Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Don’t Grow Up

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

As you read this, are you wishing you’d have grown up quicker, gotten to the age you’re at now sooner? Or do you wish you’d been able to spend more time at a younger age?

So why do we tell kids to “Grow up”? Why are we in such a hurry to get kids to act like adults? You know, the adults that we often don’t want to be ourselves, the ones stressed out, overworked, lacking the creativity of children, fearing failure, and generally lacking the physical energy we once had?

Ask a group of adults to draw something and most will say, “I can’t draw!”; ask a group of 5-year-olds, and they’ll jump into it. No fear of failure, no lack of creativity. Take kids to a park and they almost immediately run, jump and climb; take adults to a park and the first thing they do is look for a bench to sit on. Have you noticed bookstores are bursting at the seams with self-help books for adults, but you never see one aimed at kids.

As adults we often think that we can no longer do or learn something completely new, that the time to do that has long gone. But if you read some of the latest research about neuroplasticity – the ability of our brains to adapt and form new neuro-pathways – it’s easy to see that we can continue to grow, learn, adapt, change and improve until the day we die. Sometimes it’s a matter of having the right approach or strategy for learning, but there’s no doubt that you have all the ability you’ve ever had to take on something new.

Everyone should read the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. It encapsulates much of the research about neuroplasticity and can’t help but make you feel hopeful, no matter what your age and condition.

The next time you have the urge to tell a kid to grow up and be more mature, think again. Instead, tell yourself to grow down. Take chances. Make mistakes – in fact, embrace them as learning-takes. Do what you don’t think you’re good at. Know that your brain is constantly adapting, evolving and improving, so take advantage of that.

Go to a park and run just for the pure joy of it, if only for a few minutes. Just appreciate the fact you can do it. Learn to do something that you think you’re no good at – drawing, playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, cooking – just to prove that your brain can still learn (and it can!) and for the thrill of doing something you’re uncomfortable with. Look for opportunities to look fear of failure in the eye and say, “Screw you – I’m doing this despite what you think!” Make time to just play, doing whatever you want to do, not worrying about what others think.

Be a kid. Grow down.

Talk Your Way to Clarity

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

I love talking to people who are successful in business. I particularly enjoy hearing their perspectives on what it takes to be successful. It doesn’t matter how successful – or even unsuccessful – they are, there’s something to be learned from all of them.

What often happens in these discussions is after asking a number of questions the direction of the conversation changes and it’s my turn to share some thoughts. And while I don’t claim to have all the answers – far from it – it’s fun to talk about what I believe works. It’s fun to talk about what I’ve seen work, both from the perspective of a businessperson and from a coach’s viewpoint.

What’s most fun about these discussions is what I learn from them. By the time I’ve talked through some of my approaches and philosophies, I’ve gotten much more clarity. Of course, this is why I write. The act of writing, or talking through a theory or strategy enables me to see it much more clearly.

Try it. Sit down with a friend or co-worker and explain the theory and practice of how you do what it is you do. Pretend you’re being interviewed by someone who is writing a book, and you’re the expert on the topic. Just start talking. Explain your philosophy, your approach to how you do what you do. If you’re a manager, talk about what you think are the keys to successfully managing people and systems. If you’re a leader, tell your friend/interviewer what it means to lead. If you’re a software code writer, explain the process you go through to work through a project. If you’re a teacher, talk about what you think makes a great teacher.

Go for it. Take your knowledge to the next level by talking through what it is you do. I’ll bet your performance improves without you even being aware of it by doing this. Have fun!

Another Year of Learning

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Every year around this time, individuals, organizations and the media make lists of “The Best…,” “The Worst…,” “The Most…,” “The Stupidest…,” and list possible New Year’s resolutions. Me? I like to list what I’ve learned over the past 12 months. For me, a day without learning is a day not lived, let alone an entire year!

If I make a list, I’m less likely to make a major learning-take (that’s what I call a mistake that results in learning something): having to learn the same thing twice. Hey, there’s so much to learn that it’s a waste of time to learn something twice; why not learn something new?

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past year:

  • The iPad is awesome. I love it.
  • I’ve learned more about trusting people. I won’t go into the details, but I’ve learned to tune up my sensitivity to whom I should and shouldn’t trust.
  • There is a limit to how much I can do (although I’ll probably always push the limits on that one – and go over the limit many more times, just for the fun of it). I’m learning more about when and where I need to rely on others to do things.
  • Helping people, in whatever they need help with, is the most rewarding thing I can ever do. Okay, I learned this in the past, but it was really hammered home again this past year.
  • I’ve learned a little more about business finance – and the more I learn, the less I seem to know.
  • One can never overestimate what it will take to get a new business up, running and financially successful.
  • There are great opportunities for people and businesses that do a great job. There are so many that do just the minimum to get by that anyone who does just a little extra stands out from the crowd.

There are things that I’ve learned in the past, but that were reinforced this year:

  • Surrounding myself with great people makes all the difference in the world. And staying away from the people who are not so great helps just about as much (and maybe more).
  • The working environment – the culture – is more important than just about anything else.
  • If I’m not having fun, I’m not performing at my best.
  • The island of Kaua’i is the one place that I can truly relax and recharge. It’s a magical place for me, a place that I can use to put me in a great state of mind, whether I’m really there or just imagining it.

Oh, there are so many more things on my list from this past year – the list is very long! But those are a few that I hope will trigger a list of your own.

What did you learn in 2010?

Happy New Year!

Does Education Lead to Learning?

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A good friend of mine makes the differentiation between education and training with a thought-provoking question: Would you like your daughter to attend a sex education or a sex training class? Points out the difference between education and training, doesn’t it?!

A good friend of mine makes the differentiation between education and training with a thought-provoking question: Would you like your daughter to attend a sex education or a sex training class? Points out the difference between education and training, doesn’t it?!

To me, learning is when there has been a change in a person’s mental programming. Education is often – but not always – the process of putting information into someone’s brain. Unfortunately, sometimes when you stuff that information in, it doesn’t stay there. How many times in your life have you studied for some type of exam, cramming your head full of information so you can regurgitate it for the exam, and then not be able to recall even 10% of it a month later?

Education, where information is simply given to the student, does not have a long-term effect on the person’s performance. If the student can’t even recall the information a month later, let alone use the information to change a behavior, then he or she truly has not learned it.

Learning is where the information has been internalized and has changed the student’s mental programming, and there is a change in behavior. Learning is programming, and programming is learning. Mental programming is when the synapses in our brain form a pattern, and we can then repeat the information, the skill, the behavior, or whatever, over and over again at the subconscious level. We know it. We do it. We act it. We perform it.

But, in the words of Harold Stolovitch, “training ain’t performance,” either (in fact, that’s the name of his excellent book, Training Ain’t Performance). Well, not necessarily. Sure, training can lead to a person performing what they were trained to do. But, how often have you sat through a training program and then not performed any differently than you did before the program? Happens all the time, doesn’t it?

If we want to change and/or improve a person’s performance – how they perform a certain activity – we need to change their mental programming. An educational program could do that. A training program could do that. But there is a good chance they won’t. Unless the education or training program does more than just provide information, theory, or knowledge, then any change in mental programming is more up to the individual than it is to anything else. In other words, if the individual doesn’t take the initiative to do something with the information, there will not be much change or improvement.

How many times have you read a book or an article and thought, “That’s good advice – I’m going to do that,” and then not changed? At least not any long-term change. Think of the millions of people who hear or read about a new weight loss diet, say they are committed to it, and are back to the same weight within 6 months. Until a person changes their mental programming of their self-image, and change their habits, it’s very unlikely there will be any long-term weight loss.

The same thing applies to performance in the workplace. Companies spend billions of dollars every year sending their employees to training programs. Unless there is some form of ongoing follow-through, such as coaching, performance improvements are typically small. The training has not resulted in a change in mental programming.

“Xerox Corporation carried out several studies on coaching. They determined that in the absence of follow-up coaching to their training classes, 87% of the skills change brought about by the program was lost. That’s 87 cents on the skills dollar. However good your skills training in the classroom, unless it’s followed up on the job, most of its effectiveness is lost without follow-up coaching.”
Business Wire, July 30, 2001

“A study featured in Public Personnel Management Journal reports that managers (31) that underwent a managerial training program showed an increased productivity of 22.4%. However, a second group was provided coaching following the training process and their productivity increased by 88%. Research does demonstrate that one-on-one executive coaching is of value.”
F. Turner, Ph.D. CEO Refresher

What You Really Need to Learn

Monday, March 10th, 2008

What, do you suppose, is the most important thing you learned from your formal education? Was it the ability to read? Was it a specific skill that you use on a daily basis in your job today? Or was it the ability to think through problems to find a solution?

While all of these things are extremely important – no, critical – I would suggest the most important thing one learns from any type of education is simply this…

What, do you suppose, is the most important thing you learned from your formal education? Was it the ability to read? Was it a specific skill that you use on a daily basis in your job today? Or was it the ability to think through problems to find a solution?

While all of these things are extremely important – no, critical – I would suggest the most important thing one learns from any type of education is simply this: how to learn. And I believe this critical skill is becoming more and more important with every year that passes. Why?

The skills you need today in your job are not going to be the same skills you’ll need in the near future. Decades ago, when someone started a career, it was typically something they would stick with until they retired. The skills they needed in the beginning were not much different than the skills they needed as they neared retirement. That is far from the way it is today. And the skills that would equip you to do a job even a decade or so ago are not the skills one needs today.

The workplace changes so quickly these days that the skills you need today may be outdated in as little as 6 months from now.

The number one skill today’s workers need to be successful is the ability to adapt, change, and acquire new skills quickly. In other words, to learn.

In Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, he suggests that the era of the knowledge worker (the phrase that Peter Drucker coined) is changing. He says, “We must perform work that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time.”

Imagine yourself five years from now. What will your job look like? What will you be doing? What is the most important skill you will need to perform that job? What about 10 years from now? Or beyond?

My bet is on learning how to learn – that’s the most important skill one needs for the future. Drucker said, “The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.”

Every Day is a Learning Opportunity

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Whew! I just got home from a two-week trip that had me in 7 cities. I watched a race driver I’ve been coaching since he was 13 compete in a NASCAR race at Daytona; talked to three different car marque clubs (two BMW club chapters, and one Porsche club); coached a high-level race driver; trained four engineers from Honda; and spoke at a safety meeting for a large corporation about their fleet driver training. My stops were in Daytona, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Danville, Virginia; Newark, New Jersey; Long Island, New York; Homestead, Florida; and Houston, Texas; from 25 degrees and 6 inches of snow in New Jersey to 85 degrees in Homestead. One day I’d be speaking to and training about 100 people, and the next I’d be working one-on-one with a driver…

Whew! I just got home from a two-week trip that had me in 7 cities. I watched a race driver I’ve been coaching since he was 13 compete in a NASCAR race at Daytona; talked to three different car marque clubs (two BMW club chapters, and one Porsche club); coached a high-level race driver; trained four engineers from Honda; and spoke at a safety meeting for a large corporation about their fleet driver training. My stops were in Daytona, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Danville, Virginia; Newark, New Jersey; Long Island, New York; Homestead, Florida; and Houston, Texas; from 25 degrees and 6 inches of snow in New Jersey to 85 degrees in Homestead. One day I’d be speaking to and training about 100 people, and the next I’d be working one-on-one with a driver.

Oh, and all this was just a few days after doing a presentation for a little over 100 senior managers, from all over North America, from Nokia Siemens Networks.

While all but the Nokia session were related to driving in some form, every person I spoke to had one thing in common: they wanted to improve their performance by learning more. The people from the corporation I spoke to wanted to help all of their employees who drive as part of the job to drive more safely, and have fewer driving incidents. Consider that the average on-the-job collision costs an organization $16,000 in direct and indirect costs; the costs rise to $74,000 if someone is injured; and over $500,000 if there is a death. Obviously, there are strong financial incentives, but more and more companies are committed to helping their employees stay safe for more than the dollars saved – it’s just the right thing to do to look after your people. (go to www.swervefleet.com for more info)

Honda engineers test drive their work. Before they make any change, update, improvement, or new design, it has been tested in some pretty extreme driving conditions. There are some auto manufacturers who question why any company would train their engineers to drive better so they can test their cars better – they don’t see the value in this investment. I won’t say which company thinks Honda is wrong, but I will hint that this company is losing billions of dollars, while Honda is profitable. So, which company has the flawed thinking?

Many people would be amazed at the number of car clubs in this country, and the number of members in these clubs who consider driving to be a sport. No, these are not race drivers; they are “performance drivers.” Their focus is on improving their performance behind the wheel. That performance could be in driving smoother and more in control, it could be performing at their best when faced with an emergency, or it could be performing well while driving their cars on a track. Ultimately though, they want to be better drivers and appreciate their cars more. In doing that, they are some of the safest and most responsible drivers on our roadways.

Race drivers? They are all about maximizing their performance, and they will go to great lengths to do so – even to the point of flying me to the other side of the country to “tune” their minds. Sure, there are times I actually teach a driver a skill or technique, but most of the time when working with drivers at this level, I simply work on bringing out every last ounce of the skills, techniques and talent they have. And that mostly comes from ensuring their minds are turned on and performing at their best. No different than when working with an athlete in any sport, or a business manager.

These people have more in common than most realize. They all want to learn, and they all want to improve their performance. Fortunately for me, I get to help them achieve these goals – and learn more myself. I can’t wait to see what next week brings… or where I’ll be.