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The piano analogy: some practice required

This year I’m training people in the theories of Chris Argyris, helping them to apply the concepts, and this raised some fun challenges. The challenge on my mind today is how to convince people that practice will be required before they can perform well? My current analogy is the piano.

After a quick search I can show you a three minute video of a 14-year old explaining how a grand piano works. If you’ve got an extra minute I could share a four minute animation that illustrates the mechanism in detail. You probably already know that in a piano the strings vibrate and that produces the sounds you hear. It would take moments to strike each key and allow you to hear each note. Having invested less than thirty minutes you could understand a piano and how it works. You can’t play it, but you know you can’t play it. You were unlikely to have mistaken understanding the concepts for being able to produce the result.

Action Science seems different.

I’ve introduced dozens of people to the topic through Roger Schwartz’s excellent Eight Behaviours for Smarter Teams, a sort of Shu-level guide to producing Mutual Learning behaviour. The response is typically positive, enthusiastic even, and general  agreement they should start behaving in a mutual learning way. However they also believe that now they understand mutual learning behaviour they can also produce mutual learning behaviour. They mistake understanding the concepts with being able to produce the result. Worse, their own incompetence makes them blind to their lack of skill.

So this is where the piano analogy comes into play. Everyone acknowledges the gap between understanding and performance. I use the piano analogy to set the expectation that practice will be required. Then we begin using the two-column case study to start retraining their ear, allowing them to begin hearing the difference between Model 1 and Model 2 behaviour for the first time. And when someone is discouraged by their performance, the analogy is there again to help them have realistic expectations: “How long have you been practicing the mutual learning approach? How long do you think it should take to retrain from a lifetime of habit and cultural norms?”

Do you have a technique you use to help set expectations for skill acquisition and maintaining motivation? If so I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on Twitter.

3 Comments

  1. David Nguyen wrote:

    You’re not going to get any argument from me. I’ve always believed that practice makes perfect.

    Friday, August 28, 2015 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  2. mea piano wrote:

    passion gives motivation, nothing beats praticing and continously improving your skills

    Monday, October 19, 2015 at 5:13 am | Permalink
  3. Jason Fulks wrote:

    practice makes man perfect. strongly trust this.

    Friday, August 25, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] that appropriate for an uncertain world. Part three is the need for practice. This section uses the piano analogy and then — my big risk! — a live demonstration. A brave member of the audience joined […]

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