Lingering somewhere deep in my family history is The Tutor of Cosmo. His real name was James Chalmers, but that hardly matters. His moniker flaunts the identity of the boss whom he was charged to educate: “Cosmo”, 3rd Duke of Gordon. Cosmo was named after his father’s best-friend Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Naturally, there were high hopes for Cosmo, so equipping him for success required a development strategy: a tutor.
In fact, almost all the great figures in the past had tutors. Tutors were knowledge accelerators. They weren’t repositories, like Wikipedia, Google or Alexa, they were wisdom animators. It wasn’t how much the tutor knew; it was how much the tutee could assimilate. The tutor’s purpose was to become redundant. The attributes of a good tutor were well-educated, devoted and purposeful; and their impact was local, practical and affective.
This raison d'être was perhaps reflected more widely in The Academy of the past, where schools and universities were pragmatic applicators of knowledge; with praxis playing out in the church, courtroom and surgeon’s hall. Indeed, the enlightenment movement was a profound expression of this empirical ontology!
But in recent times, research (and articles) has taken preeminence in The Academy. Ideation has trumped pedagogy. Research has become the governing metric of efficacy.
Don’t get me wrong, new ideas transform static paradigms. They unfreeze dogmatic views and beliefs. Research is more than good. But there are limits to the powers of research. Yes, research empowers ideas, but teaching empowers embodied selves. Research provokes inquiry and curiosity, but it is not an effective empowerment process, because it is impersonal. It is aloof.
Teaching is intimate. It is relational and systemic.
This last point of systemic is super important. The transformation process in learning new things - the interplay of context, self and relevance - requires a dialogical dance. The ‘stepping on one another’s toes’ is part of the assimilation. I can quite imagine the Tutor of Cosmo negotiating the restive learning process with the young Duke!
But if we remember that the purpose of learning is to elevate oneself in the world; to make better sense of it all, and to be more impactful. This is not an idle process. It requires self-projection - a pushing forward - an exertion against resistance. Thus, a tutor is like a sparring partner. Like the taurus: development is achieved with the necessity of a counterforce.
When I look at the challenges presently facing business leaders and organisations, I can’t help but feel an incorrigible sense of urgency in reawakening a Growth Mindset. A deeply pragmatic commitment to excite in ourselves, and other learners, an intense curiosity and playfulness, where we are prepared to get uncomfortable, both mentally and physically, to explore new options and capabilities. Tutors guide this process. They ensure that positive progress ensues. A taking control of the ‘not yet known’ or appropriated, and made to feel, and in action, ’ready’, ‘equipped’, ‘competent’.
It’s a messy, complicated process. But that’s the reward. Hard fought gains create deeper learnings. What we perhaps need to reawaken is a passion for pedagogy and learning.
A learning revival is the answer. We need more tutors of Cosmo.
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