Until I realised I knew nothing.
Learning to coach athletes much older than me taught me humility and respect.
It’s quite easy to tell someone what you know, its another thing entirely to teach them.
Many people continue to amass more and more qualifications without considering that it is not the getting of more knowledge, but learning how to share it better that distinguishes the teacher from the teller.
Fortunately, for those of you reading, you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. Here are five books that helped me get better at helping others be better. This post summarises my one big takeaway from each book through an allegory about a caveman who learned to build better huts and taught others to do the same.
THE PARABLE OF HARRY THE HUT BUILDER
The values factor – everyone has a set of priorities and these govern how they filter their world. Take the time to discover and communicate in relation to others top priority (Telos) and you will gain their attention.
Harry is a caveman; he has just come back from a long journey east, where he learned from the great tribes of the sea their far superior methods for making huts. Upon his return, he notices how ugly the huts in his village are in comparison, and how dangerous and inefficient it is to build them. Harry is determined to teach his neighbor Fred the new and improved hut making method, and gradually improve the whole village using this method.
Last time he came back from a trip and tried to teach Fred how to hunt better, he simply shrugged his shoulders with a glazed look on his face. He clearly did not appreciate how superior Harry’s new method was, Harry tried and tried to persuade him to learn but eventually his persistence began to annoy Fred. Not wanting to test the relationship in case Fred got violent (as most cavemen tended to) Harry decided to drop it.
This time, Harry decides to take a special interest in Fred and observe his behavior closely, as he does this he notices that Fred tends to talk a lot about his family, he goes to great lengths to make sure they are always safe and provided for. He notices that Fred’s oldest son is nearly old enough to begin his initiation into adulthood. One day he asks Fred what he plans to teach the boy first. ‘How to build of course!’ Fred says gruffly, without turning around.
Make them feel safe
Instant rapport- Our brains are wired to be on the look out for differences (which are perceived unconsciously as threats), emphasizing similarities & common ground opens people up to you and your message.
‘A wise choice’ says Harry. ‘I plan to do the same with my boy, a man must learn how to use his hands so that he can care and provide for his family’. Fred turns around to face him now, nodding vigorously in agreement. ‘And what would you say a good father should teach his son to build first?’ asks Harry. ‘A hut replies Fred excitedly, what good is a man who cannot put a roof over the heads of his family?’
‘Agreed my friend, a man who cannot shelter those he loves will find it hard to attract a mate’ Harry replies mirroring his enthusiasm. ‘And what sort of hut do you plan to teach him to build?’ he asks Fred. Fred looks confused; ‘the same type of hut everyone in the village builds of course, isn’t that the only type of hut there is?’
Tell to win – Mirror neurons in the brain have evolved to allow humans to simulate experience (the key to learning), telling stories allows people to feel the emotions associated with an experience. The emotion centers of the brain control decision making and therefore heavily influence a persons actions.
Harry smiles and replies ‘until recently I believed the same thing, but on my travels I learned otherwise, would you like to hear about how a great tribal elder of the East taught me how to build safer, sturdier and more beautiful huts? These huts were the most beautiful I have seen, and I noticed the men in this village who built them boasted the most attractive mates’. Fred nods excitedly, ‘of course, my boy would be the toast of the town if he was the first young man to build one of these huts! Please tell me about your experiences!’.
Harry obliges and tells Fred of his experiences with the tribal elder who generously passed on his knowledge over the course of a six-month apprenticeship. Fred laughed as Harry tells him how terrible his first attempts were and how the locals pitied him. Fred listens as he describes the new luxuries that a family can experience within these new huts and how they seem happier than those within their village. Suddenly Fred looked at his hut and back at Harry ‘would you teach me Harry?’ he pleaded.
To Fred’s delight Harry agrees, though he warns Fred; the first hut would take some time, since the elder explained the Harry, the best way to teach someone is to first model the correct techniques, and then describe the process to the learner, before supporting them as they practiced themselves. Harry will build his own hut first as the Model, and then describe to Fred how to undertake each part of the process before allowing Fred to imitate his model.
Over the course of the next 6 months, Harry replicates the apprenticeship process taught to him by the old tribal elder. He teaches Fred only the parts allowing the whole to gradually reveal itself over time. First he focuses on building the foundations of the hut, describing the process to Fred as he watches, Harry learned that the best way to teach is to use concise vivid descriptions that make it clear what to DO, not what not to do. Once he is satisfied Fred understands, he allows him to go to work on building his own foundations.
Before Harry agreed to teach Fred, he made sure Fred agreed to first apply any feedback he received before reflecting on it. Harry learned from the wise old elder that discussing the merits of advice given is essentially a waste of time since its merit cannot be accurately assessed until applied. So when Harry looks over at Fred’s foundations, he provides clear and concise feedback that Fred accepts and applies immediately. Harry is surprised how quickly he can teach complex ideas since he does not have to discuss every piece of information he gives.
Harry, like his teacher before him is a stickler for detail. So he insists Fred master each part of the process before he teaches him the next part. This frustrates Fred a little in the beginning but because he receives clear and concise feedback (which he acts on without question) at regular intervals. Fred begins to trust Harry more since progress becomes evident more rapidly, while his belief in himself, and the process intensifies.
Mindset – Feedback that draws attention to the process encourages people to seek challenge and growth in their pursuits, whilst drawing attention to the outcome creates anxiety and destroys confidence.
When Harry asked the elder how the whole village learned to be so good at building these huts, he chuckled. ‘They always learn the right way which is as I have taught you, and they are trained to appreciate the process as opposed to the end result. Valuing the process makes the task enjoyable and encourages mastery, which is why the huts in our village continue to improve while those of most other villages like yours stay the same.
Harry took this to heart, so whenever he compliments Fred, he makes sure to emphasise the process and the effort Fred has displayed in mastering each pat of the process. Fred begins to take immense pride in his work and his appetite for learning and improvement becomes insatiable. He is truly inspired by the task he is undertaking.
One day Fred invites Harry over for to enjoy dinner with his family in his newly finished hut. He is proud of his creation and the life he can now provide for his family. Harry is impressed at the quality of his craftsmanship and the home is indeed beautiful. ‘Congratulations!’ he says to Fred, ‘your home is beautiful and your family must be so proud of your efforts and the time you took to master your craft for their benefit’.
Years later, Harry and Fred are sitting on the front porch of Harry’s home. From their view on the hill they see a village that is now the envy of all others surrounding it. Many people come to live and work here since the quality of life (thanks to Harrys huts) the villagers enjoy is unparalleled. Fred points out the beautiful cityscape and says to Harry ‘this is all because of you Harry, thank you for what you have done.’