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A Friesian Cow in the Bus Station

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

This time, inspiration came from an exchange about Organisational Learning. To paraphrase one hour of lively interaction into a few sentences, we are moving towards Heutagogy (learn by yourself from anything, anywhere and anytime). In other words, we should learn from every situation and continue to do so, whether we want to or not. It was hosted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, they have c. 140,000 members, so they must be right.

My thoughts went back to a trip to India some years’ ago; a self-managed journey around the country intended to expand my horizons, understand different cultures and enjoy some really good food. Mysuru (Mysore) is a lovely city, in Karnataka State. One of the highlights is the Sri Chamundeswari Temple at the top of a steep hill nearby. It’s dedicated to Chamundi’ or ‘Durga’, known as the slayer of demons and the presiding deity over the city. Pilgrims visit her from all over, believing that the Goddess fulfils their desires and aspirations. Nonetheless, "be careful what you wish for, lest it come true".

I’d already tried to visit the former Maharaja’s palace, but that was shut. The caretakers decided to go on strike that morning and refused to open the gates to visitors. Still wanting my trip to be a “success”, I set off for the temple instead. The choices were climbing c 1100 steps in 30o heat, a rickshaw or braving local transport by taking bus number 201 for INR 28 (CHF 0.33 or GBP 0.38 at today’s prices), leaving the local bus terminal every 30 minutes. That’s what my Lonely Planet guide book said, so it must be right.

Arriving at the bus terminal, I managed to (finally) find the proper bus and the right stop. I expected it to leave quickly(-ish) to spend the next couple of hours exploring a famous temple and started to feel proud for managing the excursion by myself. However, a herd of Friesian cows wandered by, sat down in the middle of the terminal and made themselves comfortable whilst digesting their dinner.

So much for my best laid plans, which ceased to have any significance whatsoever. Since cows are holy in India, everything stopped to wait for them; regardless of how long that would take. They could have gone in one minute or 120 and there was nothing I could do to change the situation. How could I negotiate with a cow anyway? We didn’t exactly speak the same language.

With little alternative but wait for the herd to leave, it turned out that my desires and aspirations for broader perspectives were being fulfilled, but in a completely different way. Over the next 2 hours, there wasn’t much else to do, but sit and reflect on what I’d learnt from my trip so far. According to Kurt Lewin; "Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one's relations to others." As one of the founders of Organisation Development, he must be right.

The Sri Chamundeswari Temple was really beautiful; especially as I could enjoy it in the evening light as the sun started to go down. Travelling round India independently was certainly a dream come true. It expanded my horizons in unforeseen ways; realising the importance of taking time to reflect; whether I wanted to or not. Other lessons learnt from experience included the importance of the journey and not the destination; how attitudes to time can differ so significantly and how resistance to change from unexpected sources can also yield positive outcomes, which turn out right. All thanks to a Friesian cow in the Bus Station.

With homage to: Lewin (1951) (WW Jacobs 1902)

Why is a Learning Philosophy so important for organisations? CIPD (2018)


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