I live on Good Soup, Not Fine Words!
Those words French play writer, Molière, said, back in time. He was, by the way, a truly ambitious person who came out of a rich family – silver spoon and all of that. He, however, insisted to not just walk in the footsteps of his father and become a lawyer. He had his own ambitions and he did, what it took to follow his dream and to succeed. He even impressed the King with his play, Tartuffe, about the, in his perception, hypocrite church.
I think, in our times, we do not feel the same impact, when the preachers talk about religion. We have become critical, whether the Garden of Eden actually existed and if the walking on the water has at all taken place.
What we DO have, however, is consulting services, trying to explain a more modern type of religion: Growth concepts! They talk and talk. Preach and preach. They do not ask us to go to the church room. They ask us to go to a nice resort or a company’s conference room. The same principle, though. Walk away from what you do and listen to advice and inspiration.
Every year a new black. Nurturing a too common mistake that “new” is always better than “old”. It seems as if they also think that making this news “easy to understand as possible” is a good idea. They rebottled market power theory as “Red and Blue Ocean” a few years back. Servant leadership became “UNBOSS” last year and, just this month, “sponsorship” was baptized as “Strategic Philanthropy”. Many consultants debate their new black on social media platforms and among themselves. Struggling to define the difference between leadership and “Change Management”. No wonder this takes time and energy, because there is none. Word salad.
Let me make it clear: It is legal to sell old wine in new bottles. In business we allow for lightweight products and solutions of many kinds to exist and we demand of the victim of it to be responsible for what he pays money for. All by himself. As opposite to the consumer market, where the law protects a lot more against bad suppliers, dangerous products and, of course, obvious fraud.
However, much bigger overall problems are unsolved. These problems are FORGETTING, FITTING and TRANSLATION.
If the intentions of the “new black suppliers” is for businesses to grow from all this, it is important, managers and employees actually APPLY the new black. Not only feel well informed or “inspired”. ALAS: No matter which type of learning concept, theory or empirical research, you turn to, they all agree that LEARNING IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM BEING INFORMED AND INSPIRED OR INSTRUCTED HOW TO DO SOMETHING.
This article is not attempting to explain every difference there is, nor to be a lecture in how to learn. My goal is to create awareness that it is not possible to learn and apply anything in companies without a certain amount of discomfort combined with a skillful teacher. Those, who study learning, call this “challenge of the feed forward”. This is important, because our brain handles around 60-90.000 thoughts a day. In order to stay sane, we are equipped with a smart mechanism: WE FORGET at lot of thoughts! Some research indicates that we are bad at making conscious decisions as to which of the thoughts, we forget and which we remember. We forget up to 90% in less than a week or faster.
We cannot learn to ride a bike by just looking at others, doing it well, nor talk to a professional bike rider. Not even if he/she was or is a world champion at it. For this reason, I never understood why consultants, who studied nothing about teaching others, think they are equipped to teach others to ride because of a record of own accomplishment only. In the worst of cases, I have heard them instruct managers, it's important to avoid making the classical mistake of promoting a super sales man into a lousy sales manager. It is quite close to bizarre, in my humble opinion.
The phenomenon known, in fact, as “halo bias”; IE thinking a person who is good at one thing is automatically good at other things. Sometimes bias even misleads the individual advisor himself to think that having brought results as a successful marketing- or sales guy will make him/her able to excel in management and leadership advice as well. Such people have nothing but a great interest in the subject or they perceive the area as prestigious or profitable. This way the one eyed becomes the king among the blind.
Same when the fresh graduate, age 25, get a manual in the hand and becomes “junior advisor”. This can only happen in the western world where aging is a “problem”. The parts of the world, where growth takes place these days, age is much more prestigious. These countries beat us every day on all KPI’s of growth.
Once we start to try new things out, something can happen. Confucius saw that already back in ancient China: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.
But why is it that “proven concepts from outside” are bad for efficient learning? We easily understand, it is best to get bike riding under the skin using a bike similar to the one, we are going to use on a daily basis. It makes little sense to use a circus bike with only one wheel, a tandem or a Long John. Even if these are still within the “concept of a cycle”. Fitting companies to a concept that has worked for someone else, is the same as handing you a good-looking suit, 2 sizes too small or too big. You need to fit it, and that costs money. FITTING suits is cheap and easy, but rebuilding a house with two bedrooms for your 4 children is costly. What if it is not bedrooms, you need the most? The dangerous thing is if you buy thing from “semi experts”, you cannot always see if, and where, fitting is due. Go to a tailor of you want to look great. Do not buy a tuxedo if you need a raincoat or a pair of heels. Research proves that majority of profits come from industry effects and intra company effects. IE: Not from fixed concepts.
TRANSLATIONS are always link to possibility of misunderstanding. So why is it that companies decide to go to a resort somewhere and play with LEGO bricks, go for walking rallies around the beautiful lake nearby and return from the group room to put posters on walls? Instead of staying at home and solve real problems. Problems, which surely will not automatically go away during the seminar. Why is it that the companies overlook that the most expensive part of HR investments are the “cost of not producing while away”. Why pay for a complicated translation of concepts? When research proves it is inefficient.
We will likely agree that we remember the times we fell on our bike and forget times when we did not fall. Well-respected learning expert Hemmingsen has explained the dilemma about “the natural and needed frustrations connected to good learning” extensively. I wish a lot more business services would pay attention to that. Quality learning institutions in Denmark and aboard do that. I cannot claim that all schools are fabulous, but at least they do not apply counterproductive learning methods anymore. At no other place than in business consulting, do we allow teachers, who are not teachers, to teach.
Finally, why is it that some advisors want people to loosen up and wear jeans at the seminar? Is it because the brain gets bigger from that? Why is it so important to escape the reality of the challenges the seminar is supposed to help solve? Is it because the coach is afraid, he cannot solve the riddle if it became real and live on stage?
I would like to know, how much proof we need. On top of what is already there, to make this kind of escapism disappear. BUsiness world could feed several sarcastic plays at Moliere's level about the many stories people share in our companies about how great or bad the lunch was and how fast we forgot everything we wrote in the mandatory “action plan” at the end of those company paid vacations.
I believe that it is very important in business, we all help protect ourselves from empty words and shallow methods. My experience has been that the low part of the fence is a crowded and risky place to be.
We are all better off if we are willing not to simplify, if things are not simple. Simply! Serve soup, not words.