We spend our entire life learning naturally, so why complicate it when we need to learn business skills?
Our bodies and minds are natural learners. We didn't read in a book how to walk or talk. We were never sent away on a course, never taught by an expert. Yet we acquired a skill set that distinguishes humans from all other creatures on the planet.
Training or learning?
There is a key difference between the two. Training is about being taught; usually by an expert who passes their knowledge to us. Learning is more about acquiring knowledge from personal experience and observation.
Why is this difference so important?
Because many of the skills and lessons we need today are so new, so undeveloped, so specific and so complex that there is no one around who can teach them.
Hard skills such as how to use Word or Java can be taught. There are many good courses which set out the ground rules and take the pupil to a higher level of competence.
But what of the softer skills? This is where learning comes into its own. Some lessons can only be learned, not taught. The key is to observe carefully, then digest and challenge. It is an ongoing process. It is a habit for life.
Ask three simple questions, three times a day
Take the latest assignment you have finished, and take five minutes to think about it. This can be done on the train, in the car, in the bath etc. Ask yourself:
- What went well?
- What could have been done better?
- How would I do it differently next time?
These three simple questions, asked regularly and challengingly, are very strong and effective. And they don't cost a penny.
What went well?
For example, did the assignment benefit from having higher-level support to push things along? OK, now cultivate that contact for help in the future. Thank them now for the support so they will be more willing to offer it again.
Ensure that next time you look for similar support. Could you have done it without that support? Could you have done some of it without that support?
If you feel appreciative to someone who has helped you, then others will feel the same if you help them. So win friends and influence people by finding time to guide others.
What could have been done better?
The power of positive thinking! Don't beat yourself up. Don't regard anything as a mistake. It is a learning experience. It is only a mistake if you don't learn from it.
What were the biggest obstacles? How were they overcome? Could they have been overcome more quickly? Did things need to be chased to make things happen? If so, next time chase sooner and more firmly.
Did the client get upset when the bill arrived? Had he or she been warned about it in advance? Would a phone call first have made a difference? Had the client been kept abreast of developments or was this a bolt out of the blue? How could this have been handled better?
How would I do it differently next time?
This is the application of the lessons. If something went well, then look for opportunities to repeat it. Often the good things are ignored in the rush to be negative. Recognise success and repeat it!
For the next assignment, spend time planning. Remember your lessons learnt and test whether any of these may be applicable for the new job. Look for the similarities between the assignments.
Formal and informal learning
Lessons can be even more productive in the team context when there is a discussion from everyone.
This can be formal - booking a time to discuss is good practice - but, lets be honest, it rarely happens. That doesn't mean it can't happen informally, and can be even more productive.
Discuss What went well? / What could have gone better? / How would we do it next time? on the way back from a meeting. Do it when the memories are still fresh. Handled sensitively and positively it will create a good feeling.
If it went well, you can pat yourself on the back. If it went badly then you are probably feeling lousy. At least this discussion will help you constructively work out how to avoid this experience in the future.
It may not be the greatest feeling in the world, but at least it will be better than not having a clue what to do about it and repeating the miserable experience next time.
Keep a record
Write down your lessons in your diary/notebook. Committing your thoughts to paper will improve the quality of your thinking and make you more likely to remember and apply your learning.
No one else needs to see what you have written. Write it in code if you want! You have gone through the pain of learning these lessons, so avoid it happening again. You have benefited from the advantages of the positive lessons, so do it again, and again, and again.
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