“Those who can do, those who can’t… teach”

by Didier Marlier on Sunday January 23rd, 2011

My rebellious side fell in love with this quote of G. B. Shaw, brought by  Nick McRoberts[1]. We now have wonderful Enablers “intelligent fibers” shirts (Rhodia FiBras) on which the wise words are proudly worn. There is be a profound need for evolution in the world of teaching. I find the following clip below quite compelling:

My daughter has the great privilege to study in one of Switzerland’s best schools[2]. Beau-Soleil does not consider its mission as “just” teaching kids but prepares them to take on business and life leadership. In order to do so, it has  challenged its own educational orthodoxy to adapt it to the reality of the XXIst century. Recently, Thaïs came home with work to do on Brazil… I asked her if this related to history, geography, economy… She replied: “All of these”. I asked: “How come your teacher (she is only 12) is not delivering the course himself?” She looked at me as if I came from Mars: “Dad, we all work on this, in group. We will teach each other and the Professor will coach us and give us feedback! Let us now stop wasting time and get the information from the net…” She then prepared a presentation with clips, pictures, bullet points. Days later she came back, happy, and explained that she had received very good feedback from the class and teacher and that he helped her understand that she should have made a better job connecting some of the geography points with history as some of these explained some of those. Our children are taught with the perspective of complexity and connectivity.

This new thinking in education should also extend to executive development: In September 2009, an Indian magazine published an article I had written about the future of executive education: “From MBA to MBL”[3]. Recent discussions with clients helped us develop our concept further. On the vertical axis is the content to be delivered. It can be of three kinds:

  • Cognitive: there are all the traditional “hard” components of a classical MBA (finance, strategy, marketing etc…). These are all the parts where the main challenge is to understand the model. Once understood and intellectually digested, the application is relatively straightforward.
  • Behavioural: leadership and other behavioural competences (feedback, negotiation, conflict resolution) fall in this category. They are simple to understand but, as we know, changing behaviours is something that needs to be worked out everyday.
  • Emotional: are whatever falls under the motivation, mobilization, engagement, culture. These are the “soft skills” by excellence. Their understanding is also relatively easy but their application is also the challenge.

The novelty of our model is on the horizontal axis: the delivery style of the program/process:

  • Logos: is the traditional delivery style of business schools. It is about model transfer, theories, case studies; It is learning through thinking. “Professors” license to operate is their (supposedly) superior knowledge of the specialty. The style can go from distant and superior (if not arrogant) to the classical “edu-tainment” in which many business schools professors have learned to excel in order to keep high ratings from their students. Engagement, leadership or strategy can be taught in a Logos way. One of the biggest shame of my own professional career goes back ten years ago when we had the privilege of being with 60 partners of a leading consultancy in the Netherlands. The theme was behavioural (Feedback) and we delivered it in a totally Logos way, showing models, statistics, powerpoints and video clips but… not challenging our audience to go and do it!!! I still have sleepless nights about it…
  • Ethos: is the way trainers deliver their skill transfer programs. It is “learning by doing” (also sometimes called “Action Learning”), exercises, role plays, outward bound type of activities (building bridges, going through a fake minefield, or a spider web etc…) or simulations. This is a very appropriate delivery style when on or a few skills need to be worked out/assimilated in isolation of a wider context.
  • Pathos: is a more holistic, experiential way of discovering, exploring and challenging our past orthodoxies. It is learning through immersion, learning through experimenting and feeling things. If yesterday’s world decision making complexity could be transcribed on a 20 pages case study, today’s highly complex environment can’t. Bringing the reality into the classroom is the new challenge.

An example of a Pathos learning process is the one I recently proposed to a client: The key theme was Disruption. Instead of the traditional e.mail or letter of invitation, we suggested to send the first mock-up page of a financial daily dated from 2018. In it would appear the news of the bankruptcy of their firm with an interview of the CEO, explaining how the company had failed to scan the periphery, challenge its orthodoxies and consequently failed to apprehend disruptors flying below the radar screen.

The check-in process would be a disruption (a bit like the one you can experience in Amsterdam-Schiphol’s XXIst century Citizen-M[4] hotel), the workshop would not be active between 9am and 6 pm but constantly and on the theme of disruption. For example, the dinners would be “à la blind”[5] where dinner takes place in total darkness and executives wouldn’t know who they are seated with nor what they eat and drink.

The future of your development and engagement programs and processes is probably heading in that direction. We look forward to exploring this with you, as these are new unchartered territories and we are just those who teach…

Unexpectedly staying home for family reasons, this will give me the chance to spend as well more quality time with our friends Eugenio & Luciana Pianaro-Mussak who will stay in Villars for a while.

Best regards


[1] http://blog.enablersnetwork.com/2010/10/24/%E2%80%9Ca-true-master-does-more-with-less-a-powerful-lesson-from-leonard-bernstein%E2%80%9D/

[2] http://www.beau-soleil.ch/intro/

[3] http://www.enablersnetwork.com/user/docs/MBA%20to%20MBL%20September%202009.pdf

[4] http://www.citizenm.com/amsterdam-netherlands-lodging.php

[5] http://www.onoir.com/MTL/en/frames.htm, http://www.unsicht-bar.com/, http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/travel/22surfacing.html

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5 Responses to ““Those who can do, those who can’t… teach””

  1. Didier, business education models really need to be re-invented. I enjoy your comments and I hope we can talk more about it in your next time in Brazil. Regards! Adriane

  2. Reading this post took me back to some reflexions of 7 or 8 years ago, considering the business globalization, the speed of comunications and the organizational structures, very formal and slow to face this new reality. No doubt that new abilities are required:
    In my opinion, one is intuition. It is almost impossible to process data and take decisions using the tolls and processes we use today. The problem is that business environment reacts very negatively to these aparently non rational approach.
    Second idea comes from the shoals of tropical fish observation: how can we produce with our teams such a timely, almost organic reaction, where the whole organizational body understands and reacts at once, turning to this or that direction as soon as signals are felt by the radars? Here, engaging leadership can be of great help.Could something else be required to be quick and effective enough?

  3. Dear Didier,

    I couldn’t disagree more with your blog above. How could the educational institutions need improving when the produce thinking like this?:

    On a serious note, you may also be interested in the book ‘Nurture Shock’ by Bronson & Merryman. Turns conventional thinking of raising children on it’s head. Sort of Freakonomics for parents…

    Kind regards,

  4. Dear Didier,

    This was a good contribution. We can not confront the challenges of the present with yesterday’s thinking.

    Please read about the leadership style of the Taraumaras in my country Mexico



    • Thank you very much Francisco,
      And good to welcome you back to Switzerland as I see from your mail you are back as a Professor at IMD!
      Will send you off line the report of a think tank work I did with 14 Brazil based CEO’s when I was still working for the Fundação Dom Cabral… Might interest you!!!
      Will read about Taraumaras. Thanks for the “dica”


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