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Keeping Current

A B Kulkarni

Author: A B Kulkarni

Date: Sun, 2016-09-04 19:40

A good teacher is one who can connect with her audience. Some of the prerequisites for such a teacher are 1) subject knowledge and 2) a good understanding of the audience. Both these can change over time. If a teacher has to remain good over time, the challenge is to be current about the subject as well as have an insightful understanding of the changes taking place in the audience. Sometimes she might be teaching different age groups, sectors and people from varied backgrounds.  What are these challenges? There are many but, I will try to list those that I think are of prime importance in management education.

Each area gets wider by the day; e.g. each of the topics and sub-topics are now subjects of full time courses or sometimes programmes. How does one choose a specialisation? How deep do we go within a specialisation?  How does one keep track of the impact of other topics on one’s special field?

What about the impact of other areas on your area and specialisation? For example, the Return on Marketing Investment is an intersection of marketing, portfolio planning, resource allocation, cash flows, profit and shareholder value. Depth or Width?
 

Consumer behaviour requires a strong understanding of Behavioral Economics, Sociology, Anthropology and Psychology.  Depth or Width?  The answer probably lies in finding a balance which enables you to look at other fields only to the extent of their impact on your topic. Is this easy?

Big Data is coming at us in great volumes and velocity. How does each functional area handle this in terms of accessing and processing data and then decision making? This requires knowledge of data collection and processing methods and organisational adaptation to give responses in real time. Depth or Width?

Digital media has become a field in itself. Social Media Marketing, a field within it. How does one apply Social Media Marketing to non-profit organisations? Depth or Width?

The response to these challenges depends not solely on the individual but, is to a large extent dependent on the size and structure of the institution. A big institute with a large and varied student base can afford to have specialist faculty by topic and sector. This takes care of the Depth. The Width of knowledge of the individual faculty can come through continuing interaction among faculty, joint teaching and external inputs from industry and thought leaders. Is all this easy? No! But, there are examples of thought leaders among faculty. Such faculty members could become mentors for other faculty.

 

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<p>This conflict is like the yin&nbsp;and the yang . Both are needed but in what proportions ? Does this change over time ? One way to address this issue is to accept the fact that human brain has a certain capacity to hold &nbsp;data , facts , knowledge etc . After a stage something must come out for something else to go in . This is the theory of the " conservation of brain power " , so to say .</p> <p>For example , what we learnt in the first to fifth standards is now being taught in the&nbsp;first to second standards , with several, omissions . For&nbsp;&nbsp;example , we were asked to do the experiment of Joseph Priestley , of establishing that air contains 20% oxygen . Do students even look&nbsp;at this now ? They have assumed this as a fact that needs no verification . Instead they might want to find out more about the speed on their braodband connection in their smarfones in standard IV .</p> <p>That reminds me of a proverb that we used to hear much of &nbsp;in childhood : every male child in Kerala is born with a typewriter in hand and a female child with a stethoscope . Now , owing to gender equality , all chilren are born with cell phones in their hands , the brand and the features could be the&nbsp;only difference .&nbsp;</p> <p>After the advent of simulations and computer modelling using the EXCEL , the&nbsp;days of writing computer programs to solve operations&nbsp;problems using differential equations or algorithms have taken a rest ( however algorithms maybe seeing&nbsp;a rebirth due to their increasing usage in Big Data analytics ) . One must now move on to simulation and computer applications and forget about the use of complex distribution assumptions for demand .</p> <p>Every faculty has to take a call on this and this is the best part about management education . Every faculty has to stay current , if not , he or she will be shocked to learn that&nbsp;students have switched off .&nbsp;</p>

The topic being discussed is of outmost importance and relevance in the current scenario. With the fast changing environment it is vital for us to keep pace with such changes; else we may be left out. The evolution in the knowledge base these days can be partly attributed to the scale at which people are using social media. The theories and concepts are changing at such a scale that what seems to be of relevance today may not hold good 10 years from now. And as Sir mentioned in his blog, these changes not only led to increased knowledge in a particular field or subject, but also create interdependence among different subjects. We may not realise it, but the daily conversations that we indulge in, may be in person or through phone or internet, is nothing but what supports this linkage. We hear about some new upcoming technology and start to think about how the same can be useful in my area of work. Often lessons and practices from other industries and fields have found modified application in an industry which is stark in contrast. Courses such as Design Thinking, which are finding acceptance all over, also somewhere, highlight the importance of keeping your knowledge up to date. If one is well aware of the kind of opportunities that are building around, we can then leverage our understanding of the same to come up with new ideas and propositions. Given the pace of such evolution, our existing knowledge base may turn obsolete or irrelevant if the same is not enhanced in light with the changes happening in our immediate environment.

Kaizen is a Japanese term very commonly used in manufacturing industry and it means continuous improvement. I have been very much intrigued by this word. The more I think about it, the more I get real. Imagine the possibility of improvement in all the things that we do daily. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is then not an act but a habit. I believe a teacher is like a diamond. An uncut, unpolished diamond is still valuable but not demanded by many. Whereas, a polished and cut diamond is valued all around and it shines bright making other gems loose sheen. The article on keeping current is valid very much in today’s scenario. This can be extrapolated to even business and technology managers. The world around us is changing so rapidly that those who fail to change with it are left behind. It is critical that teachers stay up to date with the current trends in the industry. It is from them that student’s hope to seek knowledge. But, as mentioned in the article, learning about a particular subject or changing trend will give depth in the subject matter. The breadth can be obtained only by, mutual collaboration. In industry, there are seminars and cross-functional learning sessions to enhance knowledge about trends and disruptions. Teachers should also engage in mutual interaction and focus on continuous improvement. What we know today can be obsolete tomorrow and what is in a paper today will be implemented tomorrow. It is imperative to stay engaged in continuous improvement for self and group development. I happen to come across an article named "Reinventing SPJIMR" by Dr.Lata Dhir. In the article, she starts on by saying about a workshop conducted by the faculty for the faculty on book reading. She also discussed on the importance of reinventing one’s career by reinventing one’s identity. SPJIMR is already implementing measures to counter these disruptions in the field of education. As pioneers in change management, I am sure, in time to come, faculties of this college will be the shining brighter than the rest.

Hi Sir, You have touched upon a very important and a very conspicuous topic. The problem of knowing everything from its depth to breadth is now redefining many sectors & verticals in big industries & institutes. How vast sections of knowledge are merging into each other and several new knowledge areas are coming into being, is astonishing to say the least. To make new headways in your own area of expertise, one has to be very much updated about several other subjects and their direct & indirect impacts. As very aptly put forth by you, a teacher has to keep himself or herself on this continuous hunt for knowledge so as to stay relevant for students & other faculty around. This is easier said than done. Not only just the expectations of the students with their teachers have grown manifold, but also a teacher’s own curiosity about knowing his or her subject has grown with this information revolution. There are new links and correlated areas to explore within your own domain, that one could easily get bogged down in deciding between expanding depth or breadth of your knowledge. But knowing and being familiar with the exceptional pool of teachers at SPJIMR, one can rest easy because the faculty of teachers here will not let any stone left unturned to make sure best learning is derived from their subjects.

Very good and thoughtful blog reflecting important challenges of modern era. The blog appears small but chain of thoughts it created in my mind, after reading this, seems to be endless. Agreeing with you Sir, to keep ourselves relevant, we have to keep embracing current changes happening around us. However, this is not only limited to teachers but applicable to all of us in society. Environment around us is changing every moment and its continuously taking forms we can’t even think of!! Due to this ever changing world, expectation from all of us has increased by default. We are supposed to know everything to avoid guilt. Sir, you have rightly pointed out that each segment of an erstwhile curriculum has become a full-fledged curriculum in themselves!!! I feel, perhaps, this is the demand of growing specialization. But your concern is true. How a specialized field can survive independently? In this era, nothing is independent. Then how come so called specialization survive? Of course not. Elements of each field, affects the other. The degree may vary. While thinking on your points, example of a home-maker came in my mind. I don’t know how far it relates. A home maker is expected to be versatile. She might be specialized in a field say cooking. But she is supposed to have ‘adequate’ knowledge about budget (finance) management, banking, all religious rituals, parenting, hospitality, relations management (within family), time management, home remedies, health, socio-economic environment, dealing with vendors, teaching of kids, technology (mobile, face-book and whatsapp), planning for future, etc. etc. The list can contain many more areas. She is supposed to manage all these. She may be specialized in one but should have knowledge of all. Jack of all and master of one/two. All areas may not be inter-related. This is perhaps the width of knowledge requirement. And what if she is a working woman? Her specialization area increases. Sir, I think teaching profession and teachers have evolved a lot since the time when only one teacher used to teach all subjects. Now the teachers are specialized subject matter experts and they are treated as masters in their subject. They can teach the subject with much proficiency than any other who is non-specialized. This is beneficial for students. It will give students an opportunity to feel the depth which is not possible in opposite scenario. However, on other hand, these specialized teachers have challenge to remain aware about their field in particular and other impacting fields in general. Operations Management faculty cannot ignore new theories evolved in capital budgeting or demand forecasting. Supply Chain expert cannot ignore introduction of new laws in indirect taxation. Well, I agree with you that this is not easy. However, this is an era of inter-dependence. No one can survive alone. Each can help each one, each one can train each one and each can learn for each one. We cannot ignore the interference of google in this chain. Google has become the preferred source of information. All has accepted this way of life. It has variety of information taking care of width part but can it eliminate knowledge implanting centers (schools) who takes care of depth part, is the question to ponder upon. Change is constant. We need to keep accepting current. Its end of options.

A very interesting point raised by you regarding the problems in front of the teacher to keep the pace with the changing world. With the fields getting populated with new sub fields and the increasing interconnection of fields, it becomes very difficult to maintain the pace. Especially in management world where people are continuously disrupting the way of business earlier. The situation is becoming similar to science streams, where in earlier days there were only physics, chemistry and biology. But now a day, you can see the development of various inter connected fields like bio technology etc. and becoming a field in itself. But the specialization in main streams never lost its charm. Similarly, the new fields that are constructing the width of management subject have their roots attached to core subject only. The sub fields have covered a large domain but when it comes for application part or creating a value for customers, all the sub branches converge to the main branch only. And with every new discovery, an old knowledge will become obsolete. For becoming the master of one, the domain is wide-spread and one needs to be aware of what are the disruptions going in the world. The disruption will be changing the way the subject was used to work. It is true that one cannot know everything and will never be able to do that. But what one can do to become a relevant teacher is to know the persons who are masters of the new fields. The idea of teachers mentoring each other will be a great initiative for all the fraternity. The new age technology has made that connection easier to form. And same goes for a good manager, he can’t be an expert in every field and that is also not expected of him. He must have basic knowledge about everything and should be able to judge what impact the new things are bringing in his expert domain. Another challenge is how to take the new technology driven disruption and their impacts. The big data has changed many verticals of the business. But is this a threat or an opportunity for a teacher? I think it’s an opportunity because with more data driven results the theories will become relevant or trivial. The student will be able to connect more with whatever is taught and can also experience in the business happening. In the end, I believe It seems that it is difficult to know everything, but if we look at thing from a big picture perspective, the new fields will only be replacing the pieces of the jigsaw.

Dear Ma’am, Thank you for putting up such a great article. I strongly conform to your views that humour can play an important role in effective pedagogy. Your article also took me to the time of my group interview (GI-1)for SPJIMR wherein you made all of us feel at ease with some humorous questions that enabled us to be more confident in expressing ourselves . Humour has the ability to break the ice in any situation be it a classroom, interview panel, important presentation or any difficult real life situation. It also has the ability to make the subject interesting if not easier. As a student I have experienced that I have the tendency to explore the subjects, we find intriguing irrespective of the level of complexity in its concept. Your article reminded me of quote from Shashi Tharoor which says “In this world of technology, we don’t need an informed mind but a formed mind”. Technology has enabled us to have the access to knowledge, but it is imperative to understand the theories and apply them in the practical world. So, the students and teacher share the responsibility to ensure that application based learning takes place which can provide solutions to complicated problems. This put an onus on the teachers to make pedagogy more interesting and engaging so that the students stay focused in the class and also retain the learning for extended period of time. You have rightly mentioned in your blog that students feel the fear in asking questions from professors but humour enables the students to come out of the shell and ask questions freely which are usually left unanswered. On the hind sight humour also provide respite from the chaotic and extremely demanding life of a MBA student. A teacher who could tickle the bones of his or her students amidst the rat race will always be admired and respected by the students .I also support the very point of caution that you have so explicitly mentioned about avoiding bad humour .The humour is often being made at the situation or at some person .We usually have a mix of people coming from all walks of life with different culture in institutions like college, office or any other large organisation. Therefore, before cracking a joke or passing a humorous comment on any person or situation in the organisation, one should make sure that no sentiments are being hurt while trying to be humorous. This can have adverse affect and can be detrimental to the purpose i.e. “of better engagement of the receiver”. Sometimes sarcasm is also used as mode of humour to make the message more impactful, quotes of Mark Twain always have huge impact on the reader as it show the realistic picture with sarcasm while using words which are compact and simple. At last I would like to add that humour has the ability to give laughter and reduce the anxiety even in the crunch situations. Hence, Henry Ward Beecher has rightly said that “A person without a sense of humour is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road”.

Dear Sir, thank you for putting forth your views on this very important topic in such an interesting way. I completely second you on your thoughts about the importance of teachers and faculty of staying abreast in their field of interest. In this world all of us are grappling to stay relevant in this fast evolving state of affairs .Teachers and professors sometimes have to play the role of a flag bearer of change in their respective fields. To promote research in new fields not only the professors has to maintain the pace with the time, but also sometime have to stay ahead of time. Educational and technological institutions have started realising the importance of this particular aspect and many initiatives have been initiated. At curriculum level for PGDM students at SPJIMR a new subject like Management & Liberal Arts (MALA) is introduced with an aim to inculcate among the students a culture of questioning the conventional views and contradicting the norms at various levels. This is imperative as in the current world of disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT) and Big Data, which are questioning the basic premises of our approach to a problem and are calling into question pre-existing technologies. A subject called YTT (Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow) is being taught to us which emphasise on the art of staying relevant by building knowledge of pre-existing practices in management, learnings from history and most importantly, building a perspective about the upcoming challenges. I believe such an initiative is useful not only for students, but also for faculties. Practice of research work in the respective field among the teachers in India should be promoted for in depth learning of the subject and at the same cross-specialization learning can also be done by interacting with faculties, who are experts in their respective field, should also be promoted to increase the width in knowledge. But, we still know that continuous learning and being at the same pace with time is not an easy task. The resources are just one click away on our smart phones and accessible for all and thus just domain knowledge is not enough for being an efficient teacher. One should go beyond their respective field to satiate the curiosities of students. For instance, a professor of Operations Management should know about the Indirect tax reforms that are taking place in India. Similarly, a Finance professor should be updated with new technological advancements to explain the cost repercussions on the accounts of an entity. Therefore, emphasis on in depth and width knowledge is required at the same time. This is imperative not only for teachers or professors, but also for managers of tomorrow. As we are progressing towards modern world the specialisation knowledge needs to be complemented with by knowledge of other fields. The business world has also become very uncertain and the leaders need to have knowledge across all the domains for the businesses to thrive through the test of time in this VUCA world.

*Please ignore the last to last comment with the heading "Humour in Education" timestamped Sat, 2017-09-23 23:39

A very interesting and thoughtful topic which is of utmost relevance in today’s age. It created chain of thoughts in my mind and the dilemma between depth vs width isn’t just limited to a teacher’s profession. It extends beyond to almost every other person, especially in management. As thoughtfully put by you, the world is brimming with niche specialisations which one would not have imagined 20 years ago – Programming, Data Science, Deep Learning, Financial Markets, Design Thinking, Cryptocurrencies, Digital Marketing, Medical Neuroscience to name a few. When you think of 3D Technology and IoTs, the future seems full of disruptions and new innovations. Change is inevitable. In this world, where we constantly need to re-adjust with technology disruptions, re-think our strategies and re-engineer our business plans, it is important to take a step back to be able to re-imagine the bigger picture. And to look at the bigger picture, we need to understand and analyse the context of the situation for which one needs cross-functional knowledge. Since childhood, I had always been told to pick my strengths and develop a specialisation, as specialisation trumps generalisation in this age. In my opinion, at least for me, there has been too much focus on being a specialised in one subject than gaining deep knowledge in a variety of subjects. I feel, for a manager, depth of knowledge can narrow his’s focus as he would tend to approach the problem from a fixed perspective of his relative strengths. A focussed approach can be limiting at times. A broad scope lets a person see the whole picture from many points of view. Even in academia where it is all about depth of knowledge in a field, I feel the ability to relate with students and teach them from various perspectives and inter-connecting with different subjects can help them understand the concepts better in practical sense. For example, how different accountancy concepts can affect the economics of a country (rising NPAs, 2008 crisis) A food for thought, advancements in academia research are usually incremental. Tiny changes occur over decades. If every scientist in that field learned the same things to get their degrees, how can we expect “same” to lead to “different” results or innovative/breakthrough theories? We need to maintain a certain balance between the width and depth of knowledge. There is a certain amount of depth needed for broad knowledge to be useful. We retain little of what we are taught if we don’t integrate and understand the concept deeply and apply it in our life. On the other hand, if we spend all our time working on a few projects that touch on only surface concepts, we can end up with gaping holes in our knowledge base. Therefore, in my opinion, if one needs to connect the dots and innovate and keep pace in this world, there has to be cross-functional knowledge. In today’s uncertain environment, for a manager, breadth of experience trumps depth of knowledge.

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