Saturday, July 29, 2006

The path to success for the west: Two steps forward, one step back

I trained someone recently for a new job, and I've never seen anyone more paranoid about making a mistake. It made training him such a strain; he would pause and hesitate when he was supposed to act, he would never get to step 2 because he was so consumed with perfecting step 1. Meanwhile, with the clock ticking, over a dozen other steps remained untouched, and unreached, since he lacked the proper long-term thinking for his job.
His struggle did not come from lack of skill, but rather, sadly, from lack of belief. Belief in the truism that Learning must involve correction. You can't expect to always proceed flawlessly from step to step; sometimes the path to success comes from going backwards, temporarily, as new information comes to light, or a greater understanding begins to develop, and we discover a better path through the maze.
Dead ends don't mean death, they mean turning around temporarily to then move forward in an adapted direction. Progress involves correction.

A stray comment from Dag the other day illuminated my experience with the trainee in a whole new light. (I can't remember if Dag's remark was from a blog post or a comment, so in the absence of a link I hope my memory does it justice) Dag made a reference to the greek philosopher Scholasticus, who apparently believed that first you learn to swim, then you go into deep water. This effectively summarized my trainee's situation: he didn't want to be corrected, he wanted to only go forward to step 2 once he had perfected a flawless triumph at step 1... He never let himself get to the deep water. The "education" that Scholasticus describes would involve such a perfect series of step-by-step accomplishments that it hardly takes into account the human experience surrounding this education. Life is just too complicated, too full of unknowns, the human species too imperfect, to proceed in an ongoing march of uninterruped progress.
There has to be opportunity for error, for there to be equal opportunity for progress.

Life isn't about one step forward after another, endlessly advancing in one direction, no matter what is happening around us. (I'd hate to be driving with someone at the wheel who thinks this way..) Learning involves correction. Two steps forward, but then one step back. Correcting one's approach, in light of changing circumstances.

For change is not just part of human life, surely it is the essence that life: Change ennobles human life.

Long-term thinking is probably not natural for human beings, we seem wired to instead live in the moment. Therefore learning to change requires the ability to separate the present from the future, the future from the past, and see them all as links in a long chain, rather than one cement block. That there can even be a difference, between past, present, and future.

One of the ways that we can train ourselves to see these separations, is to label them through milestones: individual milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries, cultural milestones such as New Year's Day and the Work Week. For many, the built-in milestone into each week is the day we attend church. These milestones can teach us the belief of the second chance; that we possess the ability of renewal, of getting up and trying again. Whether it's a new decade, a new year, a new dawn: we possess several chances to find success; one day is not all days.
Failing once does not make us a Failure, as it not fated to be a permanent condition, but a temporary one. These are not destinations, they are stepping stones.

This piece marks the 99th post for Covenant Zone. As a personal habit I tend to value the eve of a milestone day, as a chance to reflect on the accomplishment marked by the milestone itself. New Year's Eve is when I do my thinking about the opportunities of the new year; the night before a birthday is when I reflect on what might lie in store for the year to come; sunday is my day to plan objectives for the work week soon to begin. Reviewing the past, to plan for the future.
On the eve of the humble milestone of our one hundredth post, I thought to reflect on how Canada has taken its two steps forward, and now needs to take a step back, to be able to continue its march towards progress. We've taken a wrong turn, left too much behind, and it has stunted our nation's growth, harming our ability to connect with the emerging world around us. So much so that our nation is awash in cynical, amoral inertia, as our elites, so besotted by their unearned status, stain us all with their personal despair. Time to start reconnecting to the faith in a better future that our nation used to have. Time to start renewing older beliefs.

Belief in the future comes with belief in oneself. Belief in a second chance comes with believing that learning involves correction. Being willing to make a mistake, requires humility, not cynicism. It's the cynic who is locked in his cement block. A belief in self-betterment starts with humility: believing that there's something better to become.

I've always felt that one of the major assists that the judeo-christian faith provides its followers is a God so Perfect that we believers are always to be humbled into accepting that no matter how great we may become, there will always be at least One who will be better than we. There's always something higher to reach. By stretching that horizon off into infinity, it can help us shatter any incentive to think in too limited a world view, that this is all there is. We may never become "good", but we can all, always, become better.

Here's to another 100 posts, reaching for ever higher standards, and a better Covenant for Canada.


nomdeblog said...

A teacher once told me that adults learn from their mistakes but children learn from their successes. I’m not sure if that’s scientifically true but it explains the behaviour of utopian liberals.

Utopians are children who are afraid to make a mistake. They dither and only make a move when there is a guarantee of success. Hence they are pacifists. Because war is hell, it's trail and error with no assurance of success. Thus utopians are appeasers. John Kerry with his “we need a plan” or “we need an exit strategy” is a child who won’t defend himself. He has a utopian view of the world who thought he and Jane Fonda could sit down and talk sense to the Viet Cong guerrillas. He’s a child.

Utopians are planners, they need a central plan. They won’t just act and clean up their mistakes. Adults make mistakes, learn from them, clean them up and try again. Entrepreneurs are adults. Central Planners are children.

I remember trying to teach the kids how to skate by saying “gee that was a great fall, you’re really learning how to fall .. great, now get up and skate some more.”

Life is like skating.

Charles Henry said...

"Entrepreneurs are adults. Central Planners are children."

nomdeblog, an interesting insight, thank you: your comment has made me do much thinking about this yesterday.

The real test of leadership certainly comes when having to confront change. A good manager is someone who can manage, meaning someone who can bend side to side a little while trying to go forward, because it won't be clear sailing, there are always events that rock the boat and cause us to veer off course. "Pushing jello up the stairs" is how I've always felt on the several occasions I've managed a team. Life ends up being about how you react, not as much how you act, since one's actions rarely translate into the exact results one expected.

Carrying any enterprise worth the carrying, whether it's parenthood, a business, or a nation, always involves facing problems that won't be solved on the first go. The adults, as you say, pick themselves up when they fail and carry on.
It's no surprise that those who give most to charity, are the ones most engaged in carrying heavy loads; unlike the cynically inert left, they can imagine what it's like to struggle to get back up again.