Last summer I was in Fake City for the International Convention. A most peculiar experience. I stayed in the huge Caesar’s Palace, walked through endless shopping malls and casino’s, along Venetian gondolas and palaces. We went for a dinner at the Trevi Fountain below a painted sky, so realistic we actually found ourselves discussing if we would sit inside or outside. I found my way back to my hotelroom by turning left at my signpost, Michelangelo’s David. Spitting images, but something was missing.
It made me think about the function of copycatting. We see it in copies of famous brands, in scientific articles and in art. Not only in Las Vegas, I recently saw a documentary where Chinese craftsmen were meticulously copying Rembrandt and Van Gogh. I wondered: is it a compliment or a kind of theft?
Then something struck me: doesn’t learning always start with copycatting? Those of you who have children or younger siblings may recognize the funny or embarassing shock when you see your own behaviour mirrored in these kids. Doesn’t always feel as a compliment.
And isn’t this the way we learn in Toastmasters, every time we do something for the first time: learning by observing each other, copying it, making it a habit?
You know, I cherish Toastmasters for the value in itself but also because of the transferable skills I learn, although some of them are more useful outside the Toastmasters context than others. At work I often find myself the only one clapping when somebody tells a good story. But last week one of my trainees told me that he was very impressed by the way I’d mastered the art of shaking hands and thus managed to get connected to at least half of the audience during the ten minutes breaks of events. Clapping and shaking hands have become a second nature after a few years of Toastmasters.
Copycatting, turning new behaviour into a habit, isn’t this also why we built this triangle of leadership roles in Toastmasters: start as an assistant, fulfill the role and become an advisor to our successors?
It took me while before I realised what was wrong with David and the Trevi fountain in Las Vegas. Simply copycatting doesn’t work, it lacks soul. The child that mimicks you first, developes into a unique character. If I am an ah-counter or chair a District Council Meeting I use my observations of how others perform the role, but I add my own flavour and colour to it. That’s the way: observe, copycat, develop uselful habits and always put your own unique soul into it.