The Gazpacho Soup Problem

I recently found myself locked in debate with a teacher/friend which ended in uncomfortable silence. The sinking feeling washed over me that I should have kept my big mouth shut. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, that I will find myself engaged in a war of words with a teacher. Often the conversations take place in a bar after a few drinks which may have something to do with it. However, I suspect the same drama played out in a court room would have the same outcome.

In many respects schools are guilty of failing businesses. Of course there are exceptions, but the majority of classes are geared towards getting a degree which has no applicability in the workplace, or indeed adult life. Speaking with university graduates at BP last year I heard the same comment several times, “I was told to forget everything I learned at Uni, it was totally different”. We also have adults who don’t understand the commitment of looking after a child, cook an egg or setup a business (personal experience). I recently gave a short talk at a local academy and I was struck by how downtrodden the kids seemed; some might see discipline, I saw fear.

There are many more qualified who can present the argument in a more compelling fashion. For the most part I’m a Sponge Parrot, soaking things up and then regurgitating them on this blog. Nevertheless I feel compelled in this instance to add my voice to the chorus, and this clip from classic UK comedy, Red Dwarf, makes the point nicely for me.


Rimmer (far right)

“It was the greatest night of my life.

I’d been invited to the Captain’s table.

I’d only been with the company 14 years.

Six officers and me! They called me “Arnold”.

We had gazpacho soup for starters.

I didn’t know gazpacho soup was meant to be served cold.

I called over the chef and told him to take it away and bring it back hot.

He did! The looks on their faces still haunt me today! I thought they were laughing at the chef, when they were laughing at me as I ate my piping hot gazpacho soup! I never ate at the Captain’s table again.

That was the end of my career.”

Lister (2nd from right)

Anyone could’ve done that.


“If only they’d mentioned it in basic training! Instead of climbing up and down ropes and crawling through tunnels. If only, just once, they’d said, “Gazpacho soup is served cold!” I could’ve been an admiral by now! Instead of a nothing, which is what I am, let’s face it.”

Poor old Rimmer. Despite the hilarity of him blaming all his notable inadequacies on the Gazpacho Soup incident, like all good comedy there’s a ring of truth to it. What I’ve observed since joining the “rat race” is that very little has to do with your level of education. At best, degrees and qualifications report how well an individual can sit an exam, at worse, it’s a matter of cash for certificates.  The newly graduated employees at BP call their early career experience, “the Line Manager lottery”, because their enjoyment is dependent on whether their manager cares or not. Furthermore, I’ve come in contact with a number of people who understand complex theories, but have no way of implementing them in practice. And ultimately, in my opinion, the root cause is schooling which trains children for university, not for real life. Schooling which creates academics and memory machines, who haven’t experienced how good work is achieved in practice.

The team recently met with Roger Schank who had some interesting ways of phrasing the same argument. “Calling something academic in conversation, is a another way of saying something doesn’t matter”, he notes. “We have enough academics, not everyone needs to be an academic, we need people that can do things”.

But now I’ve left school why should I care? There are three reasons.

  1. I’m starting to wonder, when I have kids, how I’m supposed to give them the best start in life when you have political plonkers in charge of schooling in the UK. Plonkers that keep talking about getting “back to basics”, Latin for example?
  2. Secondly, some of the cultural issues around Learning and Development in business will only be solved when we address the problem that people spend the first 21 years of their lives sat in classrooms, being talked at by professors with wispy beards – men and women alike. We can do our best to re-imagine the world of work for new generations, but unless we address the source of the problem, things won’t change. And I want to see progress in my lifetime.
  3. Finally, the thing that depresses me most about life is seeing people who are taught they’re not good enough. Fundamentally I believe pretty much everyone is capable of doing remarkable things, and the rigidity of the schooling and organisational systems crushes people. I am, right this moment, sat on a Thursday night watching TV, and comedian Russell Howard is interviewing a French tight-rope-walker. “You were expelled from school 5 times”, Russell asks. “Yes”, replies Philippe Petit, “I was expelled, because it was ridiculous for me to funnel down this goose feeder, history, geography, mathematics, when I had something very important to do”.
Not all children are born to be academics


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