Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teaching them to fish

Years ago - OK, years and years ago - when I was a kid we'd debate on many evenings at the dinner table. When my two brothers and I were in disagreement about the facts or we (heaven forbid!) disputed our dad's point of view he'd say, "Well, go look it up!" He was serious - and we did go and look it up. I suppose we had then - and my husband will tell you that we still have now - a great desire to be right. Bigger than that, though, was our desire to know. So we looked it up. We had to know.

Back in those days there was no Internet, so no Wikipedia or Google or Ask Jeeves. We had the World Book Encyclopedia, on display for all visitors to see, in our family room. The encyclopedia was a big deal, and its conspicuous presence was a sign that parents were concerned about their children's education. That's where we went to "look it up." There or in the dictionary right beside it. My younger brother actually read that encyclopedia, cover to cover, A to Z. (He moved on to trivia books from there. I suppose it's no wonder that he's finishing his Ph.D. after two Masters Degrees...)

This idea of "look it up" did create habits. We figured out how to fish for information, and once we learned we didn't have to rely on someone else to tell us the capital of the state of Maine, or the spelling of the word antidisestablishmentarianism.

Are you feeding fish to people in your family or at work? Or are you teaching them to fish for themselves? Do they rely on you for answers, or do they know where to look, or what criteria to use to figure it out on their own?

I think many times we move straight from "I'll feed you" to "Can't you read my mind??!!" without stopping to teach people how to do it for themselves. It's no wonder that managers have a difficult time delegating, when they can't rely upon their employees' using a similar thought process or values to their own when working independently of them.

Perhaps it's time for some fishing lessons.

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