Sunday, January 07, 2007

How to Learn Stuff

How to Learn Stuff

We had our monthly meeting of the Wabash Valley Lean Network last week. On top of an excellent regular program, I also saw a marvelous demonstration of how to learn something new.

During the closing portion of the meeting, we usually ask if people have “hot issues.” An engineer from one company asked if anyone in the group had experience eliminating waste in utility bills. Several volunteered and continued the conversation after the close of the meeting.

Watching the interaction was fascinating. The engineer asked questions, listened carefully, asked follow up questions. And she got a lot of very practical information.

Which showed several principles of learning.
  1. She sought a context to find experience. She didn’t ask the question at a local restaurant. She asked at a gathering of process improvement geeks.
  2. She asked specific questions. Thus, she closed the scope to something people could respond.
  3. She was genuinely interested. Her eye contact, tone of voice and follow up questions all reinforced the perception she was interested in what others had to say.
  4. She was not defensive. When someone made an odd comment, she still accepted it. She did not reject any idea, though several may not have been applicable.
  5. She said “thank you” to all contributors. She knew no one “owed” her a response. Thus, she showed appreciation for the knowledge each shared.

Watching this from a slight distance was fascinating. In a matter of 5-8 minutes, she had a tutorial in cutting energy usage in her complex industrial setting. Central was her specificity of question and her openness to whatever information came her way. In my opinion, it is this lack of defensiveness that is central to learning. Any kind of learning.

Try asking a specific question about something new today, be nondefensive in response and body language and say “thank you.” What you learn might surprise you.

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