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.

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