On 4th August 2012 Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins woke up as Olympic champions with gold medals reminding them that a day earlier they had won the final race in the Women’s Double Sculls at Dorney Lake. But now they felt empty, lost and on unfamiliar ground. For every day of the previous four years all their plans had been about working towards 3rd August 2012. Everything they did in training, every little detail they planned was all about delivering their best performance on that one occasion – the final – with no second chances. The only deliverable which mattered to them was a gold medal on 3rd August. All their plans ended on that date. It was as if 3rd August was the last day ever, and nothing existed after it.
As with so many great ideas, I am left wondering why nobody has though of this before. Its simplicity, sustainability and sheer elegance offers so much that it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for the catch – there must be one, surely. But no. There’s no catch.
[Photo: The Spring Project] Continue reading
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 awards were screened last night, and after the absolutely exceptional sporting year we have had in Great Britain, it was sure to be a close contest. In the event, it was won by Bradley Wiggins, followed by Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray – but the final result (decided by a public telephone vote) seemed largely academic in comparison to their sporting achievements earlier in the year.[Photo courtesy of BBC]
I couldn’t help but notice the parallel with career success, particularly with students (graduates and school-leavers) who are taking the first steps in their working lives. Continue reading
I recently spent a day with a group of second year undergraduates – from different universities, on a broad range of courses. They were bright, happy, enthusiastic and optimistic about their individual futures. That’s not to say they knew exactly what they would be doing after graduation 18 months from now – in most cases they had no idea. They weren’t oblivious to the current economic climate, and they knew that many people are facing a tough time. But they were optimistic.
Probing a little into their optimism, I found it was based on the most magical ingredient – confidence.
When tempered with humility, and in the absence of arrogance, can there be a more alluring characteristic in young people than confidence? Confidence enables people to open doors for themselves; it allows them to explore, and reach out further to extend their experience, knowledge and understanding; it gives them a basis for further personal development. And better than that, it is self-perpetuating, providing an ever-increasing baseline from which to develop. Continue reading
Have you ever noticed that there aren’t many books about learning to ride a bicycle? What is there to explain? Turn the pedals when you want to move; the handlebars are for changing direction; use the back brakes for slowing down. It’s actually a straightforward enough thing to explain, but that’s not how we learn to ride a bike. A book can only explain how to do something; it can’t actually teach you to do it. The only way of learning how to do it is to do it. I know exactly how to play the piano – I understand it in great detail, but I can’t actually play the piano.
James Dyson famously tried 5,127 prototype designs when creating the first cyclone vacuum cleaner. He had taken a look at the maths behind the process and decided that the only way of really understanding it was by doing it, looking at the results, changing something, trying again, and so on. Not every change made a positive difference, of course, and some needed to be reversed. But it was a process of continuous improvement.
On a much bigger scale, and over a considerably longer time period, careers follow the same track – one of continuous improvement – looking at what works, what doesn’t, making changes steadily over time. Graduates and school-leavers are at the start of the process. They know how to be engineers, media analysts, doctors, meteorologists and so on – they just aren’t those things… yet. The only way they will become those things is by practising. There are plenty of doctors – “fully qualified” after intensive (and lengthy) university study – who readily admit to having been utterly terrified by their first contact with real patients, realising that they didn’t really know what they were doing. They knew all the theory, but none of the practice. It reminds me of a great quote (attributed to several people):
“In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.”
If it were simply a matter of knowing “loads of stuff”, we’d be fine with study. But clearly study isn’t enough on its own; we need the practice too. Work experience isn’t just a luxury for the few – it is part of the entire education process itself. It’s what actually qualifies someone to do the job, and to be the engineer, media analyst, doctor or meteorologist.