Craft, Motivation and Wasted Talent

Richard Sennett’s ‘The Craftsman‘ is well worth the considerable effort it has taken me to read it.  Although very well written many of the ideas it tackles are not easy!

He makes the point that we have used tests of intelligence and education to smear citizens along a bell-shaped curve of distribution that is in fact very flat and very wide.  As a result we have come to believe that ‘ability’ is not anywhere near uniformly spread through society.  And this belief has been used to justify the increased public investment in the education of the most able and the relative paucity of opportunity offered to those who, in the tests, appear to be ‘less able than average’.

Sennett then argues that this is a social construction with little basis in facts, outside of educational IQ tests such as the Stanford Binet.  These tests rely on questions to which there is an answer – either right or wrong.  They cannot deal with questions where the answer is a matter of opinion or insight.  Where the answer is contestable.  This especially, argues Sennett, serves to discriminate against those whose talents might lie in developing real craft skills.  Sennet is at great pains to point out that these are not just about traditional crafts but anything where learning happens over a long period of application through experience, reflection and adjustment.   This includes many roles that are incredibly relevant in modern society.  People who are capable of this craft type learning may do poorly on the Stanford Binet and its equivalents (SATS) and from that point on they are socialised as ‘low ability’.  Or those that thrive on the assessment regime they are socialised as ‘Gifted and Talented’.  It is hard to know which is more damaging!

This socialisation has little to do with true potential or inherent capability and more to do with what we choose as a society to recognise, label and invest in.

Sennett’s argument (again assuming that yours truly has understood it) is that capability is MUCH more evenly distributed – we just might need to search for it with a much more open and creative mind.  Many more of us are capable of doing ‘good work’.  This insight would have enormous implications for how we organise education.  Sennett says;

“Motivation is a more important issue than talent in consummating craftsmanship”

Socialisation serves to disconnect many of us from our talents as they are neither recognised not valued.  The capabilities remain, but our motivation is eroded.  Re-establishing motivation then becomes more important than extant talent.  Indeed the key motivation required to renew the search for potential and to enter into a period of ‘craft type’ learning action, reflection and adjustment, often over a period of years until the capability becomes a craft.

Another leading academic Nobel prize wining Amartya Sen also talks about capability, its recognition and development as a central tool in poverty reduction.  He also recognises the structural processes that serve to justify the enormous gaps between the haves and the have nots on a global scale.

Perhaps one of the vital roles of the enterprise coach is to help people to challenge the way that society has shaped them and to renew the search for ‘capability’ – the potential of those who use our services that has often been suppressed by societies warped, distorted and narrow perceptions of ability.

This is the Craft of the Enterprise Coach.  And it may have nothing to do with starting a business.

2 Replies to “Craft, Motivation and Wasted Talent”

  1. Hear Hear. Being the sort of person who doesn’t have a very good recall memory I don’t do hugely well in exams, SATS, GCSE’s, BA’s etc, but with application I can get through. Given more opportunity in the education system may well have shown me different things that I was more motivated to do. I enjoyed art until a teacher told me I would be no good at art unless my handwriting improved and I passed my tests in spelling. Don’t do any art now. Different motivations now apply to get my spelling right and my handwriting neat (on the rare occasion I need to, computer age helps a lot). The Enterprise Coach would perhaps look at slowly drawing this out of me as we go through what really motivates me and helps me find out what I want to do. Enterprise Coach as a craft? Most definitely, it isn’t something you can learn as soon as you have read a book or been on a course. It takes time to perfect, hone and teak, while learning from mistakes. If you are an Enterprise Coach on a government funded programme do you have time to develop it as a craft?

    (PS. Used a Google tool bar spell checker!)

  2. Good Morning Mike

    I love it when your musings make me smile. I love it even more when they make me grin like a cheshire cat.

    This is so on the money, that it made me blink. Yep, a couple of paragraphs that clearly & succinctly show the way forward.

    When will policy makers realise that for every element they choose to measure with, they diminish the opportunity of experience for so many and so disproportionately ???

    Harry, may I share this quote with you ? I love it and it had a huge impact on how I see the world and my place in it.

    ” There is no such thing as bad art. Some people get it. some people don’t. ”

    And as for what your art teacher told you. I think it said nothing about you and everything about him.

    I hope you re-kindle your joy of art.

    Marie x

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