Unconventional Wisdom

Unconventional Wisdom

Are you a guardian, warrior or futurist? Educational entrepreneur Arthur Carmazzi believes the cultivation of tomorrow's leaders depends far more on what motivates them - not what traditional education systems dictate they should learn


Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Fri 20 Jul 2018, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 20 Jul 2018, 2:00 AM

When Arthur Carmazzi was young, his dyslexia meant that he did not take naturally to learning - and so they put him in a 'special class' with other kids that were doing just as poorly at school. The teacher was "very nice" but you still felt "stupid", he recalls. And, over time, he began to believe that sentiment. "I began to believe I couldn't achieve much even though I wanted to. that this was just 'me'." What changed was one teacher sitting him down and asking him to solve a couple of simple algebra problems in whatever way he could. Using basic mental math hacks, instead of the standard syllabus-directed methodology, Arthur managed to solve what he'd once considered "impossible" problems without help.
With the encouragement of his teacher, he reached a point where, incredibly, fellow students started asking him for help. "I learnt to be smart - but it wasn't because of what they were teaching me," he says. "It was one teacher coaching me to achieve success based on how I could do it, not based on how the system was asking me to do it." The now-54-year-old admits he didn't do well on tests even afterwards - since they were still rooted in a system he found difficult to work with - but his perspective of himself really changed.
As an adult, Arthur went on to hold multiple leadership positions in the corporate world (working in consulting and product development roles), wrote 11 how-to books (three of which are bestsellers, including the most recent one called Architects of Extraordinary Team Culture), travels the world to deliver talks on organisational culture, and owns his own resort in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. "I'm doing okay for the stupid kid everyone said would amount to nothing," he quips.
The Italian-American author is best known for founding the Directive Communication Methodology - an organisational development discipline that explores how people's environments impact their behavioural patterns - something that stemmed from his own trysts with workplace conflicts and failures over the years (see box). But his most recent venture has been to take education reform into his own hands and develop his own approach - it's even named after him - to cultivating leaders. "The traditional model of education is a system that rewards kids who are able to study in a particular way - by remembering information in order to take tests - which is great for certain kinds of kids, but not for everyone," he explains.
It's a different kind of world that Arthur envisions at Kingsley Leadership Academy, the sprawling student schooling and housing complex based in Malaysia - with a capacity to host 500 students - that's set to open in September this year. Dubbed a 'modern-day Hogwarts', the school will 'sort' students into five different 'hives', based on their motivational profile - not unlike Rowling's fantasy series. There are five hives: thinkers (those who learn by ideation), explorers (those who learn through discovery), futurists (those who learn by creation), warriors (the business-inclined who aspire to 'crush the competition') and guardians (those keen to save the world and make a difference).
Open to kids aged 13-18 from around the world, it will incorporate the methodology he has developed by encouraging a culture of self-study, wherein pupils learn (for the most part) on their own. Each child is allotted a portion of the IGCSE-based curriculum, which they not only undertake to research and learn in their own way, but which they will also be responsible for teaching the fellow students in their hive. Which is why there are more 'coaches' than teachers at this school. Save for a few subjects like music, art and philosophy, it will be coaches who work to keep pupils on track and help them develop communication skills and confidence. "If kids need help with a certain concept, there will be subject-related clinics to help them out," assures Arthur. "But if you're not having difficulties, the idea is that you don't have to waste time listening to a lecture."
There is only one criterion for admission at this school - and it's not grades. "It doesn't matter if you're getting Ds and Fs," says Arthur. "It doesn't even matter if you're getting As. If you have the potential to be successful - what we call conceptual geniuses - that's what we're looking out for." Putting their money where their mouth is, the school is offering both part and fulltime scholarships for students coming from non-privileged backgrounds.
Arthur and his co-founder Tan Sri Dato'sri Barry Goh were recently in town to "identify the realities" of starting up a school here, similar to the soon-to-launch prototype in Malaysia. The coaching-versus-teaching style is one that schools all over the world need, he says - not just Dubai. "Currently, there's so much emphasis being placed on academics that we're forgetting what makes good leaders."
If his learnings have taught him anything, it's that environment is everything. "Psychologically, the social pressure is really damaging for kids that don't do well on tests and who are constantly berated for poor grades, because they internalise that," says Arthur. "And because they don't feel like it, they don't expand on their own potential and end up becoming underachievers."
There's not much you can do for people who don't have any interests. But for those who do, Arthur has just one word of advice: encourage them. "If someone is excited about something, no matter how crazy the idea sounds - and, sometimes, the crazier the better! - that's a huge sign of potential, because they have a vision. But that's a factor that's often ignored, so people end up becoming mediocre, because their environment doesn't support them to act on their potential - even if it is to, say, design video games."

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