A couple of the core messages of the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (McChesney, Covey and Huling, Simon and Schuster, 2012) is that first of all, people and organisations who want to achieve success should focus on what they call Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) and secondly, that they should not have more than three of those goals.
For most organisations the idea of achieving ‘just’ three goals would appear to be counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s really in the drafting of what the organisational goals should be, that would allow multiple directions to be taken towards achieving the same three ends: by multiple departments and by a multitude of teams and individuals. The idea is that once the organisation has set its three carefully drafted goals, the organisation/departments/teams/people direct their activities towards executing their part in achieving them. Got it?
The concept works for individuals, too. At the start of the year, as I have done for the past ten or so, I used the Best Year Yet® process set myself about ten goals. Then, every year, reality kicked in and once ‘a’ goal was achieved I’d replace it with another. Or, more often, I’d change my mind about an expensive or difficult goal and delete it. 2021 was a cracking year – I did a lot of the things I wanted to do. So the idea works.
However, there were still some goals which I set every year – and manifestly fail to achieve. Yes, you’ve guessed them correctly – weight loss and physical fitness goals. As usual, these were part of the ten I set in anticipation of the start of the New Year. And, as usual, by the middle of January I realised that I wasn’t doing anything about them.
Cue WIG thinking.
I deleted many of the goals and set just three. Lose the poundage (again), get Cycle Fit, and write another book. Just three WIGs.
Every day, I plan so that those three goals will get the focus that their hoped-for and worked-for achievement demands. Everything else – and I mean everything, including this blog – gets fitted in around the activities that address those goals. I’m doing this blog during the pre-exercise session; I’ll do some training at the planned time, then settle down while I consider exactly what the next book will be. And then, and only then, will I do any reading, chillin’, administerial tasks, etc.
(To be honest, this blog relates to my writing goals, too, so is technically counted within the WIG, as will be the continued practice of public speaking.)
One side benefit of this approach is this – I no longer feel guilty about the things I don’t do that aren’t related to the Big Three.
At the end of my day I think to myself, “So I didn’t wash the car. So I watched two episodes of something. So I didn’t go shopping. Big Deal.
I trained hard. I ate wisely. And I gave due consideration to my writing.
Doing that, I know I’ll be lighter, fitter, wiser and, most importantly, happier than I have been since my last blog.”
Jim Collins, author of business books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” once wrote:
True discipline means channelling our best hours into first-order objectives.*
Just to be clear, he was not promoting blind obedience to the Empire’s replacement in the latter Star Wars movies. That’s not the First Order he meant.
He was promoting the idea that success in any venture is best achieved by making the best use of time available, and wasting as little as possible. He also suggested that the better use of time was a discipline. Not desirable. Required. And, by implication (if you define discipline accordingly), difficult.
The truth is that time management as a discipline isn’t physically hard. It’s just seen as mentally draining. The simplest time tech – the To Do List – is draining because it constantly expands and is a visible reminder of all the things we haven’t yet done, along with all the things we know we must do, but don’t want to.
However, like any discipline – and I am positive that I mean any discipline – once the basics are learned and applied there is less and less need for ‘discipline’, because it becomes second nature. But until it becomes second nature, it seems hard.
Returning to the quote – what is so profound? If you think about it, that’s one of the most common-sense pieces of advice you’ve probably ever heard. The more time you spend on ‘doing’ something directed towards ultimate success, the quicker that success will come about. But no one ever thinks that learning a methodology that will help you apply that common-sense, is common-sense. (Sorry to labour the point.)
Moreover, many public organisations don’t seem to think that training in time management should be made available to anyone earning less than £80k per annum, in my limited experience. They provide that kind of training only to people who can delegate their work downwards, meaning the people to whom that work is delegated – the front line, coal-face operative – aren’t provided with the training that they need in order to cope.
Of course, they could seek out time management input themselves, and I would encourage them to do so. But there is one problem – it isn’t common-sense.
My goodness, what a convoluted, Mobius Strip. “I don’t know I need this, but I need this, but I won’t learn this because it’s common-sense and therefore I am expected already to know it, but I don’t.” (Don’t analyse that sentence too deeply.)
I stress. Yes, it may seem to you that time management training is either unnecessary or too hard, but a workforce trained in time management, that is using common language in its respect, can massively improve productivity simply because it is psychologically committed to what it has been taught. Each individual empowered to say to another, “I need you to be proactive in how you deal with this. Begin with the End in Mind and do First Things First.” No need for further explanation if everyone knows what you mean.
But if all you do is say, “Make a list,” everyone knows what you mean – but hates you for it!
*In his foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
An interesting quote, today, from Covey’s ‘Principle Centred Leadership, made me think. It read:
“One common reactive pattern is to live life in value-based compartments, where our behaviour is largely the product of expectations built in to certain roles: spouse, parent, child, business executive, community leader, and so on. Because each of these compartments carries its own value system, reactive people often find themselves trying to meet conflicting expectations and living by differing values according to the role or the environment they are in at any particular time.” (Covey, Stephen R.. Principle-Centred Leadership (p. 20). Rosetta Books. Kindle Edition.)
Years ago, when I was a serving officer, I considered myself to be quite competent. Something would happen and I would quite easily approach and deal with it using my training and experience. Then, one day, something happened to one of my kids – and I was completely lost. I called a colleague, who dealt with it very well indeed, but I remember thinking, afterwards, “Why didn’t I do that?”
And, reading the above quote, I think I might have an inkling as to why. I was in Parent/Daughter mode, and applied a different kind of thinking than I would have, if I’d gone into Policeman/Victim mode – which was more objective, less emotionally involved. In that moment, I was probably applying a different role, and subsequently different values.
Which was odd, because I believe that the values we have are applied universally to ‘us’, and that experience suggested otherwise. It suggests that look at our Roles through different, role-related spectacles, and act accordingly. The question is,
Is that the right way to live?
It is certainly a common way to love, as shown by athletes with drinking problems, politicians who seem to be honest but then get caught out, married people who excuse one-night stands with strangers when out on business junkets – the ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ perspective.
For me, the ideal is that you/we have ONE set of personal values or Unifying Principles which apply whatever we are doing. The only ‘but’ being that some values may never apply in particular roles, although I am at a loss to conjure up an example for the sake of illustration. I suppose (looking at my own) a value of ‘Be an Intellectual’ might not really apply to a parenting role, except to the degree that role-modelling intellectualism may benefit a child. ‘Be organised in the home’ has little to do with work – except you tend to be more organised at work than you do at home. And role-modelling organisation benefits a messy child.
Looking at those ‘buts’, I think I’m still plumping for Values applying all the time because for every role I can think of, one of my values applies if I think about it deeply enough.
It reflects what Ghandi said. “A person cannot do right in one department whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Which addressed people who lacked integrity and misbehaved in some fashion, but also supports the idea that our values apply universally, not on a role-by-role basis.
Are you who you are all of the time?
I’m trying to be. And while it isn’t easy it must be worth it. Ask my kids.
For more on this subject, buy my book at AMAZON, available in Kindle or paperback.
I’m tired. Not having properly trained on my road bike for this year, I went out last Sunday with friends and rode 56 miles. It was evident fairly early on that I was lagging behind, although in my defence I was following a friend who’d just completed a two-day, 60/40 mile ride up the Marmotte in the Alps. In fairness, then, he was much better prepared for the day than me.
But that was four days ago, and I’m still tired. So what, I hear you ask?
Being tired is no excuse for being lazy. It is tempting to give a task less than you would if you were feeling hale and hearty, but doing that serves no-one. As I sat at my desk preparing to write this blog I was soooo tempted to put it off until I felt better or, failing that, to just look up an old entry and regurgitate that, instead. But you’d have not learned anything new – well, when I say ‘learned’ and ‘new’, perhaps I’m looking more towards providing a new perspective on old learning.
And I wouldn’t have ‘got better’ in the competency sense. Added to that, perhaps my conscience would have screamed at me.
Being tired is only an excuse – nay, reason – for taking longer to do a job. The reality of personal development is that people do get tired, they do lose their sense of motivation, they are affected by moods and circumstances. Neither of which excuse largesse, but they will certainly affect performance.
But how big an effect those influences have on performance, is up to the performer.
Making the proactive choice to put in the effort required to do the better job is key. Deciding to perform at the required level – even at the highest possible level – is the first step to overcoming the drag created by fatigue. It might not be the only step, I admit. If the task to be done is a physical task, then the effect of fatigue will be more obvious and impactive than if the task to be done requires a mental approach more than a muscular one.
But if you’re thinking “I don’t really want to do this,” then the answer is to decide that you will, and to decide that you will do it to the best of your ability even if it takes a little longer than it usually does.
And if you’re experience is the same as the one I’ve just had in writing this blog after thinking about whether or not I can be bothered to do it at all, you may well find that it didn’t take as much time or effort as your brain initially calculated it would.
Because 10 minutes ago I was too tired. Now, my work here is done. Including a review and an edit and posting onto this website. Ten minutes from ‘Not Today’ until ‘Done’.
Do you have days/jobs like that? Days when you just can’t get started because you are tired? Make the decision that YOU are in charge, not your emotions.
And as a bonus, here’s another tip for when you have started but are flagging. It’s one I used when I was trying to keep up with the King of the Mountains.
SEAL Team trainers have discovered that when a candidate has ‘had enough’, the successful candidates can still find another 40% – forty percent – energy left, if they just dig deep and find it. On my bike, really feeling the fatigue from about 35 miles in and knowing I had 20+ left to go, I just reminded myself that if I wanted it, the energy was there. I knew I’d feel it later, but my body would recover to a better base level afterwards. (Hopefully, soon!)
This week I have been mostly taken by a concept that the ‘better’ coaching writers espouse as a specific, rather than ‘work it out for yourself’ idea. The oldest writing I find about this is from the 1930s in the name of Napoleon Hill. It was later reframed in 1989 by Stephen Covey, and Jack Canfield provides the same overarching advice in his 2005 book “The Success Principles”. It is an idea that underpins any level of success in business and personal relationships, and without it everything else fails.
Napoleon Hill, paraphrased it thus: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Covey calls it ‘Be Proactive’ and Canfield calls it ‘Take 100% Responsibility.’ All have the same meaning.
They mean that in order for things to happen, it’s all down to you. You either do it, or you cause it to come about.
I have taught this in personal development classes and often met resistance. It was understandable: in reality, other people and circumstances do have an influence on what we do. In truth, our success relies on us making ourselves relevant, and it relies on us dealing with those external influences. Which is where the resistance loses the argument.
Whatever happens, we have a choice. That choice is to deal with the circumstance, fight it, or accept it. As Covey described it, we have Direct, Indirect, or No Control over what happens to us. Direct Control means we can deal with it ourselves, and overcome the challenge. Indirect Control means either we deal with it in concert with other people, or we nudge it in the direction we wish to go, adapting as we do so. No Control means we smilingly accept it, rather than waste time and emotion fighting the insurmountable.
But we aren’t only talking about severe challenge. We are also talking about little things, small annoyances. I can’t tell you how much emotional effort I find myself putting into the avoidance of a two-minute annoyance! This morning I have hoovered, dusted, stocked, emptied and sorted multiple little things that really have always been someone else’s responsibility. But today, I chose responsibility and it’s all been done.
Have I gone from serious stuff to trivialities? Maybe.
But how about you? What things are you avoiding because they are annoying, in the knowledge that the person responsible is you – but you really don’t want to do them? And is ‘not doing them’ creating the result you want to achieve?
Here’s an example. I am an introvert. I’m reluctant to mix. I have found that most people are: when a group of strangers assemble, there is abundant awkwardness until – I start the conversation and introductions. Me. Shy bloke. Until I, or someone like me, starts the mixing off, it’s awfully quiet. I take 100% (etc.) for communication.
Other things: Paperwork. Cleaning. Maintenance. Shopping. ‘That’ conversation’. All yuk jobs, but all necessary for a smoother existence. All or some of which are things which you think you have delegated, but which the delegate ain’t doing.
Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the moral victory when you make it plain that you’ve briefly, and pointedly, taken responsibility for someone else’s work. Rub it in their faces. Let it be known far and wide.
Sometimes, the mantra ‘I will take 100% Responsibility’ means doing the ‘thing’ so that you can move on from it, and move closer to your desired outcome. Even if that ‘thing’ just means clearing the dishes from the work surfaces you won’t need for three hours – but will now be clean and ready when you get there.
Take charge of as much as possible. Even if you don’t want to do it – do it.
When you have something to do that involves a long wait, what’s your plan? Are you an ‘unlimited coffee’ drinking Wetherspoons telly reader (because the sound’s off and the subtitles are behind the speaker)? Do you search the local shops with no intention of buying anything? Do you manically find some urgent task that you might just progress if the opportunity arises and can be taken? Or do you just chill?
Yesterday, I had a car serviced by a friendly mechanic in Cardiff and such is the distance that it’s not worth going home because as soon as I’d get there, I’d be called back to collect the vehicle. So when I’d booked the service, and in anticipation of the expected wait, I planned my day by first asking Neil (for that is his name) how long it would take. As a result of that one question I was able to make a plan as to what I’d do during the wait AND plan the rest of my post-service day.
First, I decided to go to a library and review my Personal Mission Statement and Goals, just to reset and refocus. That is a valuable activity that reinvigorates motivation and allows you to plan and envision how much better you’ll with deal with a challenge the next time someone annoys you. Then I decided to visit Cardiff Crown Court ‘for old times’ sake’, which proved to be a bust because inn the lead up to lunch there seemed to be little enthusiasm for starting the trial. (Wonder why courts are suffering delays? This is why: “Well, it’s midday, we’ll only get the jury sworn in and have to start the trial later, so let’s have lunch now and start the process at 2pm.”) Finally, I adjourned (ha!) to the adjacent museum and amused myself with some Natural History input – did you know that Wales is made up of rocks, like THE REST OF THE WORLD?
I walked 14km that morning and when I got home, I got to walk the dog, too. Yay.
But it was the first hour, the library life review, that made all the difference. No major changes in terms of my approaches to life, just a reminder where I was and wasn’t performing in terms of the person I want to be. A couple of short-term goals were identified, but the main benefit was just reminding myself who ME is supposed to be.
For those who just chill, kudos to you. Taking a break from the high demands of life is as valuable – I don’t do that because no matter how much I try I am always thinking about the next thing, so Mindfulness is a no-hoper. But for those who find meditation valuable, go for it when you have a long wait.
Charles R Hobbs, author of Time Power (best practical time management tome ever, available second hand only), suggests that when planning for a waiting period it is always good practice to have what he called a ‘High A’ to hand, meaning an important task that you can progress during your wait. Suggestions included making important phone calls or reading something related to your profession, but a good novel that lets you put the stresses of work behind you is as good a High A as a report that needs to be read but in respect of which you’re not really going to be able to provide the appropriate focus.
But the message remains clear –shopping, telly watching and other mind-numbing time fillers aren’t valuable enough for you to be wasting time on them.
What’s your High A, the one you can use to fill spaces in your day?
Like many of you I am an unremarkable person. That sounds modest, but I mean it in the sense that I am no celebrity – I am just one of millions of people who do their ‘thing’ on a daily basis, and that ‘thing’ is fairly normal, certainly to those in the same industry and related fields. Such people tell stories to each other and never consider whether, or how much, people outside their fields will find their lives interesting. But we all have a story to tell.
Recently it occurred to me that as much as I loved and respected my father, and we had a very good relationship, my knowledge of who he was “pre-DC” was lacking. I knew he served in WWII as an aircraft mechanic on a Typhoon squadron, and I knew he’d been an electrical engineer with a power supplier until he retired. I had heard a couple of amusing stories, but he died many years ago and I realise I knew less than I should.
I have five beautiful grandchildren. I had my own kids when we were young and they pretty much experienced a lot of my policing life with me, but none of them know the full story. So I decided to write an autobiography. I knew I had a few funny stories to tell and I figured they might find them amusing. So I began. I am 100 pages of A4 in, and I am only up to 1990 – 28 years old. Most of what I have written is based on memory and from before I kept a real diary, so the remaining 32 years are going to fill a lot more pages because i am diarised up the wazoo. And every memory disclosed sparks another tale, regardless of the records, so I keep having to go back and fill an older chapter with a new tale of derring-do – or embarrassment.
And I realised that this is not just an ego-trip – it’s my legacy. Every story can, in some way, provide a life lesson to my descendants.
People tend to provide life lessons when a situation demands, but wouldn’t it always be better to provide the lessons in advance of the challenges they can solve?
This book – which I will publish on Amazon but only so that I can give hard copies to my family, you can ignore it if you want! – will be an opportunity to give my kids the wisdom it took me 60 years to learn. Yes, The Three Resolutions book contains my philosophy on life from which they can learn, but the autobiography will be the background detail as to why I needed them!
My suggestion this week, therefore, is that you consider writing down your own life story so that those who you love, and will love, and who will wonder who you are and what you did, won’t have to listen to vague recollections of others – they can have a first-hand account.
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian Professor of Psychology, known around the world for his right-of-centre views on the steady creep of authoritarianism that is intended to dictate to people how they should speak. That is why he became famous – he spoke to his government to say that there was a huge ideological difference between directing what people should NOT be allowed to say (genuine hate-speech) and directing what people HAD to say, e.g. enforced gender pronouns. You can have your own views on that, but rest assured I will not be TOLD what to say. You can ask nicely, and I’ll do my best to comply, but I refuse to apologise if I inadvertently ‘misgender’ someone based on several million years of evolution and 60 years of hitherto reliable guesses.
But he is also, as indicated, an expert on human behaviour, and in an interview on YouTube (and nearly everything he’s ever said is on YouTube so don’t second guess what you think may have he said, he’ll rip your argument apart) he made this interesting comment when discussing how people are so easily swayed from the disciplined path. You know, when one more cigarette/pasty/drink etc. won’t matter, or ‘it’s too hard to keep pursuing this goal’. We’ve all been there.
He said, “You can change direction if you want – as long as the new road is equally or more difficult.”
I can’t say I’d ever given that idea too much thought, before. But it’s a great piece of advice. It reflects the reality that, sometimes, the path you’ve chosen for yourself isn’t necessarily the right one. Many would give up, but Peterson counsels not giving up, but redirecting the same or greater level of effort towards a properly considered, alternative route to the success you sought, or even a new definition of success.
To use a poor analogy based on personal experience, I used to be a runner and did a couple of half marathons, but about 5 years ago my knees started grumbling. Friends introduced me to road cycling, and I recovered a level of fitness I hadn’t experienced for a while. Now, that is an accidental example of ‘changing direction but applying the same level of discipline’ to achieve a similar goal – physical fitness.
What have you been chasing, but no longer ‘love’? Were you on a particular career path that you now question? For example, and again based on what I saw in the organisation I worked for, have you been desperately seeking upward promotion and ignored potentially rewarding sideways development – less pay but a greater sense of contribution, achievement and purpose? To do either takes discipline, but they may also require similar mental and academic approaches which are just as difficult to travel, yet more satisfying.
In the same interview, the interviewer spoke of a friend who’d retired from some enterprise and initially enjoyed retirement, but realised he was getting bored. He made an astute observation with which I sympathise. He said, “I miss being good at something.”
You don’t only have upward, better paid options available. You have specialisation options, academic options, different job options – lots of options. And when you choose the option that works best for you, you discover the pleasure of being good at something.
What could that be? Apply self-discipline, and go and get that.
For more on this subject, buy The Three Resolutions in paperback or Kindle HERE at Amazon.co.uk .
This week, I’d like to take an opportunity to tell you more about my book “The Way: Integrity on Purpose.”
In 2014 I self-published ‘The Three Resolutions’, an effort to expand upon Stephen Covey’s own writing under that title, which was a small chapter in his book ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’. The chapter described how making three commitments could make quantum improvements in an individual’s life, specifically in three areas. The areas were the physical self in terms of the wellbeing of the body; the ‘mental’ self in terms of character and competence; and the spiritual self in terms of contribution and service to others. The commitments were to overcome appetites and passions through the application of self-discipline and self-denial; overcome pretentions and pride through becoming a person of good character, and of great professional competence; and to overcome unbridled ambition and aspiration through a focus outside oneself.
I expanded on the concepts and publicly committed to a set of rules, values and a personal mission statement that reflected those headings. In many ways I succeeded in executing to a degree, but I felt that I wasn’t as compliant with my intentions as I could or should have been. Asking myself why, and considering the self-generated feedback that resulted, I concluded that there were four reasons why I, and many others, don’t feel as though our level of compliance with our mission statements is as high as we would like.
This realisation led me to consider the reasons for this, and how we could go about addressing the gap between desire and execution in living our personal mission statement; or, for the purposes of this book, living The Way.
First, though, I want to make one clear statement.
When I use the expression ‘The Way’ I am not saying there is only one ‘way’.
When I use the expression ‘The Way’ I am talking about what you will discover, in this book and through its study, is YOUR ‘Way’. Not mine, yours. This book isn’t about moralising and dictating what you should think, feel and do. I may make some suggestions, but the focus is intended to be on assisting the reader to discover his or her own Way, not just reproduce people who believe in mine. The objective is to help you design your better way of living, and for me to redesign and recommit to mine. But yours and mine will be different, either to some small degree if we are alike in some way, or by a huge difference if your values are hugely different to mine.
I concluded that there is only one true route to personal success. It’s a straightforward formula of four phases. They are:
Find the Way
Learn the Way
Live the Way
Teach the Way
These four phases systematically summarise a strategy for living. The system reflects the identification, learning and application process, that process which we all undertake when learning to live, to work, to earn, to relate to others, to manage – everything. They embody all the skills we need to have and to demonstrate in our efforts to live ‘properly’. They also reflect those areas where, if we are not careful, we will act badly.
This system parallels any development process undertaken anywhere, by anyone, for any purpose. It is how a professional learns; it is how a religion becomes ingrained into an adherent to that religion; it is how a family member learns to become a contributor to that family. The reason that such a system works is because it is neutral. It is a principle in action. It is the principle of progression, of starting out as a novice with the aim of becoming a master.
I believe that the route to living your Way is taken through these four steps. The steps are progressive, and they involve properly and fully identifying the Way, studying in greater detail about how the Way can be executed, then living in such a fashion as to clearly be in congruence with the Way, and finally to reinforce your Way by teaching it.
In brief, the four elements of The Way are expanded thus:
Find the Way
To quote Covey, the first challenges we face when deciding The Way is that we are not sure who we are, and where we want to go. The first part of the book is therefore intended to help you decide what values you have or want to have, the associated behaviours you believe will help you comply with those values, and writing them down so that you, yourself, clearly understand them.
Learn the Way
The second challenge, once we have put our fingers on who we want to be and where we want to go, is to learn how to do so. This section will be about studying and committing to the behaviours that serve execution of The Way.
Live the Way
Having overcome the first two challenges, there remain still further challenges to living the Way.
The first is that we do not realise that we are compliant because we don’t feel as though we are ‘doing’ our mission all of the time. Life gets in our way in the sense that it is hard to consider yourself ‘carrying out your mission’ when you are filling the dishwasher. Life is full of little routines that have to be done but aren’t, well, exciting.
The second reason for ineffective application of The Way that we have identified is inextricably linked to the first. As our lives are littered with unexciting, routine, non-mission projects, tasks and other activities, we fail to properly and routinely recognise opportunities to execute on our missions. For example, part of my own mission is to be patient with others. Imagine a day cluttered with runs to the shops, commuting in traffic jams, banking and managing money – then something jumps at you and interrupts you and in that second you react impatiently, because you haven’t seen, in the clutter, that opportunity to be what you want to be. The third part of the book is intended to help you overcome the challenges and live The Way – the way that you want to.
Teach the Way
And one way of living The Way is to spend a lot of time teaching it. Covey counselled participants at his many events that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. He would ‘volunteer’ random attendees and tell them he was about to teach something that they would have to repeat to other participants. Then he would point out to those others that his ‘volunteers’ had just pricked up their ears and picked up their pens – they were now listening because they knew they had to understand what they were about to teach. The fourth part of the book will advise you on how to do this.
To summarise, then, the objective of this book is to
Help the student identify the values, disciplines and objectives for their future success in life.
Help the student find the motivation to learn the precise definition of those values so that they are content they reflect their true desires. And then to master that understanding.
Help the student master and execute the behaviours and actions needed to live in accordance with the values they themselves have identified in the first two parts.
Encourage the student to teach others, with the objectives of both spreading the word and ingraining their own improved mastery of their chosen path.
I hope you take the opportunity to get a copy, which is available at Amazon through THIS LINK and is as much a bargain of a paperback as I could make it!
There’s an old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It’s a maxim with validity, and essentially speaks for itself, but I sometimes feel as though the message has still to get through because it’s a metaphor. Sometimes metaphors need to be more specific, which kind of undermines their purpose but some people need to be spoon fed, and sometimes those people include me.
So here’s my amendment.
“Teach a man to pass an exam, and he passes the exam. Teach a man the ability to analyse, to reason, to interpret, to question and even challenge, and you create a leader.”
(Which is something I wish University administrators and educators would return to understanding in the way they used to when graduates knew more than ‘just’ the content of their thesis.)
Let me give an example of how that doesn’t happen. In my years as a copper, I concluded that a lot of the training we received was designed to tell us ‘what was what’ and to accept the wisdom of our trainers. In fairness to some trainers, they were just given material and told, “Teach this.” I remember being trained about the new surveillance laws in 2000 and walking away convinced I couldn’t do any active police work, so bad was the explanation of the law. Later, I was engaged in an argument with a trainer over another misunderstood process, and I have always been bemused by how data protection legislation continues to be taught by threat, rather than as a relatively straight-forward concept.
You see, people were seeing only the overall objective, but never researching deeply enough to understand the details – which, more often than not, made life easier than their poor understanding allowed. They worked on a ‘you can’t do that’ basis instead of finding out what you could do.
They’d been given a fish, but not taught how to fish.
Giving fish is how young people seem to be learning, these days. Ideologies proliferate without question, which is troubling. Blind obeisance to the prevailing wisdom is causing old, practically settled identity politics to rear its ugly head again, because ideologues shout louder than people who challenge those ides with analysis, research, considered reasoning, appropriate questions and robust challenge (see what I did there?). The worst example is Critical Race Theory, which appears to be a form of reverse-racism, in that three or four decades after the question was settled in principal (it will never be settled in universal practice, fact of life), now those who accepted the responsibility for overcoming all the isms – and arguably the belated credit for doing so – are now expected to account for their guilt for offence caused a hundred years or more ago. Apparently, me, born 1961, must accept guilt for 18th century slavery despite the fact that me, born 1961, never knowingly owned or trafficked a slave.
It’s divisive, and the shouty side is trying to stifle debate either because it has no reasoned argument, or because there is a terrifying motive behind it. In other words, I believe that the unintended consequences of their violent demand for tolerance will be even more intolerant division. They must actually want that, and we’ll all have to pick our side. (And by the way, their leaders never put their heads above the parapet, like most Marxist generalissimos.)
Well done, educators. You’ve fed our kids poisonous fish, stifled challenge, invented reason, and now the rest of us are reaping the rewards of your stupidity. Or, at best, you’ve sat by and let it happen.
It’s not too late. You can stop imposing your ideas on the young and, instead, debate with them. If your ideas are valid, then they will stand. If not, they should die. If you’re quiet, stand up and be counted.
Doing that will take character and competence. And it’s the best service you could ever provide.
In conclusion, let me put it this way – an intellectual argument for CRT is the same as an intellectual argument for that rectangular pile of concrete blocks in the Tate gallery.