Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Protege Effect

Fast Company's Drake Baer has a new column titled, "Why Teaching Makes You Smarter."   In the article, he draws upon a terrific blog post by Annie Murphy Paul about how people learn.  Paul writes about the so-called "protege effect" that has been discovered by teaching and learning researchers:

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In a phenomenon that scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake. But how can children, still learning themselves, teach others? One answer: They can tutor younger kids. The benefits of this practice were indicated by a pair of articles published in 2007 in the journals Science and Intelligence. The studies concluded that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggested that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings the ropes.

Are there lessons here for business leaders?  Absolutely!   Mentoring, apprenticeship, and succession processes all involve the transmission of knowledge from expert to protege.  Most of the attention often focuses on the benefits to the recipient of this new knowledge.  This research demonstrates that a great deal of benefit exists for the expert as well.  They develop a better understanding of how to do their work by showing others the ropes.  I would argue that they can even become better leaders by reflecting on how they do their work, and helping to groom young future leaders of their organizations. 

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