Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I pulled a Warren Bennis book off the shelf and gained insight from notes from an earlier reading

WARREN BENNIS. I took Warren Bennis' book On Becoming A Leader (Addison Wesley, 1989) off my bookshelf last week and began to read back through the many underlined sentences, trigger words, and quotations. I like a lot of what Bennis writes. The following excerpts speak to the challenge of knowing the world as well as one knows oneself.

BEYOND THE WAY THINGS ARE. Bennis describes "maintenance learning" (acquisition of fixed outlooks, methods and rules to respond to known and recurring situations) and "shock learning" (learning that occurs when events overwhelm people). Both forms of learning, he concludes, "are less than learning than they are accepting conventional wisdom. It is merely accepting what you are told is the way things are. You forget there is a self that must be listened to."

INNOVATIVE LEARNING. "Anyone who relies on maintenance and shock learning is bound to be more reactor than actor in his or her own life." By contrast, Bennis notes that "innovative learning" is based on a few but important principles: "Anticipation: being active and imaginative rather than passive and habitual; Learning by listening to others; and Participation: shaping events, rather than being shaped by them."

A LIVELY DIALOGUE. "In innovative learning one must not only recognize existing contexts, but be capable of imagining future contexts." Innovative learning is "a dialogue that begins with curiosity and is fueled by knowledge, leading to understanding. It is inclusive, unlimited, and unending, knowing and dynamic. It allows us to change the way things are. Through it we become free to express ourselves rather than endlessly trying to prove ourselves."

OUTLOOK. Bennis wraps up his observations on "knowing the world" by saying "Learning means
  • LOOKING BACK at your childhood and adolescence and using what happened to you then to enable you to make things happen now, so that you become the master of your own life rather than its servant.
  • CONSCIOUSLY SEEKING the kinds of experiences in the present that will improve and enlarge you.
  • TAKING RISKS as a matter of course, with the knowledge that failure is as vital as it is inevitable.
  • SEEING THE FUTURE -- yours and the world's --as an opportunity to do all those things you have not done and those things that need to be done, rather than as a trial or a test.

I might argue with Bennis on a number fronts, particularly his presumptuousness about "shaping events rather than being shaped by them." A little humility might help, Warren. But Bennis spurs me on to be a student of life for life, to put it all on the line, to keep listening, to keep growing. And, of course, to keep looking forward.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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