I was chatting to the leader of a Yeshiva (Jewish religious seminary) this week and the subject of learning came up. The method used in a Yeshiva is for two students to sit opposite each other with the book, Torah, Talmud and so on, between them and discuss, even argue, about the meaning or significance of a sentence or phrase.
This method, dialectics, is very old being mentioned by Plato and certainly has been the norm in Yeshivot throughout the world for upwards of 1,000 years and probably a lot more. The fact is that it works so why change it?
My friend told me of the time when the Yeshiva had a visit from the Department of Education and the inspector was at first shocked and then amazed at the sight and sounds of twenty or thirty pairs of students seemingly haranguing each other.
There is a constant hubbub in the room and the inspector asked how it was that anyone could learn in such an atmosphere. His experience had been limited to the peace and tranquillity of a University library with the peace being broken only by the tapping of computer keys and sometimes by someone snoring.
The reason for an exceptional level of learning in the Yeshiva is that the dedication and desire of the students to learn by the dialectic method is very high.
These students are aged from perhaps 17 to 20 and their knowledge of the subject to an exceptional degree is quite remarkable.
A wise sage once said that the best way to learn is to teach and in a way dialectics means that two people are teaching each other simply by discussing and arguing over the minutiae of the texts.
So what can business learn from this? First of all, people learn only if they want to do so. I had a friend who was a ski instructor and took a general teaching degree after which he was allocated to a tough school in Liverpool. We used to say that the noise you can hear down the East Lancashire Road was the sound of John’s illusions shattering.
He once asked me why it was that the lads in Liverpool just wouldn’t take any notice of him in class while his ski students were really enthusiastic.
It’s simple, I suggested, because the classroom didn’t offer enough interest to people who inherently weren’t interested anyway, whereas the ski students were there because they wanted to learn.
It is frightening to hear people saying that as they had achieved high rank in business there was no need for them to take time out to learn anything more. Would that that were the case.
The nearest approach to the dialectic method in business is probably the peer group model espoused by Vistage which encourages people to bring issues to the table and for them to be discussed openly, honestly and transparently by a group of peers.
A sub-group of this method is for breakout sessions with either pairs or triads discussing the issue and then reporting back to the main group which is much nearer to dialectics.
Either way, it seems that the closer one can get to one-to-one learning (and often mutual learning) the better the result always assuming that there is both a desire to learn and knowledge to impart in each direction.
To repeat the mantra of the first MD of Vistage (TEC) in the UK:
· “No-one is as smart as all of us"
Author of "Leading to Success" from Amazon Kindle