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School's always in
The first time I ordered a meal with truffles, I was 23 and out at dinner with a client. I sent the entree back, thinking it was spoiled.
The client was a gracious southern gentleman, a senior executive at an energy company in Louisiana. He leaned over to me and whispered, “that’s how truffles taste.” I was mortified. He winked and said sotto voce: “I don’t get it either. Hate the things.”
I was grateful for his gesture, of course. But even more so by what he said next: “Don’t be afraid to not know something. If you fake it, you’ll miss opportunities to learn.”
Learning is a painful process, but does it have to be? Yes, say psychologists. Learning requires what is called desirable difficulties. While the brain is not a muscle, it turns out that it needs a workout to get “fitter,” just like the body. That involves “paying” for the privilege of obtaining new knowledge. The more you put in, the more you get out.
Many organizational training efforts focus on ease of learning the material. Psychologists call this “fluency”… you grasp while you are reading. The downside is that don’t retain the information long term. It turns out that this course of action may be unproductive. If your brain “hurts” you are on the right track to learning something new.
In a recent online course that I took to earn certification in construction safety, I had to take several modules more than once, having failed the 80% passing threshold in some of the assessments that followed each lesson. It wasn’t easy, but as a result, this old dog learned a few new tricks I’m not likely to forget about scaffold safety and fall prevention requirements, among other things.
Being a “newbie” can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing. But chagrin should be a required course for any leader. As my old Louisiana client told me, “you can only be embarrassed if you are afraid to learn.” As leaders, we set an example. Leadership, like learning, should be uncomfortable at times. No pain, no gain…and no growth.
If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid. - Epictetus