Thursday, 4 August 2011

The value of teaching

I've been learning to play the guitar for years, on and off. I picked it up at university because I had loads of free time and even as a student, there's a limit to how much of your day you can spend drunk, or asleep.

I learned the basics from a couple of beginner blues tuition books.

I learned a lot more by trying to work things out and by using tablature (written music for people who can't read music) from books and the web.

Over the first few years, I learned a lot and improved very quickly, but after about five years, I stopped improving and only played now and again because there was nothing new to learn.

Actually, re-phrase that; there was loads more to learn - I'm still average at best - but I didn't know how to get better and was bored with just learning more songs, without improving my technique. There are loads of resources on the web (of varying quality) for beginner and intermediate guitarists, but very little that can take you to the next level.

A month ago, I decided to pick up playing again and try a new tack. Getting lessons. Radical way to try to learn something, I know.

Today, I'm excited about playing again, practicing almost every night and have learned more over just the past few weeks of lessons than in the past few years of self-teaching via books and the web.

There's a similarity here with how we learn to do our jobs. With how we learn about anything really, but this is a marketing blog and needs a marketing angle. Marketing people are also very fond of the internet. Surely you can learn anything online?

We have lots of courses and resources for complete beginners, via organisations like the IPA and MRS. From a standing start, somebody new to marketing or market research can learn a lot by self-teaching, and using online resources.

That will keep a new graduate occupied for the first couple of years of their career. They'll enjoy themselves and progress quickly.

Then what?

Marketing courses for people who've been in the job for more than five years are, by and large, crap. Or they're non-existent.

Management technique and presentation courses are all the same. With a very few exceptions, seen one - seen them all. There's always a bit on personality profiles, maybe a memory game or two, if you're lucky a little bit of presentation structure and job done.

Advanced Excel training? The syllabuses I've seen are shocking and it's the same for most other software training. A one-day training course isn't teaching either.

Teaching works, so where are the quality teachers? They're certainly not offering evening classes.

You can find them on the web, blogging and speaking at TED and you can be inspired. That's like watching a skilled jazz guitarist on Youtube though, or downloading a piece of complex sheet music. Amazing to watch and makes you want to be able to play like that. Absolutely no use at all in helping you to get there.

The best teachers are mentors. Unlike in the world of musical tuition, in marketing their experience is largely not for sale. To a client it is; to an aspiring graduate, not so much. Maybe it's because marketing as a day job generally pays better than music. Rory Sutherland's not going to help you refine a pitch for £25 an hour on a Wednesday evening.

You can only improve by working with the people you find inspiring. Otherwise, you get bored after a few years and start changing jobs looking for something different, or leave marketing altogether.

The web is a valuable learning tool, but it will only get you 50% of the way and the web is much, much better at inspiration, than at teaching.

If you want to know who are the best people in the industry and what is the best work, the internet can show you. You can be the music fan who sends amazing new stuff to their mates, that they haven't heard before.

If you want to learn to be the best in the industry and to produce the best work, only a good mentor can show you. Seek them out, in real life, not online and make them teach you.

No comments: