Two weeks ago I met an Indian professor who had the bold idea that kids in Indian slums with little to no formal education had the capacity to teach themselves the same material other children were learning from teachers. That thesis materialized in the form of an experiment: He put a computer in the wall of a New Delhi slum and discovered it took children who had never seen a computer before only hours to teach themselves to browse the internet and record their own music. A later experiment proved a group of English speaking Indian children with indiscernible English accents could teach themselves to adapt their accents to be recognized by a speech to text program in 2 months. A final group of students managed to understand biotechnology simply by being given the computer resources and the challenge.
His pedagogical method was simple. When he presented a problem to students and they inquired, “How will we do this?” he responded simply with, “I have no idea”. He gave them the freedom to search and discover the solution for themselves and find a way that worked. Sugata Mitra said in our ever adapting world, the future leaders will not be subject matter experts, but relentless explorers and hunter-gatherers. They will be the problem solvers, the people who are willing to enter into the challenges we face and find a way to find a way.
Since much of the engine of these children’s discovery came from a professor who believed in their capacity, gave them the tools they needed, and inspired confidence in their ability to find a solution, I wondered, what would fuel these students in his absence. It seems 2 things:
Mitra created what he calls the Granny Cloud, a committed group of men and women who, like a granny, give their time (in this case virtually) to engage children and encourage their search and discovery.
2. Connection between the challenge and their need.
As competing pressures and limited time increase as we age, encouragement will need to be supported by a clear linkage between these challenges and our students’ needs.
I walked out of that session thinking, “I wonder how much we underestimate the capacity of our people”. What would happen if we gave them access to the challenges we face and the resources they need to find a solution where we truly “Have no idea”.
The idea of letting your people in on your challenges is a difficult one. It is adaptive leadership at its most basic level. It allows for transparency, shared risk, but in the right setting it could open up the possibility for ingenuity and a solution we didn’t know was possible.
Is there a challenge you are facing, that you can open up to a group of your people (employees, family, or friends) and see what they can discover?
What would it take to give them access to the resources they need and encouragement to create a solution?