than 20 minutes." Well almost - until you get inside and realize there are 30 more hidden screens within these 15! Sometimes I wonder whether you really want to 'motivate' me to learn or are you trying to 'con' me by pushing across a legal document with hidden and layered clauses, sub-clauses!

I could go on and on - but I trust your intelligence and have hopefully got my message across to you.

(Inspired by some recent experience sharing sessions with Archana.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Startup Saturday Hyderabad Nov 13 - Cloud Startups

Startup Saturday Hyderabad once again lived up to its reputation of being an active forum for startups in the city. Today's session was very topical - Cloud Startups. The objective of the session was beautifully articulated by Priyanka in her invitation email: "A peek into Hyderabad Startups dabbling in the cloud. Building solutions in SaaS model, running on the cloud (Amazon/Google App engine/++) and building utilities/tools/infrastructure for the cloud. Innovative solutions on cloud. Addressing key challenges in the biz models for cloud solutions and tech challenges."

Ramesh Loganathan, VP (Products) and Head of Progress Software (India), kick-started the session with a quick round of introduction. C. Chaitanya from Ozonetel introduced his product KooKoo, a cloud-based platform as a service product. KooKoo is an Inbound and Outbound IVR telephony platform that allows users to build and manage their telephony application themselves using web technology of their choice leveraging existing web infrastructure. Learn more about the product.

The speaker of the day was Satish Madhira. Satish has gone through the full startup life cycle. He has earlier founded Yasu Technologies, ran it successfully for 10 years, and then sold it successfully to SAP in 2007. Now he runs ICUMI Technologies Pvt Ltd that operates the Dealivore service. Satish talked about 'Emerging Cloud Business models' with special emphasis on 'Gaming Models in the Cloud.' The participants had a whole lot of questions for Satish, ranging from back-end technologies to front-end expertise to Dealivore's business model.

The next presenter was Ripul Kumar from Kern Communications Pvt Ltd. Ripul presented Kern's latest cloud-based educational technology offering. He described how a "non-technology" company could successfully develop and implement a technology solution leveraging the cloud-based infrastructure. He outlined how cloud-computing was the right solution for a company's quick and agile development needs. Cloud-based solution is cost-effective, highly scalable, and extremely reliable without the burden of maintenance, installation, and managing the back-end. He ended the session with a quick demo of the application. The session closed with a lightening pitch by CitizenSocial. Nirmala Govindan (advisory team member CIE) introduced CitizenSocial currently incubated at IIIT. Unfortunately, I could not attend the last part, thanks to my three-year old who had enough of cloud-startup gyan by now. It will be great if the participants could update us about their pitches here for the benefit of those who missed it.

The best part about Startup Saturday is the opportunity to meet up old friends, ex-colleagues, and build a network within the fraternity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What are your success criteria?

Recently, I was interacting with a team of budding entrepreneurs as a mentor for the MentorEdge initiative.  I realized that most new entrepreneurs are passionate, enthusiastic and driven. At the same time, for most of them, the measure of success is how large you grow and how much money you make. Also, most seem to believe that you either earn quick money or raise quick money - ultimately, success is access to quick money. Well, quick money is like quicksand, it disappears faster than it comes!

Be it a 500-crore company, a 5-crore company or a 5-lac company, each can be an extremely successful venture depending on its criteria of success. I define success parameters differently.

1) Since I run a consulting company, we are very clear about things we WILL do and things we will NOT do as part of our consulting services. The success factor is to stand by this decision consistently. Often we realize that we are very clear about what NOT to do rather than what to do! But for me a successful business is one that is clear about what it wants to do and even more clear about what it does NOT want to do.

2) A consulting company's success depends on the success of its clients. If my clients are successful, I am successful. Am I adding value to my clients that makes them successful? What is my contribution to the success of my client? Every time a client comes back to say how our service was useful, we earn a success brownie.

3) A consulting company has to have the best people in the trade. For most start-ups, it is a challenge to attract the best talent. But every time good people come on board, it's a huge success for the company. When people "want" to work for you, it is a huge compliment for your brand. On the other hand, when internally people are highly motivated to work and continue to grow with the organization, it is a bigger compliment to the success of an organization.

4) Another success parameter is execution of dream projects. Every organization and every working professional should have its list of dream projects to work on. Each dream project accomplished is a tick on your success parameters. It is another matter that some of these dream projects have a very hard landing, but all the same - you at least have zero regrets about not working on those. And, all the better if you come out of them wiser than before!

5) Dream clients are next on my criteria of success. For a consulting company, it is the list of clients that makes a difference. If you have an enviable client's list, you have a blank check. Clients lead to more clients, and more clients lead to more business - simple equation. Well, on after thoughts - it is not that simple. A lot of hard work goes into earning client loyalty. And that by itself is a huge benchmark of success.

Size of the company and volume of business are just the visible outcome; they are poor determinants of success. So what are your success criteria?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Startup Saturday - Hyderabad July 10

I spent an interesting Saturday with the Hyderabad Startup Group. The theme was Mobile. Apart from Farhan Azhar and Shiva the guest speakers, there were a couple of lightning speeches as well. It was good to hear Farhan speak. Farhan is a successful serial entrepreneur from Hyderabad. It will be good if someone can update Farhan's entrepreneurship ventures.

Farhan's talk was interesting and insightful. He highlighted the key points about building products especially those that are self-funded. The key takeaways:
a. Simplicity: The product should be simple
b. Small team: Usually have a team size of less than 4 people. An ideal composition should be an usability expert, a programmer (and not a geek) who understands business and human need, a marketing person who can communicate in English and someone to have a tight control over the finances.

He rightly pointed out the 3 things that really work for mobile-based technology:
1. Voice
2. SMS
3. Mobile web
Out of these 1 & 2 are the most universal. Therefore, content should be delivered in either of these modes.

In response to queries and discussions around mobile phone apps, Farhan shared the research findings about what drives mobile phone apps. They should be:
- Bursty (like an sms or an alert that draws your attention)
- Obsessive (addictive - so that people have sufficient motivation to adopt the apps - eg twitter)
- Leisure (when people are relatively free to engage with their phones)

Shiva from shared his experience in growing Apalya and the future plans. Apalya are the pioneers of video technology on mobile phone and are now the leading providers of mobile television.

The lightening pitches by Abhishek Sinha and Chakri prompted interesting discussions among the group. Abhishek spoke about a topic that is close to my heart - education. He rightly pointed out some of the big concerns that parents today have about the 'right' kind of education for children. Abhishek is a consultant working is the area of improving the processes in schools as well as educating the parents about demanding quality education. He presented his ideas about how technological interventions in the educational processes of a school/institute can address concerns such as quality of teachers, feedback to teachers, quality of education, school environment and so on.

Chakri presented an interesting idea of how to use social networking for business. He has developed a site called It is a social networking site connecting like people with similarities. The unique feature of the site is a compatibility calculator!

While the organizers certainly have an unenviable task of organizing and promoting these meets. The quality of these meets could be certainly improved so as to inspire more participation. Compared to the startup meets in Bangalore and Mumbai, the meet in Hyd lacked structure, rigor, and seemed ad hoc. Certainly, participants have a big role to play in energizing these meets. My thoughts on how to make the meet more meaningful:

1) Invite participation at least 2 weeks in advance - give presenters time to plan and prepare well
2) Maintain strict time lines - lightening pitches or elevator pitches must be lightening - done in 2 mins
3) Many meets share some guidelines that work well - I can share a format with the group
4) Participants should register in advance, share their introductory details with the group online
5) If there are more participants/presenters, make it an unconference. Time is precious, esp a Saturday morning! Let people choose to attend any presentation they like, we all have laptops and datacards, should not be a big deal to present in small groups! Welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LMS dialogs

LMS vs. Learners

LMS vs. Learning - ROI

LMS vs. Deewaar

For all those Deewaar fans! Couldn't resist this one. And, apologies to non-Hindi speaking audience. The translation will not do any justice to the strip.

Sometimes, LMS can also make us smile. :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thinking of Setting Up an Advisory Panel?

During my research about how to set up an advisory board, I came across some useful information. Hope this comes in handy for new entrepreneurs and startups looking for advisors who am sure have questions galore about how to go about this arduous task. I remember attending a Webinar last year conducted by TiE Mumbai where Madan Padaki spoke about how he set up his advisory board. Summarizing some of the key points from Madan's session as well as from Mark Suster, Jordan Cooper, and others' blogs:

Why look for advisors?
The reasons why companies look for advisors may vary. Some look for advisors for pure "gyan" and mentoring support during their maiden entrepreneurship venture. For others, a good advisory board can help create the right kind of impression and impact when looking for business. Most people seek prominent industry experts, luminaries, highly networked individuals, or people in highly influential positions etc as part of their advisory board. The agenda for most are either or all of these:
a) Provide valuable gyan or mentoring support
b) Be the company's brand ambassador/mouthpiece
c) Help get business contacts

Whatever be the objective, it is ideal to have an advisory panel of 3 or more advisors. This will help get the right combination of advisors to make a difference.

Where/How to look for advisors?
Your first choice should be to find an expert from your own domain or from your own industry. This will ensure that you get enough wisdom from someone who knows your industry well and has had similar experiences facing the challenges that you encounter to be able to provide you advice on the same. You could begin with known people in your circle, acquaintances, senior ex-colleagues etc.

The next choice could be to look for someone who can be your brand ambassador. Someone who has the right reach to help you reach out to the world. The person could be an existing client, somebody from the media, academia or a public figure well-respected in the industry circles. It is always interesting to have an advisor from academia for various reasons. a. They would typically have more time to spend with you compared to advisors who have a hectic corporate or public life. b. Academic advisors can bring in a lot of credibility while looking for business. c. Advising is almost an occupational hazard for them, so you can always depend upon their gyan and advice.

Some tips from Madan about how to approach potential advisors:
- Clearly define what you need and who you need
- Seek and shortlist
- Don't ask (send a request)
- Sell your dream - they should sense your passion
- Be upfront about what you can give - though advisors typically are not looking for your money
- Tone down your expectations on their contributions (after all they are doing this to help you)

What to expect from advisors?
This is a particularly interesting question. While we all may have our own reasons for setting up an advisory board, how can we ensure that advisory boards really add value to us as well as to our business? I came across an interesting post by Mark Suster "Should Your Startup Have an Advisory Board?". He specifies some advisory board problems in great detail. Here's a quick recap:
- Not enough time
- Not enough wisdom
- Too much effort
- Expensive

How to make the most of your advisory board?
Apart from the useful tips by Mark Suster, Madan also specifies some points that can help you make the most of your advisory board.
- Send them updates (made a calendar of events) informed them, posted updates, involved them in all significant achievements of the company, involve them
- If your advisory panel is a very diverse group, avoid getting them together. If the common topics between them are very different, it will be difficult to bind them into a common theme. On the contrary, group interactions can also be good for your advisors when they get to meet other influencers and benefit from the association.
- Be transparent about crisis etc with them - it is critical to build a relationship of trust with them.
- Get about 1 or 2 hrs of their time over a 2-3 months period, with every meeting, try to increase their mind share about your company. Over time, their involvement will increase.

What should you offer them?
Here, I came across a lot of information about what to offer the advisors. The point that came out very clearly is that mentors/advisors are not interested in 'your' money. They are typically successful people who have been there, done that and seen it all. They are passionate about growing a small start up to a successful company. The reasons why they've said a yes could be many. They may have found your idea exciting, liked your dream, or liked you :) !

While advisors typically are not looking for monetary gains or a remuneration, an acceptable return for services rendered could be a stake of about 0.1% (not exceeding 2%) depending on the state of the startup. Jordan Cooper sheds some light on paying advisors with equity in his post 'Founder Beware: True "Advisors" Don't Ask for Free Equity.' You can also read through some discussions about how much equity to hand out to advisor or mentor. On the other hand, Madan had mentioned that you could offer them a remuneration - a monthly honorarium for the services rendered - once your business starts flowing smoothly.

Some informative reads, please add to the list if you come across more:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Celebrating learning and development professionals and their initiatives

Having run a training and learning consulting company for the last 6 years and having worked with clients, vendors, and fellow learning professionals; I realize that the world is divided into two parts - those who provide training (vendors) and those who need training (clients).

(Big thank you to eLearningArt for the useful stock images!)

Most of my folks are on this side of the table (those who provide training). Being on this side of the table, I get to see and hear a lot of their anger, frustration, challenges, brilliance, and happiness in dealing with clients, executing projects, or finding resources. The angst is equal on the other side as well. L&D heads and HR managers have a tough time dealing with difficult or incompetent vendors, identifying talent, coaching and mentoring truckloads of people, and managing ever increasing demands of the organization.

Increasingly, a training professional's role is becoming more holistic. It is moving away from just tactical interventions (instructional design and delivery) to more strategic ones like identifying competency gaps, planning training curriculum, co-creating training calendars along with clients etc.

Often our worlds are so polarized that we either create villains out of each other or completely ignore each others contribution to the ultimate goal of "learning, talent development, and skill enhancement.”

LionSher is an initiative to bridge this gap. It has a flavor of "learning activism" that helps us overcome the cynicism attached to each role and celebrate the efforts and achievements of folks on either side of the table.

At LionSher, we want to feature HR managers, T&D managers and L&D heads who have been digging away diligently in their organizations - sometimes bearing the tag of being "cost centers" for their companies. We also want to highlight the contributions of learning designers, learning design companies, and trainers as they share their experiences, pet peeves, and unforgettable moments.

The first interview on LionSher features Mathew Kuruvilla, Head of Talent & Development, South Asia Deutsche Bank AG. Mathew, who has spent a decade and half in the industry, shares his concerns, experiences, and his vision of the way ahead for L&D professionals.

I'd like to invite you all to share your thoughts and give back to the community in your own way. As I see it, these transitions are not in isolation. I can clearly see a new breed of training professionals emerging... (food for thought for my next blog!)

Kudos to our LionSher team! They have put together an elegant platform to publish the articles. Do check out the first interview on LionSher and leave your valuable comments and feedback.