Who needs a magic wand?

There are some conversations that stick in your mind. There’s a question or an insight in there that has a life far beyond the moment. One of these happened to me many years ago and involved someone who at the time had much more experience than me as a development professional.

The topic was time management, but the lesson was universal. I was told “if you want to run really successful time management workshops, only work with people who are already good at time management”.

I was rather taken aback by what seemed completely counter-intuitive. Surely the people who need help with time management are those who struggle with it, not those who have already mastered the problem!

It took me a long while (and probably several hundred time management workshops) to understand what was being said.

A lot of people seek development because they want someone to wave a magic wand, or at least provide a simple tool or technique that will transform their lives. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  Most of the tools and techniques (particularly in time management) are basically very simple. Early in my career, I’d worry when someone I was training said “but that’s common sense”. Was I pitching things at too simple a level? Should I be looking for content that’s even better or more up to date? Or more like a magic wand?

Now I actually love it when I get a “common sense” moment.  Because that’s the gateway to real learning. Because now I can say “of course it’s common sense; so why you aren’t doing it?”

It’s quite a while since I last ran a dedicated time management workshop, but if I were to run one again, would it be exclusively for people who are already good at time management? Probably not. But in an age where there’s so much material freely available, I would expect people not only to have read up on the subject but to have actually tried out a range of techniques. It demonstrates motivation and a willingness to learn.

I’ve never found a magic wand lurking at the bottom of my development tool kit. And for this reason, I’ve stopped trying to make impossible transformations. I am however a wizard at helping people who really want to change identify what’s getting in the way and what they need to do differently. Being granted three wishes is a nice idea – achieving them however always takes effort.

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