By The Gob
A couple of
weeks ago, I received this popular metaphor via email. I first read
it in Stephen Coveys book, First Things First, and it is being
used in other time management courses as well. It goes something
As this man
stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers he said,
"Okay, time for a quiz."
Then he pulled
out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in
front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and
carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.
When the jar
was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked,
"Is this jar full?"
the class said, "Yes."
Then he said,
"Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a
bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar
causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces
between the big rocks.
Then he asked
the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the
class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered.
"Good!" he replied.
under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping
the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks
and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar
the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he
grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar
was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked,
"What is the point of this illustration?"
One eager beaver
raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full
your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some
more things into it!"
the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this
illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first,
you'll never get them in at all."
Over the past
several years, I have read several books about communication and
persuasion. At the time, I thought that many of them were very good.
But I was always a little discouraged about how little of the material
"stuck" on a behavioral level.
Maybe I should
have been looking for someone to start with the big rocks.
Over the past
couple of decades, there have been a lot of valuable distinctions
made in how to communicate effectively. Today, we can take apart
the art of communication very thoroughly (thus making it quite a
science). We can break communication down into context (settings,
personalities involved, history), structure (use of patterns, loops,
etc), tonality, rhythm (speed, pacing), gestures (use of physical
space), metaphors, and of course, diction (our choice of words,
phrases). And we can take each one of those and break them down
even further and list thousands of very specific, very extensive
distinctions about each one. [note: the above terminology is far
And then (heres
the fun part), we can perform an exercise on each one of those distinctions.
By the time were done (Im guessing this would take 2-3
years, give or take half an hour), we could be quite the "experts"
in communication. Or would we?
Im still not convinced wed be skilled enough to excel
in most "real" applications outside the safety of an academic
take a step backward. What does "mastery" mean in communication?
It isnt just about being able to analyze and skillfully perform
each facet of communication separately as presented in books (and
most trainings). It is about using verbal and nonverbal language
to efficiently and effectively achieve a wide range of outcomes
in a wide range of contexts.
about being able to use all of the skills precisely, seamlessly,
simultaneously, and most importantly, unconsciously (so our attention
is focused on the people were communicating with, not ourselves).
And frankly, that seems to be too much to learn.
it. Youll never cover every little possible contingency in
any complex system. It doesnt matter if youre studying
the weather, investing in the stock market, or learning conversational
mastery. There are simply too many little things for the conscious
mind (a.k.a. our awareness) to keep track. It is no wonder that
so many people consider superior communication skills to be an innate
talent rather than a learnable skill.
who can do it must have learned it somehow. Genetics alone cant
possibly account for the remarkable abilities of the masters of
communication. There must be some other road to mastery that a few
have stumbled over, but most are unaware of.
GBD.com without it costing you a dime. Learn
lies the genius of trainers such as Monte Wilson. He understands
that it is pointless to overwhelm a student with endless lists
of rules and distinctions. If one has to consciously recall a
in order to activate and use it, then he will lose focus on his
outcomes and the feedback that hes receiving from his audience.
presents a system where he both implicitly and explicitly
teaches the big chunks that elude most students (like mindset,
of outcome, etc) and meanwhile installs all of the little chunks
(like analog markings, language patterns, etc.) through demonstration
and the unique layout of his training.
and self-activating approach lets the student fully incorporate
each skill according to his own current abilities and outcomes.
Considering all the little chunks Ive mentioned that make
up mastery of communication, it is inevitable that each student
will be at a different stage of development and have his own set
of strengths and weaknesses (not to mention that everyone has their
own sets of contexts where they plan to use their skills).
why would you try to teach someone something that they arent
ready to learn? On the other hand, most people arent
going to travel and pay good money to attend a training where
most of the time only working on seemingly basic, simple things,
even though thats what they often need the most work.
Only by structuring
a training to incorporate flexibility and treating everyone equally,
but differently can you achieve the best of both worlds. You see,
within the big chunks lie all of the smaller ones. Take mindset,
for example. If you incorporate a new, more useful mindset, you
are likely going to automatically use more congruent gestures, tonality,
and language patternsespecially if you learn the mindset while
unconsciously modeling a master.
But it doesnt
work the other way. If all you learn are the small chunks, you wont
automatically inherit a new, more useful mindset. Instead, your
skills are likely to be merely contextual and frustratingly elusive
when you need them the most.
outcomes are to teach, to change, or to persuade, every facet of
your communication either helps you achieve your outcome, or hinders
your progress. But there is a hierarchy of importance that allows
you to greatly leverage your learning. And that hierarchy is unique
to every individual. An effective trainer must recognize and incorporate
this flexibility into the training.
In a world
where thick day-planners and enormous calendars let you mark out
every minute of your life, it is easy to disengage and simply let
urgency dictate importance. Such an approach is guaranteed to make
you always appear busy. But appearing busy is a lousy outcome. Actually
getting things done is much more important.
Much the same,
it is easy to let the familiar or the popular dictate where you
decide to invest your time and money in order to increase your skills
and improve your place in the world. But mastery is rare, not because
it is unattainable, but because most of our strategies to achieve
mastery are ineffective. Almost any training will leave you with
the feeling that you "learned" something. However, as
anyone who ever attended public school can agree, it doesnt
take a brilliant trainer to read a book and then rehash that information
in front of an audience. The difference lies in what you want to
get out of the experience, immediately and in the future.
You must ask
yourself if it is knowledge that you seek, or unconscious competence.
Frankly, I find that most knowledge can be obtained from a book.
Books can be great resources. But when it comes to the development
of complex skills, such abstract information needs quality models
to reference. Without those models, the information gets "force-fitted"
into the existing poor references and mastery simply isnt
of those skills often require a student to seek quality trainers
that possess the flexibility to give each student what he needs
and to set up a recursive, self-activating strategy so that learning
continues after the training. Mastery wont develop in a weekend.
But if the seeds are planted well, it is inevitable. However, if
you let the familiar and the comfortable dictate your approach to
learning, you will only get more of what youve already gotten.
For most, that
simply isnt good enough to get us to our destinations.
is the only true constraint in our lives. It is the only thing that
truly limits our potential. Use it wisely and the rest will fall