Imagine you have never driven a car before. You’re at an age where you can get your driver’s licence. You’re keen to get started, you want to be able to drive on public roads like all your friends.
You make an appointment for you’re learners test, two months from now. You start reading the material for the learners licence. It includes details of how the internal combustion engine was invented (remember this is a fictitious scenario), how the steam engine works, who the first major car manufacturers were, details of the fuel consumption achieved by different models at different times. You break out in a sweat. You didn’t realise the test would be so tough. You thought it would be on the rules of the road, the different signs that existed and what they mean’t. This is completely different to what you expected.
Perhaps the above scenario appears ridiculous to you. And so it should. The learners licence (that’s what we call it in South Africa ) is acquired through knowing the rules of the road and the different traffic signs that you’ll encounter driving around the towns and cities. Once you have internalised the rules of the road, you qualify to drive on the road, accompanied by an experienced, licensed driver. That way, you practise the real thing until you are competent, then you go for the drivers test and if you pass, you are legally entitled to drive on any road unaccompanied. Boring, but true. So why the big deal?
Simply this: Driving a car to and from a desired destination is probably the most successful activity of a complex nature that we engage in on a regular basis. That being the case, what is there about it that makes it so successful, and what can we learn from it and apply to our daily lives?
Look at the learning process more closely. First, you learn the rules of the road. What you can and can’t do when driving a car on public roads. The rules are not there to restrict you. The rules give you freedom. You want to get from San Fransisco to New York. You drive on one side of the road, obey the traffic signs and the rules of the road, exercise care and stay in a conscious state, you should be successful. Likewise the guy coming from the other direction.
Imagine there were no rules. Any side of the road would do, any speed would be fine, and why not have a few drinks on the way to relieve the monotony. The result? Chaos and destruction, injury and death.
The rules are the starting point. Without learning the rules, you don’t get off first base. This doesn’t only apply to driving. Think of any sport. A professional golfer has to be particularly mindful of the rules, otherwise it can cost him heavily. Late arrival at the tee can disqualify him.
Driving the car involves principles. Cause and effect. You squeeze the door handle, the door lock opens. You turn the key in the ignition, the car starts. You let out the clutch and depress the accelerator (after engaging first gear), the car starts moving. You turn the steering wheel, the car turns. All cause and effect, principle-driven activities. You get to know what happens when you take action, because you pretty well know the result of the action you are about to take before you take it. It’s not rocket science. And the more driving you do, the more embedded these principles become, you get to know just how hard to push the brakes to stop the car comfortably over a certain distance, or any distance, for example.
Look at sport. Think of Tiger Woods. Watch him swing a golf club and hit the ball. He makes it look so easy. That’s because he has practised over and over the best way to swing a club to give him the best result. Cause and effect. The speed and accuracy of alignment that the clubhead contacts the ball (effect) depends on the mechanics of the swing (cause).
Rules and principles are universal in their nature and application. Quite simply, rules guide or inform your actions, principles determine the results of the actions you take. The speed limit on the highway (rule) informs you of the maximum speed you should drive, how far you push down the accelerator (action) will determine the speed you travel at (result). Einstein said it well: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Everyone loves sport. Why? Because the rules and principles are known, they’re out of the way in a manner of speaking, You can focus on how each team or individual performs and admire their expertise. Also, the results appear soon after the actions are taken. You quickly see the effects of good decisions and bad decisions made by the players or teams.
Life is a bit more challenging. You have you’re own set of rules that differs from everyone elses, and you’re own idea of what principles are involved. You picked it all up along the way, while you were doing life, from your parents, you’re peers and you’re life experiences.
I think we’ll agree on one thing. Life is not easy. You’re trying to balance career, finances, family, recreation, community service, friends, health and home related issues. You’re making decisions all day every day about what to do and what not to do to get and maintain your life in the right direction.
A set of rules for how to best live your life would cover what you think, say and do, since that includes all activities involved in the process of living. Those rules would guide and inform your actions in those three areas every part of every day. And those rules would not restrict or confine you’re activities, rather they would guide and inform you toward the best decision regarding what was at hand for you to do in whatever situation you faced. If they didn’t achieve that objective, they would not qualify as being the rules you should use.
The principles involved in living your life the best way possible would apply to the preparation stage, the process stage, and the product or results stage of whatever actions you were considering taking. Just as you turn the key knowing that that will result in the car starting, so these principles will help you decide what is the best course of action based on your circumstances and the resources available to you. These principles will not be as definitive as the car key ignition example, simply because the level of predictability of the result of the action that you take is decidedly less. They will however give you a greater sense of certainty in the validity of the decisions you ultimately take when you take them into consideration.
Rules and principles provide then a set of boundaries or limits which result in a greater sense of awareness of how to make decisions in each and every area of you’re life, and the likely impact of those decisions. Consciously using these rules and principles in daily living leads to improved decision-making in the decisions that you face throughout each day, whether it be in you’re role as parent, provider, and so on. Achieving better results in the little things we daily face leads to increased levels of self esteem and self confidence, which in turn leads to a greater sense of well-being and resilience. We strengthen ourselves from the inside out. We become capable of doing more and achieving more, creating an upward spiral of personal growth and achievement.
As we become more comfortable with who we are, we become better equipped and able to relate to others. Inward growth leads to relational growth. We learn a different set of rules for how we should treat others. In essence, we treat others how we would want to be treated. The golden rule.
Finally, the level of success we experience in our daily lives due to the inner and relational development we have experienced leads us to want to contribute to the greater good. We want others also to experience the good things we have experienced. We are now in the right place in terms of who we are and what we can do to be able to succeed at this level.
I have covered the process of personal growth very quickly. I have not gone into the details in sufficient depth. Most people don’t leave the first stage. They don’t like who they are, the results they are getting, and where their lives are going. Many so-called successful people have made the money through applying part of the rules and principles to their lives, but have tremendous imbalance and unhappiness due to neglect of other areas.
Wisdom is best defined as using the best means to achieve the best ends, or making the best use of the resources at hand to get you from where you are to where you want to go.
Understanding is developed by evaluating the results you have achieved. You compare what happened to what you wanted to happen, and correct accordingly. It’s the difference between your target result and your actual result that acts as feedback. In this process of correcting, you add to your existing ability to make good decisions. Simply put, you become wiser.
Wisdom is really you’re ability to make good decisions and execute them to achieve good results, and without an effective decision-making framework, you won’t make the best decisions.
Knowledge is the cream on the cake, the last piece of the puzzle. Knowledge with wisdom and understanding makes an unbeatable combination, but knowledge by itself is of little value. I would far rather have Tiger Woods coach me on how to hit a golf ball than someone who has detailed knowledge of every famous golfer who ever lived but has never played the game.
I guess that’s why the education system doesn’t achieve a fraction of what it could, in every country around the world. Knowledge and facts are taught and examined, with a minimum of what to do and how to do it. The right teaching structures and systems are not in place. Only when we enter the workplace do many of us start getting the idea that there’s a whole different way to function if you want to flourish and grow, and they didn’t teach it to you at school.
I believe the model I have presented is as simple as it gets. It’s not my model, it’s a biblical model based on the three commandments, but to my way of thinking it makes a whole lot of sense. It’s simple to understand, it’s in the doing that it gets interesting, but that’s what makes it fun. If life was as simple as driving a car, there would be very little challenge or point to it. We would all be multi-millionaires with well-adjusted kids, happy marriages, and nothing challenging our peaceful existences. But it’s not that way. And that’s what makes it worth it.
Tony Orbin is a chemical engineer whose passion is self improvement and leadership. He believes that all people have the potential to achieve on an unprecedented scale, but that few realise their potential.