Who Is It That You Are Doing Your Work For?


Friday, 9.19pm

Sheffield, U.K.

‘Are you offering to teach me something?’

‘Teach? No,’said Granny. ‘Ain’t got the patience for teaching. But I might let you learn.’ – Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Who is at the centre of your work – who is it that you do your work for?

This is actually not the easiest thing to figure out, because we have a habit of fooling ourselves.

There are three choices that come to mind.

First, you’re doing what you’re doing for a client, like building a new system.

You might be doing something for yourself, such as creating a work of art.

Or you’re doing something for someone in a position of power – your boss or an official.

And depending on who is at the centre of your endeavour, you’ll create different structures and ways of doing things.

A good example is to look at how schools work.

Are they designed to give kids the education they need?

Or are they a way to give teachers a job?

Or are they a way for the government to demonstrate its investment in education?

It could be any of the three to different people in different situations associated with the delivery of teaching to children.

Now what happens is that you create a structure to make the person at the centre happy.

If the person at the centre is the minister for education who needs statistics on how well all the schools are doing – then you’ll find that managers will focus on metrics that can be measured and ask teachers to teach those things.

The kids might not enjoy those things, but they’re not the ones that matter in this system.

Some teachers will still persist in the belief that their real clients are the kids, but they still have to deal with the metrics and stats if they want to keep their jobs.

So they follow a two track system, teaching to the test and also trying to teach their children something useful.

This is not something new.

I remember a teacher of mine telling a story of a teacher of his decades ago.

Apparently this teacher spent the first few weeks of the term getting the children to copy down everything they needed to pass the tests.

And then he said it was time to get an education, and they started doing useful and interesting stuff that they enjoyed learning.

I suppose the thing is that you always have to look at the incentive, look for who benefits and how to see why things work the way they do.

Most people in businesses are focused on keeping their bosses happy, not their customers.

We write marketing material to keep people inside the business happy rather than for prospects who have questions they want the copy to answer.

Now, when you want to try and change the conversation, you talk about a “something” centered approach.

A client centered approach, a child centered approach.

But how much of that is talk and how much is reality?

Some of it comes down to the difference between learning and teaching.

Teaching is something you do to someone else – it’s probably something you get paid for.

Learning is something people do for themselves, and sometimes they seek out a teacher.

How do you become the kind of teacher people seek out?

Probably the same way you create a service that people seek out, or a business that customers seek out.

By putting them at the centre of your work.

And that is a very hard thing to do.


Karthik Suresh

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