Learn to Fish

By Carl Sanders-Edwards

Jul 11

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will sit on a boat and drink beer all day”

Carl Sanders-Edwards is back this week with his thoughts on ‘Learning to learn’ – using his favourite past time as an analogy of course! (Three minute read)

Hi Everyone,

Err – I’m not sure if I got the quote above 100% correct! However it introduces what I believe is and will be one of our greatest skills for the future.  Constantly adapting, learning and reinventing ourselves. 

We are back in NZ for a month and I’ve been having some success fishing.  This success highlights how much I still have to learn about catching fish in San Francisco!  Much of what I know here in the NZ context doesn’t really translate.  I’m a beginner again.  It’s frustrating and interesting.  You never stop learning to learn. 

This is even more relevant with leadership development as careers and jobs become evermore less defined and predictable.  In my 25 or so years of working I’ve had 9 distinct roles that could easily have each been a career.  Each of them with totally different challenges and opportunities requiring a lot of leadership flex. This isn’t an exception.  We have billions of people living on a very interconnected world with rapidly evolving technology, the next 25 years will likely see more change than the last 100! 

Here is my concern.  In this environment of change, content (the fish) is relatively unimportant as it is soon out of date but the ability to understand and adapt to context (learning to fish) is huge.  Knowing how to catch snapper in NZ doesn’t help much in San Fran.  Why then does so much leadership development focus on ‘teaching content’?  We make it worse with most digital technologies homogenising life lessons and spreading simple ‘formulas’ for success that only worked in one context.  It’s selling a false promise of an easy path to a version of ‘success’ that is unlikely to be relevant to us.

There is hope.  Some of the most progressive (and popular) methodologies today focus more on context than content, on learning to learn.  I find it interesting that all of these are in service of something big and beyond any one individual.  I alone don’t shape my context, we all do.  Humans became great at learning in service of survival (fish is good to eat).  Design thinking is a method in service of human experience.  Agile is a method in service of reaching large shared goals.  Lean is a method in service of a start ups vision or a corporates drive to reduce waste.  Indeed, I believe the core reason these methods sometimes fail is when the ‘content’ within them dominates (here are the ‘rules’) at the expense of the context they ‘service’. 

So where does this leave us?  What are you in service of and how does that inspire you to learn and keep learning?  When developing other leaders, are we helping them clarify what (really) matters to them and equipping them with the skills to learn and keep learning and what it will take to be in service to what matters?  Content can then support this – not the other way around.   These are the fundamentals that our D-I-Y approach with JumpShift and Adeption’s digital coaching workouts are built on. I believe that as humans our ability to live in harmony with each other and this world we share, depends on it.

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this


The Future of Leadership Development Breakfast

Carl will be deep diving into this concept this July in Auckland. Join us to hear Carl discuss what’s next in the global leadership development field. Work has changed, but the way we develop leaders hasn’t. It’s still focused on the ‘old’ world of the top 10-15% of rising talent. Today we all need these skills.

Friday 26th July, 7:00am – 9:30am, AUT Conference Centre

To Register click here

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