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Friday, July 27, 2012

Races, Journeys, and Certifications

Boris has a really interesting post over here, which includes this story from 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said.

I asked him the following question: Did he think that most of his classmates would prefer to have this prestigious business school education without the credential, or the credential without the education? In other words, would those accepted to the MBA program prefer to 1) attend all of the classes, learn from their impressive classmates, and immerse themselves in one of the greatest universities - but no one would know they had done so; or 2) get the diploma, and therefore the credential from this esteemed institution, but none of the learning.

He said number two, with no hesitation at all.

This mindset isn't limited to the business world; I see it in the martial arts and fitness communities as well.

I've had people occasionally challenge me on the value (or lack thereof) of short certification programs. The argument is that there is no way to effectively transmit enough information to people in the course of a day or a weekend to create a truly skill practitioner of the system. And honestly, most of the time, they are right.

The problem is the one illustrated in the story above. There is a portion of the population that shows up for certifications for the diploma, not the learning.

 I've seen them at PDR Instructor Development courses. I saw them at the HKC. Usually (in the PDR), I only see them once. They never come back, because they got their piece of paper, and that was all they really cared about. They only show up again if a)forced or b)enticed with some kind of new certification. And they are the ones who give quality certification programs a bad name, because they go out and teach badly. They have the paper, but not the knowledge.

The ones who come back are the ones who care about the learning, not the diploma.

I had the honor and good fortune of being at the inaugural PDR seminar in March 2000. When I got interested in Coach Blauer's material several months before that, the PDR didn't even exist. It didn't matter. I wanted to find a way to go train with him, because I wanted the knowledge. My roommate and I used to watch Coach Blauer's VHS tapes (yes, really), and try doing drills in our living room, or in the field across from our house. I used to grab students from the Gung Fu group I trained with at the time and run them through drills. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted the knowledge. I wanted to learn.

If Coach Blauer had never created the PDR program, I would still have used his drills, and I would still have sought him out to learn. Not because I wanted the piece of paper, but because I wanted to learn material that I believed in.

I don't know many people from the HKC I attended. I don't know how many of them plan to do their RKC. Many talked big on that day, but talk is cheap when you're in the moment. I do know that I've been making drives up to Chelmsford to train with Mike Perry, because I want to attend the RKC, but I also want the knowledge I can gain from that program.

I knew the day of the HKC that I was not done. That I had a lot more to learn.

I could have gone home and started advertising kettlebell coaching that night. I didn't. Not because I wasn't allowed to, but because I didn't believe that I was ready. I wanted to work my craft more. I wanted my skills to be better. I want the knowledge, not the paper. The paper was a nice bonus.

While there are unquestionably bad certifications out there, the problem is not always with the certification. The problem is with the people who attend it, who show up for a piece of paper, and not for the knowledge that is there.

If Coach Blauer told me tomorrow that he was disbanding the PDR team, I would still find ways to train with him. Because I want his knowledge.

I will be traveling to see Mike for a long time, because he knows things that I want to learn.

The certification process should not be an end point; it should not be something you do so that you can say it's done. It should be a marker--a waypost along the journey.

If all you want is the paper, just make yourself the grandmaster of your own system and be done with it. Stop wasting the time of those who actually want to learn. (Also, stop teaching, because you clearly don't give a shit about your students as much as you do about boosting your own ego)

If you want knowledge, seek it out.


Maija said...

My other favorite is the photo op crowd ... as though standing next to someone 'dangerous' rubs off somehow and gives you status.
I think the certification thing is equivalent ..."Look this skilled guy gave me a certificate ... Means I must be cool".
Small brother/puppy/monkey stands next to bigger brother/dog/monkey and feels safer .....

Jake said...

Yeah, I've never understood that one. I have a few pics of me with some of the people I've learned from, but I've never sought them out. All it proves is that you got the person to stand next to you...

JessicaLee said...

interesting you bring this up. recently saw someone basking in their certification after just purchasing dvds. According to the piece of paper this person has all the knowledge and therefore an instructor.

Jake said...

Hmh. That's a new one. I've heard of people getting certified after sending in videos, but never of a certification solely based on the purchase of DVDs.

DVDs are a great learning tool, but that's a bit much, to say the least. Weird.