(Post inspired by Bill Gate’s talk at TED 09.)
In his talk at TED this past week-end, one of the questions that Bill Gates explored was:
How do you make a teacher great?
It is worth paying attention because our careers stand to benefit from his answer.
Monkey see, monkey improve.
As Bill explained, it’s not that easy to answer his question since there’s very little data to show what makes a teacher great. This is a critical issue for anyone aiming for greatness. Quite simply if we don’t know what greatness looks like, how do we know when we’ve found it? And, how can we learn and emulate it?. The opposite of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ comes into play.
This is no secret to the world of sports. Tennis is a great example. Tennis aficionados out there (like me) know that by observing Rafael Nadal or any of the players on the professional circuit, we stand to improve our game. More so, as part of their training, most elite athletes watch recordings of top performers. Athletes know that when monkey sees, monkey improves.
You and I can apply this to our careers by focusing on imitation-worthy people. Bill Gates may be a good start. But you need not go that far. Look around you. Do any of your colleagues, bosses or clients have traits that are worthy of imitation? The key is to be open to watching and learning.
See no evil + hear no evil = missed opportunity.
He then moves on to highlight the importance of receiving feedback. According to Bill’s research (I trust he has done his homework) teachers in the US public system are receiving very little feedback about their performance. There tends to be a clause in teachers’ contracts that limits the amount of time the school’s principal can spend observing a teacher in real time. Even when a principal is allowed to observe, the teacher must be notified ahead of time. Naturally that means that the teacher gets a chance to modify their teaching techniques and be on their best behavior while in the presence of the principal. While this might accomplish a better review, (by faking it) the teacher misses an opportunity to learn what they’re doing well, and what could be improved or eliminated.
Most of us at work do not have the luxury of being observed. Even so we still stand to benefit from Bill’s ideas. By being open to feedback and asking for it from our managers, colleagues and even clients. Rather than seeing feedback from others as a personal attack or a threat, we could decide to welcome it as an opportunity to up our game. The key then is to be open to feedback, to ask for it, to implement it and to track our progress.
Photo by James Duncan Davidson/TED