Don’t watch; it won’t help.

11 Oct

The image is clear in my head: an eleven year old Taekwondo student performing his pattern, his head swiveling and his eyes darting left, right and behind. Not because it’s part of his pattern, but rather because he is working so hard to watch other kids doing their patterns.

He’s not doing this to admire their form. He’s not doing it to try and learn from them or get hints as to how he can become better. He’s watching to try and be sure that they aren’t performing their pattern better than he is performing his. The irony is that because he is focusing on others, his own pattern greatly suffers. The further irony is that if he does his pattern with self-focus, he can do it rather well. I also know that he is probably hoping that they somehow stumble, so that he looks better.

This phenomenon of watching others happens at all age levels through adult, and during all kinds of technique practice. Imagine trying to kick a small target or break a board in front of you, but keeping one eye on the next person over to watch how they are doing it, whether to try and learn or get a tip, or, more typically, to reassure — or criticize — yourself that you are doing it better — or worse — than are they. Watching to learn is OK. But after watching to learn, one has to focus and, well, work to make themself better!

I read a letter to the editor today in my city’s newspaper that spoke to an interesting, contentious and perhaps even, to me,  fun dynamic going on in my city right now. That dynamic has to do with our local school district needing to get rid of surplus property, with the proceeds going to help pay off a big school improvement and construction initiative that the district undertook a few years ago. That’s a controversial situation in its own right, since various factors conspired to prohibit the timely sale of the properties, while the district has to pay down the debt.

Now,  a local, successful charter school that is interested in expanding into the high school grades is potentially interested in one of the surplus properties. As it stands, there is a newer policy in the school district that prohibits selling old buildings to other schools, competitors if you will.  In good likelihood, the charter school will operate a high school somewhere, whether in a surplus district building or not.  So, is this a lost chance to sell the property in a timely manner? Is it potentially helping a “competitor?”  Both? Relevant or not?

What has struck me in the local debate regarding this situation are the positions of the staff or board members of the school district who oppose the sale. From what’s been published, what I’ve read, they articulate lots of reason why they should not help the competition, why they should not act in such a way that they gain money in the short term but lose students — and money — in the long term.  Some have described this as good business strategy, thinking long term.

I don’t want to make light of these concerns. But what I have not seen or read is any presentation of a vision of what and how the local school district is going to do to make itself outstanding, to make itself good enough and successful enough to expand, so to speak.  I’ve read opinions of how they should not help the other guys (who are apparently doing something right) but I don’t see any focus on making themselves better, making themselves so good that people don’t even want to choose the competition.  They seem so fixed on watching the student next to them that they are not able to focus on improving their own form.

Watching the other is such a natural tendency. Yes, there is the notion of astute assessment of the field.  Still . . . At work, we worry about what others are doing and how we compare to them, rather than focus on our work and doing it in an outstanding manner. Companies concern themselves about watching, matching or imitating the competition such that they miss the chance to be unique, to innovate, to be disruptive, to be preeminent or outstanding.

And focus intensely on our own form we must.  Or the target in front of us. Or the board. Or even those four boards, all situated in different locations, that must all be broken in short succession, near-simultaneously. It is precisely THAT kind of focus on oneself, one’s development, one’s form, one’s actions, one’s vision, that gets people and companies to achieve outstanding things. We can’t let our attention be diverted to the guy or woman on our left.

Don’t watch; it won’t help.

One Response to “Don’t watch; it won’t help.”

  1. Bill Zimbinski October 16, 2013 at 02:35 #

    Chris, thanks for the insightful comments on the selling of Central situation. It’s very logical to anyone in business that instead of being worried about the competition’ you should improve your product.


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