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"T'ain't what you do, (it’s the way that you do it.)”

“T’ain’t what you do, (it’s the way that you do it.)”

“T’ain’t what you do, (it’s the way that you do it.)”  Oliver & Young - 1939.

Have you noticed that some people have all the certificates and strings of letters after their names like collections of badges, or campaign medals?  But the problem is, they can’t do their jobs very well.  Whilst there are others, often with few or even no qualifications, who quietly get on and do the business and bring home the bacon.

Possession of the qualification, the scroll embossed with gold italic on fake vellum, does not guarantee a job well done.  Those characters might know their stuff, but they can’t get it across, put the patient at ease, satisfy the client, defuse the potential ruck and calm things down – even divert an accident or tragedy.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that training and professional development are bunk, far from it.  After all, I’m in that business.  But what I am saying is that knowing stuff is not enough.  It’s what you do with it.  How you interpret it and make sense of it with and for others. 

And that’s where John Stephenson’s notion of capability comes in.  It’s really useful because it’s clear, precise and practical.  It gives you something to get your head around, something that you can use.   What Stephenson said was:

Capable people have confidence in their ability to:


  • take effective and appropriate action
  • explain what they are about
  • live and work effectively with others and
  • continue to learn from their experiences.


He goes on to say that capability is a necessary part of specialist expertise, not separate from it. Capable people not only know about their specialisms; they also have the confidence to apply their knowledge and skills within varied and changing situations and to continue to develop their specialist knowledge and skills long after they have left formal education.

Now if you were looking to describe the kind of person you want to work with or were writing a job spec., there’s a whole heap of useful stuff in there that could be converted into selection yardsticks. 

All of which reminds me of Kurt Lewin’s observation: 

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory.”  

(Stephenson, J.  & Yorke, M. (1998).  Capability and quality in higher education.  London.  Routledge.)