Whether I talk about my earliest stints as a masseuse, my forays into agriculture, professional photography, or the mainstay of my employment, the Business Information Systems and Technology fields — for much of my working life, I have been teetering on the see-saw of comparative knowledge.
We all start on our paths as fools. In many esoteric systems of Tarot interpretation, the Fool is interpreted as the protagonist of a story, and the path they take through life is known traditionally in cartomancy as the “Fool’s Journey” filled with great potential and mysteries, adventure, wonder and perhaps most importantly — personal growth.
It is with this view that I have pressed many a mentee to ‘hold the faith’when they are feeling like they have have achieved so little and there is yet far to go, because the difference between an amatuer and a professional, I have reasoned, is only two years.
Doesn’t sound like a lot. Presuming a standard eight hour work day, 260 working days a year and removing non-core activities, that’s approximately 3,000 hours. It’s why many a graduate programme is based on a two year schedule — from Fool to Journeyman.
The journeyman is an individual who has completed their apprenticeship and is now educated in their trade, but is not yet an expert nor a master.
A journeyman is expected to gain a wide range of experience, gainingexposure to many of the fields covering their trade.
An expert, on the other hand, focuses their skills on a single field of mastery. The path from journeyman to expert requires the accrual of well over 10,000 hours of additional concerted effort.
Ten thousand hours.
To paraphrase the old adage, that’s 10,000 hours experience, not an hour’s experience 10,000 times.
From expert to master, one must demonstrate the ability to establish expertise across a number of fields within their trade. Which may require the accrual of a great many concerted efforts in conjunction with a wide variety of exposure.
One could say, literally, a lifetime’s worth of experience.
“The more I learn,
the more I realize
how much I don’t know.”
― Albert Einstein
So what’s my gist in getting you here? Two things. The first is the danger of the Dunning–Kruger effect, and the other is the need to be aware of the need for continuous learning.
Back in the late ’90s — David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University observed a cognitive bias amongst professionals when asked to assess their skills, that individuals were unable to accurately gauge their own ability. Surprisingly, this was across the board, where on one end, there were those with the inability to recognize their own ineptitude and thus too unskilled to evaluate their own ability accurately — and thus, often rating themselves higher due to this factor. On the other hand, highly skilled individuals would underestimate their relative competence, assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others — thus, ironically, often rating themselves lower due to this factor.
There are cultural factors at play as well. A higher than average self-confidence self-perception filter that accentuates the effect is noted in Americans, followed by the British and western Europeans. Eastern Europeans and Australians tend to bell curve around the effect, whilst East Asian subjects tend to universally underestimate their abilities. Perhaps this is due a number of social and philosophical memes that strongly embody the message that underachievement as a chance to improve themselves and to get along with others.
This is by no means new information.
On the one side, there is knowledge of the “unconscious incompetence” within the four stages of competence, knowing that at the onset, an individual may not understand nor know how to do something and does not have the capacity to necessarily recognize the deficiency.
On the other, we have known that experts often find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed parties due to the cognitive bias that derives from the “curse of knowledge”.
Which leads to my point here, that I must assume in all of my knowledge, understanding and experience, that I may be suffering a cognitive bias of unconscious incompetence — the dunning-kruger effect or the curse of knowledge … and that is why a path of continuous learning and mentoring is so important.
Today, we are being asked to adapt — both personally and professionally — to meet the challenges of a world that is ever increasingly becoming steadily complex, increasingly complicated and where the changes are continuously rapid and ever transformative.
The need for change and adaptation is as real as the changes themselves.
To help us respond to the many challenges to be faced every day, we need a mix of experience, brain plasticity, expanded perspectives and an ability to integrate synonymous insights — often gained via the constant expansion of learning and the increased understanding that such learning provides.
Which, in turn, allows us to class our skills and skill-sets as advanced from the previous years.
On a professional level, continuous learning is about further expanding our skill-set in response to a changing environment and new developments as we are called to respond to ceaseless changes. However, we are not limited to the standard route of classroom based educational standards either.
All learning is best when we are motivated and impassioned by the topic. If you struggle to see the point, you’re unlikely to do well, which is why in his book, Master it Faster, Colin Rose uses a mnemonic to describe becoming an effective learner — MASTER:
- Motivation: What’s driving you? All learning requires self-motivation, and having a goal to strive for allows you to remain feeling positive about your ability to continue learning.
- Acquire: Information is all around. We each learn differently. Knowing your learning style can assist you to determine the best way to acquire relevant and meaningful information — through reading, listening, observing, practising, experimenting and/or experience — and develop it into knowledge and skills.
- Search: We find it hard to remember facts without understanding them, placing them into context or giving it meaning. Learning is successful when we seek out what meaning, context or understanding the information we’re presented with provides to us.
- Trigger: Generally speaking, we are notoriously bad at retaining information. For the great majority, we cannot and will not remember everything we read, hear or experience. Based on known learning styles, you can utilise recollection triggers to memorise and thus recall information — note taking, discussions, mnemonics, association, practice and thought experiments are all known recollection triggers that can help you to learn and retain information.
- Examine: Keeping an open-mind and questioning your own understanding is a key element to examining your own perception and understanding of a subject. Utilising group discussions, forums and talking to friends or colleagues can present you with an alternate point of view which can be a powerful way of scrutinising your own understanding. Being open to new information allows you to regularly re-evaluating your knowledge and to help reinforce in your mind what you have learned.
- Reflect: Last, but in no way least, we should reflect on our learning. We should recall not only what we learnt, but how and (perhaps most importantly) why we undertook the task of learning. Bring back the sensory elements of the learning — sounds, smells, sights — and how you felt about the topic, people, or situation. Reflection helps ground the lessons and links the memories to a range of stimuli that can aid in the trigger and examining phases.
If you cannot feel passion for the topic, then perhaps you can undertake the challenge instead, and using techniques such as MASTER, you can drive yourself through feeling positive about learning and, most importantly, about your ability to learn.
Most professionals are aware that we can gain further learning from reading professional journals, books, research papers, articles and the various like — but with the learning formula for skills being iterated often as only ten percent formal, twenty percent exposure and seventy percent experience — it seems that remaining on the path of only undertaking courses and reading materials is doing ourselves a great disservice.
Gaining an exposure to the work and experiences of others is often the key driver behind the attendance of conferences and webinars. It is often the primary reason that we hold “lunch and learn” or “Whiteboard Wednesday” sessions amongst the teams and departments. Yet, here again, it feels as though we are only still scratching the surface of what is possible in the expanded learnings and skill set expansion we can offer ourselves and our colleagues.
The path of gaining additional experience is always limited by the roles we perform, the programmes or projects that arise and the availability of opportunity for placement within them or to have the opportunity to undertake a secondment or work shadowing.
If time is available, taking on additional duties at work via joining committees or assisting in “discretionary effort” programmes can expand your exposure to the different departments, customers and challenges.
Outside of the workplace, participating in professional associations, campaign groups or industry forums as well as providing voluntary labour to charity and community groups, are ways of tempering your usual perspectives.
For a true challenge, there are two primary paths I recommend — let’s call them the introspective and extrospective pathways.
Weare creatures of habit and comfort. We prefer to take the known path of least resistance, especially when that path was originally hard-fought and painstakingly carved out of the landscape.
Working on other departments and new customers may offer further experiences, but to provide a new perspective, undertaking projects from the suppliers and stakeholder frame of reference go further in expanding the experience in our learning and development.
Yet, we need to challenge the status quo, to reconsider the assumptions upon which we have based our collective perspectives and experiences — the frameworks, methods, processes and tools we use should all be re-evaluated.
Where possible, we should explore substitute versions of the mainstays. The process of undertaking a job you are already comfortable with or on low impact projects, by utilising a new or alternative grab bag allows you to alter your perspectives and offers a new brain plasticity in future evaluations of problems.
The experiences are especially more powerful when we undertake the process of documenting the lessons learnt by writing articles or blogging our adventures.
Gaining an exposure to the work and experiences of others, as I iterated earlier, is often the key driver behind the attendance of conferences, webinars and the sessions organised in-house such as “lunch and learn” or “Whiteboard Wednesdays”.
When we undertake the process passing on the lessons and knowledge we have accumulated — through the process of giving presentations, writing articles, producing web-based lessons or speaking at a conference — we re-utilise the MASTER principles to convey the information.
Whilst to some the concept of undertaking any of the aforementioned tasks are harrowing — especially as our own expertise is now laid bare for all to judge — it often concretes our learning in a way nothing else can.
As one colleague once espoused to me : teach the material to your cat! It is a powerful way of re-focussing on what we think we know and what we knowwe know.
It is for the same outside-in perspective that providing informal training, coaching and mentoring is a powerful tool for the expansion of our synaptic plasticity, alternative perspectives and rounding out of our own learning and development.
It also provides the additional bonus of paying it forward.
When will I, will I, be an expert!?
I can’t answer, I can’t answer that.
Though to some I may be considered an expert, personally, I feel like I am still a journeyman, though there is many a day where the fool is the better descriptor.
The learning never stops, and it shouldn’t. More importantly, the process of teaching it forward never should, either.