Thursday, August 28, 2014

Decoding Academic Excellence

Few months before my uncle called me and said that he is disappointed with his son's performance in the recently concluded +2 examination. His son, who is a bright kid managed to score 94.5%. However his father said that he and his family had sacrificed a lot of things in the last 2 years to ensure that his son gets spectacular cutoff marks in his +2 examinations, but their collective efforts had gone futile. With a lot of pain, he shared with me that because of few decimal point marks, his son cannot get a seat in the premier educational institution in which his friend's son had secured admission. I asked my uncle 'do you remember how much you had scored in your +2 examinations?' He said 'No, I don't remember'. I said 'such is the importance of academic scores in your life, that you don't even have to remember it, but can still succeed'.
This article is my attempt to decode the deadly obsession we as a society started having towards Academic Excellence. This obsession cannot be considered as totally wrong since Education apart from educating, also serves as a tool for the upliftment of the entire family's economic status. In a country which has more than half a billion people trying to shift their economic status from lower class to middle class most often through education, this importance of academic excellence is totally understandable. In a situation where few decimal points more or less in the cutoff marks is going to decide whether you will join the course of your choice in the institution of your choice, the importance of academic excellence is totally understandable.
My viewpoint is not to diminish the importance of academic excellence, but to question our obsession towards academic excellence. I have few insights to support my viewpoint. Let me list down one by one. I have done academically well during most of my long academic career which culminated in a MBA from a good B-School. I had the privilege to study along with people who are among the best in terms of academic excellence. Fortunately being an HR professional provides me a dual perspective of having the ringside view of the organization along with the opportunity to see how people have shaped their careers through their resumes. Going by the conventional wisdom of parents that only academically good kids will have good careers, the top rung of any organization should be full of academic toppers – the empirical truth is that it’s not.
The profound insight is that there is no significant relationship between academic excellence and professional excellence. More often, academic excellence is not getting converted into professional excellence at all. Don't blame the student for this, but blame the system. A system which focuses and rewards memory reproduction alone can never reproduce excellence in a professional setup. Unlike in the West, we haven't done any major social studies to explore the relationship between academic and professional excellence. So can we assume that all efforts put to excel in academics is futile? No, like all the complex and expensive diagnostic procedure your physician will send you for, 'it's good to have, but not must to have'. Nobody will question the fact that professional excellence is far more important than academic excellence.
If not academic excellence, what are those critical success factors which fuel professional excellence? With my limited experience I can list down the following factors which fuel professional success.
1. Handling Uncertainty - Most of the students who had done academically well, fail miserably in handling uncertainty associated in the business environment. If you are a student who used to prepare meticulously for all the examinations and score high marks and pass out with flying colours, you are never exposed to uncertainty. In an academic environment, there exists a direct relationship between the efforts and the results. If you study really hard, the probability of you ending up at more than 80% is very high. But this is not the case in the actual business environment, where you didn't even know whether your efforts are in the right direction or not. In my opinion, a last bench student, who had the exposure to write examinations without any preparation, is better equipped to manage uncertainty.
2. Confidence - Let me not even to try to explain the importance of this skill in the workplace. But if you are a parent trying to compare your kid with the other academically good kid or trying to over criticize your kid for his poor academic performance, do remember that you are not doing any good to build his confidence which is the most important skill for success in the workplace. To put it simply, good self-esteem is the vital part of confidence. Scars made in the self-esteem of students inflicted by their parents & society because of their poor marks will create major repercussions in their professional life.
3. Communication Skills - Whatever said and done, English is the language of business. People with good communication skills always fare well in the work place. Good vocabulary is vital for good communication skills. Good vocabulary is built by reading books. We have made education such a traumatic experience, that reading is only interpreted as a preparation for examinations. I have seen many successful people who didn't have fancy degrees, but I am yet to see a successful person who doesn't read books. Howsoever beautifully you may communicate, if you don't speak with content, people will never admire you. By making reading a traumatic experience, you are not doing great help to your kids.
4. Decision making Skills- It's not our talent, but our decisions which determine how successful we are in our lives. So how the decision making skills improve? To put it simply, it begins with making decisions in the first place and improves in the long run with the experience of making many wrong decisions. If you are a parent who criticize the failure of your kids, your kid will hesitate to take any decision on his own because of the fear of failure. If he doesn’t fail, how can he gain experience to polish his decision making skills? Just think about it.
5. Family support - Behind the success of any person in the workplace, there is always a great deal of support and sacrifice from his family. In a career spanning atleast 35 to 40 years, there will be lots of ups and downs. Sailing through the rough weather will be smoothly done with support from the family. There are many young stars in business who disappear completely after facing a single obstacle because of their inability to recover from failure completely. To recover completely, the support from the family or friends is vital. So, being there for your kid when he is going through a rough phase, will make sure that he will lean towards you instead of getting addicted to bad habits in the future. Be there for him, when he fails - he will succeed consistently in the long run.
Drop the obsession towards academic excellence. It's absolutely pointless. Professional success is far more important than academic success. Make your kids to succeed in their career path, it will be a wonderful way of impacting their lives forever!!!
Ramesh Moorthy

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