Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Learning why to drive

Written by: on January 23, 2023

a young man behind the wheel of a car

I wondered while watching the TEDx video if Dr. Coven has the gift of prophecy as he described the idea of a threshold concept as he used the example of a new driver learning to drive. My son is 17 and about to embark on in-car driving lessons. However, the journey to get him to this point has been wrought with his rebukes of taking the actual lessons. He has lots of great reasons why he shouldn’t take them (or continue getting his driver’s license at all) like he’s happy taking the bus, he doesn’t really need to drive anyway and my personal favourite: I can just drive him.

Recently he confessed that he watches his mother and I drive and all the things we’re doing at one time like turning on the wipers while changing lanes, taking our foot off the accelerator and simultaneously looking over our shoulder when turning right to ensure there isn’t a cyclist approaching. This seems overwhelming to him.

However, he doesn’t yet know what lies for him on the other side of having his license.

Dr. Coven was experiencing this with his students in a sort of manner. They were understanding the answer but not having a grasp of the concept. Kind of like showing your work in math class. They weren’t showing their work. His solution was to teach them how to do primary research, come up with conclusions and test their theories.

So I began a test this past week. Anytime my son had to go somewhere like school or band practice and had to take the bus, I would say to him, “How long do you think it would take if you drove there?” He would pull out his phone and use Google maps to get an estimate. He would tell me “I know, it’s faster driving, who doesn’t know that. I still don’t want to learn to drive.”

However, when he arrived home, and he would immediately head to the kitchen for food I’d stop him and say “Now how long would it have taken you to drive home and stop to get something to eat?” or “What time would you be home if you wanted to stop at your friend’s house?”

Now, his mind has to work differently because like Dr. Coven’s students, he can’t just Google how long it would take to stop and eat and would it still be faster than taking the bus. He can’t easily Google how long he might hang out with his friend. Because Google can’t tell you what the freedom of a driver’s license gives you. He has to imagine what that might be like.

My NPO summary question is “How do leaders share their vision to create authentic alignment in their organization?” I took particular interest in chapter 10 of Overcoming Barriers to Student Understanding because as I have been researching this problem, I keep running across the theme of worldview and paradigm shifting. When you picture alignment, perhaps you envision a team of rowers in perfect unison. Maybe your more pragmatic and the idea of your car’s wheels being out of alignment comes to mind and the extra effort it puts on your vehicle.

The example used of cash accrual and actual profit is eerily similar to the lack of awareness leaders seem to have with their vision. Whereas there is a need in accounting to be able to account for the ins and outs of cash on a particular day in the ledger and that piece of information does not tell you if the company was profitable or not is just like the leader who shares their vision but not their experiences of why it is authentic to them. Their lived experiences may not add up to their vision but it certainly gives a picture of how they got there.

But so often only a part of the story is being told and it’s due to a lack of paradigm. Almost a reluctance to, with earnest, paint the whole picture, even the bits that are just the ins and outs of money on a given day.

Questions I will consider for myself:

  • What pieces of information do I know the answer to but do not know the equation for? How can I find out the equation and how can I ensure I seek the equation without bias?
  • What does primary research look like in my NPO journey?
  • What are leading indicators to track so I can know when there is a threshold I need to cross?

About the Author


Mathieu Yuill

While raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may be a few of Julia Andrews' favourite things, here are a few of mine: Talking to strangers, Learning about what you do for fun, Conversation over coffee. I own a marketing and communications company in Toronto, Canada called Leading With Nice. There are a lot of names I could have given the company but a trusted friend encouraged me to name it that because I really value the humanness in us all. Bah - this is starting to sound like a horrible LinkedIn post. So whatever, let's have coffee. I'd love to hear about what you do for fun!

9 responses to “Learning why to drive”

  1. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Great to see your thinking, here, Matt! I am especially interested in your “leading indicators” question at the very end. I would suggest one leading indicator may be for me that as I am learning more about a new concept, I find my inner dialogue to full of “yeah buts,” instead of “oh yeahs!”
    If I am continually looking for the counter point to the theory being shared, it MAY be an indicator that my paradigm is being challenged? I don’t know if that idea has juice or not; would love to hear other’s thoughts.

  2. mm Tim Clark says:

    That first question is so valuable: “What pieces of information do I know the answer to but do not know the equation for?”

    I kept coming back in our reading to the concept of students learning to ‘mimic’ their teachers (knowing the answers) without any true understanding of why the teachers had the answer they did (not knowing the equation); or, teaching a student to not just “understand how historians think but to think like a historian” (Meyer 199).

    There are probably more things than I’d like to admit that I think I know the answer for, but am not even aware that I’ve missed “doing the math”. Do you have any thoughts about how to discover those places where we “know the answer but don’t know the equation”?

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Thanks for sharing such a vivid example in your son’s experience! You didn’t name it, but what you’re doing to open his eyes is scaffolding. You’re building upon his current knowledge and experiences to get him to move step-by-step across that threshold of discovery. Scaffolding is a foundational concept that I learned and used daily in my previous life as an ESL teacher. I wonder how the idea of scaffolding could also help leaders reach that authentic alignment you’re seeking.

  4. mm Russell Chun says:

    My daughter Nikoletta Kalohelani Chun (I call her Niki) is going to driving lessons now. I refused to teacher myself (a stroke in the making). She has glommed onto the fact that her best instructor is Justin and the car she needs to drive is “Laverne” (apparently they name the cars in this school. As a matter of act, although we have a used Toyota Camry waiting for her (an old one). The ONLY car she can drive is Laverne or one of the same make and model. Her logic flow is chaotic, filled with emotion and totally irrational. Sigh. I am waiting for the AHA moment when she passes the threshold of fear that she has. Shalom

  5. Travis Vaughn says:

    Like Tim’s comment above, I also resonated with your first question: “What pieces of information do I know the answer to but do not know the equation for?” That makes me think of a couple of things. First, am I married to an “answer” or solution I have in my mind for my NPO? Perhaps I’m thinking too “textbook” here or leaning too much into a past experience I have with a particular organization. Perhaps I need to grow more in understanding all of the components that make up what could be more complexity than I’m currently comfortable with in my NPO. “Mastery” could be what I need to more fully embrace. Second, I need to dig more into the equation of “troublesome power.” There is much more to unpack there if I am going to operate with a “threshold concept philosophy.” Great NPO summary question, too, Mathieu. I’d love to know what you find along the way.

  6. Jenny Dooley says:

    A little encouragement… I was that kid and had that kid. I knew I was not ready and didn’t trust myself, so dragged my feet. I am wondering about how self knowledge can be a precursor to entering the threshold space of new learning. In Overcoming Barriers, Meyer and Land discussed the possible comparison between liminality (a space of not knowing) and rites of passage. (p. 22) The example of your son’s experience makes sense. Driving is a huge liminal space and right of passage that is transformative on so many levels. It’s a lot to take in. At some point students start thinking like a doctor, teacher etc… or in your sons’ case a driver, before they actually are. (p. 23) That is proof they are wrestling with threshold concepts.

  7. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    First off, I loved hearing you talk about your son learning to drive and the process of helping him think through it all. My son (14) is beginning driver’s education and I am anxious for many reasons. I enjoyed reading how you tied it to Dr. Coven’s TEDx.

    I found so much value in your questions. I have been centering and preparing for my NPO research and your questions are so helpful.

    “What does primary research look like in my NPO journey?” and
    “What are leading indicators to track so I can know when there is a threshold I need to cross?” are questions that I have added to my post-notes that are full view above my desk. I’m realizing to be successful at this, I have to begin to relate the majority of my reading, research and interactions to my research. Thank you for these questions.

  8. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    It’s kind of fun to see your kids about to embark on a threshold experience when you know what’s on the other side! Drivers license=freedom, no more taxi, adulthood! Which I can imagine is leading you into a portal or threshold as well, perhaps your’s is scarier…insurance, money, where is my child, etc…well at least that’s the treshold I think of when my 14 someday embarks on the driving world. I’m curious on leading indicators? What are those for you in your doctorate work? What thresholds do you anticipate breaking through? Do you get surprised by threshold?

  9. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    I like the way you apply the Coven method to your child. The questions you ask your child make him think that there are other frameworks. Therefore, he finds what Google can’t give him. Lucas and Mladenovic write about new pedagogical approaches which I think are very relevant to your situation, as follows: A focus on technique through a process of ritualization and mimicry provides a high level of certainty when compared with a discussion of the relevance of different conceptual frameworks. And yet, as we have discussed, students do possess alternative ways of viewing accounting and are often not aware that they contrast with the authorized view(s) that they are being taught. Faced with this situation we would argue that new pedagogic approaches may be required to support students in passing through a threshold barrier and engage with the learning of accounting, not solely as a technique, but as a social practice through which organizing frameworks come to be generally accepted (Meyer and Land, 156).

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