Why can we think and talk but not do? Or, why Gen Y needs intimacy
Whether joining the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or starting their own non-profit in the developing world, it seems Gen Y wants to make a real difference (if not solve world peace). But why do many recent hires stumble in their first job, or two, or three—even when they are doing the work they are most passionate about?
Talking about a problem is always easier than actually solving it. Could it be that the ease, eloquence, and mental agility demonstrated discussing solutions to world peace in a classroom is far removed from the work of implementing it on the streets of Cairo?
The problem is akin to Henry Mintzberg’s critique of the case study method in business schools. Students learn about managing (or solving world hunger) without actually doing it, and for the sake of their own continuity and silos of expertise schools and instructors can leave them with the mistaken notion that they are the same. In Managers not MBAs he writes:
“Managers have to sense things; they have to weave their way through complex phenomena, they have to dig out information, they have to probe deeply, on the ground, not from the top of some mythical pyramid. The “big picture” is not there for the seeing, certainly not in any 20 page document; it has to be constructed slowly, carefully, through years of intimate experience.” (emphasis mine).
Lately I’ve struggled to understand all that Max De Pree means when he says ”Intimacy is at the heart of competence. It has to do with understanding, with believing, and with practice. It has to do with the relationship to one’s work.” (Leadership is an Art, p. 53). The idea of intimacy comes up frequently in Max’s writing, and the meaning can be complex and nuanced, but Mintzberg’s analysis is helping me get at one of those meanings: real competence, the kind that realizes our dreams and those of our organizations, can only come by a deeper knowing about our work and our colleagues, and the sense of belonging that develops over time intentionally spent learning about them. As an African proverb says, “there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.”
When we are embedded in our work contexts the questions that might be brought up in a classroom or a case study can instead enable learning through discovery, and not only that, but self-knowledge as we grow in those contexts. Instead of analyzing narrowly we can become wise care-fully. Max invites us into that process:
“How can we begin to build and nurture intimacy? Well, one way to begin is by asking questions and looking for answers. How does the company connect with its history? What business is it in? Who are the people and what are their relationships with one another? How does the company deal with change and conflict? Most importantly, perhaps, what is their vision of the future? Where are they going? What do they want to become?” (Leadership is an Art, p. 61)
By: Joanna Stanberry
Photo by: Jacob Bøtter
- essentialdepree posted this