How to learn Kung Fu in 1 easy step

Q: How do you learn Kung Fu?

A: Attend a 1 hour training session in Kung Fu.

Hey presto….

April Fool!

That won’t work, if you want to know Kung Fu you’d have to train for years.
One hour will do literally nothing for your Mad Kung Fu Skillz

But this is the approach most organisations have to “training” staff.

If you need some kind of skill, your employer might arrange “training” where you turn up to a room, watch a powerpoint that is talked through, perhaps do some kind of tame exercise, hey presto…TRAINED.

Compare this with how you might learn something in real life, outside work.

Lets say you want to learn to play a musical instrument, to bake cakes, or to draw.
You might get a book, go to a class, practice by yourself.
You might do all those things, but what you would definitely do is practice the skill you want to acquire, repeatedly over months and years. You might put aside time for it, polishing your burgeoning mad skillz. You could do all sorts, but you would certainly know that a single session is not “training“.
It is multiple single sessions that are training. String them all in a row, over a period of time, learning and getting better.
A single one hour session with nothing further planned is not training.

Some might call it “practice” if it is by yourself, and “training” when you are helped by an expert coach who gives feedback.
No matter the definition, to acquire the skill takes:

  • multiple sessions
  • repeated over a period of time

The model of training used in most organisations is not like this.

It is like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, when he learns Kung Fu and a whole bunch of other martial arts. There he has it downloaded it straight to his brain, and then suddenly he does know Kung Fu, look…


The theory underlying most “training” seems to be the information gap theory.

That there is simply a gap in the mind that needs to be filled with information, and once filled with information the training is complete cos the information is in the place desired, ie the mind.
Even crazier, the way that information is put into people’s minds is by simply announcing it in their presence. As if it is a press conference like a PR spokesperson reading out a press release.
It is an approach that appears more ceremonial than realistic, the point being to have something seen to have happened, rather than actually happened.
This is most apparent in “e-learning” a common approach to shovelling loads of staff through a statutory requirement.
This is where staff don’t have set training sessions, but instead arrange their own time to go to a website on something quite important like equalities awareness or health and safety, skim read  the pages for the most important, ie the most testable content, and then click haphazardly through a multiple answer format to get through the “training” as quickly as possible.

I’ve been trained like this in all sorts of important  areas, some that are require grasping an abstract and complex new way of thinking, but I still rush through it looking for the things that are clickable or yes/no-able.

What’s this got to do with systems thinking then?


The face of studying the work

I reckon that you could replace the phrase “systems thinking” with the phrase “engaging with reality” and it wouldn’t harm and probably help. It all starts with studying the work, finding out what in tarnation is actually happening rather than relying on what is hoped might be happening.

If you studied “training” as carried out in isolated and sporadic single occurrences, it has all the hallmarks of classic command and control thinking. A formal event, not checked for  effect, but checked for occurrence. Something pushed down based on corporate objectives rather than pulled by individual need. A contractual relationship based on standardised training packages “We’ve trained you, you now deliver” rather than a what-matters relationship focused on purpose.

I’ve found out that learning, in my own time, not being trained, has turned out to be the only way I actually learn anything at all! Not because I’m a pig ignorant , although I am, but because the thing called “training” that I’ve had was never anything of the sort.
Where in my own life the things that have eventually stuck were where I have had multiple sessions, repeated over a period of time, focused on purpose whatever that was.

So when next you get an invite or more likely exhortation to attend “training” at work, remember, it’s most likely to be just a load of…


This entry was posted in command and control, knowledge, learning, systems thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How to learn Kung Fu in 1 easy step

  1. My weekly dose of common sense…always welcome.


  2. Charles Beauregard says:

    A particularly enjoyable post as it’s got me reflecting on the time I spent working as a trainer.

    People would come on my courses and as a result their customer service, leadership, coaching, writing skills, etc, were expected to change. Box ticked! For a while, my training was even expected to change the culture.

    I look back now and think how much difference my training made – it’s difficult to tell but at a guess I doubt it’s more than zero. The only person who benefitted from it was me. For example, if I was expected to train people on coaching I would – as you suggest in your blog – go away and study it for myself, and seek out opportunities to practice. There’s no way I could transfer all that learning and practice in to a one or two day training session.

    I wonder how much of this training / box ticking happens just so the executive team can slap each other on the back for getting an investors in people award?

    Because of my past experience I still occasionally find myself in situations where I’m expected to deliver training. Now I design those sessions with only one real purpose – to make people curious. That’s it – I understand I cannot expect to achieve anything more – and even attempting to make anyone curious is very hit or miss.

    If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading Bounce by Matthew Syed for more about how skills and talent are really developed (spoiler alert – it’s not through a one-hour training session).


  3. john says:

    Hehe, and we do training for the all important….

    *** CERTIFICATE!! ***

    The more official looking and big curvy writing, the better.

    Great article


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