Can one learn from cohorts with less skills?]

There was a discussion on scrumdevelopment Yahoo group <>,
while the questioner throw out one sentence, it got my attention. It said “No,
I am stating that one cannot learn from cohorts with significantly less skill”.
There were some interesting replies saying no, and people could learn many from

Tim :


George :

I disagree with that statement.

Someone with less skill may have
some knowledge or skill that someone with more skill is lacking. And even where
I’m working with someone who seem wholly ignorant on the topic, that person may
observe something I’ve missed or ask some question I’ve not thought to ask.

It is possible to learn by
yourself, without any mentor, if you observe carefully, ask yourself "what
if…" and try experiments.

If we could only learn from those
who already knew more, then knowledge could not grow, because it could not
exceed that which was already known.

Elisabeth made a
good summary and got several supports :


How to express yourself clearly.

A new perspective on an old idea.

How to sense when someone really, truly
"gets it" as opposed to the smile-and-nod reflex.

Humility when the student surpasses the master.

Something that they happen to know–perhaps
unrelated to the subject at hand–that you don’t.

New variations on how *not* to do things.

The significance of something that you
previously thought was obvious or trivial.

The value of teaching…

Ron Jeffries shared
his experience :

Long ago, I had the opportunity
to pair in Smalltalk with a fellow
I’ll call "Richard" because that was his name. He knew very little
Smalltalk and I knew a lot. I was thinking that I would really teach
this fellow quite a bit.

We began to pair and he wasn’t really very good at all. But he did
help out a bit by telling me when I had made a typo or syntax error
or something. At one point, he said "Why are you doing that?"

I paused and thought. Thought more deeply. Then I said "You’re
right! I’m on the wrong track. Let’s try this …"

When the session was over, I had had a great time. I told Richard
that I had enjoyed it and that his timely spotting of my mistake and
asking "Why are you doing that?" had been very valuable.

Richard said, "I just wanted to know why you were doing that."

The teacher learned quite a lot that day.

Roy Morien also
shared the experience :

I subscribe totally to Ron’s view
here .. ‘In
teaching, we learn
‘. I have so many times learned from my attempts
at explaining concepts and practices to students. To teach, you must be able to
clearly understand and articulate the topic. If the students are puzzelled and
uncomprehending, it may well be because you are not presenting the information
in an understandable manner, so you must try different ways to explain. To do
this, you really must marshal and clarify your ideas. If the topic is
difficult, then you must simplify it, which does not mean dumbing it down, but
means explaining it in as simple a way as possible … and that takes a lot of
careful thinking on how to do that.

But at the same time, in a development team, I have often noticed a tendency to
resist the teaching and learning aspect. Often people see your attempts at
teaching as trying to show your superior knowledge, rather than as
knowledge sharing. You cannot teach a reluctant student who has no wish to learn.
Certainly not all people have a desire to share knowledge, either as a teacher
or a student.  Some people just have the attitude that they are here
to do, not to learn. As a teacher, to find a student (or in the situaion being
discussed, a fellow developer) who wants to learn, but who can and will
challenge your thinking to enable them to see the whole picture, is a joy.
Also, to learn requires you to challenge your own current knowledge.


Xu Yi is a professional Agile & Lean Coach, check out more at

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