What do a learning organisation and Für Elise have in common? If somebody wants to take piano lessons from me, I always ask, “What would you like to be able to play?” Then the iPod appears, or I hear, “I want to learn to play more than the first piece of Für Elise.” Then I ask, “Do you really? The rest isn’t really always as nice!” But when the answer is yes, off we go. The lovely thing about Für Elise is that the well-known parts often reappear, so you can always relax for a moment if you can do that piece well. But what’s annoying is that another difficult bit comes up once in a while too. Often that bit tends to get stumbled through, before we once again land on the well-known part. I’ve noticed that progress in playing that difficult bit tends to be slow.
A Learning Organisation
I also recognise that difficult bit in my daily work. At a certain moment, you’re yet again busy with a specific work process, and each and every time you get stressed about whether that particular part will be finished in time. Or else you hold a meeting, decide things are going well, but suddenly the same apparently irresolvable argument raises its ugly head yet again. Or maybe you work well all morning, but can’t get anything done after lunch. At times like these, it’s as if you’re going through that difficult bit of Für Elise. And do you want to be able to play the whole piece, or will you be satisfied with the little tune that the rest of the world can play as well?
The trick that I teach my students is as follows: confront the difficult bit head-on. But realise that you won’t be able to do it well first time, so don’t try to do so. First try bar 1 (in Für Elise, each bar takes roughly 2-3 seconds), and if that goes well, practise bar 2. If you can manage that, play bars 1 and 2 together, and start on bar 3 only after that. Each bar that you can play represents a small success, and all those loose seconds of music together form that difficult bit. This way, each small step you take brings you closer and closer to your goal.
Learn to pick up tough problems in the same way that you pick up Für Elise. Hack your problem into several pieces, and solve 1 little piece each week. Then you’ll notice that you’re making real progress, that your frustration is reducing and that your results are increasing. If you’re involved in that process, you’re working in a learning organisation, and in every learning organisation there’s music to be made!