Friday, 26 July 2013


By Simphiwe Makapela

Our minds are literally hardwired by our past experiences. It becomes possible, but quite a militant task for us to learn new tricks and unteach ourselves ones that aren't yielding results that hold much water. At this point in time, no matter your age, you're the oldest you've ever been. Some so-called hard prophets of doom have for long upheld that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." But who is the "old dog?" What are the "new tricks?" And who is the "teacher?" In the proverbial "dog-eat-dog" world we live in, you can't solve today's problems with yesterday's skill-set and expect to be in business tomorrow. Its humanly, economically, and unbelievably impossible.

With all things being equal, let's, for now, avoid complicating things by bringing in outside forces. Let's compress these three forces (the dog, the tricks and the teacher) into one workable solution. To cut all things as short as they can be, the "Old Dog" will, of course, be you. Is that okay? Great! The "New Tricks" will be the envisioned level of behavior or performance. The "Teacher," well, this should refer to the methods used to teach the old dog the new tricks. Go through that again so we don't fumble along the way.

My premise is clear: its to move away from blaming the old dog and its percieved inability to learn new tricks but to blame the teacher for the methods he/she employs in converting the old dog. Why do dogs (you) become bad? Of course, a dog's personality and behavior is a direct result of its owner's inability to understand it. There are no bad dogs. Just ill-informed, unskilled and impatient teachers. Here's an interesting twist to it: You, as an individual who's preoccupied about trying to make a better living for yourself, are the teacher simultaneosly. Your role is to understand who you are, your capabilities and the workings of the human mind. So you may have well guessed what is it that has to change in order for the "Old Dog" to change ... Correct! Your methods and your approach may need some restructuring. What that means is, in effect, is teaching yourself how to make growth-directed transitions. Its never, and has never been too late to turn a dog around. If the approach changes, the dog certainly can change too.

My mother's chronological age is 60, that is, she's been under the milky way for 6 decades. Her biological age is nothing more than 45. She is slender in frame and quite vertical as far as height is concerned. She is not, like me, your so-called "yellow-bone" complexion neither is she your dark-skinned supermodel - your Alek Wek kind. She, like myself, has the gift of the gab. Always talking, except that I, due to my line of work as an entrepreneur, considering also the advent of the EQ, had to teach myself WHEN ... TO TALK. She has a witty personality. One thing we both have in common is that we can go anywhere in the world and start a conversation about nothing, with anyone. She is not from the strictest section of the parenting crowd. Her parenting style isn't as militant as I predict mine would be, but she has never, in my formative years, allowed me to get away with anything. When she wants her tea now - she wants it now.

So, at some point in my life, I became smarter and I tried to figure out something about the workings of the human mind in the most basic of ways possible, using readily available resources. All I needed was my mother, teabags, sugar, mug, and hot water. And yes, a request from her to make her a cup of tea. Her tea always has to come with two teaspoons of sugar. Nothing less, nothing more.

Day 1: She asked for a cup of tea. Me being me, I did as was commanded except that this time I threw in 1 teaspoon of sugar but told her that I threw in 2.

Day 2: Threw in 2, as requested. But told her that I only threw in 1.

Day 3: Threw in 3, but said I threw in 2.

Disclaimer: This may not make for a laboratory-fit kind of experiment, but it worked.

Findings: In Day 1, her tea was ingested with no questions asked. One teaspoon of sugar in the cup filled the 2-teaspoon sugar void in the mind because someone made her believe that.

In Day 2, I managed to be just as convincing as I was in Day 1. Met her requirements but made her believe my story. As a result, her specifications were violated because she threw in 1 more teaspoon, thinking it was now a 2-teaspoon cup of tea where in actual fact, she was now having 3 teaspoons of sugar. But what was in her mind was more tastier than what was in the cup.

In Day 3, I made her believe she was having her normal cup of tea whereas it wasn't. Forget the cup of tea, think about what was being done to her mind.

During the 1800s, Russian Physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed. He then went on to build a device for measuring the amount of saliva produced by dogs when food is presented. Pavlov then suggested that the dogs had now LEARNED to associate the lab assistants with being fed - and he set out to test this idea. He gave dogs food and rang a bell at the same time. After repeating this several times, the dogs LEARNED to associate the bell with the food so that afterwards, they would salivate when they heard the bell even when there was no food.

Here is an astounding discovery: Pavlov noticed, however, that his dogs later LEARNED to stop salivating in response to the bell because the bell rang yet no food was presented. This, after a while, caused them to UNLEARN the association between the bell and the food.

Henry Ford, a gentleman we're all familiar with, famously stated that one can't possibly learn in school what the world will do in the subsequent years. In the muddy playing field of today's work environment, a learner's leverage is the ultimate master key to sustained greatness. Skills and knowledge are things that grow obsolete far faster than in the past. A 2009 survey revealed that more than 75% of workers across generations believe in the necessity of upgrading skills within the next 5 years to keep up with the changes in the world of work. To stay up-to-date, therefore, one ought to treat what one knows as a work in progress that requires continuous improvement. If one is not spending at least 70% of one's time educating, observing, unlearning and developing oneself for now and for the future, one, dare I say with the greatest of respect and candor, is probably in the wrong world.

You know what happened to my mom. You do know what happened to Pavlov's dog. The bottom-line, perhaps, of all bottom-lines, is that a dog's predisposition isn't fixed. Your mind is trained to do whatever it takes within its cognitive prowess to protect your personal status quo. Be that as it may, you and I ought to deliberately learn how to trick our own minds when it comes to learning the skills that enable men and women to be competitive in this dog-eat-dog world.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more Simphiwe