Our Nasty Little Secret: We Don’t Know Jack About Development

It is time for an aside after my last post regarding development as an investment. And that is while we might understand the word “development”, that does not mean we have much of a deep grounding nor power regarding “development”.

It would be refreshing if people and companies came clean and said to themselves and others, “we don’t have much power to develop ourselves and others and that is where we are starting”.  They can say, “we know how to educate ourselves and others in some matters, and we even know how to train ourselves and others in some skills and procedures.” The refreshing part, in addition to the admission that development as a power is missing, would be in what could follow. They could say, “and we are deeply interested and committed to coming to have some power in the area of development and are willing to do what it takes to do so.”

Here is what it takes. First, stop confusing development with training and teaching. Neither is developmental. Second, clarify the differences between the three (learning, training and development). And third, get interested in development on its own terms– be open to find out how it works and be “in development” with development.

Let’s take care of the first two in short form. While this goes by quickly, there is much to be gained from giving the area further consideration. Learning is most well-known. Schools and universities are deeply involved in it. They are also not well-known for developing character nor power reliably in those who attend. What they do is teach “understandings” of various areas. You could say that teaching/learning gives people an overview of an area, and some kind of detailed map. On a good day, this might be a base that could lead to original thinking. Most of the time, it leads to passed on “understandings” — received “wisdom”, beliefs, conceptual maps, etc.

(One can know the definition of “entrepreneur” and can say the differences between that and a normal manager or employee. That doesn’t in any way make you competent let alone powerful as one.)

Companies have been pushed over time to convert their “Human Resources” departments from an early administrative function, to a training function (and even sometimes to a coaching form of training). Training is working to have yourself or others come to be competent with certain skills or procedures. No recognized skills or procedures, nothing to entrain. The key is clarifying what is to be done and a breakdown in the moves involved. Then practice and correction, practice and correction, practice and correction. When well done, the “trainee” becomes more competent in the area in which they have been trained. The results are not just a new understanding, but new pathways for operating and being effective in known areas.

Development is the wild card. It isn’t an understanding to be passed on, nor is it a procedure to practice. Development is the alteration of a self or a culture to free up old constraints and to make available new areas of expression. There is an altered identification called for that goes deeper, behind “who” is being educated, or “who” is being trained. It cannot be done to someone without their engagement and involvement, and it cannot be done by rote.

The idea here is to take what is latent and constrained, what is “off the map” of a person or culture’s identification, and shift the interest and investigation to both a freedom from old constraints that are no longer fitting, and a freedom for a new source of power that can be mined and is seen to be resonant and appropriate now.

What is called for in the developmental partnership so that development happens rather than mere learning or training? First, the upholding of the recognition that development is always available and is a more viable and sustainable method of resolving what looks to be “problems” and “issues”.

Second, a relational environment in which honesty and insight trumps professional pretense and political correctness. (Development looks for the lie that masquerades as the truth and costs power and freedom and fit.)

And third, the honorable stance that what will be revealed and given room for expression is what truly fits each person and not a cookie-cutter answer that forces people to pretend that another’s “way” is their “way” of leading, communicating, managing, relating, etc.

These background elements get set in motion by cultivating three things: interest, openness, and intentionality regarding the area to be developed. Interest allows new insights to be recognized. Openness allows these new insights to be considered deeply enough to accomplish an alteration in one’s identification of oneself. And intentionality allows the insights and new identification to be put to work — to mine the territory that becomes available out of the altered insight into one’s fit with oneself, others and life.

Much more can be said about development, and its normal course can be mapped. However, at this point, it is sufficient to leave in place the simple yet powerful recognition that development isn’t learning, and development isn’t training. It is its own domain — one powerful enough to alter the very self involved with it. Its outcomes are greater freedom, greater fit of one’s powers with others and life, and deeper cultivation of one’s power to accomplish.

Unless you have mastered this area so that it is a natural and consistent part of your life and your relations with others, I recommend that you recognize that the power of development is missing and not covered by learning and training. I recommend that you cultivate an interest in it. And I recommend that you stay open, intentional and connected to those who have made development central to their way of living and working.


About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
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2 Responses to Our Nasty Little Secret: We Don’t Know Jack About Development

  1. Tony Putman says:

    Very nice clarification, Ken. I especially relished “Development looks for the lie that masquerades as the truth and costs power and freedom and fit.” Spot on.

    Now: How does a person with the job title “head of HRD” actually become Chief Development Officer? I bet it’s not by learning something new or gaining a new skill set … ;>)

    • Ken Anbender says:

      Hopefully not by a mere change of title (I have seen that). I’ll stick with the above — note the missing power, get interested, stay open, engaged and intentional, and earn the title over time through becoming an effective developmental partner.

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