Guided Mastery

Most of my school days the responsibility of learning something was always for the student, if we did not understand something or we are confused then it was so easy for the teacher to punish or give a bad rating. When I had to don the role of a trainer I decided that both the learner and the teacher are responsible for the task.

The first part of any learning is to avoid fear of failure. No one can succeed in the first attempt unless it is a gamble or the steps to success is just one or two steps. It is not just in learning, fear is present in all fields. I happened to read about Doug Dietz and his contribution to make children enjoy the hospital experience, children are given a pleasant experience to go through what might otherwise be a harrowing experience. The details about that has been captured here by Vivek Kemp. At this point the engineers and the medics did not say that we have the state of the art of the systems, we do not care if children like it or not; instead they went to the extent of making it a pleasure ride.

I related Doug Dietz’s experiment to the training world. The trainers as I have seen put immense efforts to prepare and deliver, this puts a narrow focus on the outcome and the pressure to learn and excel is transferred to the students. Most of the world’s lectures are boring, students wander off and people just sit through the lecture. Presentation tools have added to the misery where the documents get converted into slides which has led to the famous term “Death by Powerpoint”.

How can we guide someone to mastery?

Engineers at GE when they created the adventure for the kids, they literally tested the setup from a kid’s perspective. They knelt down to a child’s height and prepared the room at that eye level. Like that everyone who is trying to get something done or help someone achieve something, then it is mandatory that the style of delivery is prepared as per the receiver. The preparation should be such a way that there is mutual respect, clarity of content and should give an experience that will leave people wanting for more.


The table in the meeting room

Almost every office room meeting place has a table. Rooms of different sizes gets filled up with tables of comparable sizes barely leaving enough space for the chairs and some people to move around. Using the right tools for the right job is necessary, the same way the right meeting room setup is necessary for different types of meetings. A typical conference table usually creates a perception in the attendees that either there is a head of the table or sub consciously it is a Us vs Them debate. If a lot of collaboration is required in the gathering then the table in between the people does not help.

Anything in between people is a barrier, unless people are trained to overcome that. Tables are usually designed to fit the room such that the periphery is a usable space. A typical conference is room is bigger length wise, trying to focus on one side of the room where the presenter or the head of the table is. I have observed in many of the meetings when we need to have a huddle or a focussed discussion then most of the people leave their seats and crowd around a corner to put their ideas together and come with a common picture. Every person in the room has to shift to some other side leaving the comfort of their seats to get something done.

Increasingly we use workshop/brainstorm style meetings which requires frequent huddles and group interactions. By having a large almost square shaped room without tables to occupy the free space, we will be able to promote free movement of people. Also the square shape will not plant a thought in people’s mind that the conversation is unidirectional. The times I have tried this approach of having sessions in large rooms and easy to move furniture, I found good level of participation from everyone.

Table is definitely an important furniture but filling rooms entirely with a table for convenience will make people just too comfortable in their zones.

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Shu Ha Ri

In the book Pragmatic thinking and learning, the author while explaining about Dreyfus model introduces the martial arts term Shu Ha Ri to help learn something new and become an expert.

Shu – Copy and imitate exactly like how it is taught. Follow a recipe and practice by just copying. This helps to get introduced to new terms & concepts; imitating something means we are doing it the right way. In this phase it is more important to be right than be original, just like an artist learning brush strokes with various brush tips or a musician trying to play every note in her instrument. The advantage of imitating something is that brain subconsciously develops motor memory for the given task, it will soon proceed to a state where the instincts take over the conscience for the same task.

Ha – As a result of learning by imitation the motor memory could have become strong enough such that the new tasks are performed with less mental energy. This gives rooms to experiment with newer settings, like a new cook trying to tweak the recipe to her needs. Changes from the recipes in smaller increments greatly enhances the visibility of the subject and promotes more deeper understanding. Deliberate practice to understand the shortcomings and great areas will widen the scope of experiments.

Ri – This is the stage where one becomes the master or the practitioner of the art. If the skill involved is non verbal then almost no thinking would be involved in performing a task. Top sportspersons, artists, musicians fall into this place; as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers people would have spent considerable time practicing the task to become a master or an outlier.

Keep in mind these simple steps Shu-Ha-Ri when beginning to learn new things. It will help us bring focus to our learning and cut out the fear of failure.