What to teach

In my last post, I used Bruce Lee’s ‘No way as the way’ as a theme for how to think about approaching a problem without frameworks. I was questioning myself on two things 1. How would one transfer knowledge and best practices to others with this approach and ‘how do we teach’ what one learnt through his/her experience. 2. How will one adopt such a thing without replicating the model. As I thought more about it, I realised that the real question is not ‘How do we teach’ but rather ‘what do we teach?’. I have a couple of examples – 1. one that involves children who don’t have any fixed frameworks and help them create a structure 2. The other that involves senior executives who have strong ‘models’ and how to challenge and move them from their models. We need to combine the two – creating models and dismissing models that may lead to the Bruce Lee state.

In 2012, I attended a parenting workshop of Magic Hive in Bangalore run by my friends Subha and her husband, Parthasarathy S. I was the only father in the company of 10 mothers and it was such an enriching experience seeing the kids’ world through the mothers’ eyes. All of us had so many questions – What should I do for this situation with my daughter? My son is not listening to me and How do I solve my son’s problem?. In a way, we wanted Subha’s model that we can replicate in our homes and create great outcomes. Subha’s question to us was ‘When your kids ask questions to you, what do you do? Do you feel anxious and you go out of your way to find the ‘right answer’ for your kids?’. Almost everyone said yes and we were feeling proud that we were giving so much time for the kids. She asked us to stop ‘answering’ and start ‘exploring’ the answers with the kids. If a child asks ‘Why is the ocean blue?’, instead of giving a scientific explanation, ‘explore’ with the child on why the ocean is blue.

After a week, we had a debrief session with Subha. We shared what we did during the week and how we were ‘jumping’ into solution mode when kids asked a question. One mother got an interesting outcome. Her son had asked ‘what is a pond?’ and ‘why do they exist?’. She had asked ‘Pond? That is very interesting. Let’s find out’. They had spoken about pond with some examples and after two days, the little boy had told ‘A pond is made to immerse Ganeshas’. The famous ganesha festival in India ends up with the clay Ganeshas getting immersed in water bodies. He was very convinced with his answer and he was happy about it.

The most important thing is not the answer but rather the approach towards learning a subject. It is the curiosity that is important and it is the curiosity along with the imagination that is going to help the child with a creative answer. This curiosity and exploration will eventually lead them to the right answer. Instead of telling the child what the answer is, she had taught him how to explore and how to learn about a subject.

In the business world, there is a great example. Before he published his groundbreaking Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen of Harvard got a call from Andy Grove, the then Chairman of Intel. He had read one of the early papers of Christensen and flew him down to California to learn about his work and what it meant for Intel. As Christensen started explaining, Andy Grove pushed him again for an answer – What his model meant for Intel. Instead of giving him an answer, he gave the example of mini-mills and by the time he finished it, Andy Grove got what it meant for Intel and went on to articulate what is the strategy for Intel at the low end of the market. Instead of telling him what to do, Clay had taught Andy Grove how to think—and this is another example of how we can help people find their own answers without force fitting them with our ideas and our models.

What needs to be taught is not the ‘outcome’ through a ‘framework’ but rather the ‘approach’ which is the process of discovery that led to the framework itself. The goal is to help people find their own answers and once people find their own answers, it will move them towards action.

Image Courtesy: http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/2009/9/40546b65-70c9-4be5-9e19-d507b0369330HiRes.JPG

Source: How will you measure your life by Clayton Christensen

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not related to his organisation or affiliation.

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