Monday, May 29, 2006

Needed: Future Ready Thinkers - are the schools ready?

Image: Elisha Otis's Elevator Patent Drawing, 01/15/1861.

From my personal notebook

There are two persistent problems with education anywhere today:
  1. What they teach at any school is backward-looking. The textbooks are old, based on even older material, based on even older events and analysis.

  2. Most institutes do not teach a human child or adult to use their own mind. In fact, thinking with one’s own mind is believed to be a dangerous and reckless tendency viewed suspiciously. It is “liable to punishment.”

This is my dream for the overhaul of education: To rally schools (anywhere, all age groups, all social groups) around two things they must have in order to be compatible with the needs of life and the modern man:

All schools must have a dedicated “future studies” course. This course must cover the study of, at least, changes in the STEEPLE factors in the next 5-10 years. STEEPLE is an amazing model for analysis of environment of life. It is simply an acronym for Society + Technology + Economy + Environment + Politics + Law + Ethics. It is a framework to study the environment in which we exist.

Ecology as a Basis to Understand the System of Life
A note: I’d rather replace the word “environment” in the framework with the more apt “ecology.” In any institute of future studies… ecological studies, to me, is a must. I imagine that each school gives compulsory education to students of all levels about ecology and the dynamics of life. So that we may finally develop human children into sensitive beings with a personal responsibility for the biosphere. I also imagine that a school’s negligence in teaching ecological studies is “liable to punishment” by law…. Hmmm. I can sense the theme of my next campaign…

STEEPLE-S, with Spirituality
Another idea is to add spirituality as a separate factor in the analysis model. It’s a possibility I want to dedicate more thought to.

Own Vision, Own Future
In the future studies course, students will not only learn from futurists, but mostly form their own extrapolative pictures of the future. After all those who imagine the future shape it. There will be no forced conclusion – it’s not history but future so all cannot agree – instead broad areas of future concerns will give the universal framework within which to excite imagination and generate solutions.

All schools must have a course dedicated to thinking. World’s leading thinker Edward de Bono is the main champion of that cause, and not without reason. If people are not taught how to think, we are being taught how not to think. If we are not thinking ourselves, who is thinking for us? And how, pray, are they superior in some way so as to take upon their shoulder a head that can think for others?

Why Won't Schools Let Us Think?
The educational practice of not letting people is rooted deep in the bias that some people are genetically or socially superior. These are the ones with the "right" to teach the rst what to think and what to do.

To bypass this utterly stupid bias, humans of all classes and races have tried to devise theories that would fit their own race and social system. So sometimes it’s the rich and the white that rule supreme. For a while then, being socially equal was in fashion – and now we are feeling that the racial favorability in tilting on the Asian side.

Whoever is the leading force locally or globally at any given time, it does not mean they are divinely superior in any way. This is proven by the history of humankind where one group of people has displaced another. There is no universal superiority except the superiority of Man over all kinds of life – and all humans can think for themselves.

It’s time that the education system of humanity aligns itself with this reality – so poignantly clear in the age of the Internet where all people are like all other people.

Think to Change
Thinking will help the children learn how to deal with change and devise new strategies for ever new situations. It is the tool one needs to be equipped with to deal with the chaos of life.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Misfit and the System

Speaking of misfits

It’s indeed not the people who are misfits. It’s the system that misfits the humans and their needs. As my inspiring friend Shoaib Khalil reminded me once in my search for the truth about my situation: “Rules are made for people. People are not made for rules.”

How to Choose the Right Career? - The Designer, The Executive, the Judge*

Why do so many people who fail in school succeed in life, and vice versa?,” asked Sternberg.

The four worst years of my life were spent in one of the (supposedly) best universities of Pakistan. A begrudging student, I managed to remain in the top tier of class – and always wondered why I felt I was underscoring my own potential? The best MBA school – a dream for many – so why was I unhappy?

Admittedly, my end of university years would only have been through some unpleasant accident (my fantasies involve ill-treating The System in several unsavory ways) had it not been that I wriggled my way and charmed the teachers into allowing me to undertake “unusual assignments.” So I focused on service management in the Product Management class (service = wedding consultant) and toted weapons and missiles as a dramatized sales person in the Personal Selling class presentation. Yes, I wore a leather jacket, and jeans, and did the whole James Bond thing.  

But I never really understood my own behavior and the whole misfit thing until I read this article by Robert J. Sternberg on

This article, How to Choose the Right Career?, shows that people are basically of three types:

  1. the legislative – the designers, the creative, the dreamers

  2. the executive – the action-oriented, the quick, the result-oriented, the practical

  3. and the judicial – the critics, the judges

The education system is designed solely around the behavior and the needs of the executive – these are people who do not question the system. They fit in, and they perform. The System, sadly, is biased against the creative and the critical – who are deemed rebellious or simply eccentric.

We all know of the variety of humiliations that such gifted children face, because as a child, many of us had a creative and a critical part in us that was “educated out.”

It was around four years ago that I read this article. I understood that as a person concerned with the question of design and criticism, I was on both the unattended ends of the educational spectrum. No wonder I felt “the gap.”

Sternberg’s theory opened a whole door of educational theory and the reality of the beautiful diversity life on my mind. It asks us to embrace the inherent diversity of existence, and respect the human nature – which as much if not more varied than the nature of flora and fauna.

I owe, in part, the development of the People-Centered Model of Business to this theory, which allowed me to respect myself as a “different” individual, and respect other misfits.

* Updated/ Tweaked

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Blurb-blurb-blurb! (Sounds like it too!)

I get a near panic attack when confronted with business or academic lingo. And this is coming from a long-time fan of bombastic vocabulary so it must mean something.

Consider this case: I have developed a new research interest: alternative education. While researching books on the subject, I found these two blurbs:

  1. “A comprehensive book with nearly 90 proven instructional strategies for all students, especially those who are at risk of academic failure. Features specific teacher-tested methods for increasing achievement in reading, writing, mathematics, and oral communication. Explore several ways to involve students actively in lessons; use thematic, interdisciplinary curriculums; and accommodate students' individual learning styles. Included are nearly 20 teaching strategies for culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse students.”

  2. “This text presents practicing teachers and teacher trainees with a wide variety of well-developed, research-based models of teaching, from which to select for particular purposes and for assembling into high quality curriculum. New features in the seventh edition include stronger coverage of constructivism, meta-cognition, and the proximal principle; the addition of the Picture Word Inductive Model; incorporation of 150 new research references; new scenarios, research, and applications; and new descriptions of multi-model curricula and studies of their effects.”

Given that I am interested in human-friendly education that does not chuck the creative and the rebellious out of the system and favors the madly academic, can you suggest, based on the blurbs, which book?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

New! Subscribe to get fresh posts via e-mail!

So that you don’t miss out on the latest post on NEXT> by Ramla, now you can receive it in email. Simply go here (, put in your email address, and bingo! You’re all set to receive new posts to the blog (this website) in your inbox! Or, put it in the little box in the right column of the blog where it says, “Subscribe me!” You can always opt out, of course.

This makes sure you never miss another post, and also does away with the BotherSpot that BlogSpot has been since its errant, partial blocking in Pakistan. Subscribe now!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Madrissah Calls – 3: Eager to Change

My gracious hosts and I had already exchanged some ideas about modern educational theories over the phone. I brought up the needs for an open-minded educational reform.

I particularly emphasize experiential education to the point that I resent it not being a part of the education of Pakistani children. Also, in response to the People-Centered Model of Business, I had been notified by Abhinibesh of India of a child-centric education system. It had got me thinking about the many ways in which the PC MOB can be applied.

I found the madrissah admin very open and progressive to the ideas. They want change. They just don’t know how, and who will help them? There was a quick go-ahead to the ideas that I presented. I like working this way. But I know this is beginner’s luck. My major challenge will be to bring fundamental changes not just in the curriculum, but in the educational philosophy. Curriculum is tactical. Educational philosophy is strategic. They have so far agreed with all things I said, and we are going to look at creating an overall map of education that their enterprise will impart.

During the course of the visit, I visited the female madrissah which honestly locked my heart in a way that I had to come home and lie down to feel better. It’s after a long time anyway that I have visited any school, and I just realized how I completely disagree with the educational philosophy in most places. Educational is completely book-oriented and mono-directional. Feed more and more info into the brain, and reproduce through the mouth and the hand at astonishing speed and accuracy = summary of all education.

This was at least a madrissah. I have been in madly stringent and anti-human mainstream schools that were high on fees and absurd rules, and low on really changing human children for better. This is why, I told my open-minded hosts, we will be walking a thin line balancing the social, political, religious aspects of this school. In addition to that, I invited them to consider alternative educational theories that will present a real-life solution to real-life problems. The age of the copy & paste solution is over. We need new solutions. Using the People-Centered Model of Business, in addition to exciting education theories for the 21st century, I hope to develop an educational roadmap that will change the way of education in madrissahs for good.

Note: Madrissah is term popularly used to refer to an Islamic school. In Urdu, it just means, “school.” In this series of blogs, it refers to a major Islamic school that I visited.

Madrissah Calls – 2: Suspension of Judgment. A Time for Facts.

The important part in seeing something that you are not familiar with – and wish to get familiar with – is to suspend judgment. I had been given a rather realistic idea of what I should expect, but even then it took me years back in time in a way that I felt uncomfortable. Still, I suspended judgment, and took a factual, realistic view of the situation with the trust that I am going to work with people who want to change. When you have work to do and people to lead, you can’t afford to wish. Who could you wish to but yourself?

I realized how far my image of education has developed and how deeply have I come to not-like the way education is in the world today. Not just Islamic, but modern education. If the Islamic education primarily prepares Man for the Mosque, the modern education anywhere in the world prepares the Child for the Factory. I had trouble thinking that I would likely be putting the two together: Mosque + Factory.

We have to have a modified Urdu idiom for this: mullah ki daur factory tak. The Mullah sees not beyond the factory. That replaces the age-old idiom: The Mullah goes not beyond the Mosque.

Note: Madrissah is term popularly used to refer to an Islamic school. In Urdu, it just means, “school.” In this series of blogs, it refers to a major Islamic school that I visited.

Madrissah Calls – 1: PC MOB – a Madrissah Responds to the Paper

Today I had one of the strangest experiences in a long time. It clearly showed me how much have I changed, how far have I come.

One really bizarre wish came true: I was invited to visit an Islamic madrissah by its owners/ administrators. I had told the universe that I wish to take my work in consultancy further, and that I wished to visit a major Islamic school. Both wishes came bundled (it’s happened before when “Wisdom!” + “God, how about a fresh set of shinier teeth?” came back as “wisdom tooth” – it ached!).

I got an SOS from what is more than a madrissah, but I wish to protect their identity. The owners had read my paper on the People-Centered Model of Business. And they are interested in a progressive curriculum design for their schools. Among other things.

Gladly I went this morning. Curious. Calm. Very sure. I already knew in many ways what they will be looking for. I know I have some answers, and need to search newer solutions. With this knowledge, I sat writing my diary in the backseat as the madrissah driver raced on the very long roads. I wrote about Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, and his search for the Truth. How he thought that the stars, the moon, and the sun were his God, and realized each time that none of them were if they all eventually set. How he kept looking for God and said after these observations, “My God is the one who created them all, for they all set, and He does not!”

I noted in my diary how that story has been inspiring me lately to 1/ not be deceived by false gods, and 2/ to keep persisting when my heart doesn’t feel right with anything.

Note: Madrissah is term popularly used to refer to an Islamic school. In Urdu, it just means, “school.” In this series of blogs, it refers to a major Islamic school that I visited.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Why Do We Do Business?

What comes first when a person passionate about an idea wants to build a business around it: the idea, or money?

In a class where I was teaching entrepreneurship, we came across this question again and again. What really is entrepreneurship and why do people start businesses? Since the class was an academic route to entrepreneurship, I also had to figure in another angle: why would my students want to start businesses, given that they weren't "naturally" doing it?

I feel that in order to work out any idea, you need a vision. Vision is seeing a context for the idea (or an idea in the context). That makes an idea relevant to its use. Having an idea in itself may be quite worthless. You can get three ideas per second just searching the Net. I call these "ideas from the outer space."

The beauty lies in the vision of the person driving an idea. They can read the past, present, and future - find the gaps - and fill them in. Or they can see things that never were, and say, "why not?"

There is no text book on what does or should the vision hold. Life is amazingly dynamic, and every instance there is a new world, new circumstances. There will always be work to do for humans and not calendars and computers around for simply this one reason: only a human can deal with the amazing chaos of life. So there is a new vision for each time and its unique circumstances.

In this era, the global society is rapidly becoming aware of long-forgotten Responsibility/Response-ability. Responsibility to ourselves, our families, our communities, our environment. This is one wave that will just not turn back without changing the landscape. Nay, this isn't just a wave. It's the Tsunami of Change.

These new times demand a radical re-thinking of why we do business. To my mind, the days of the gold-diggers and king-makers are over. Not their reign, but their kind of mindset. The new generation of people is generally not dreaming on individual level - they feel responsible for change around them. At the very least, we know we can't keep escaping.

In these times, entrepreneurs won't think old-style: to madly pursue an idea and grow rich at any cost. The modern entrepreneur is doing a balancing act.

And for those entrepreneurs who are looking for a new kind of vision, a new thinking, a new mindset, a balance - I present the PC MOB: the People-Centered Model of Business. This model says, "We do business for the people." What? How? Why? The paper (PDF; 540K) answers the questions.

It's a first draft, and I can already see a ton of things to add and change. I'm excited. Get it here (PDF; 540K), read it, distribute it, link to this blog entry. Share with friends, use the ideas and send me your comments. Agree. Disagree. Let's talk!

E-mail: nextbyramla AT


OK. Small news. Big ooh-factor! I noticed that NEXT> byRamla has been listed in Tom Peters' blog roll. Go to the site. Check the blog roll on the left.

In the world of change agents and "seriously cool people," Tom Peters is one of my top heroes - right there along with Stephen Covey, Edward do Bono, and Steve Jobs. To have NEXT> noticed by Tom or Co. is a sweet little thing.

More so, because it's always been a dream of mine to put a Muslim, Pakistani name somewhere on the map of positive change agents. Ooh-la-la!

I love tiny experiences and little gifts!

E-mail: nextbyramla AT