Creating great learning experiences

The challenge with creating a great learning experience is getting the mix between theory and practice just right. Most conventional experiences just end up separating the two for simplicity. So, we end up overdoing theory in classrooms and overdoing practice in our day-to-day at work.

Skill building, thus, gets really hard for two reasons. First, the theory needs to be low on information and high on synthesis to make it applicable. And, second, it needs to be followed by attempts at applying it – with access to feedback.

So, if we’re seeking to help ourselves (and/or others) build skills, we need to design learning modules where we spend 20% of the time absorbing one simple, synthesized, idea followed by 80% of our time spent on attempting to practice it.

The test? If our attempts at learning aren’t changing how we actually operate, we aren’t learning.

To learn and not to do is not to learn.

Earn your stripes

It may not be ideal work. But, we have to earn our stripes.

There are rare moments in time when we can bypass concepts like expertise and tenure. A one-of-a-kind opportunity might come your way. Or, you just might find yourself in the right place, at the right time, and create one for yourself.

But, lucky moments aside, most of us have to do things via the long route. We just have to put in the time and demonstrate our ability to do consistent good work.

But, that’s how it is done. The best investment strategy is to invest in lines, not dots or track records, not one-off achievements.

As Denzel Washington said – “Do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do.”

We have to earn our stripes.

The 35k lesson

Every time I look back at a painful experience, I attempt to re-frame it by asking myself what lessons I learnt from that experience?

There was one such experience for which I paid what was effectively “tuition” of thirty five thousand dollars – a massive amount. For a long while, I was annoyed at what led to that experience. But, once I passed it through the re-framing filter, I realized that the most important lesson I’d learnt from that experience was one about emotional intelligence.

I was listening to “Mastery” by Robert Greene during that period and I distinctly remember the moment Greene spoke about emotional intelligence as (paraphrased) the ability to ignore what people say and, instead, to listen to what they do. In listening to what they do, he asked us to pay careful attention to their behavior when the chips were down, how they behaved when they thought no one was watching, their choice of partners, etc. It was one of those moments of clarity for me. I finally realized what I was meant to learn from thirty five thousand dollar experience.

A few days ago, I wrote about the idea that “falling is guaranteed.” The flip side of that idea is that, as you take bigger risks, some of those falls become rather painful. You might break a metaphorical bone and pay the tuition for that experience – this can be money, burnt relationships, dents in your confidence or a sense of discomfort when you think about it. As you pay this tuition, it is tempting to want to block this experience off entirely and not think about it. But, my experience has taught me that there is a lot to be gained from wading in within that discomfort and pain and really extracting the value from the tuition paid. My emotional intelligence fall came with scars. I live with them everyday. But, I look at them now not with disgust, but with gratitude for what they taught me.

The saying – “Success comes from good judgement. Good judgment comes experience. Experience comes from bad judgment” – holds absolutely true. The part that is missing is that the experience follows only after careful reflection and analysis of our errors in judgment.

That process is painful and uncomfortable, but worth it.

experience, lesson

Experiencing Zen

I have been fascinated by the concept of Zen for a while. Urban dictionary shows us one way to think about Zen – ‘a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.’

I am, by nature, anything but Zen. I am generally fidgety, easily distracted, and have been prone to manic highs and accompanying lows. So, it’s been quite an effort over the past few years to tone that down and attempt to experience Zen. It started with an attempt at focusing my attention. In 2012, my laptop wall papers read –  ‘”Doing one thing at a time ” is how one Zen Master defined the essence of Zen.’  While that didn’t mean I actually did it, it certainly raised my level of awareness about my focus levels.

However, in the past 2 months, I feel like I have been frequently experiencing a Zen-like state. I could point to a few reasons for this, but, I think the truth lies in the fact that I’ve wanted to experience this for a while and I just wasn’t ready for it. My limited understanding of Zen is that it requires a relentless focus on process and an absolute disregard for the destination. It is impossible to focus totally on something if you are worried about the results. Focusing on the process (and the process alone) has been a difficult life lesson and I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it after 5 years of failed attempts.

And, that’s been a feature of the last couple of months – a firm focus on the process. In my case, it has been the process of wrapping up professional life and then getting prepared for a cross-continent relocation and graduate student life. There’s been a lot to be excited about. I have been, sure. But, it’s been a state of excitement rather than a feeling – ‘be’ vs. ‘feel’. As a result, there’s been no manic high or low. There’s just been organization and effort. There have been many mistakes and challenges (they never stop – Zen or not) but I’ve found it easier to deal with them because, at some sub conscious level, I’ve expected them. A focus on the present seems to come with a healthy measure of realism as well.

It’s an exciting evolution. I am experiencing “being” a lot more than “feeling” and that brings with it a great amount of stability. Stability, in turn, helps with many good things, most of which lead to getting sh*t done and being happy.

There’s many things I still need to learn – for instance, I still don’t do “attention” well. I think that’s an important part of the Zen state too. One day at a time, hopefully. Every day we do get better…