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A primer on life skills


Prakash Iyer  |  New Delhi 

Prakash Iyer
It was the summer of '86. And as I, and the rest of the graduating batch, walked out of the hallowed portals of WIMWI (ah, the Well-known Institute of in Western India), you could sense that we were probably echoing Bryan Adams' words as we looked back on our two years on campus: Indeed, those were the best days of my life!

We learnt the fundamentals of We learnt to draw up business plans, and evaluate advertising, and discount cash flows. More important, we learnt to stretch ourselves, and structure our thinking. We learnt to work hard. To compete. To win. And we made friends!

B-schools do a terrific job of equipping us with business skills. What's missing, perhaps, is a primer on life skills. We emerge competent to deal with the complexities of running a business "" but not quite as adept at managing the business of running our own lives.

Here then, in no particular order, are four life skills I wish they had taught us in B-school.

Goal setting: I wish every student passing out of B-school would walk out with a set of written goals for himself. A set of goals that define what each of us want to do, be, have and achieve.

That would include financial and career goals for sure, but would also cover other key areas such as family, health, relationships and personal interests. Goals provide direction and discipline, helping us stay focused on what is really important to us. Without those goals, we tend to drift "" and wonder why we sense a strange emptiness even as the next promotion beckons.

And as the saying goes, if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Communication: The best ideas and thought are of little use if we don't learn to communicate them effectively. Learning to use the right words at the right time, to empathise and listen are priceless skills no one teaches us.

We master an assortment of financial ratios but forget the message God sent us when he gave us two ears and one mouth: listen more than you speak. And making presentations is a key part of business life "" yet you find bright young managers fidgeting nervously and reading out every word of a text-heavy and hastily prepared PowerPoint slide. If only they had been taught communication and presentation skills!

Good health: Corporate waistlines are expanding almost as rapidly as company bottom lines. And between early morning flights and late night conference calls, no one seems to have the time to take care of their own bodies.

The games we grew up playing become the stuff we watch on TV. And our idea of a long walk is the trek from the corner room to the elevator. Perhaps B-schools should inculcate the habit of an hour in the gym every day. And the pursuit of a sport, say, every week.

Work-life balance: No man on his death-bed ever said "I wish I'd spent more time in the office." Watching your child grow up, spending time with loved ones, being there at those special moments in other people's lives "" all these can probably give you as much joy as a deal clinched or a market share point gained.

"What would you do differently if you knew you had only six months to live?" We could all probably answer that one quite easily (spend more time with the family, play with the kids, take off on that vacation to the hills, write that book ...). Alas, none of us really knows when precisely we have only six months to go.

B-schools teach us how to become change agents. We learn how to change the world, the consumer, the organisation, the works. But we don't quite learn how to change one key piece: ourselves. Learning to change ourselves, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our actions can often be the biggest and most effective change we can make!

Prakash Iyer graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad in 1986

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First Published: Tue, May 08 2007. 00:00 IST