Seth Godin says, It’s easier to teach compliance than initiative.
Compliance is simple to measure, simple to test for and simple to teach. Punish non-compliance, reward obedience and repeat.
Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.
Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.
To top it off, until recently the customers of a school or training program (the companies that hire workers) were buying compliance by the bushel. Initiative was a red flag, not an asset.
Of course, now that’s all changed. The economy has rewritten the rules, and smart organizations seek out intelligent problem solvers. Everything is different now. Except the part about how much easier it is to teach compliance.
How right he is. Compliance training is all around us. Driving change is not about teaching compliance. But, how can you do the opposite and teach initiative?
I struggle with whether you can teach initiative because we’ve reduced the term teaching to only mean one person forcibly giving something to another, often unwilling person for them to accept and use as directed, or else. Snore!
In practice, the act of giving someone initiative proves foolish. I can’t give you something that is already inside you. And, I can’t make you use your initiative if you refuse. Ever try to get a teenager to do something they are capable of but patently refuse to do? You’ve seen the struggles of forcing initiative in others.
But, I can show you how to use your own initiative by using mine.
I’d call that demonstrating initiative and everyone can demonstrate initiative. How?
Though not limited to the formal classroom, my favorite demonstrations of initiative are classes where the teacher doesn’t give you something, but instead entices you to choose to do something; do something more because you can.
Professor Tufte and Dr. Shapiro don’t tell you, “When you leave here you must…” but instead leave you with, “Now what will you do with what you’ve seen?” And they’ve given you powerful images of what you could do, if you choose to engage your own initiative.
Embracing, then acting on, “Now what will you do with what you’ve seen?” is what you must do when driving change, when you’re demonstrating initiative.
Are you demonstrating initiative to those around you?
Are you choosing to do something with what you’ve seen?