(Guest blog by Heather A. Moore)
Usha recently invited me to share some words of advice with the inspiring young women that had recently graduated from the pilot program of AIDA, Appropriate IT’s Development Academy, and with those from the community. Having gathered some sage advice from a few wise and generous mentors throughout my career, as well as the hard earned wisdom that comes from my own mistakes and experience, I accepted.
I met Usha several years ago at a school in Amsterdam, sort of an alternative MBA for social entrepreneurs or creative leaders like myself that were itching to start a business. There, we both discovered a passion for education. Together with another team member, the former CEO of Pearson Publishing, we worked on the challenge of improving the Netherlands School System by empowering master teachers. As we mapped out the complex relationships between all the stakeholders in the NL education system, including many of the experts and government administrators that we consulted, we eventually came to this insight: motivated students with internet access can now go directly to MOOCS, massive open online courses, and learn anything that they are curious about, circumventing the whole lot of parents, teachers, school board, administrators, governments, schoolbook publishers, etc. We envisioned a school curriculum that would empower students to learn emergent technologies in the context of real life social challenges with their peers and from positive role models.
Fast forward to August 15, 2014, India’s Independence Day. I had the honor of participating in the inauguration of AIDA at the NGP Arts and Science College, in Coimbatore, India as well as a wonderful Independence Day celebration at Vivek Vidyalaya, the rural school in Kinathukadavu that has donated space for AIDA. Here is the advice that I shared with the young women:
Learning is a mindset. The most important adjustment you can make in your education is to your mindset. I had just given a talk to a mixed group of very successful retired leaders of European industrial companies and the young students that they had hoped would someday lead those same companies. The retired leaders, who had come to the event as mentors, were shocked at the changes in the landscape of their organizations in the past few years. In the discussion afterwards it seemed clear that just because things had worked a certain way in the past, they would not continue to work that way in the future. Once the younger people got past the initial fear of debating with their mentors, they shared a great deal of insights about life in the Digital Age from a native point of view, and both groups benefited greatly from the exchange. With a learning mindset, everyone can teach and learn from one another.
Re-learn the things you were naturally good at as a child. Time spent in university and corporate careers tends to shape our skills and behaviors to fit a certain context, and one must constantly re-learn to overwrite legacy behavior and return to what’s important. Some skills are always useful: Play well with others. Listen. Tell a good story. Know how to lead, and to follow. Exercise your creativity. Empathize. Be curious.
The future is uncertain, so it helps to pick a few skills/behaviors that make it easier to thrive in uncertainty. Learn things like mindfulness, critical thinking, improvisation, collaboration, and network literacy. After learning (and re-learning) these things myself, I felt that this was a better investment than an MBA and one that will pay off over a lifetime.
Take responsibility for your own future. As jobs become more and more fragmented and temporary, it helps to envision the big picture of what you want to achieve in your life, follow the thread of your passion, and understand what you want your legacy to be. You are the steward of your own career. In this regard, it also helps to be able to program, write a blog, design a website, and create a brand. These are relatively new literacies, but ones that will continue to be important in a Digital Age.
Success is iterative, and learning is a journey. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to learn new things, to make mistakes. You can always improve upon what you know and apply your knowledge in new contexts. Sometimes, it takes a while to make a personal connection to a particular subject, but you can build bridges to it from other subjects you know well. Don’t give up. Be tenacious.
Speaking of tenacious, it is just two short years since we met in Amsterdam, and already Usha has realized her goal of starting a school that empowers young women to learn emerging technologies. She has even found a way of making it sustainable… and this is only the beginning.
(This blog post is written by Heather A. Moore (twitter: @hmoore) who is the Founder & CEO of The Shape of Things, an innovation strategy, foresight & resilience consultancy based in Berlin. The views expressed above are her own).