A couple of days ago I spoke to someone that was having an executive education experience. He had sort of been immersed in a boot camp, hectic experience, out of his comfort zone, not a minute to rest. He had a lot of fun and he proclaimed he had came back sort of a changed person. Maybe he was.
Or maybe he wasn’t. Haven’t you ever had these kind of hectic touristic days in an European city, visiting everything, not stopping even to catch your breath, coming back in love with the city, sort of ‘I could live there’ thing and then… well, er… an exhausted but energetic Monday at work and, on Wednesday, everything is the same again.
Because experiences alone don’t have the capacity to change you. Experiences hold some potential to change you, yes, but most of the time, they simply don’t.
I choose the Lewis Carroll sentence to head this blog entry because it’s all about making sense of what happens to us. Yet I could have chosen a very different one:
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.
How do you know you’re there if you don’t have it clear where you’re going to? Don’t fool yourself, you don’t.
Some fortune cookie sapience, this one was a cookie that Mintzberg was given with his dinner: “Get your mind set. Confidence will lead you on”. And another one by Mintzberg in a not so old “Harvard Business Review” article: “what managers desperately need is to stop and think, to step back and reflect thoughtfully on their experiences”. Well, so fortunate I did read this article. What my admired Mr. Mintzberg says here (or said some time ago) is what I’ve been saying all along!
And that’s my advice to my fellow executive education experiencer. If the experience is too hectic, it’s incomplete! If in your MBA you’re having excitement, rush and more excitement… something is wrong!
Don’t get me wrong, there are many things to be gained from such an experience, but insight isn’t one of them. Reflections come from flectere, to bend in Latin. One must bend inwards as opposite to just perceiving what’s around. What matters is the impact of the reflection on our own inner wall. Like Plato’s myth, we are the wall over which the shades are reflecting. And what we can really do is to learn about that wall. And in observing that wall, in a Heisemberg uncertainty fashion, there’s the reshaping of the wall.
Otherwise, indigested experiences will make nice anecdotes, we will have a lot of fun. We will recommend the experience to our friends for sure. But there’s no learning in that. The superficiality hides essential meanings interwoven with the fabric of organisations and people. Shortcuts deprive us of deep thinking, and so many things in executive education is about shortcuts discovered by the incomplete and un-rigourous experience of others.
Another quote from Lewis Carroll: “While the laughter of joy is in full harmony with our deeper life, the laughter of amusement should be kept apart from it. The danger is too great of thus learning to look at solemn things in a spirit of mockery, and to seek in them opportunities for exercising wit.”
So many self-labelled educational and learning experiences are witty combination of words and anecdotal evidence. So many advice we give is totally biased and based on erroneous assumptions and insufficient reasoning. What about if we decided to think more and speak (write, blog, whatever) much less?
Lewis Carroll at the rescue: “Courtesy while you’re thinking what to say. It saves time.”
And also knowing when to stop: “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'”. Yes, time to stop.