Friday, October 13, 2006

Learning from Anuj

Several of Anuj's friends have commented on this blog and elsewhere about what a gifted teacher he was. Whether it was hanging out in the dorm lounge to help some freshmen with tough MIT problem sets or staying an extra hour after an orientation session to help a fellow new MBA student who was a little rusty at calculus, Anuj always found a way to help. He had a knack for conveying even the most complex and apparently opaque ideas with utter clarity and ease, ensuring that his friends ultimately grasped the concept, whatever the subject was. Anuj's style was to guide people along to finding the answer themselves instead of simply handing it to them. When it came to teaching something to others, he adhered to the old adage that it was better to teach a man how to fish than to catch a fish for him.

Perhaps the clearest example of this occurred not while he was deconstructing a business school case study for his project team or solving a product design challenge at work but rather during the simple act of tying a shoelace. One afternoon many years ago, Anuj gave his kid brother Kapil a pair of shoes he no longer wore. Kapil was extremely excited and started to try them on. But he was very young and did not know how to tie the laces on his newly acquired shoes. Until that point, Dad always tied them for him. So Kapil asked Anuj if he could team him. According to Kapil, Anuj did not tie the shoelaces for him or even show him how to do it. Instead he asked his brother to do the actual tying while he walked him through the steps. That way he ensured that Kapil not only learned how to tie his shoelaces but would not forget soon after. That afternoon, in about a minute, Anuj gave his younger brother a simple skill to carry with him for the rest of his life.

Years later, Kapil realized the reason that he was able to learn from Anuj so fast was that while teaching something, Anuj created an atmosphere where it was okay to fail. This allowed people to take a chance and try something new on their own instead of waiting for the answer to be handed to them. This calm and comfortable yet articulate and precise style worked regardless of whether the topic was computer science or tying shoelaces.

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