There’s a great article published by The Atlantic in 2017 that talks about the “why” of cooking. John Pinsker suggests that even though recipes are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish, it’s a shame that they’ve become the standard way of learning to cook. “Recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.” Recipes are the science, but they fail to capture the human imagination or artistry of cooking.
Recipes provide what is known as information gap filling in research done on curiosity. In this research, actual trial and error or experiential learning is known as joyous exploration. Pinsker goes on to identify that most successful home chefs learn how cooking works thanks to bits and pieces of advice or tactics they’ve picked up over time. Through their joyous exploration of cooking, they learn through the experience of trial and error.
Pinsker uses the analogy of thickening a sauce for a dinner party to further illustrate this. One recipe might call for a dash of pasta water, another might suggest a scoop of flour. While there are many ways to get a thicken sauce, picking the appropriate one depends on what flavor you’re looking for, what ingredients you have on hand, your willingness to experiment and of course… who are the guest and when do they arrive.
Pinsker’s writing about a recipe driven approach, inadvertently captures the problem with traditional training. We may have, for example, taught participants various “recipes” like how to fill out a “blue sheets,” provide coaching, or write S.M.A.R.T. goals, but we often fail to help learners apply their individual artistry or enable them to explore their own curiosity. Often, there’s a lot of information gap filling that is passing as learning.
The meal is driven in part by the guest, just as learning should be driven by the participant. This is why customized training is important. Organizational and individual context matters. What if someone doesn’t eat dairy! What if there’s a food allergy! The participant, like the guest, believes and expects the experience should be about them.
We also believe in designing the training in a manner that respects the learner by challenging their palette – or if you will their preferred way of behaving. Traditional training often serves up mac and cheese or something off the shelf. No fuss, no muss and no learning.
Everyone that cooks can immediately remember the lesson of the uncooked chicken, or the first time they forgot to add salt to a dish. Learning, like cooking, is visceral and mistakes are welcome and necessary for growth. Robert Heinlen said, “I never learned from a man who agreed with me.” We have to be comfortable with the discomfort of true learning.
As the saying goes if you spoon feed people, all they will remember is the shape of the spoon.