Learning Through Stories: A Story of Learning
By Nitika Bose
Head of Internal Communications, Global Infosys BPM, Bangalore
Foreword by Venkat
Can one ever forget one’s favorite friend, song or dessert? One could relish and reflect on the same feelings even when alone. Such is the power of association between intense feelings and human memory. The painting of a concept through various shades of characters having contrasting motives woven in threads of pain and fulfillment makes it an intense and engaging personal experience.
Nitika, with her meticulous touch dismantles the complex machinery surrounding the principles of storytelling in the context of learning. In an innovative way, she nails down the art of learning through the story of Ekalavya from the ancient epic Mahabharata. Every possible detail is covered right from the synthesis of memory structures to the power of inspiration built in the elements of a story. It is a pure joy to find this article make its way into the list of guest writings here. Undoubtedly among the “superhit” articles in the ‘INSPIRE’ theme.
Nitika Bose is Head of Internal communications at Global Infosys BPM. A communications enthusiast with 20 years of industry experience.
Nitika is passionate about harnessing the right media channels to communicate right bytes to the right audience. She devises communication strategy for the organization and is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) evangelist.
Find inspiration seep into your purpose and actions in the journey to success through this amazing article!
Learning Through Stories: A story of Learning
In an article by Lani Peterson and Vanessa Boris at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, it has been cited that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain. “If we are trying to make a point stick, cortisol assists with our formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin is associated with empathy, an important element in building, deepening or maintaining good relationships.” Listeners go through intense experience when they listen to a story. Hence, stories are a crucial communications tool, where we can design information for better processing.
I am a communications person and a storyteller. It helps me to codify information and pass it on the audience faster.
A Learning story
And since we are talking about learning through stories, how about a story on Learning. India is full of mystical stories, which have been passed on from generations to generations and are still told, debated, interpreted and concluded in various ways. When we think of Learning & a teacher and a student, Eklavya’s story stands out among all & I use this narrative to state how Eklavya is the most relevant character and best learning idol in today’s times.
In the hybrid digital world, where pandemic has kept us indoors, away from human contact, skills are the single-most currency, which will ace the game. We need 2 kind of skills – work-related (to earn for life) and passion-related (to find purpose of life). In this story, you will find both and much more.
Story in a nutshell
A child named, Eklavya approached a teacher to learn archery. He was turned down because he belonged to a hunter’s community and the teacher taught only the children from royal lineage. So strong was his thirst for knowledge of archery that he made an idol of that teacher (pretty much like our putting up big size posters of our celebrities in our rooms), and practiced the art of archery on his own with steadfast devotion. One day, Drona and his pupils spotted a dog roaming around with mouthful of arrows in such a unique way that the dog could not bark and yet was completely unharmed. It was done by Eklavya. They later found Eklavya had surpassed even the most talented archer student of Drona-Arjuna in archery. To keep his promise to Arjuna to make him the top archer, Drona asked Eklavya to cut his thumb as Guru fee, because that would compromise Eklavya’s archery skills. And yet, Eklavya sincerely obliged.
This story evokes very strong reaction and emotions and raises several questions on morale, righteousness, inequality, injustice, unfairness and so on. The very injustice of a teacher made Eklavya immortal in the realms of Learning & Sacrifice. While this story is mythical, its beauty lies in its relevance in the contemporary world, more so in the virtual, digitally-connected world. Here’s how, you & I can seek inspiration from the story of Eklavya and use Learning and skills to our advantage.
Lesson 1: Know your passion & skill: Eklavya exactly knew what he wanted to learn – Archery.
How many of us are aware and know what do we need to do, which skills we should develop, which certifications we should complete? Eklavya inspires us to have the clarity. He exactly knew where his passion and skills lie and he aimed to develop that.
Lesson 2: Avail the best knowledge resource: Eklavya reached out to the best teacher in Archery & nothing less.
Not only was he clear what he wants to learn but was also aware, which is the best source for him to learn that skill. It’s not just important what to learn but also seek the knowledge from the best available source.
Lesson 3: Courage to approach the resource: Eklavya was confident in exploring the source of knowledge.
Just a small child, Eklavya reached out to the teacher himself and clearly stated his wish to learn the art of archery. Don’t hesitate to look for the eligibility criteria, pre-requisites of learning. Learning is your journey alone and you have to do it yourself.
Lesson 4: #BeUnstoppable: Eklavya did not let anything come between him and his goal.
He was turned down because the teacher would teach only the students of royal families (how happy Google, Alexa are to oblige and inundate us with our info request). But so strong was his thirst for knowledge that nothing deterred him in his quest for knowledge. He made a clay idol (equivalent to putting up a poster of celebrity idol in our rooms) and got inspired. No circumstances, excuses stopped him at all.
Lesson 5: Self-motivation: Eklavya did not need external stimulation to focus on his goals
Imagine learning everyday on your own, without any nudge and support from anyone and yet excelling year-on-year till you achieve excellence. Eklavya epitomized that in the hybrid, virtual format, no matter the format of learning, stay focused on what you want to learn and acquire/excel in it.
Lesson 6: Do-Redo-Repeat: Practice till you need to practice no more.
Rome was not built in a day. Each day, each step takes you closer to the goal. The ongoing process of learning involves — understand, assimilate, analyze, implement, reuse & it finally reaches the evolutionary stages of unlearn, relearn, new learn and so on.
Lesson 7: You are your own teacher: None can teach you if you can’t teach yourself.
Learning is intrinsic. He busted the myth that a learner is only good as its teacher. He established the truth that learning is an individual journey and everything else are just aids/tools on this trajectory. He did not even have cohorts to piggyback on the so-called vibes or experience the shared learnings.
Thankfully, we live in a world today, which has democratized knowledge, and it’s available to anyone and everyone. If you want to learn those dance steps or want to know about Artificial Intelligence, you can search for information, read lot of material, watch videos, take free online courses/tutorials, post questions and seek crowdsourced answers on forums and what not. And if you are lucky to work in reputed organizations, you would definitely would have a large pool of learning resources at your disposal – the best of learning material, curated content, learning playlists, a virtual assistant to help you get what you want (& even engage with) from world’s best of institutes, with global cohorts. The universe of learning is expanding like our galaxy at a faster pace and orbiting it entirely is a dauting task. What’s more, you are rewarded for acquiring new skills and given new opportunities to experience them. Learning is anytime (24X7), anywhere (location-agnostic), anyway (media selection, byte-sized to volumes).
Stories talk. In volumes. You can inspire, infer, interpret so much from them. No wonder the world has lapped it up to its benefits since time immemorial. There is no dearth of trainings/courses on storytelling by institutes and even organizations are pushing for business storytelling.
Now bring this story to the context of the business world. Every day, businesses want to inform, educate, teach people, clients, and teams to make them better, influence them, inspire them, and help them make decisions. Here storytelling comes so handy. Characters, events, situations, challenges, situations, solutions are the winning ingredients of business stories to drive a point home.
Call to Action
Generally, a good story has 5 C’s – circumstance, curiosity, characters, conversations, and conflict. The story of Eklavya had all these ingredients. At the end, you internalize a story your way – it’s also a form of learning. While you will do what you would want to do with this story, as a communications person & a storyteller, it would be tough for me to resist the temptation of adding a call to action. If you have to assign a hashtag(s) to this story, what would it be? In your hashtags lie your assimilation of this learning. Go on and #BeUnstoppable.
By Nitika Bose