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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

If you say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, what you mean that it is often difficult to get people to try new ways of doing things, especially if they have been doing something in a particular way for a long time. I think this idea comes from our experience with “training” dogs. Where we are able to get our pets to do something by repeating the task over and over again and rewarding them each time. You can train a dog to go fetch a stick, but what happens when you accidentally throw the stick over the fence into the neighbors yard or up in a tree? The training process breaks down because the dog cannot be educated to know the gate must be opened or a ladder is needed to finish the task.

Many organizations have training departments, but is training all that’s needed? What do you do with your new hires? Are you training them or educating them? Before you answer, are you sure that you know the difference between the two? Why? Because they both produce different results.

Training someone to do something is task-oriented. It is skill-based. You can train someone to increase their proficiency. But in essence, you get what you put into it. A trained person may get faster, but they’re unlikely to find a truly new and better way to do something. Training alone does not provide the depth needed for creative problem solving and innovation.

Suppose someone is trained on how to create a simple graphic in Excel. No doubt they will be able to create a graphic, but they will have problems doing other things because they have not been educated about the many functionalities and applications of Excel.

Then suppose you have someone else, someone who has been educated about Excel’s full capabilities. This person understands the major concepts Excel’s underlying functionalities and what made them necessary in the first place.

This second person will be able to apply their background knowledge, and compound it with creativity, to find solutions to problems they have not encountered before and they can use Excel to do things they have never been trained to do.

Education is concept-based — it’s learning to see the big picture of why and how things work together. It is possible to be well trained and poorly educated, just as it is possible to be educated but poorly trained. In today’s world of nearly instantaneous and constant technological change, it is important to ensure that your team receives the best training and education. Otherwise, there’s going to be a lot of sticks in the neighbors yard!

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