“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” (Harry Truman)
Ornithologists report that New Caledonian crows fashion twigs into tools for collecting and extracting insects from the hollows of trees. What is more remarkable is that these birds pass their inventions along to others in the flock. With each succeeding migration and generation, improvements are made and progress becomes discernable. Even in the animal kingdom, the ability to search and reapply know-how is a key attribute that moves a species from survival to prosperity.
Just as the guru tutors the novitiate so does the goldsmith his apprentice. The same is true for officers and engineers and all in fields where the mastery of craft is a matter of certification. The greater enlightens the lesser. The maxim is “See One, Do One, Teach One” or as the sensei might say “SODOTO.”
- See One: At this stage real data emerges through observation and sense making (Emerge)
- Do One: At this stage ideas converge with actions, and direct feedback from experience and supervision alerts us to what is working and what isn’t (Converge)
- Teach One: At this stage our knowledge and experiences allow us to expand our conception of the practice and formulate new ideas and ways of doing things that can be codified and taught (Diverge)
For example, a medical student may be brilliant but typically possesses no direct experience when treating a patent. So after two years of intensive study, they are assigned to shadow a physician on their daily rounds. Assuming the physician and the student’s professors deem them to be competent and able, they are advanced to the level of physician. Here they will spend the next two to five years in residency working appalling hours while plying their trade beneath critical eyes. From this point on the road narrows as some will advance to attending physician or department head where they will have responsibilities in the training of residents and medical students. The development path to becoming a doctor is a circle of intellectual rubrics and combat education.
Sociologists call this sequence of organizational behavior “diffusion” because it suggests that ideas disperse throughout creative communities. Despite our most populist longings, brilliant scientists and talented artisans display an annoying tendency to produce the same in their understudies. The University of Chicago Nobel Laureates in Economics and the Juilliard School of Music are cases in point. It appears that we do indeed become the company we keep.
The road to developing competence starts with distinctions of expertise. All dynastic organizations communicate and advance the “institutional memory” of that group for without it they would cease to function as such. This is why we instruct our youth in our religious beliefs, the facile use of our language or the tenets of our laws. Without their good continuation, the wheel of our civilization stops with us. Our growth requires that we dangle somewhere on the Great Chain of Being hoping to advance to the next level.
Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey initiated the Progressive Education movement that would be the foundation for reform in teaching methods in the United States and Western Europe after the War. He believed that we “learn by doing” because “failure is instructive.” It is in the practicum of the science fair that secrets that cannot be contained in the written page become enlivened and relevant to us. Dewey also thought that the continuity of experience was essential to our growth for without it we could not evaluate the consequences of our actions nor compare them to our own hypotheses about how our world functions. To know something is to be able to act on it, engage with it, to translate the subjective into observations about the objective. Without such participatory knowledge we are amiss with superstition and folly for we cannot make the leap from me to us to it. As the sisters admonished, we are not the sun and the world does not revolve around us. Self-knowledge certainly begets Group-knowledge. Man is indeed a social animal, but then again, so are crows.
- We create capabilities through experience and experiments