The Four Arts of a Scholar – 四艺

23 12 2008

As I mentioned in a previous post, my nom de plume comes partly as an expression of my learning status; insei, a student.

The ancient Chinese believed that a Scholar needed to learn and study to be proficient in the four arts; qin琴, qi棋, shu书, and hua画  and thus become accepted in discussions amongst other educated men.  Importantly these skills themselves of playing a musical instrument, playing a complex board game, calligraphic poetry and painting were not the end point for the scholar. Acquiring these skills was a demonstration of the individual’s strength in reason, creation, expression and dexterity.

We recently watched a video presentation from MIT involving a discussion between Ricardo Semler and Henry Mintzberg in which the latter bemoans the current state of management and leadership. I intend to discuss a few of the points made in later blogs but concentrate in this on this concept of training for management.

Mintzberg comments in the video that he believes candidates for MBA courses should not be sought directly from graduate schools but from industry itself. He believes the candidate should have learnt the arts and crafts of their business by experience, progressed upwards through the organisation so that then, when training in management they might apply their own experience to their learning of management principles rather than take the learnt experience of others and apply it to a job they don’t understand.

The ancients (and I don’t mean Prof Mintzberg) appreciated that to take on such responsibilities one must have experience and understanding of  life expressed in “the four arts” before taking on scholarly pursuits and similarly Mintzberg feels that experiential understanding of the organisation is central to the training of a manager why then do so many clinicians in the NHS move directly into management with no formal training in what is clearly a complex and difficult task?

I believe I have learnt my arts of the scholar (ars longa vita brevis) and now I am learning the skills required for management and clinical leadership. I am being encouraged to take on a managerial role in my organisation without having any experience or training in such a task.  Should I do so and learn by my mistakes or is it better to listen to those with wisdom and first gain insight to then apply that knowledgeably?

I would value, as always, comments on this.




5 responses

23 12 2008

IN between these two is learning with others by doing and reflecting back to theory on the experience – action learning. Which is the basis of Mintzberg’s programme for experienced learners on his Rolls Royce masters. Education has a roll but has to be linked to direct experience to be effective in management.

23 12 2008

Can’t spell roll – role

23 12 2008

Graeme, thanks for the comment.

I can see the value in where we are and what we are doing and also that Action Learning and my colleagues can be mediators, supporters and teachers in my journey into Clinical Leadership.

I think my question is whether one shouldn’t have a little more experience of management before becoming a manager.

4 01 2009

If you have proficiently learned the scholarly aspects of maneagment as you say, the only thing lacking is experience itself. The experience you are questioning is not that of managing. You question your ability to manage a specific group. There are things you would feel quite capable of managing tommorow is asked. You question being in charge of a said group. Quite so. You should first learn from the group itself the major dynamic (but no more) from here apply your education. I.E. you must first learn the group dynamic itself before you can effectivly mangae it.

4 01 2009


Thanks for your comments.

I haven’t explained myself clearly enough; I have learnt my arts of a scholar (surgery!) and my question is whether having learnt those arts I should move into management with no management experience or gain a deeper understanding of management before embracing(?) the role itself.

Furthermore, and perhaps crucially, my particular group, I believe, would present a leadership challenge even for someone like Winston Churchill!

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