Yoda (Via Wookieepedia)

The Grand Master of the Jedi OrderYoda, is one of the most beloved movie characters of all time. You will find references to him in almost every context of working life. In technology services start-ups, we talk about how certain people are the ‘Yoda’ of some given topic, where the term Yoda is meant to indicate they know all things, and are the go-to source for acquiring said knowledge.

That is all fine and lovely and good, but I think there are several things about Yoda’s approach to teaching and mentoring that are actually not great practices, and are perhaps even counter-productive to the process of teaching, learning, and collaborating with others.

Before I start complaining about Master Yoda, I want to be clear…I love Yoda. You can find an ocean of scholarly articles about the ways in which Yoda is an example to teachers and mentors the world over. This makes sense since he was the heart and soul of a millennium of light side force instruction for the Jedi. Basically, if that guy came around here, I’d be first in line to give him a hug. So, you know, mea culpa. I’m about to dis Yoda:

Yoda Rides Luke (Via Wookieepedia)

Number 10: Micro-manage much? Communicating information from life form to another is a super complicated process that just can’t be micromanaged. Riding around on your mentee’s back directing them to do this, then do that, with no consideration of the mentee’s motivations, desires, mental states makes for a pretty inefficient process, rife with frustration. The scene where Yoda is riding around on Luke’s back is a classic, and a classic bad example of bossing your student to death.

Number 9: Lack of transparency. Okay, so I get that force is complicated and dangerous. You can’t possibly explain everything there is to know about it in one sitting. But telling your mentee some basic information that you are pretty certain they would want to know, and would help frame their education seems like it should be pretty high on your learning objectives. Not cool, Yoda. Vader’s in the family, and we probably should have told Luke that a tiny bit sooner. Deception has no place in mentoring.

Number 8: The importance of goals. Why am I standing on my head in the mud again, Yoda? I think this is a common kung-fu movie motif, because the obtuse teaching method which makes students do things they don’t understand happens a lot (wax on, wax offpick up your jacketyou think that’s air you are breathing now?). Yoda seemed to be executing on the Jedi version of ‘because I said so’ teaching method. Being clear about what it is that you are trying to achieve with a learning interaction, and why you are undertaking some set of activities will yield much better results…seriously.

Number 7: Communicate clearly. Trying to explain something here, am I. Yeessss. While Yoda’s speech patterns are basically hilarious, they were often a hindrance for clear communication. Layering on complicated and inconsistently applied speech patterns (object-subject-verb, but only sometimes) can be a serious hindrance in mentor relationships. Finding a way to minimize information friction should be job one for all mentors!

Number 6Authentic assessments. Does anyone understand that whole Luke’s face in the Vader mask in the swamp in the log scene? Did that mean that Luke’s greatest enemy was himself, just like his father? I can’t tell. Also, testing your student by making them force-float a giant X-Wing fighter through the air is pretty much not fair. I’ve only done that one or two times…max. Mentee’s should understand clearly what the standard is, how to get there, and how they know they’ve achieved the skill. Mysterious success criteria does not a good student make.

Yoda Flies a Spaceship

Number 5: Authority problems. So, we should respect our elders, especially if they are 800 years old. Luke clearly made some specious inferences when he first met Yoda, resulting in hilarious who’s on first shenanigans. Yoda didn’t help things by being 2 feet tall, green, and basically a crazy person (since when does the Grand Master of the Jedi Temple LOVE tiny flashlights?), but when it came time to actually get down to force-learning business, Yoda spent a lot of timeexpressing frustration at an apparent lack of respect from Luke. The mentor-mentee relationship is a delicate one, that cannot scale with strict hierarchies of power. When you’ve got one participant with all the authority, and the other with none, you get the Sith Rule of Two, and that results in galactic genocide, oppression, and general sadness. Don’t do that!

Yoda Asserts Himself (Via Wookieepedia)

Number 4: Constructed learning from existing contexts. Remember that time when Luke got all cocky and was bragging about targetingWomp rats in his T-16 back home, and then he saved the galaxy? There was something really powerful about the context that Luke grew up that fueled his desire to perform well. Yoda failed to figure out how to relate force learning to things that Luke already knew about. I bet Luke never did a handstand on Tatooine even once.

Number 3: Dispel cult auras. When you are as old and awesome as Yoda, it is hard to not have cults of personality built up around you. He didn’t do much to minimize this cult, and here we are many long longs into the future and the cult of Yoda is bigger than ever. Learning from a cult leader, not surprisingly, does not result in awesome learnings. Students need to understand and respect who they are learning from, and not be distracted by hero worship and myths.

Yoda Arrives on Dagobah (Via Wookieepedia)

Number 2: Accessibility in all ways. I want to cut Yoda some slack on this point because he was being pursued by a pretty powerful, committed, and merciless set of dark side force users. Hopefully this wasn’t standard practice for the previous 800 years of instruction, but getting to Dagobah was unnecessarily difficult. Knowing that you have easy, comfortable access to your mentor is enormously helpful in making progress, and for course correcting your practice with good feedback.

Number 1: There is nothing magical about learning new things. This is mostly a complaint about the Star Wars metaphysics, and Yoda did make Luke work pretty hard. All mentee’s should know that learning is hard work, and no amount of midi-chlorians is going to make you excellent at something. There are no shortcuts, and no books you can read to have the secrets of a skill revealed to you. You have to do the thing you want to be better at…over and over and over again.

Previously on GeekWire: Top 10 reasons why Darth Vader was an amazing project manager

Brandon Koeller is the CEO of FNX Studios, a Bellevue software product consulting firm. Brandon loves software, technology, and putting check marks in little boxes next to action items. He also loves Star Wars, which is way cooler than Star Trek. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonKoeller or @FNXStudios.

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  • http://twitter.com/jclaussftw Jason Gerard Clauss

    The X-Wing lesson is the one I noticed. I remember thinking to myself “Yoda should lift it all the way out of the water, then when Luke is sufficiently impressed, drop it back in and tell Luke to do it.”

    I remember when someone tried to teach me to drive stick by starting me up a hill. Needless to say that didn’t work.

    • Bravo25

      Just curious but what was the “X-Wing lesson”?  How to pick up a large object, or how to do the things the mind shrieks that are impossible?

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Topperfalkon Topperfalkon

         Well, they’re both linked aren’t they?

  • Drjoe

    These two articles are WONDERFUL!  I teach project management professionally.   These articles are soooo good, I have saved them and will refer to them from time to time in my class.   All due credit to the author for sure, now and every time the articles are referenced.
    If I could spell coo-doh’z… I’d give them….(sorry bad joke, but these articles are not.
    Dr. Joe

  • someone

    Yoda did say Luke was to old, so he might have been adapting his lesson to suit him. Even Anakin was to old to start his training. Also Yoda probably knew Luke didn’t have much time.

  • guest

    Awww, give Yoda a break! It isn’t easy going through life with a hand (literally) up your ass.

  • Maggiec

    Fantastic article, just like the last one! I work in project management and have shared both of these… Really great points. Keep em coming! 

  • Anbananthan Rathnam

    No. 10
    This is known as transmitting knowledge to be sure that the fundamentals are covered and understood. You are doomed if you are not sound fundamentally…hence Yoda was emphasizing this point of transmitting knowledge.
    No. 9
    If you think Yoda had lack of transparency, think about Socrates method of teaching which was through inquiry and never giving an answer.
    No. 8
    For a teacher who is interested in transforming his/her students, goal setting may prevent creativity. Or unless one wants to be a follower than to be a leader.
    No. 7
    If you read the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, the non-dual philosophy…it is said that the highest level of comminication is through silence. This way of communication is not practiced i industry because talking is easier. A deeper level of communication will often result in calm and quiet understanding, not raising one’s voice and being arrogant.
    No. 6
    If you look at how poor an assessment is, look at the alternative assessment from the point of view of holistic education. Look at the disaster of President Bush’s policy of ‘No Child Left Behind’…it might as well be called ‘No Child Left Untested’
    No. 5
    I believe that Yoda’s frustration was not due to Luke’s lack of respect but rather his lack of focussing on the task at hand.
    No. 4
    Well, the current education system praises the use of previous knowledge to construct new ones. But also know that previous knowledge only brings us so far. Only when you put aside previous knowledge, you can be creative enough to innovate. We have ample of great scientists and innovators who have shared that the moment they put aside what then have known, the unknown (creativity) comes into being.
    No. 3
    Is the notion of ‘cults of personality’ cultivated by the teacher or the student? The cult of personality is born when the teacher assumes authority or the student lacks awareness and falls into the jaw of a cult leader.
    No. 2
    For a student really engaged in the process of learning, assessibility doesn’t mean much. The student is an independent learner and doesn’t need spoon feeding.
    No. 1
    This is a contradiction to point No. 2 where no accessibility was a problem and in this point, it is said that there is nothing magical about the learning new things. When was the last time you truly learnt something that transformaed your life?

  • http://twitter.com/MafVosburgh Matthew Vosburgh

    There is no such word as “mentee” because there is no verb to “ment”.  “Mentor” was someone’s name.  He was the teacher Odysseus trusted with his son Telemachus, so by analogy, other personal tutors get called “mentors” too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Raju-Raha/100002880172962 Raju Raha

    possible in some way, it is

  • Anonymous

    You’ve obviously forgotten the lessons of “The Karate Kid”.  Show me… Paint the Fence!, show me Wash the Car!  

  • Anonymous

    It’s the difference between industrial fascism as demonstrated in the Vader Management post and the skilled trades process of Yoda.  Industrial fascism depends on replaceable parts, including people as replaceable parts (even clones, perhaps), who can be taught to perform tasks like robots on behalf of elite masters of the universe types. The skilled tradesman learns not only how to do the skilled task, he learns how to master the thinking around the task in a near-Zazen fashion-how to be the task.  This makes him less useful as a replaceable part, because being a Jedi makes “being” a more active verb.

  • Mrbeagle25

    How dare you insult Yoda. YODA IS AWESOME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Topperfalkon Topperfalkon

    I have a few issues with this…

    10) The whole point was to teach an impatient student patience in the face of an annoying green gremlin latched to your back.

    9) Yoda never intended for Luke to face Vader when he went to Cloud City. It’s entirely reasonable to suspect Yoda intended to tell him when he felt he was ready to know. I mean, look at the effect it had on him at cloud city. If anyone should take the blame for that one though, it’s Obi-Wan, who had years to divulge Luke’s true origins. And he was only acting on the request of Luke’s relatives.

    8) The pictured example refers to self centering and balance and relaxation, which are vital to channeling the light side of the force.

    7) You can have this one, although I’m not entirely sure how Yoda could have fixed this.

    6) The cave was a force artifact (which is one of the reasons Yoda used it as a refuge). The extraction of the X-Wing was intended to signify that the Force will work on any weight, it simply requires enough concentration. In Luke’s defence, he didn’t do too badly.

    5) If you were a Jedi Master stuck on a force-ridden planet for 20 or so years, wouldn’t you take interest in anything vaguely lightsaber-like? If the one hope of salvation for the galaxy was a surly sod who didn’t take the whole ‘I’m a galaxy-saving Jedi’ thing seriously, wouldn’t you be just a tad frustrated.

    4) Being a Jedi is a vastly different way of life to being a normal person. Being able to fling Star Destroyers around with your mind alone is a vast detachment from doing something an ordinary person can do, like blowing up the Death Star (see DS2). For the most part, Luke’s experiences on Tatooine are worthless to his Jedi training.

    3) I’m not sure this means much in this context. The Jedi Order was practically extinct and Luke knew next to nothing about Yoda other than where to find him. He only knew Yoda was a Jedi Master but probably wasn’t aware of the significance of his position.

    2) Given that Dagobah was the only thing preventing his discovery from the Empire, I think this is somewhat unfair. He survived the Galactic Jedi Purge because he was shielded by the overwhelming force presence on the planet. Force-sensitives would have felt the presence of Dagobah, which would be too strong for them to find anything within it. It’s also a great planet on which to actually hide. So yes, I’d cut him some slack on that point.

    1) I’m not really going to bother to say anything on this, as you deconstructed your own point. There was nothing easy about ‘learning the force’. I just think that George Lucas may have thought that dedicating an entire two hours to Luke’s training would probably have been a bit much and a bit boring. It’s also worth noting that Luke left before he completed his training too.

  • Carl

    If Vader`s project management is the right way then the question remains why he wasn’t successful?

    • TheDarkSide

      He was. Everything was going so well with the Death Star and all. Only when Luke dropped by and his fatherly self gave in.

  • Throg Morton

    Teaching Yoda well, I am sorry that I did not.

  • jd

    10. As others have noted, it was to teach patience. Yoda had already observed that Luke was too hot-headed and needed to take things down a peg or ten. It was not a terribly effective method, agreed, since it didn’t work. Luke remained hot-headed in the final movie and nearly paid the ultimate price several times as a result. Yoda might have done better teaching some form of “work meditation”, since that would have been compatible with Luke’s upbringing.

    9. Agreed deception is a bad idea, but information out-of-context is a form of deception. Yoda should have been more informative, from the ground up, since Luke’s later misunderstandings were mostly a result of a lack of context. He’s intelligent enough to figure out individual facts, but only if he’s a basis to work from, same as most people.

    8. Agreed on the goals, but as others have noted, when goals are too concrete, they stifle objectivity and creativity. Goals should be as abstract as practical for the circumstance, so that as circumstances change, the implementation of those goals can change without having to change the goals themselves.

    7. Poor communication can actually be a good thing. It forces someone to listen to what is actually said, rather than hearing every Nth word and filling in the gaps. It’s why computer programmers are able to write programs that interact correctly even though they themselves are lousy at presentation. However, nothing beats good listening with an open mind.

    6. The log’s easy. Yoda stated that Luke would face whatever he took in with him. He took in the darker side of his personality and his lightsaber, and faced both. The log was not much more than a fairground mirror, reflecting and exaggerating specific features. It isn’t any more complicated than that. Had Luke no fear or dark side to reflect and distort, he would have met nothing and passed straight through. In teaching terms, the closest parallel to this would be for a student to be set a practical designed by a collaboration of teacher and psychologist to force a confrontation with any insecurities in the subject rather than with weaknesses within it. Gaps can be filled, but only when there are no insecurities in the way.

    5. Luke has trust issues with authority. Again, this is a confrontation with insecurities. Yoda is making plain that mistrust and the path of cynicism is not the path of success. I think he could have done better – skepticism isn’t cynicism, skepticism is an extremely valuable tool whereas cynicism is an extremely dangerous deception. Nonetheless, making Luke face his own attitude was no bad thing, even if done inefficiently.

    4. This I think I’ve already covered at this point.

    3. A cult aura is the flip-side of cynicism – but it’s still the same toxic coin. Yoda could certainly have done better here.

    2. Ease of access is good, yes, but so are tough entry conditions. You don’t really want anyone competing in the Olympics, or anyone studying at Cambridge University, not because you’re elitist but because nobody does well in the wrong environment and an incompatible mix hurts everyone. It is precisely because you want everyone to reach their desired destination that cyclists don’t go on motorways/interstates, busses don’t drive down footpaths and jet aircraft never fly in subway tunnels.

    1. Agreed there is nothing magical about learning, but aptitude isn’t something you get from practice. Some people are genuinely going to find a specific subject (provided it is taught in a way that is compatible with their mode of thought) easier than others. You can maximize the number of people who find it easy by maximizing the ways something is taught, but even when you do this, you will find the ability of students will follow the good old bell curve. A few will learn at lightning speed, most will learn at average speed, a few will never learn at all. When we call someone a “good teacher”, what we really mean is that there’s a skew in the curve that happens to be helpful according to whatever criteria you happen to need at that time. There are plenty of bad teachers in the general sense, but a teacher can only be good in a specific context.

  • http://twitter.com/PaulinhoTen Darth Plagueis

    Blows, this article does.

  • rosie1843

    [“Does anyone understand that whole Luke’s face in the Vader mask in the swamp in the log scene?”]

    After 33 years . . . no.

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