Training and Beyond

Whether we are being trained, or training another, a pretty standard practice to employ is repetition. The more we practice, and the more we practice the same thing over and over, the better we become at what we’re doing.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, OUTLIERS, he makes the case that to become great or world-class at anything requires that you put in your ten thousand hours – roughly ten years – of practice. Gladwell asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? He makes the argument that we do not possess a natural gift for a certain job, because targeted natural gifts don't exist. According to Gladwell, mastery requires practice, observation, refinement, and more practice - 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be precise.

I have read OUTLIERS, and thoroughly enjoyed the book, as I have with all of Malcolm Gladwell’s writings. However, I do take issue with the idea that genius and ingenuity are merely a manifestation of hard work and practice. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating against hard work and practice, but I do think there is a downside and even a cost to repetitive practice as the primary means of achieving greatness.

Repetition of a skill or task can indeed breed excellence, mastery, and even greatness; but I’m not convinced that it produces genius. As a matter of fact, I would argue that it is antithetical to true genius, which needs a certain amount of freedom, a certain amount of unbridled exploration that can actually get diminished in the process of repetition in our quest to achieve excellence or greatness.

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, here it is in a nutshell. When we train new people, without question, there must be structure and boundaries and repetition - all of these are important to get the level of excellence that we need in our workplace. However, be mindful, and I would add even encourage, whoever you are training (the person who may not yet be skilled or proficient in their job) to explore and feel comfortable to contribute to the training process, even when they may lack the proficiency they are actually being trained for.

Repetition may very well breed excellence, but it does not necessarily breed genius or ingenuity. That typically arises when we encounter an unfamiliar situation and present our own brand of problem-solving, which is exactly the situation most of us find ourselves in when we are new to our job. Sometimes genius simply arises because we are naive, insecure, untrained, or even ignorant to the norms of a given situation or circumstance, but we move forward regardless, and we do what may at first glance appear wrong or even absurd.

Genius is the capacity to try the absurd. To reach beyond what appears normal, practical, or even relevant. It’s about discovery, and discovery does not necessarily happen when we perceive ourselves as the knowledge base instructing and training someone who may not yet have that same knowledge. But because of that very “lacking”, the “trainee”, if you will, may actually be better positioned to train us in ingenuity, and all the while we think what’s really gone on is that we’re training them at their new job. Stay open; be wide open; and be willing to explore what doesn’t necessarily seem to make sense or even seem possible.