Are You Old and Illiterate?


By Nilooka Dissanayake

You could be old and illiterate and you might not even know it!

Just because you are not ancient in years and reading this article may not be sufficient proof to say that you are young or literate.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty”, declared Henry Ford.

Alvin Toffler complicated the issue by saying that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Now where does that leave you?

It leaves me feeling terribly young and overly literate. A precocious kid, in other words. I am one of the lucky ones. The best thing I ever learnt was learning how to learn. And the greatest challenge I face every day is trying to break mental barriers. Sure that sounds weird. But you should try it and you would forever be young that way despite your years.

Before getting anywhere, you might first have to debate with yourself to figure out the type of student you are.

Martin H. Fischer described the four great classes of students of life:

The dumb who stay dumb,
the dumb who become wise,
the wise who go dumb and
the wise who remain wise.

Actually, I would rather be the ‘dumb who become wise’ category anytime rather than in the ‘wise who remain wise’ because the latter seems, on the surface, rather a boring thing indeed. The dumb who become wise is bound to have a wonderful experience in learning. Then again, how many of us have a choice here?

“Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.”

How Do You Learn?

Once you figure this out the next question is: How does one learn to learn? You can’t go for tuition to learn how to learn. The only way is to learn while you go on with your life. Basically, there are three ways of gaining intelligence or learning about anything: thinking, through insight and of course, taking pointers from others who have gone the same road.


When I say ‘thinking’ I am really speaking of learning cycles. The most quoted learning cycle is Kolb’s Cycle which identifies the four phases of learning: Action, Experience, Reflection and Conceptualisation. Whatever we learn, we do so by re-visiting all that we have learned previously and re-thinking our ideas and plans for future learning. So the cycle never stops.

Insight = Sight from Inside You

Insight is another cup of tea altogether. Insight is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘capacity for understanding hidden truths.’ But, shall we say it is merely, sight from the inside or within us? Insight obviously is not for sale at supermarkets. If you want it you have to work at it. And according to Nihal Dissanayake, author of many Buddhist novels and founder of, a website on the craft of mobilizing mind power for happy living, insight comes to a neutral mind. That is, your mind needs to be neither too full of joys and happiness nor harnessing thoughts if you are to focus on gaining insight.

Learn from Others

The third way is to learn from others. We can read or listen and absorb what others have already learned through thinking, experiencing and insight. This is probably the short cut, if you really need short cuts to learning and are too lazy to think for your self or develop a mental state to gain insights.

For starters, take the words of Henry L. Doherty seriously and “get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”  Then, you might as well “sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every conceived notion, follow humbly wherever and whatever abysses nature leads, or you will learn nothing” (Thomas Huxley). Next stage is to go one step ahead and join Eartha Kitt who said “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”  Go on. Earn your diploma!

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.
Be a student so long as you still have something to learn,
and this will mean all your life.
~  Henry L. Doherty

I decided to write about learning because, especially in the small or micro businesses, the entrepreneur’s attitudes and levels of knowledge, at some point, becomes a confining factor for the whole business.

As a Chinese Proverb tells you, “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back.” Isn’t it also true of business?

Business@Home series published in Sunday Times FT - February 2005

Traveling & Learning – Around The World

It has long been said that travel broadens the mind. Travel has also been said to be the university of life. I’ve found those statements very accurate when describing what happens to someone who has spent time in another country or area; learning about the people, culture & cuisine. I don’t think of myself as […]

via Traveling & Learning – Around The World —

It’s YOU. It’s Always YOU. — Cristian Mihai

“We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.” — Earl Nightingale Do you ever stop to think about what makes us special? What makes us…us? Then, do you ever wonder what can possibly make some people great? What is greatness? Or talent? Or success?

via It’s YOU. It’s Always YOU. — Cristian Mihai

Mindculture for Kids and Adults – New Facebook Page

Mindculture for Kids and Adults - My New Facebook Page
Mindculture for Kids and Adults – My New Facebook Page

Dear All, I started a new Facebook page, Mindculture for Kids and Adults.

Your mind is your greatest asset.
This page is dedicated to sharing info on the art and science of mind culture from cradle to grave.

If your focus in self improvement is business oriented, you may also want to visit my Business Trainer Sri Lanka Facebook page.

Please visit, like and follow. And share the good news with your friends and family.




Neuroscientists and psychologists find links between handwriting and learning (NYT article)


Have you entirely given up on handwriting? Do you still believe it helps you organize your thoughts even if you work on a computer to put together a document? Well, you may be right.

Here’s what a New York Times science article, What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades, says:

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

You can read the complete article at the above link.

Here are a few more links you’d find interesting:

Please don’t let your kids give up on cursive altogether. And try writing something yourself, especially if it has to do with learning important things.

I Love Training

When I was young, I never imagined I’d be involved in any sort of teaching or training. I believed I simply did not have what it takes. However, when I started working I found that I loved teaching my juniors. Explaining things; coaching; all aspects of building a person up and improving their knowledge base.

Later when I joined Athwela, Sri Lanka’s first business magazine in Sinhala as its managing director and managing editor, I got into training in a big way. We were travelling around the country to promote the magazine and our key promotional tool were seminars to business startups and small and medium enterprises.

Then, as part of a natural progression, I moved on to personal development topics. Why? Because no one can win or do well with anything, including business, if they did not have the right attitude; towards learning, improving, mistakes and life. I truly believed that personal development training would solve lots of problems of local entrepreneurs. And it does. This is also true for anyone, including students, stay at home mothers, public and private sector employees and business startups.

After I developed a name as a trainer, one specializing in Sinhala training, other organizations, such as Unilever’s Fair and Lovely Foundation, Royal Dutch Shell’s ShellLiveWire, The Sri Lanka Australia Natural Resource Management Project and HSBC’s Public Affairs Division invited me to design and conduct various public programmes. All were so much fun and provided a lot of rich and varied experiences for me.

All of these were conducted in Sinhala. I’ve basically worked in all the districts other than the North and East (this was prior to the end of the civil war).

I was also happy to be invited to conduct a number of Supervisory Development and Management Development seminars for the JASTECA Institute of Management. That moved me into management training, which is something I really enjoy. Some of the management development sessions were conducted in English.

In addition to what’s mentioned above, I’ve conducted numerous workshops and training sessions for private and public sector participants as inhouse sessions.

What I love about training

I love the variety. I specialize in tailoring training content for my audiences. I train in Sinhala and English. And I work with kids, teens and adults from all walks of life.

Reading audience moods and pitching at the right level are huge challenges that I love taking on. Thankfully I’ve not put many people to sleep even in the after lunch sessions. There is too much going on.

Training keeps me on my toes. What I do best is learning. So I like to give that skill to others as well, in addition to delivery of content. I like to continuously improve what I do, and myself of course. Training work, especially serial training sessions which require the same content be delivered again and again would seem boring to some trainers. But it is important to remember this is a new audience in front of you each time. You have to be as enthusiastic about the 20th programme as you were about the 1st.

Then there is the huge opportunity to test out new methods of getting a message across. Of fine tuning exercises and interactions. Training is a dynamic field. You cannot rest upon your laurels and expect to do well. I generally get great feedback. But it is a personal challenge for me to see whether I can improve it even further. And no better way for this than with serial programmes.

Understanding audiences and pitching at the correct level is a joy for me. Training for one audience is different than training another. Even in Training in one firm is not the same as training in another firm. The company culture may be different and therefore the mood. It all depends.

This means getting to know specific issues and reading between lines and capturing the nuances and the vibes. Understanding the vibes is important because facilitating learning depends on this to a large extent.

For example, in some firms mixed audiences—blue and white collar—may provide great learning experiences while in others it can kill all spontaneity. If this happens—fortunately has not happened to me so far, it can make learning less fun and much less effective. It is a fine balance.

I get great feedback. That is great in itself, but I am not boasting, it is just a fact. And it does not come without a lot of effort and careful consideration.

For one thing, I think of my participants all the time. Can those in the back see? Can you hear? Is the light in your eyes? Are you comfortable? Can you understand?

One would imagine this is basic courtesy but I’ve personally sat in sessions where the trainer’s delivery goes way over the top of audience’s heads and little is learnt as a result. People cannot read the slides, the text is too small. The trainer mumbles despite the audio and makes little eye contact. The gestures and tone don’t match what they are saying leading to cognitive dissonance. And it is all boring lecture only format. Who would not fall asleep then?

Training and workshops are not lectures. Thankfully. I personally don’t like lectures. All trainers need to move around, ask questions, provoke thinking and interactions. All of this makes a difference to the participants and their learning process.

Training is not about delivery of content. It is about getting people to think, take things on board and actually using them in their lives the next day onwards.

And people don’t come to training sessions as they are going to a magic show. Its good to have fun and get laughs. But it is important to ensure that all action is related to learning. Not gimmicks for the sake of entertainment.

And I am happy to report that I don’t have an ongoing love affair, as I call it, with the screen. I don’t arrive with boring set of slides. I don’t take anything for granted. And this naturally pays off. In terms of great feedback.

I even prepare so that if power goes off—especially in village/remote areas without backup power—I can still continue. Only the slides will be missing, but the learning will continue. It has happened before; so it is not totally paranoia on my part.

The kind of feedback I get keeps me going

Here’s some feedback from a set of workshops on Managing Personal Finances I counducted for mostly blue collar workers of the MAS group (garments and accessories). The workshops were sponsored as a CSR project by HSBC.

A summary for evaluations from 10 workshops with over 750 participants:

  • What I learnt at the workshop is: Very useful (87%); Useful (13%); Somewhat useful (0%); Useless (0%)
  • The extent to which the things I learnt would help me succeed in life: Very useful (80%); Useful (20%); Somewhat useful (0%); Useless (0%)
  • Would you recommend this workshop to others? Yes (100%); No (0%)

And here’s that in visual format:



I am a learner, so I love helping others learn. I studied organisational development and change management. And I have seen in practice, both in the UK and Sri Lanka, how this can go really wrong, making it disastrous for both employers and their employees. So I am very careful in all I do AND say.

I also keep reading books about learning, psychology and self development. So helping others learn is an intrinsically satisfying thing for me. In this world of ours, where the only certainties are death and constant change, teaching to learn is a valuable gift I can pass on to my audiences. This is especially important for adults.

Here’s my motto:

“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”—Eric Hoffer

If you are looking for a great trainer for your business, give me a call or send a message. I’d be delighted to talk about how best we can work together to solve your business issues.


Close down the R&D Division

You don’t think its a good idea? Okay. Remember this then:

“Children are the research and development division of the human species”
~Psychologist Alison Gopnik

Don’t send your kids to a preschool where teaching is the priority.

Kids should be allowed to explore and experiment and ask questions in preschool, not burdened with instruction. teaching things too early is harmful for their natural development and future progress.

Just like closing down the R&D division. Only short-sighted companies do that, right?

This move towards teaching too early comes from two things: Parental pressure (why aren’t they teaching my kids stuff?) and government policy towards more structured instruction.

In Sri Lanka, where the government schools do not expect kids to enter grade one knowing their alphabet and counting, too much teaching comes from over zealous parents demanding preschools to teach stuff… and preschools who actually listen to the parents and their ignorant requests.

Light of the Hearth

By ADDesilva
By ADDesilva

A few lines from the poetry collection, Light of the Hearth

By Ivan Savelyev

The poems were translated by Walter May.

At any and every time of the year,

Whatever the dream I live at that hour,

With nature’s voice in harmony here

Is the tuning of my emotional power.


So near to me her tears, her hurts,

So heavy her grief and loss again,

That when they hack a branch from a birch

In my own arms I feel the pain.


*    *    *


No, the heavens are surely never blind,

And the earth can surely not lack sight.

Grasses deaf from birth you will not find.

Rivers without hearing would not be right.


It is we, the sons of heaven and earth,

Finding ourselves not all at once, I fear,

On the millennia’s steep road struggling forth,

Who are slowly learning to see and hear…