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The Corporate Classroom

Nandini Vaidyanathan

By R. Gopalakrishnan
Penguin, Delhi, 2007, pp. 264, Rs. 450.00


Good managers are those who acquire skills on their own initiative. They don’t wait for someone at the workplace to teach them. And if they have this propensity to learn on their own, they can survive in any situation they find themselves in without losing time or skill. Besides once they acquire the skill, they know how to disseminate it to all other members of the team, so that collectively they are able to perform better, adapt to changing circumstances and carry forth, without losing foothold.   Quite like the English bird, the blue tit.   There are other managers, good guys, who acquire the skill in pretty much the same way, but do not think it is important to disseminate it to their team either because they don’t think it is their responsibility or because they are proprietary about it.   Quite like the other English bird, the robin.   In the early 1900s, milk was delivered by trucks to one’s doorstep in UK in open bottles. They had no caps. So the cream would rise to the top. Somehow both species of birds, the blue tit and the robin, discovered this rich source of nutrient food and both got into the habit of dipping their beaks into the bottles every single morning. Their digestive system had to reorient itself to the richness of its breakfast and over time, it became a tradition that lasted for nearly forty years and several generations of both the species.   In 1940, with new technology, the milk bottles acquired an aluminum seal. So neither species had access to their creamy breakfast. But this denial worked differently with each of them.   Within a decade or so, the blue tit had acquired the skill to pierce through the aluminum seal and eat the cream from the bottle. The robins never figured it out. One odd time, one odd robin did manage to pierce it, but as a species they never acquired the skill.   Professor Allan Wilson, a zoologist at the University of California at Berkeley had an interesting hypothesis. He said that not only had the blue tits managed to learn a new skill but they had managed to propagate that skill to the entire community and this skill came in handy wherever they migrated. As a species, the blue tit had learnt not only to ‘innovate’, i.e. acquire a new skill, but ‘socially propagate’ it ...

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