The Heart of Genius: Learning
My guess is that learning is not at the centre of your agenda.
Leaning conjures up images of institutionalised schools, learning by rote, important but intrinsically meaningless exams to be passed, time wasted. Hardly inspiring.
Learning is not something that is much talked about in our day-to-day business lives, it is not ‘the thing’, not cool, not sexy.
Learning is something we hand over to the HR department.
Or we call it ‘change’ in the hope that this will make it more strategic, more acceptable
How did that come about?
There are many issues here but three are key: ‘Fordism’, The Myth of the Gifted’ and Self doubt
In manufacturing Henry Ford created a breakthrough with the production line. That philosophy has continued and grown to embrace Total Quality Management, Business Process Re-engineering and Six Sigma technologies. All of which have made a contribution and have a place. But the principles, appropriate to inanimate things, have been brought to bear on human beings. Our education systems, our performance systems, our talent management systems are built on a model of prescription, measurement and compliance. Take the word ‘competencies’ for instance. Who would want to be merely competent when greatness or self-expression is possible?
To quote Sir Ken Robinson, one of the leading educationalists “ Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we have strip-mined the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future it won’t service”
Then there is the ‘Myth of the Gifted’. We have held a notion for some time that says that some people are intrinsically talented, genetically different to and better than the rest of us.
What would change if you found out that there was no such person, no one who was ‘gifted’, no one intrinsically better than you. How would that change you view of learning? How then would you understand genius?
The most recent evidence firmly points to new idea – genes do not dictate individual destiny. We can influence what we become. Studies of the apparently gifted reveal one consistent fact: they have put in ten thousand hours of practice over a period of ten years. There’s caveat here; this does not mean that anyone can achieve anything – your genes, and many other factors, do play a part.
The truth about child prodigies is not that it was in the genes but that they were immersed in their discipline from a very early age. Mozart was born into an environment where his father was a musician and teacher who had developed a unique instruction system, his older sister was being taught the piano while he was staggering around in nappies. As soon as he could reach the piano stool he was learning and then trained by his father. No prodigy here, merely 10,000 hours over ten years. And the result is genius.
The implication for all of us, mere mortals that we are, is that we have more than enough potential to learn and to achieve most of our desires in life and work. This is the pursuit of genius. The only question is our willingness.
The third point is about self-doubt. A prevalent response to Fordism is compliance. When you combine compliance with humility the toxic result is self-doubt. Nothing interferes with our potential more than self-doubt: It buries creativity, erodes confidence, undermines motivation and destroys genius.
In some professions, the performing arts and sports in particular, learning is at the heart of the agenda. New routines are developed and added to the repertoire; new skills are developed to ensure that one stays ahead of the competition. Federer has developed his game in the last few years: more power on the backhand and new skills added such as the drop shot. He is not the same player who first came to prominence in 1998. He has developed, he has learned. Recently he stated that it was a disappointment to him that he had not had more time to learn and practice. What if?
Another example, Aristotle Onassis, one of the best business negotiators of all time, practised meetings with his team (the rest of us endure them – rather than get good at them).
You might like to think about the core of your career as a craft and yourself as a craftsman. In your craft what is it specifically that you are, or could be great at? What is your unique, individual genius? How might you develop that? Where’s the weakness? What might you learn?
Clive James, author and broadcaster wrote he following in the London Review of Books in September 1983:
“Indeed, it can be said that the realisation of the necessity to learn is one of the marks of talent, even for the genius, who seems so advanced only because, a critical capacity being part of his gift, he has managed to learn on his own.”