Teach to Do – Lessons from Louise Glück

Somewhere along the lines I remember learning the line “those who cannot do, teach.” I’m sure there are many instances where this is true, it’s just not what I remember when I think of the great teachers I have had, or my own experience.

Part of this crystallized for me a couple of weeks ago when I had the pleasure of being part of the Academy of Achievement Summit. Of the numerous, insanely gifted people who came and spoke, one was Louise Glück – a poet and former poet laureate of the United States.

After her brief presentation and reading she said something that really struck me in response to the question “What do you do when you can’t write?” I tried to copy down her answer verbatim, so forgiving some possible minor errors, it went like this:

What do I do when I can’t write? After two years of not being able to write I started to teach. Rather than being jealous of students I found I wanted to help them and I applied my brain to them in the same way I apply it to my work. And I found over time things become unstuck and it renewed me.

There are all sorts of good reasons to teach – I’ve often heard professors talk about how students always ask them the hardest questions – sometimes without knowing it. But what I loved about Louise’s example was rather than having her students push her – she found energy from them in a different way, in a way that matters a great deal to those in creative spaces. My sense is her students forced her to really think through her process, to unpackage and test it, and by doing that she wrestled with what was blocking her.

I don’t necessarily teach in the traditional way. I occasionally have classrooms where I teach people – but it is pretty rare. But I do teach – mostly I teach people how I think about innovation, about strategy, about incentives and cooperation. We don’t call it teaching, sometimes, in my case, we call it consulting and sometimes it is public speaking, but there are important pieces of teaching embedded in it. And I find it enormously rewarding to unpack how I think – which students and clients (and blog post readers) often force me to.

So if you can, get a chance to teach. You’ll be richer for it. In many ways.

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