Thursday, October 21, 2010

How good do you think you are and how do you know?

Here's a thought? How good do you think you are at what you do?

It's one of those squirmish questions human resource often inflict on unsuspecting candidates, who must then straddle a line between deprecation and the avoidance of arrogance.

That is, if you are good.

But spare a thought for those whom you might say are not very good at what they do.

John Cleese sums it up as follows - the same cognitive skills that allow you to know you're good at something, can also illustrate how poor you are at recognising how bad you are.

It's long winded, but put simply. If you're bad at something, often you lack the skills to understand how bad you really are. You see it all the time at open competitions, say the X-factor.

Cleese got me thinking more deeply though, because often the act of knowing something boils down to the science of knowledge and how to learn.  This is captured exquisitely in Don Schon's the Reflective Practitioner.

The philosophy of knowing
In Don's book he takes us on a journey of how we learn and how we might qualify that learning process.

Do something, fail, and do it again, reflecting on where you went wrong.  As such, even acts considered futile by others may have merit.

I demonstrated this when I showed a group of students an object and asked what it was. It was an apple, but how could they prove that.

They needed by negation or what Don refers to as hypothetical testing disprove it was anything other than the object in question. They needed to traverse a reflective journey articulating and discarding thoughts.

I often in my first video classes give a camera to clients asking them to go out and shoot. Many students return often embarrassed or disgruntled that they were not given instructions.

I point out there is no formality in what to do. Were I to abandon them at that point, then their fears would be justified, but I then begin to explore their natural ability, untainted learning, around the exercise.

Some will demonstrate natural talent; others will in despair do very little crippled by the fear of not knowing and not wanting to explore.

Which experimenter are you?
Schon devises his experimenters into the following
  • Exploratory experimenters
  • move testing experimenters
  • Hypothetical testers
  • and my own interpretation non-testers occupy these realms.
Explorers are what I call jumpers;. They'll take the leap into the unknown with often little guidance, backed by their own fierce temperament.  Move-testers need to see the next link in the chain. If it's not obvious they'll not move.

You meet them in Chess all the time, when you literally have to pull their finger.

Hypotheticals scratch an itch. They've thought about any number of tangible outcomes and will eliminate by active thinking what to do. Non-testers lack the spirit to move in an alien environment.

Child Psychologist Dr Desmond Morris' extensive work with children - the subject of a BBC programme gave some clues. Some toddlers in an experiment were quite at ease playing with foreign objects; others would stand by non-committed.

Perhaps it is preprogrammed, explaining why those who aren't as good at what they do often have no idea about this. But it does help if you're in a safe environment where you can explore your concerns.

This is something that I try and foster in my work. Creativity craves safe environments to work without fear before you let the genie loose.

Providing a safe place and getting people to work together, whilst encouraging the first three aforementioned often helps bring along the non-committed. It's a complex process of behaviour, but often it works. Age, background, self esteem all play a part.

Daring exploits
In 1992 with little more than a piece of paper and a scribbled name I travelled to South Africa for the first time. I was met at the airport by someone I had swapped a letter with. Yes, no emails and mobiles during those days.

It was a huge risk, but he met me and is still a firm friendship today. The fact it turned out he was one of South Africa's up and coming theatre directors adds another layer.

In this world of continual change, the tools- this onslaught online - is only part of the key to innovation. Steven Covey, author of the galactical best seller The 7 habits of highly effective people, provides an insight into interdependency.

It was true back when his book launched to become a best seller then as it is now.

Often it's not the subject that stymies us, but the process of how we acquire and process knowledge that needs greater critical thinking.

And here in a world being levelled by consensus whilst we have the opportunity for collective thoughts - a good thing- we must also be mindful of not losing idiosyncrasies and a sense of inddifference to consensus.  That's not the same as not knowing, more the explorer at their best.

We need more explorers.