Things you will NOT LEARN in COLLEGE 

When I was in NASA (1970’s), I learnt about the following four career crisises:

First crisis: When you start a new job in the area of your expertise, your linear experiences from college will help you. However, everyday life is non-linear and going from text books to real tasks is not easy. Young people I interview tell me that only 30% of what they have learnt ends up being useful in their frst job.

Second crisis: If you adjust and do well, in a few years you can be a team leader. From managing only what has previously been in your area of knowledge, your skill now has to be to manage people, calibrate them and learn to trust their work output. This is very diffcult and you may go to extremes of abdication or over-intrusion.

Third crisis: Normally, this comes 15 years into your professional life, after successfully passing the frst two crisises. By now, your own subject area knowledge is around 10%. Many other areas and teams are involved and you may be the head of your division. Here, you need to spot-check, learn new things and still not be intrusive or paranoid.

Fourth crisis: Only a few reach this stage and it involves having less than 1% of your subject knowledge. There is much more to learn now about the world external to your organisation, at the same time, you are expected to keep a keen eye on what is happening inside your company. To cope, you must learn to make decisions alone and to think of strategy options.

‘Well, how do we learn?’ will be your question. I can suggest a couple of processes to guide you. In anything that you learn, try to look for interconnections. Look at the mobile set in your hand and the many technologies it incorporates: so many softwares and diverse programmes. Above all, it incorporates a lot of market research and intuition about human behaviour. This holds good for everything from a toothbrush to chartered accountancy. If you learn to look at these, you will develop a ‘systems look’ of interconnected subsystems. I am in the habit of reading a lot of books on a variety of subjects such as sociology, economics, philosophy etc., that help me when my work poses the challenge of studying a TV watcher in a village to a high-tech satellite to cost-effectiveness.

Start this process right at the school or college level. Don’t go by icons or popular trends, learn to question in an informed way and learn about human behaviour which is not as easy as it sounds. How will you interact with people other than your teachers, students or parents? This is best learned through small-scale socially or economically relevant projects for which you have to learn to think frst and then execute. You need to keep in consideration how you and your team members interact with people. A large number of small projects will help you learn. Always document your work, introspect on your mistakes and correct them.

It is a never-ending process so learn to imbibe the insights from these well before you enter your frst crisis as this is how you will learn to face any crisis.

Sow the right seeds of learning in college itself, it is the most fertile period for learning. Place inside your mind and brain the seeds of practical knowledge, and you will never fall behind!