It is five o’clock in the morning on a September day by the seaside, away from Pondicherry. I am perched atop a 40-foot-high rappelling wall in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. I am waiting to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. The sun will not come out for good fifty-five minutes more, but like a villager who must not miss his train, I like to be nice and early. Next to me in the breezy darkness, my Canon digital SLR camera is sitting quietly. Beyond the camera is a box full of lenses. This morning, the one that is particularly happy to be here is my newly acquired Sigma 500 mm lens. We are here to capture the first rays bursting through scattered clouds, announcing the arrival of another brand new day. I like my camera, the aluminum box, the tripod. I love the 500mm lens the most, though. There is something solidly attractive about it. I like his power looks. Yes, it is a he. He clicks into the groove of my SLR every time I slide him in, as if to say, “OK, let’s go”. Each time I set the vision, his whirr gives me a high. I call him Lens. Lens makes me feel professional.
I can hear the sea waves but can not see them. The silhouette of a fishing boat is now beginning to appear and I can see the clouds in waiting-just as curtains and backdrops wait for a rock star to make an appearance. We have time yet. So here I am, thinking about what it will take to be a great professional in the days to come.
These days, even a small town guy who owns a so-called “photo studio” has a digital SLR. I, waiting for the sun, wonder: what is the difference between him and professional such as Dewitt Jones or Raghu Rai? Since everyone can take great pictures these days, photo-shop them, and freely upload them on the Internet, what separates them from these two?
The sunrise is still another good ten minutes away. Lens yawns listlessly.
His mind does not wander like mine.
Ignoring him, I ask myself, is this question any less relevant for doctors, architects, software engineers, lawyers and dress designers? What is required to be called a professional in the future?
Lens looks at me, rolls his eyes and makes a face, very similar to an affectionately irreverent teenager.
Just then, on cue from the clouds, my body tenses-the Moment has arrived. I lift the camera, pick Lens up, and fix him in. He is sharp and engaged, ready for war. The sliver of red appearing from below has made me one with Lens and my camera. Silently, so as not to disturb the arrival, we begin clicking. A whirr, the sound of a click and the shutter closes. Soft like my breath. Then a small wait. Shoot. Wait. Shoot.
Soon it is a ballet. The initial stiffness of a preying leopard is gone. We are talking again. But this time, Lens is doing most of the talking. I think he is showing off a bit, but he clearly knows what the professional of the future is all about.
“Have you heard of Howard Gardener?” he asks, casually.
I reply, “Oh yes: the Harvard prof who has written twenty books and received twenty one honorary doctorates; the same man who questioned the role of IQ in determining intelligence. In fact, it was he who had propagated the idea of multiple intelligences.”
“Same man,” says Lens. He begins to refer to what Gardner had said about professionals of the future: that to be a great professional you have to master the five minds of the future.
“What about that?” I ask a little impatiently, more keen that we focus on the job at hand, concerned that it seems to be suddenly slipping away.
“Why, it was you who asked for the reason your country cousin of a studio photographer could not become Tom Hewitt!”
I can sense that Lens is miffed.
Whirr, click, shoot. Silence. Whirr, click, blink, shoot, silence. More silence. More shots.
Now the sun is fully up, the whole world awash – as if it wasn’t ever dark here! Our job is over. Both of us are calm but still contemplating what has just happened. Then Lens begins explaining the five minds for the future as we start walking back. “Whatever may be your profession, to succeed in the world ahead, you need to master the five minds of the future…”
The first is the mind of the discipline. You may be a trained photographer or a qualified surgeon. It does not matter. Your professional qualification is not what will make you a professional. You need to devote yourself to your profession of choice for at least 10 years before you can understand its nuances. Empirical studies indicate that, across disciplines, that amount of time is a minimum requirement. You have to give yourself to the profession as against looking at it just as a means to a livelihood, a career or a job. You need to build affection for your profession and a long view of time.
The second is the mind of synthesis. The future requires the capacity to build abstractions. In other words, you need the mind of synthesis. It is about developing an understanding of ideas, concepts and problems in an inter-disciplinary manner while building depth in one’s own discipline. A photographer shooting wildlife will not be a professional unless he is able to understand why plant pathogens impact the eating habits of carnivores. If he is shooting in New York City, he needs to appreciate urban spaces, and a great shot on the outskirts of New Delhi requires an understanding of where Delhi comes from historically.
Now I am beginning to understand why Tom Hewitt shoots for National Geographic. Lens knows he has me hooked.
“The third mind,” Lens explains, “is the creative mind. Look, you are no photo pro. You are just a software guy building business solutions for your international clients. Ever thought about why, these days, your clients do not want the ‘tried and tested’ solutions to their problems anymore?”
I do not like Lens asking me such questions, because only he knows the answer. I just keep quiet whenever he pulls this Super Guru stunt. I know he will spill soon.
“Clients do not like the tried and the tested solutions any more because those solutions are simply not innovative enough. Precisely because they are tried and tested, they have become the past. Competitive advantage is about from creativity, and creativity is about taking risks. The creative mind is about building the capacity to answer what is new and what is different about the solution you are suggesting every time.”
I feign casual interest but I am listening intently.
“The fourth mind is the respectful mind,” Lens says.
Made in Japan, Lens becomes the Buddha at will.
“In the future, all problems will require interdisciplinary solutions. Whether it is about negotiating a nuclear treaty or removing a cancerous cell from the pancreas, if anything qualifies to be called a problem, then chances are high, the solution would have to be inter-disciplinary. That means experts from different fields will have to listen to each other, learn from each other, collaborate while they compete, disagree without being disagreeable and then put multiple minds together, build consensus and emerge with the strength of the respectful mind. Why do you think one CEO fails and another succeeds in taking a militant trade union along? Who do you think one educationist prevails over others while settling the contents of a high school textbook on national history? Why one physicist is is able to get agreement on making a certain standard universally acceptable in a transnational negotiation involving competing interests? Those who succeed have the respectful mind.”
The rappelling wall is well behind us now. We are walking back. Actually, I am the one walking back and Lens is hanging around my neck. He thinks it is his rightful place.
“Finally, great professionals of tomorrow will need to understand and master what Howard Gardner calls the ethical mind. This ethical mind is about the capacity to certify the completion of one’s own work. That rules out most people who need someone else to supervise them. Whatever may be your profession, to be called a professional, you must master all the five minds of the future and only then can you be globally accepted.”
“But why should we worry about being globally relevant?” I hear myself mutter.
Lens retorts, “Because the benchmark is no longer local. The benchmark is Tom Hewitt.”
Ahead of me, I see the road wind itself into a softly undulating sand dune. Behind the dune is the shimmering blue water of the Bay and beyond all that: Singapore, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, London, Paris and Mumbai.