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The Effectiveness-Lab

We are painting in the dark – Series 1

How do you ensure you are effective in the world that throws at you: ‘systemic and sustained uncertainty’, ‘sustained noise in the system’, ‘a future that is complex and hard to define’, ‘an education system that is teaching for a future that is unknown’, ‘a family that is financially secure today but not tomorrow and doesn’t know what to do to be secure long term’?

Painting in the dark! Credit:
Painting in the dark!

We live in the world that asks more questions of us than provides the answers to them. The magic-bullet, education, that has done the trick for the last 400 hundred years may no longer be the solution after all. We are all painting in the dark, but even in that darkness, you are expected to get your paint patterns correct. That is the world that is unfolding before us. Are you able to paint in the dark? Only if you are effective at the latter, shall the ‘next-world’ make sense to you.

In this final month of 2015, the Effectiveness Lab, via the ‘painting in the dark’ blog series shall discuss the above dilemma. Blog Series 1, focuses on the school since it is at the school that we are supposed to prepare our children to respond to anything the future may throw at them. Series 2 shall focus on the individual adult and how they can continue to be effective in a future with many uncertain elements. Series 3 shall explore the modern family and its trials and tribulations of having to paint in the dark – a family that is no longer certain it can guarantee a lifetime social safety net. The 4th and final series shall explore the solutions, and we hope at the Effectiveness Lab that many of the solutions shall make your 2016 resolutions list.

The school and how it should prepare learners for an unknown future:

It is true that schools are teaching children to survive in future that the schools themselves do not understand well. A few months ago, as I prepared a speech I was to give as the guest of honour at a schools’ Prize Giving Day, I brought this subject home. I did say in my speech that in trying to teach skills for something they do not understand well, the ‘teachers are painting in the dark’.

Since we are faced with a generation of children that may find it hard to survive in the world with ever-increasing complexity, it is befitting that this painting in the dark blog series starts with a focus on the school.

The speech:

The board chairman, parents, faculty, students, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I have been in post as CEO for just over four months, and so far, it has been a journey that is both challenging and exciting. I am happy that I made the decision to join the Aga Khan brand

Ask me what I like in my professional life and I will always give two answers: first, making companies effective and efficient. Second, supporting companies live up to their brand-identity. I earn my bread and butter from supporting organizations become ‘effective and efficient’.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have gathered this morning, to recognize students that have a knack for being ‘effective and efficient’ at learning. Prizegiving is always a special occasion for any school. It is a chance to reflect on the highlights of the past year, but even more important, benchmark new-opportunity.

Prizegiving is about student ACHIEVEMENT and HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT at that.

Today, I want to relate ACHIEVEMENT (and the prizes you will be given) to what education-gurus call the Growth-Mindset. Those of you in management may call it learning-agility for the individual or if it were a company, a learning-organisation. Since we are talking education today, I want to stick to the term ‘Growth-Mindset’.

So, what is this talk about the GROWTH MINDSET?

Your mindset as a student plays a key role in your motivation and achievement. The Growth-mindset is about how you students perceive your abilities. If we help you develop your mindset in a certain way, we boost your ACHIEVEMENT

The growth-mindset is about: asking the right questions; boldness to try out new things, and if you did fail only do three things: Try again, and again, and again! This is a reliable route to HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT. It is yet to fail me even at this advanced age of mine.

There is a world called WORK that awaits all of you students. I have in my past done turn-around work for various organizations and turning around organizations is about fixing-things, and ultimately HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT. I have done this kind of work across the globe, and I keep going back to a common thread. That common-thread is the ‘growth-mindset’, only this time, it is at the workplace and not the school.

I want the students to understand that excellent employees develop the growth-mindset during their time at school, and not at the workplace.

I continue to challenge all those I work for and with, to consider switching to a growth-mindset or become irrelevant.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible to talk about student ACHIEVEMENT, without talking about teachers. I continue to feel sorry for teachers, including those at AKAN,N. Teachers continue to paint in the dark. The teachers that taught me as a boy knew everything there was to know. The teachers of today do not always know, yet they have to help students know (and achieve). The reason for not knowing is not because they don’t want to know, but because they can’t know. And someone told me why:

… teachers are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist
… teachers are preparing students to use technologies that haven’t yet been invented
… teachers are helping students solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet

Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, USA

Allow me talk very briefly about a subject that is fundamental to sustaining a growth-mindset and mastering how to paint in the dark, both critical aspects of HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT

The need to accept FAILURE. I was born In Uganda many years ago, and I am Ugandan in everything that a Ugandan can be. I went for some years, to a school system that preached ‘perfection’ and ‘zero-failure’. It was criminal to fail. I know very well the price one pays for undergoing that kind of education. I have, as a result decided to live most of my life encouraging failure, as long as one can learn from failing. Dads, Moms, & teachers – do not react to children’s mistakes as though they are problematic or harmful, rather than helpful. I have in my other life written about ‘failing-safe’ and fail-safe monks, and I encourage us all to create space to fail in the lives of our children.

It is from failure, processing failure, and having the tenacity to adjust and try again, again, and again – that we ACHIEVE, and HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT at that. The RETURN on INVESTMENT is big!

The good news is that in my last four months at the Aga Khan schools, I have discovered that IB is about cultivating a GROWTH-MINDSET.

IB is an excellent education model and how lucky you are – boys and girls to be part of that. We are happy that you chose to come to a system that supports you to deliver SMART-EFFORT and HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT.

Moms and Dads, thank you for supporting our journey – SMART-EFFORT, SMART LEARNING, and HIGH-ACHIEVEMENT!

To Jerri-Lynn, faculty, the peers in our ‘one-school’ eco-system all the way from Nursery to Junior to Senior – thanks for your hard work

To the boys and girls, congratulations to you all and remember after this event, and on behalf of AKESK, to give Mom and Dad a very big and warm hug and say to them: ‘it is from AKESK, to thank you for believing in me and AKAN,N!’

To my colleagues – ‘how can we get more of this and even better?

Thank you!
My takeaway: to those educators teaching the young today, if there is one thing you should do to help them become effective in future, it is teaching the growth-mindset. Is this different for the adult? Look out for blog Series 2 next week


13 responses to “We are painting in the dark – Series 1”

  1. Great piece Mr. Gabazira growth mindset encompasses hard work,dedication and resiilience.


    1. Dear rosemary – thanks for taking your time to read – indeed, it’s the Growth Mindset – do we have it? Remember the micro-teaching example – I am sure we have it somewhere – let us tap into it


  2. Great speech Apollo! Educare – Latin meaning, ” To draw out that which lies within”. Once we revert to that specific definition of Education and stop “stuffing down” information into brilliant minds, there will be no failure! After all how does one standardise and grade intuition, innate intelligence and knowledge, curiosity, creativity, experience, wisdom and confidence- all the values that nurture the growth mind set! The values that also create safe spaces to make mistakes, to pick up self and try again. Here is to the GROWTH mind set!!!


    1. Thanks Christine for reading the blog – I agree with your insight – clearly from a seasoned educators mind! 🙏


  3. Interesting article! I will take timd to read next series….


    1. Hello CU – thanking for reading the blog – yes, series two vital reading for us Africans


  4. Thank you Apollo for this reflection on our education system. As parents and teachers, we should help our children to live the growth mind-set.


    1. Dear vsj – muuna thanks for reading the blog. Growth mindset, yes children first, but also us as adults – look out for blog series 2 of painting in the dark


      1. “Education is about teaching students to think, to stretch and to develop themselves, on the basis of rational thought, self-discipline, research and inquiry–and, not least, the deep instincts for justice and equality which are natural to 99% of the world’s citizens.” — Siva Kumari


  5. Wow. Developing a growth mind set or become irrelevant. The challenges of today’s teacher. Light bulb moment! Thank you.


    1. Amanda – thanks for reading the blog – let the boys grow up with a growth mind set; the choice of school becomes a key decision all parents have to make – it’s not about getting UNEB needs correct, but preparing children to effectively deal with a complex future. Note ‘effectively deal’!


      1. Celestine M. Bukango Avatar
        Celestine M. Bukango

        Apollo, excellent article. Our school system in East Africa ( the place at least i know more) need to reorganize itself to be in a position of imparting growth mind set mentality. Because, i can not understand why a high achieving student at school later become a miserable failure in life?. Yes, we need good people in our organizations, and very unfortunate the big measure among many is score at school and colleges. Good scores without growth mindset may not always yield intended results.

        Thank you.


        1. Celestine Kaka, thanks for reading the blog – I agree with you 100%; people that got first degrees at College can’t even survive in this complex world and self-made, growth-mindsets (Somali community in the diaspora comes to my mind), are comfortable and living very viable lives! At least start by imparting it in your kids from home – or else, they will be very ineffective in a very complex world ahead of them


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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