How Much Control Do You Need?

One of my favorite authors is Guy Kawasaki, who has written several books on entrepreneurship, innovation, and evangelism. (If you’re not familiar with Kawasaki, he was Apple’s first official “evangelist” for the Macintosh computer, responsible for getting software companies to develop products for this new and unproven platform.)

He offers a lot of insights on business, but there’s one that has repeatedly come to mind as I think about our work on pathways and, currently, on work-based learning strategy: Where we fall on the continuum between Catholicism and Buddhism.

Let me explain.

Theological differences aside, it’s helpful to think about differing ways in with Catholics and Buddhists practice their faiths. Catholicism, for example, is highly structured, and very rules based. There are very specific things you must do, and in very prescribed ways, in order to live as a practicing Catholic. Buddhism, on the other hand, offers a set of guiding principles, and then gives people a great deal of leeway in how they express and experience their beliefs. (The expression “Let a thousand flowers bloom” exemplifies the Buddhist approach.)

With the continuum between those approaches in mind – prescriptive rules versus loose guidelines – think about your approach to your work, whether it’s pathways development, instruction, or setting up work-based learning activities. Are you very prescriptive (i.e. Catholic), setting up a lot of rules so people have exactly the experiences and the outcomes you desire? Or do you offer them some broad guidelines and objectives and let them find their own way (i.e. Buddhist)?

There’s not necessarily a “correct” answer; there are tradeoffs involved on either side. Think about setting up a guest speaker visit for example. You can be very prescriptive, giving speakers a list of things to cover, and giving students a list of questions to ask. You’re sure to cover the points you want, but you’ll also lose out on the kinds of spontaneous, off-script discussions that allow a speaker to show their passion and get students excited. You could alternately take a very loose approach, which encourages spontaneity but risks missing out on some topics you feel to be important.

There’s no one objectively correct approach, of course: Most of your work will fall somewhere along that spectrum, blending the two as you feel appropriate. But it’s a dynamic worth thinking about as you work to educate and inspire your students and partners.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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