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Yesterday, I watched a play that was staged by a group of students from The Drama School Mumbai, which was a Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the utter lack of creativity in the name of the school (for a creative school), the play had a lot of positives.

The students, who are half way through their course, are on tour with this play and were in Bangalore yesterday. At the end of the play, when they spoke about their school, briefly describing the structure of their course work, which involves learning all aspects of staging a play - right from acting and script writing to prop management and light and sound setting, I was left appreciating the course work model as something that ought to be replicated in every class - no matter what it is that is being taught. In order to graduate, they need to write a play from scratch and then stage it by handling all aspects of staging the play. No more emphasis needed than that on application.

Performing Arts is something where there is a difference from one performance to the other even when the performer is the same and from different performances of the same script or song even when only the actors change, all else remaining same. This is gradually becoming true in most jobs today, stretching to those outside of Performing Arts, where each of us is picked for a role that we bring a unique value to, and roles that don't need unique abilities from the employees (like most jobs in the previous century), roles that anyone with a particular skill set could do, are beginning to be automated.

Nilofer Merchant has been championing this idea, 'Onlyness', as she calls it. "Onlyness is what only that one individual can bring to a situation. It includes the journey and passions of each human."

Having recently subscribed to the paid version of The New Yorker, I spent a good portion of today reading lengthy articles (30+ minutes of read time each) on it. Two of them were about artists - George Lucas (from Star Wars fame), and Cate Blanchett. A considerable amount of word space was dedicated to describing some significant experiences and some not-so-significant experiences in their lives that later on influenced their work in one way or another. If you've read any famous person's biography, there too, you would notice this to be the case.

In the twentieth century, bringing in something unique to one's work was a luxury. People could be satisfied by taking a hands off approach and do only what was instructed, without having to apply their brains and by deferring decisions to their managers. It was alright to be just a cog in the wheel. One could get by and lead a decent living. This was the time when standing out in a crowd was a risk which offered high rewards at a low probability.

Life has moved on.

Today, standing out in a crowd is an expectation in the minimum. All cogs in the wheel are quickly being automated. And it is getting more and more expensive to remain a cog in the wheel as the rewards for being one are decreasing by the day. If you look at the lay offs that have happened in Indian startups in the past few months, those who have been laid off hit the bull's eye if the dart board were a depiction of 'cog-in-the-wheel' employees. Not standing out in a crowd is now a risk which offers low rewards at a high probability.

Life has moved on. But the culture in the majority of Indian society still hasn't. Conforming and following instructions are still encouraged more than anything else.

I'm not clued into the school scene in Bangalore (and other major cities) at the moment, so someone who is can enlighten me if the students today (unlike in my school days) are encouraged to bring in their own perspectives and their passions to the table. Has the conversation moved on to 'What can you bring to the table that no one else can?' from 'Can you do this set of things better than everyone else your age?'

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