The proverbs of learning and development (7-9)

27 Jun
June 27, 2013

In previous posts I’ve taken you to a slightly lighter but equally stimulating place and explored the application of proverbs for today’s Learning and Development professionals.  I’ve already covered six examples and here are another three for you to enjoy.

In this post I’ll explore the following proverbs (starting at number seven, because you’ve already had numbers one through six):

7. A bad workman blames his tools
8. No pain, no gain
9. Rome wasn’t built in a day

7. A bad workman blames his tools

This proverb is based on the fact that if you produce a shoddy piece of work then you’ll try to lay the blame elsewhere.  And let’s think for a moment; how many times have we heard people mutter that their work would look so much better if only it wasn’t for their current version of PowerPoint/Word/Captivate etc., etc. (delete as appropriate) and if only their computer was a little bit faster, then you’d all see how wonderful this course/interaction/animation (again delete as appropriate) really was.  Phew!

Let’s go back in history to the creation of the pyramids.  Can you imagine the workers standing around saying: “Well, it’s a great design, but we don’t have the right tools so let’s hang on for a couple of thousand years until someone invents the JCB!”  If that had happened we would have been without the pyramids as well as so many other wonderful creations.

And the same is true today.  All too often people wish they had better tools or they blame the ones they have, or they blame their technology platform or their budget etc.  But we all know that without the latest tools great things can still happen.  Shakespeare didn’t wait around or moan because he didn’t have the latest version of Word for the Mac; no, he delivered with the tools and technology at his disposal, making sure that content was king.

To produce great results you don’t need great tools.  You need the correct mental approach.  It’s a crude, but true chant that’s heard across city centres at weekends when girls shout across the street at young men: “Oi luv, it ain’t what yer got, it’s ow yer use it!”  As I said, crude, but oh so true!

So if you are in a situation where you ‘feel’ you haven’t got the right tools then take a step back.  Ask yourself how you can add real quality with what you have and how, by using your deep learning and development knowledge, you can deliver excellence.  And believe me, your paymasters will notice that you are delivering excellence without moaning.  Go on, I dare you, give it a go!

8. No pain, no gain

Throughout the emergence of history there have been so many products that have promised to make your life easier – and to be honest – many actually have.  And within the learning and development space we are inundated with the ‘next best thing’ or the tools that make everything ‘rapid.’  Within organisations and especially with the real emergence of “e”   so many products have come onto the market which were supposedly there to make your life “easier.”  It all sounds so easy and so compelling so why not take a leap and adopt these new practices?  After all, life’s hard enough.  Right?  Wrong!

The truth is that great learning takes time and effort and skill, but above all it takes tenacity and pain – clearly not the pain that actually hurts you – but great learning shouldn’t just a simple thing to achieve without effort.

The effort (or pain, if you prefer) that you put into a piece of learning really shows in the finished result.  The learning is better, the flow is visible, the learner is put at the centre and the impact is meaningful to the organisation.  And most importantly of all, the learner will see the real effort that you’ve gone to.

It’s also worth thinking about another well-known proverb which says “If a jobs worth doing, it’s worth doing well” and also a proverb which my father used on many occasions, namely “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.”  So, at all times, keep pushing to make a real difference.

I guess that many of you reading this will have also dealt with situations where what you’ve been asked to deliver seems almost impossible.  Maybe you feel as though you’re standing at the bottom of a massive cliff and aren’t sure how, or if, you’ll ever make it to the top.

But you know what, some of the best things in life have to be fought for, and great learning and development is no different.  Don’t just settle for the easy option; go that extra mile and push through the difficult times, and when it’s all done you’ll be able to stand back and see the results of all your efforts.  Where others may have fallen by the wayside, you’ll succeed and you’ll feel better than ever!

9. Rome wasn’t built in a day

I guess we’ve all said this at some point in our lives – most possibly to our bosses!  The basis of this proverb is the fact that impressive results are not obtained overnight.  Another similar proverb states that “Slow but sure wins the race.”  Whichever one you prefer, the heart of the issue is the same; great things take time!

Now this doesn’t mean you can take for ever and a day to do something because of course there are commercial pressures which need addressing but the effort that you put in will, if properly directed, provide you with great rewards – but it will take time.

The problem here is that, in the instantaneous world in which we live and work, we expect instantaneous results.  We can Google results in a fraction of a second, send emails at close to the speed of light and order goods and services without even leaving the comfort of our sofa.

But we can achieve nothing meaningful without tenacity.  Thomas Edison famously tried thousands of ways (the actual numbers vary wildly) to create the light bulb.  Just imagine if after his first attempt he’d said “Well, that doesn’t work,” and walked away.  Tenacity is a major driver in creating excellence, as is perseverance.

So when you’re working on introducing new approaches or technologies in your organisation and people don’t ‘get it’ and you feel you’re talking to a brick wall, just step back for a moment and think of Edison.  Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day but over a lifetime of constant effort and application.

Building a great learning and development culture or department takes time; a great deal of time.  As Kennedy famously said, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days.  Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.  But let us begin.”  He wasn’t talking about learning and development, but he might as well have been!

Keep focused on your long term goals.  Don’t be put off by small tactical setbacks and focus on the end game. In our modern world where we are surrounded by instant gratification, taking time over something can seem, well, rather old fashioned.  But just as Rome stood for centuries, so will your efforts in the world of learning and development.  Just don’t expect great things to happen overnight!

Keep a look out for some more proverbs coming your way soon . . .

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