Why have a guide to learning?

I was lucky enough to spend New Year in Peru and visited some amazing places and met some clever and fascinating people.  One of the things that struck us about Peru was how keen people were on continuous learning.  We met numerous tour guides who were justifiably proud of having studied at University and almost every town or village seemed to have completely packed evening classes on a huge range of subjects.  Learning seemed very much on the agenda in modern Peru and we discovered was equally important in the past too.

At Sacsayhuaman, just outside Cusco, I was struck by the value of learning with the help of a guide rather than entirely on your own.  Sacsayhuaman is an enormous site that has survived numerous earthquakes and was initiated by a Pre-Inca community, further developed by the Incas and devastated by the Spanish.  This picture shows part of the site and as you can see the walls are complex, puzzling and on our own we would probably never have worked out why they were built like that or what purpose they served.  We could have taken photos and gone home to tell everyone how amazing it was but instead we hired a guide to tell us more.

sacsayhuaman wall

He lived very nearby and I suspect is a complete expert about the site but instead of plunging us into facts or statistics he took us on a walk to examine small parts of the site in more detail.  He told us stories of the people who’d lived there and what they did, how they lived and what was important to them.  He told his stories with theatrical relish whilst we stood and gazed, wondered and listened.  We were invited to touch the rocks and feel them and to imagine how we would carve or move such enormous structures.  When we asked questions he’d reveal another feature or significant fact that was relevant to what we wanted to know rather than what he had to tell, but at the same time he guided us around to the main features that helped to piece the main elements of the story together.

We began to see that what had looked like quite a random set of stones told their own stories.  Stones had particular numbers of corners to signify important principles in the Indian philosophy and we found that as much as this structure had been a fortress it had also been a place of learning.   Particular stones and groups of stones were there to educate the citizens about how to live their lives and the vital information they needed, such as the alignment of the stars.

Our guide didn’t show us the whole site – he carefully chose significant features to give us a starting point and helped us understand them with curious details, stories, questions, models and demonstrations (you can see him showing us how to construct a mini-wall in the photos at the end.)  He even shared some Inca ‘medicine’ with us and showed us how to refresh ourselves with it which created an even more multisensory experience.

Look at the stones (below) and you’ll see a Puma pawprint – the puma was one of the important animals in Incan culture and life and we were also discovered llamas, snakes and other symbols hidden in the stones that would have been much harder to find without a guide and we wouldn’t have understood their significance.

So my reflection is that whilst self directed learning is a significant and necessary part of personal and organisational development it can be vastly improved by a knowledgeable guide with the skills to signpost you on the way, to share information when it’s needed and to help you discover what is there to be found.  And I’m now off to research some more about Pre-Colombian history because my curiosity is getting the better of me.puma paw