“When the Student is ready …”

Improvement Science is not a new idea.  The principles are enduring and can be traced back as far as recorded memory – for Millennia. This means that there is a deep well of ancient wisdom that we can draw from.  Much of this wisdom is condensed into short sayings which capture a fundamental principle or essence.

One such saying is attributed to Zen Buddhism and goes “When the Student is ready the Teacher will appear.

This captures the essence of a paradigm shift – a term made popular by Thomas S Kuhn in his seminal 1962 book – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  It was written just over 50 years ago.

System-wide change takes time and the first stage is the gradual build up of dissatisfaction with the current paradigm.  The usual reaction from the Guardians of the Status Quo is to silence the first voices of dissent, often brutally. As the pressure grows there are too many voices to silence individually so more repressive Policies and Policing are introduced. This works for a while but does not dissolve the drivers of dissatisfaction. The pressure builds and the cracks start to appear.  This is a dangerous phase.

There are three ways out: repression, revolution, and evolution.  The last one is the preferred option – and it requires effective leadership to achieve.  Effective leaders are both Teachers and Students. Knowledge and understanding flow through them as they acquire Wisdom.

The first essence of the message is that the solutions to the problems are already known – but the reason they are not widely known and used is our natural affection for the familiar and our distrust of the unfamiliar.  If we are comfortable then why change?

It is only when we are uncomfortable enough that we will start to look for ways to regain comfort – physical and psychological.

The second essence of the message is that to change we need to learn something and that means we have to become Students, and to seek the guidance of a Teacher. Someone who understands the problems, their root causes, the solutions, the benefits and most importantly – how to disseminate that knowledge and understanding.  A Teacher that can show us how not just tell us what.

The third essence of the message is that the Students become Teachers themselves as they put into practice what they have learned and prove to themselves that it works, and it is workable.  The new understanding flows along the Optimism-Skepticism gradient until the Tipping Point is reached.  It is then unstoppable and the Paradigm flips. Often remarkably quickly.

The risk is that change means opportunity and there are many who can sniff out an opportunity to cash in on the change chaos. They are the purveyors of Snakeoil – and they prey on the dissatisfied and desperate.

So how does a Student know a True-Teacher from a Snakeoil Salesperson?

Simple – the genuine Teacher will be able to show a portfolio of successes and delighted ex-students; will be able to explain and demonstrate how they were both achieved; will be willing to share their knowledge; and will respectfully decline to teach someone who they feel is not yet ready to learn.

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