If something bothered you enough to wake you up at 2 am, would you have someone you could talk to, whose counsel you could trust, who would listen to you and keep your secret safe?
How many such friends do you have?
When you make plans to celebrate a major milestone in your life, say your wedding, how many friends do you call for the celebration? If you are on Facebook, how many friends do you have there?
Chances are, you have just described the three categories of friends. I have asked these questions to several groups of friends and colleagues.
The word ‘friend’ has undergone a big shift. Most count the number of close friends in single digits. The number of “friends” on Facebook is the largest. The number we would call for a celebration is somewhere in between.
We all live in three worlds simultaneously. The virtual world of friends we make on the net, the friends we keep in touch with in the physical world and the handful of friends we trust that make up our inner world. If the three definitions coincide, so will the numbers.
I have often asked groups of people how they would draw a picture to represent the word “learn”. Most draw a book or a teacher in a classroom with a blackboard. This drawing represents the inner world’s definition of what makes us learn. The inner world is within our control. The school in the physical world needs access to resources someone else may control.
The course content in most schools and colleges is slow to change. At a gathering of management educators, the dean of a well-known college lamented that it takes them three to four years to design the curriculum of a new subject, design assessments and find professors who can offer it to students.
That often makes the content obsolete even before it has been taught. The basic textbook used in marketing by Philip Kotler has remained unchanged over the past 30 years. That may be testimony to how timeless the book is. Then again it could mean how long it takes the physical world to change. In the virtual world, we can learn from many sources. Anyone with a mobile phone and a net connection can access free content that we can use to learn anything from anyone around the world.
The Massive Open Online Courses make it possible for anyone to take a course offered by some of the best known Ivy League professors in any subject for free.
Twitter is my favourite source of learning. It lets me “follow” the smartest people who are continuously sharing everything from breaking news to ideas, insights and treasure troves of information. The virtual world makes learning “whenever, wherever and whomever”.
We may not always be able to influence the physical world. Your employer may need to nominate you to a class that you have waited for the past two years to join. That involves training and travel budgets.
If we only value learning in our inner world, we will miss out the continuous learning that the connected world offers. We will wait to learn from experts and not value the wisdom of the novice.
In a world that is changing constantly, the inner world is often a comfort zone because it is familiar and remains unchanged. The virtual world and physical world are often what we cannot influence readily.
Though it is easier to influence our inner world, it is often the slowest to change. The virtual world can often provide us resources that we may be denied in the physical world. All we need is to do is to decide to connect our inner world occasionally to the virtual world.