A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing

Fri 23 Jan 2015

Blog Author
Rachel Burnham
Associate Tutor

A recent post by Julie Drybrough (@fuchsiablue) got me thinking about the models we so often use in helping people to learn about HR, L&D and management.  And ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘if’ those models are useful & helpful.

And what a lot of models there are – communication models, learning models, feedback models, coaching models, leadership models, management models. Models for just about any topic that you care to Google!

It brought to mind an assessment I was required to write whilst studying management at university – we were asked to write about an organisation from three perspectives: technical, social and political.

I found a quote whilst working on this that has influenced me ever since – it was ‘a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing’ – in the subsequent years I’ve forgotten who said it and I’m probably paraphrasing it, but it has stuck with me and challenged my thinking from then on.

I don’t know if you have ever gone camping – it is something we do regularly in our family. There seem to be two schools of thought, when camping, about how to handle the darkness and the tricky business of finding your way around a campsite at night. 

There are those who use torches to shine a light and help them to find a safe path around the tents and caravans to shower block, washing up area or bar.  The torch provides an easy way to avoid tripping up, puddles and the guy ropes of other tents. A focused beam of light picking out the path for you to take. It is a bit like the way a management model or model of learning can help you to focus on a particular aspect or dimension of a skill or role, providing a language to discuss it and guidance on how to get started.

Yet, at the same time the torch illuminates your pathway, it also throws everything else around you into absolute & utter darkness.  It becomes harder to see anything else outside of the light shed by the torch. And in a similar way, reliance on a particular model can lead us to focus on a single or limited range of aspects of complex skills/roles such as learning or leadership.  And may lead to us to neglect other aspects or even to forget that they even exist.

The other approach taken by campers, is to leave torches alone and rely on developing your night vision, allowing your own eyes to gradually acclimatise to the darkness.

Initially, I find that I am stumbling around a bit, a bit unsteady on my feet and I find that I move more slowly. But slowly & surely, you start to be able to see your way – the walkways, grass, tents and trees come into view. 

It always seems a bit miraculous and wonderful to be able to see further and more clearly without external light than with.  I notice more and feel more in tune with my environment. You make your own maps of the territory.

So, this provides a metaphor for an alternative to a reliance on models, which is to work from your own experience and that of others, to use reflection and discussion to create your own context-specific understandings of what is important and what works.

Models can be useful tools, simplifying and giving us in Julie Drybrough’s words ‘an approximation’ of the real world, but in using them we can become blind-folded to other aspects and the richness & messiness that is the real world.

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