An expert versus a chauffeur (Part 1 of 3)

I’ve spent a lot of my career training people. In the earlier days it was mainly around the management and leadership of change, and more recently on how to use business storytelling to influence, engage and inspire people.

I’ve invested years learning about the theory and concepts that sit behind both of these topics. I’ve studied how people learn, how to design training programs to ensure the best rates of recall and actual behaviour change, and the measurement of these programs to ensure the required return on investment was delivered .

However, doing all of these things is not enough to make me a great trainer on managing or leading change.

To deliver these training courses effectively I must have had real world experience in leading numerous change initiatives or using storytelling in multiple business contexts for many different purposes.

I don’t believe you can successfully teach someone something if you have’nt done that thing yourself, numerous times, in lots of different situations.

From my experience when it comes to those people who train others to deliver change better, this is not always the case.

What got me thinking about this was a recent post by Shane Parish (on his fantastic blog Farnham Street) about Max Planck and his chauffeur.

Max Planck was a German theoretical physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum theory in 1919. After winning the Nobel Prize, Planck went around Germany giving the same standard lecture on the new field of quantum mechanics. Here’s how Shane Parish tells the story of what happened on that lecture tour:

Over time, his chauffeur memorised the lecture and said, “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine, if I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?” Planck said, “Why not?

And the chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics. After which a physics professor stood up and asked a perfectly gnarly question. The speaker said, “Well I’m surprised that in an advanced city like Munich I get such an elementary question. I’m going to ask my chauffeur to reply.”

The point of the story is not about how quick witted the Chauffeur was to get himself out of that situation, but rather it’s about making a distinction between people that actually know something (Max Planck) and those that just know the name of something (the chauffeur).

In a series of follow-up posts I’ll focus on the difference between the expert and the chauffeur when it comes to those who train on all aspects of ‘change’. In Part 2 I will expand on the distinction between knowing the name of something and knowing something. In Part 3 I’ll explain what you should look for to tell if you are being trained by a chauffeur or by Max Planck himself.


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