Teaching Smart vs. not LO13541

Michael Gort (gort@ms.com)
Thu, 8 May 1997 00:15:46 -0400

Replying to LO13491 --

Gary Scherling writes:

"As Terri points out, and I want to stress, we educate ourselves to get
good jobs so we can consume more. I think this points to our educational
system which currently exists, not to ready people for life, but to ready
people to get a job. It's a system created when we stopped being
independent contractors, and started getting jobs in corporations and
relying upon those companies for our livlihood and futures."

I can really relate to this from my experience of watching what a very
good private school is doing to my 10 year old son, John. John has been
an eager learner of many things. He skis as well as many adult
instructors, he plays a magical game of goalie in soccer and he is able to
decipher the rules and codes of most video games, completing all levels in
usually a matter of days. In game learning, he needs to remember the
codes and seems to have no problem committing many of them to memory.
Trust me, you do not want to play a game like Mortal Kombat with him - he
knows every secret move and power of every fighter and easily defeats most
opponents. In school, his teachers say that he as a wonderful ability to
identify and discuss character development in a story, and he writes
interesting, thoughtful stories. But he does not spell well, and in fact,
cannot understand why spelling is such an important element of school.
Having been computer literate for most of his life, he understand how
easily spell checkers handle spelling errors, and therefore does recognize
the importance of spelling. His school, of course, believes spelling to
be as important as values and character, and is putting intense pressure
on him to improve his spelling. The method used is quite draconian --
weekly tests, with all of the focus on how many words are spelled wrong.
Sadly, this is having the effect of making him really hate school and
studying, and is turning off the intrinsic joy of learning that he has
always enjoyed.

I experience this in our work environments as well. We seem to value
knowing (as his school clearly does) far more than the ability to think
and learn. How often do we encounter colleagues who hoard knowledge
rather than sharing it, since their mental model (and too frequently,
management's mental model), values knowing, not the ability to learn and
grow. In our business (technology supporting investment banking) seems to
have an ever shorter half life, and real value would appear to be
generated when someone learns a better or faster algorithm for processing
data or a better model for evaluating the price of a security. However,
we continue to promote and retain people based on their knowledge. This
is a real dilemma for me, and IMO, for our organization. Mediating this
dilemma is a large task. So in many ways, our education system and its
values are closely connected to our work institution values.

"People are learning. The question is what are they learning. A friend
of mine knows every detail about the Ottawa Senators (a hockey team just
knocked out of the playoffs) and yet he barely spends any time learning
other non-sports things."

This says to me that your friend has found real, deep and personal value
in learning every detail possible about the Senators. Perhaps he has
found little value at work associated with learning great details about
some element or process of work? Should we be asking about the
individual, or should we be questioning the purpose, values and vision of
the organization? No answers, lots of questions. "Terri says we have to
have typical people become active learners and critical thinkers. I think
we have to recognize that the world changes due to the minority. It is
again an 80%/20% rule... 20% of the people make everything happen, and 80%
of the world just rides the roller coaster."

If that is true, is that a comment about the people, or about the system
that has produced them? What should we be thinking about an organization
that encourages and promotes this 80/20 view? Is there a clear purpose
for the organization? Is there a clear vision about the importance of
active learners and critical thinkers? I am finding it increasingly
difficult to personalize this kind of dilemma, and instead see it as a
crisis of purpose and vision. Real change is possible, there are indeed
organizations where active learning and critical thinking is truly valued.
What is different about them? Have they really managed to hire only the
"smart" people, or have they discovered a means to embody the value of
learning in their very core. Arie de Geus speaks very eloquently of the
average life of corporations studied at Shell. They found that the mean
life of a Fortune 500 company is quite short, something around fifty
years, I believe. In fact, when they looked at a broader selection of
European and Japanese companies, they found something more like 20 years
average life. Yet there exists one company (the name of which escapes me)
that has been in existence for over 700 years. Others have survived for a
century or two centuries. If you believe that learning is key to
long-term survival, which probably can be assumed if you are a participant
on this list, that large of a variation between the longest lived and the
mean is very interesting data. It is clear that no company that has
managed to exist for 700 years has done so because it has had smarter
managers, or succeeded in only hiring the 20%. Instead, it seems they
have found a way to embed learning in the fabric of corporate life.

Michael Gort

PS: Interesting postscript that when I spell checked my draft of this
post I found about seven spelling errors of my own and one in the quoted
text. Hmmm.......


"Michael Gort"<gort@ms.com>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>