Imitation of ability

A recent conversation with a Private Equity investor mentioned that there is a dearth of strong human capital in Indonesia. And her experience seemed to be that there were many people who worked a couple of months for Gojek or Tokopedia, or other brand name startups were going around expecting high salaries. They learnt to speak and use words that were common amongst the high power startups but provided little value or capabilities to their prospective employers.

It made me think about how often we develop real capabilities rather than learn to imitate ability. When I first joined the workforce and talked about topics on water treatment or subsequently about power generation, I was walking largely on thin ice and was just passing on knowledge I picked up from the internet or just speaking to one or two others in the industry. Within six months, I began being conversant even through I had little idea what I was talking about. I felt more like I was part of the industry but not quite sure what I gained were real understanding or knowledge. Or just the skills to mimic.

Maybe most of us developed this way. But I think we can forget that we need to move from feigning knowledge to having real knowledge. After all, while it is true that in schools, you only need to know what to do in exams to get the right grades, in order to solve real world problems, you do actually have to really understand the actual concepts and dig deep. Our modern complex world with its market systems, bureaucracy and layers of working relationships sometimes allows us to ride on others’ capabilities to deal with problems, but eventually we can’t go by without fundamentals. So please don’t count on imitation.