Aurora Magazine

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Monks in New York

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
How to achieve Millennial nirvana.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

Irfan Kheiri immediately zeroes in on the context.

“That is what they are all missing. They think they understand, but without the context that understanding is just superficial.

“So I am going to tell you a joke to make my point.

“There is this monk who goes to New York.” He stops, looks around and ask, “You do know what a monk is, right? Saffron robes, shaved heads and New York?”

“Yes, yes of course we do,” the class responds in unison.

“He heads out to a hot dog stand on Times Square.”

He pauses again and the class groans. “Please we get both references; hot dogs as well as Times Square, can you get on with the joke?

“Here is the punchline now, pay attention. This is the joke...

“Make me one with everything.” There is pin-drop silence in the room. They look at each other as if he is mad.

And that is my point, says Kheiri. The kids in my class think they understand monks, New York and hot dogs but they haven’t googled nirvana as yet. They are sharper than we are, smarter too, occasionally hard-working, but they are still missing the context. And without context, there is no game. If you haven’t read Animal Farm by George Orwell you can’t comment on social strata; if 1984 doesn’t ring a bell you won’t get the importance of the individual.

So yes, there is a difference between my generation and yours. But does that mean we can’t work together? It means that it is our responsibility to help them learn what they need in order to up their game.


Kheiri and I have been teaching for 21 years. In the beginning it was a side gig, so that we could stay young and connected with the next set of cool kids. More recently, it has become the only thing in our lives. Yesterday, when we met for a long overdue chat after Kheiri’s surgery, the conversation drifted towards the generation of students we have taught, the lives they lead and the memorable ones who got away.

I agree with Kheiri but I also think labels are dangerous. They imply that there is a ‘cure all’ approach for managing talent based on how a given generation is perceived. There is no single collection of personas that you can use to influence a demographic group. There may be a common mindset, a set of preferred attributes endowed by the environment in which they grew up, but that is all they are – attributes and mindsets. They do not describe an individual.


The Millennials, the young men and women that we have taught since the turn of this century are a different lot. In touch with technology, loyal to their peer group, focused on experiences, occasionally cynical and critical of our generation, competitive, yet collaborative, loved by two sets of grandparents, in search of control, meaning and life, sensitive to how the world and their financial future has suddenly changed from being promising to very uncertain.


There is, however, an implicit bias in society and the workplace against non-conformity. What we don’t understand should be dumbed down and denied. Because they don’t belong, because they can’t be categorised or bucketed, because they are not understood, because they ask different questions, they should be sidelined, silenced or ignored. It is the game each generation plays with the next at some level and it never ends well.

I think the primary challenge is one of establishing a connection. Driven by a genuine desire to understand, converse and help – not judge. Occasionally a facilitator or a guide. One, who if asked, may guide a padawan towards the path of self-exploration and awareness. That is what Kheiri does very well every day, as a teacher, a Jedi master and an animator.


The Millennials, the young men and women that we have taught since the turn of this century are a different lot. In touch with technology, loyal to their peer group, focused on experiences, occasionally cynical and critical of our generation, competitive, yet collaborative, loved by two sets of grandparents, in search of control, meaning and life, sensitive to how the world and their financial future has suddenly changed from being promising to very uncertain.

We work with them in the classroom, at start-ups and incubators, at home and in the workplace at the companies we run.


Adnan and Ajmal are two sides of the same coin who belong to this group. One born in Karachi, the other in Chennai. If you saw them sitting at a sidewalk café in Paris, you would think they are cousins, siblings or brothers. Slim and intense, they leave you with an impression of wading across silent rivers and deep waters. Spend 10 minutes with them and you will agree these kids are going far.

I had the joy of teaching them entrepreneurship a few years apart. One in Karachi, the other in Dubai. Despite the difference in our ages, the cities we live in and the years that have passed since their graduation, we still try and catch a bite together when we find ourselves in the same time zone.

At the end of my first class with his MBA cohort, Ajmal came up to me and said, “Sir I love your content, but you have no idea how to teach it. Here is what I would do differently.”

He said it so earnestly and with so much confidence that I had to take his advice. And it was great advice too; smile more, move your hands, vary your tone, don’t come to class all washed out and tired and make it personal.

Adnan and I went on and on for years about the start-up dream; whether it made sense to work for IBM or to dump everything and give destiny a spin. If founders and employers like me really understood what Adnan’s generation wanted, and what to his mind and his friends represents a fair deal. A fair price for exchanging his immediate future for implementing my dreams. Why was the trust relationship between employers from my generation and his clan of talent broken? That discussion defines how I treat employees that came after Adnan.


A common misperception is that Millennials switch jobs and roles frequently; more frequently than the generations before them. The reality is they don’t move because of money; they move because they have found the work, the role, the people, the challenge they want. If you want to retain them, engage them, influence them and help them find their calling. That large problem with their name on it. Because anonymity is boring. Greatness is not.


The reason why we connected so well was because Adnan and Ajmal were always peers; not students, not juniors; neither kids nor the next generation. We understood each other because we were able to have an open exchange. They were clear that I had an agenda and a mandate. I went to great pains to show that while I was not hiding anything I couldn’t help but push them towards the path that served my interests. It wasn’t a commercial exchange and yet in many ways it wasn’t that different from being one.

Like other good students before them, they too were in search of a large bandwidth problem to solve. It was not about fame or fortune. It was about testing your mettle, your capacity to crack a challenge that hadn’t been cracked before. A rite of passage before you took your place among those who were called and survived the test. To assure you and the world; here is proof that you have it.

A common misperception is that Millennials switch jobs and roles frequently; more frequently than the generations before them. The reality is they don’t move because of money; they move because they have found the work, the role, the people, the challenge they want. If you want to retain them, engage them, influence them and help them find their calling. That large problem with their name on it. Because anonymity is boring. Greatness is not.

“The key is,” I tell Irfan, “pedestrian lives. That is the cross-connect between our lives and theirs. They don’t want pedestrian lives and neither did we. Ordinary lives are what the ones who got away were running from. They don’t want anonymity, they want recognition. On their terms and not on those the world, you or I have to offer. I don’t know what drives that? Certainly not insecurity, more like that inner voice that says you can do better, strive for more.”

“So the monk pays the hot dog vendor five dollars and the vendor begins to push his cart away,” he says.

“The monk calls out, ‘Hey what about change?’”

“The vendor looks back, bows his head, puts his hand together and says that change comes from within.”

Jawwad Ahmed Farid is CEO, Alchemy Technologies; Founder, Financetrainingcourse.com; adjunct Professor of Finance at the SP Jain School of Management and a board member of the P@SHA Nest I/O. jawwad@financetrainingcourse.com

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Comments (6) Closed



Dr Jamal Jan 17, 2017 12:17pm

Great Jawwad, till the end I could not believe it could be you. take care.

Jawwad shekha Jan 17, 2017 02:56pm

A challenge lot many are faced with. Good insight. Thought provoking.

Abraham Haque Jan 17, 2017 09:16pm

Lot of us from the older generations do understand the jomes but some of them do not have any context

Partha Mishra Jan 18, 2017 02:37pm

This is such an awesome article. Thanks for the succinct portrayal, very fluid and insightful.

M Jan 22, 2017 05:26pm

If the older generation wants to retain millennials it could start by paying them fairly for their work. Millennials change jobs and look for more fulfilling challenges because they know their financial situation will stay much the same either way.

Abraham Haque Jan 22, 2017 07:39pm

@M the idea that money is the only way to be fulfilled then read my previous comment