George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman contains the phrase: “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” For years I thought this was true. There is a notion that anybody who teaches has never implemented anything; that is, not done the very thing they’re teaching. While this might be true of some of my lecturers, who understood theory but never got around to its application, it is unlikely to be true for the hands-on readers of Marketing Week.
Over the past few years, I have been teaching marketing topics to early-stage and mid-career marketers. In the past few weeks, owing to bad scheduling, I did the same class twice in 24 hours and another the following week. As I wrapped up the final class, it dawned on me that I could also be doing a better job of taking action and that I needed the class as much as the students. I felt like I was the person that had gained the most benefit from the content.
When you teach, you learn more than the student. That is why the best way to develop a greater understanding of marketing is to play the role of teacher.
Of course, when teaching marketers you have to be on your toes. They are actively engaged and ready to challenge. The more they ask, the more you have to properly articulate your answers and justify your beliefs. Teaching demands that you think properly about what you are saying, and forces a stronger argument, at the same time as simplifying your message. The best teacher can take a complex topic and distil it to easy-to-understand principles. If you are struggling to explain something and see your audience looking at their smartphones, you need to adapt your content, tone or delivery – or possibly all three.
Teaching has worked wonders for the day job. The lesson becomes deeply ingrained in your mind. Every time I’ve done a class, I have left with new ideas, a better understanding and a clearer vision of the potential solutions that can be implemented in the day to day. That is why you benefit more from teaching than the student.
Nobody told me that teaching goes beyond strengthening my understanding of marketing. The big lesson I learned is that if you want to improve as a marketer and move to the next level, consider becoming a teacher or mentor.
You don’t need to be a professor to impart career wisdom, just pass on what you know. You cannot be a good teacher without making yourself a better marketer. You’ll do good for others, and the more you learn, the more you can help others. Volunteer for an evening class, go to your old college and ask if you can guest lecture – that is where I started. “While we teach, we learn,” said the philosopher Seneca. Those who can, certainly teach.