Monday, September 17, 2012

Ice skating in the desert


It doesn't matter how well you figure-skate on the ice hockey rink.

I have seen this error appear a number of times in my life. Sometimes I'm watching others make it; sometimes I'm waking up to my own blunders.

Covey had a similar phrase: It doesn't matter how fast you climb the wrong ladder.

My Data Communications lecturer at uni (love ya, Terry) used to tell the best anecdotes. He had one about a group of coders who'd been corrected by a senior programmer. They were chiding his solution for being slower than theirs. The problem was, theirs just didn't work. Terry instilled in me then the lesson: It doesn't matter how fast you can calculate the wrong answer.

A few years ago I was teaching ESL at a university in China. I was getting increasingly frustrated at my lessons - the kids just weren't getting on board! I woke up one morning with the revelation: I was playing basketball on the soccer field. D'Oh! So I changed up my game to address their actual needs and the lessons started flowing a lot better. I dropped my preconceptions about what I thought they should want at that stage of their education and instead looked at (and listened to!) what they really needed.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that it doesn't matter how much we know or how much we've done in a particular field or endeavour if that game isn't the one we're being asked to play right now.