Jul 132011

I may have railed about this once before in a blog long since passed into archival stasis (this being its resurrection). And it’s always bothered me, but recently, particularly, because I’ve had to try and comply with its implicit demand as a speaker or presenter. You know, at a conference people (or their employers) pay good money to have somebody provide wisdom and insight that can be applied tomorrow to great benefit.

The problem is it’s nonsense and an absurd expectation anyway except for the most trivial of things. Things you should never pay a thousand or more dollars to acquire.

I wouldn’t be on it now except that I was listening to the audio book version of Zaffron and Logan’s Three Laws of Performance for the past week or so.  In it, they, being of like mind, excoriate this whole notion using what I consider a brilliant example.  Something like: What if a medical student in some program of specialization like neurosurgery expectantly asked the professor, ‘So what can I apply to my surgery tomorrow?’

Albeit hyperbolic, I wish I’d thought of the scenario.  What is it about the instant and unconsidered that is so alluring–even to those many millions who have read Gladwell’s Outliers and other books in the performance genre that consistently counsel that excellence, superiority, mastery… are all the product of thousands of hours of practical trial and error?

The question makes sense for a worker in a practical vocation like carpentry or masonry to ask the question.  A technique will be shown and taught, and the labourer can be expected to immediately implement that same technique to new advantage.  Of course the proficiency and quality will increase with practice.  But there’s not a lot of room or need for experimentation after being shown how to hang drywall once.

For those people that attend conferences and seminars of the sort I go sometime, we have to assume they work with their brains to some extent.  Their work is to greater or lesser degrees creative or, at the very least, subject to interpretive variation to suit the conditions and context in which they happen to be applying their talents.  As soon as those characteristics are thrown into the mix:  creative variation, conditions, and context, things change.  Even if that labourer intends to apply the newfound knowledge or insight to whatever he or she happens to be doing, it really ought to be considered as tentative or experimental.  That is a realistic expectation IF you want to put something to work tomorrow:  you’ll try it.  Will it work?  Will it be effective?  Will it be better than anything you’re doing now?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  (But maybe that’s not the point.  Just changing and experimenting and growing could be the point.)

In any case, my answer to the question, “What can I apply tomorrow at the office?” is this:

Anything but probably nothing.  Something but not everything.  And it probably won’t work anyway.  But you should try anyway.  That’s what will give the new knowledge concrete meaning and value.

Just a little bit to think about.

 Posted by on 13 Jul 2011

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