The Hole-in-the-Wall

The following is an excerpt from Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (pgs 174-177). I’m excerpting this here because I found it to give such a great insight into one potential future for education.

In 1999 the Indian physicist Sugata Mitra got interested in education. He knew there were places in the world without schools and places in the world where good teachers didn’t want to teach. What could be done for kids living in those spots was his question. Self-directed learning was one possible solution, but were kids living in slums capable of all that much self-direction?

At the time, Mitra was head of research and development for NIIT Technologies, a top computer software and development company in New Delhi, India. His posh twenty-first century office abutted an urban slum but was kept separate by a tall brick wall. So Mitra designed a simple experiment. He cut a hole in the wall and installed a computer and a track pad, with the screen and the pad facing into the slum. He did it in such a way that theft was not a problem, then connected the computer to the Internet, added a web browser, and walked away.

The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes, they’d figured out how to point and click. By the end of the first day, they were surfing the web and—even more importantly—teaching one another how to surf the web. These results raised more questions than they answered. Were they real? Did these kids really teach themselves how to use this computer, or did someone, perhaps out of sight of Mitra’s hidden video camera, explain the technology to them?

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Perhaps the best business buzzword ever. Coming from the technical implementation side of business, I always hear it used by executives when talking strategy. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was an actual word until recently when I started seeing it in management books. I’ve previously interpreted it as a mashup of the words “synergistic” and “energy”. defines synergy as:

synergy. noun. the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together”.

The word actually comes from the Greek synergos meaning “working together” (syn: together; ergos: work) and was first used in English in 1650.

So synergy is more than just a harmonious partnership. It describes a partnership where the output is greater than the sum of the individual contributions. In the ideal case, I would say synergy is a positive feedback loop; each partner can draw more out of the other.

Gallup Entrepreneur StrengthsFinder Results

Today I took Gallup’s Entrepreneur StrengthsFinder survey. The ESF is designed to identify your natural talents that will help in starting a successful business. It also highlights weak areas where you should find a partner to help fill out your skill set.

The ESF is part of Gallup’s initiative to identify and coach highly talented entrepreneurs. In the accompanying book, Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chairman, lays out a vision for an education system that is not only great at identifying intellectual and sports talent, but also entrepreneurial talent. Jim believes that this is the key to reversing the downward trend of new business formation in the United States.

My dominant talents:

  • Knowledge-Seeker
  • Creative Thinker
  • Risk-Taker
  • Delegator

My contributing talents:

  • Independent
  • Business Focus

My supporting talents:

  • Determination
  • Confidence
  • Promoter
  • Relationship-Builder


What was your first reaction to the talents described on page two of your report? Which talents sound most like you?

I’m surprised “independent” isn’t in the dominant talents list. I’m introverted and tend to work alone very well. I suppose answering questions that asked if I bounce ideas off others reduced the dominance of this talent in the survey. Knowledge-Seeker is definitely my strong talent. Risk-Taker was the surprise result here.

With whom could you share your results?

I’ll share this report with my coworkers. I’ll also run the results by the local administrator of AIM who put on the IT Leadership Academy.

Which talent would you like to work on?

I need to work on confidence. When I’m working with people I know very well, I have no problem speaking up and arguing my viewpoint. In groups of strangers I’m much more reserved. This is probably my biggest hurdle for making new connections with customers. I need to ask more questions. I always prefer to take time to reflect after gathering the facts/requirements before proposing a solution. Some people interpret this as lack of enthusiasm or simply lack of ideas. In reality, I probably have too many ideas to share all at once and need time to determine what the best course of action is. I think the best way to improve this is through more practice and broadening my network to get in front of my people.