I have quickly learned so far in graduate school that smart people are not very good at learning. In the same way, many athletic departments and administrators are not very good at learning throughout their career.
Counter-intuitive as it may sound, that men and women with college educations are not good at learning, that seems to be the case. I will summarize the theory of Harvard Business School professor, Chris Argyris and his classic “Teaching Smart People How To Learn.” Essentially the issue with the highly driven and intelligent is that they typically engage in pure problem solving. In an athletics context that usually means how to raise X number of dollars, sell X number of tickets, maintain X number APR score and so on. At the same time, we rarely analyze the big picture of why donations, ticket sales, and APR scores are a systemic issue. Agyris coined the phrase single-loop learning, and in single-loop learning we don’t take the valuable step of thinking of an issue external to ourselves before diving in head first to solve a problem.
Argyris coined this process of taking a step to the side of an issue to see the big picture as double-loop learning. Instead of just figuring out how to raise x number of dollars for the fiscal year, one takes a step back to see how their approach could be more effective in raising those dollars. Smart people are very good at getting the job done and athletic departments are very good at the same, but on a single loop you end up back at the starting point infinitely of having to solve the same problem over and over.
When you learn a system and it works for you it is infinitely easier to force that system to work in a new environment than to reinvent the wheel. Unfortunately, that is the crux of the argument. We have to be willing to reinvent the wheel daily just like a kindergartner figuring out day in and day out how to read and how to write. They mess up, are told they messed up, and figure out some other way to get the job done, in this case probably spell a word correctly.
The fear of failure is the fastest way to get distracted from the road to success. We don’t want to run the budget at a deficit, we don’t want to fail APR, we don’t want to have empty seats in the stands, but we also don’t want to take a step back and see how to fix the system instead of just the problems. As young professionals we have the opportunity to start thinking about fixing systems now, especially ones that are in dire need of repair, and it is our duty to repair the system. in this case that’s making sure we take that second loop around to think about why things are how they are vs. just diving head first into patching holes.
Erick Taylor is an aspiring college sports professional and MPSA candidate attending Texas A&M University. Originally from the Greater Atlanta area, Erick received his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University, where he also served as a development intern for the Panther athletic department. A young, relatively inexperienced prospect in this industry, Erick is in search of the tools and skills required for success. By sharing his journey, he hopes to help others achieve their professional goals as well.