October 20, 2013

Accidental Learning

As a panelist at a recent conference we were asked about continuous professional development CPD. I felt that some people are naturally pre-disposed to learning and will do naturally. Since the audience comprised paying consultants, interim executives and entrepreneurs their decision to attend demonstrated my point.

Speaking for myself, I am naturally curious. My decision to attend was partly in response to the flattery of being asked and mainly because it would likely be a positive experience. When the lunch turned-out to be included in the package and excellent I was already ahead on the day. Plus I observed that serving a hot and cold buffet in a lacquered bento box was very much a Lean practice as it allowed so people to move around and network with each other and eat at the same time.

Our session followed a talk by Lara Morgan, and I was briefed on how brilliant and inspiring a speaker she was (subtext: you won't upstage her so please don't try); who the sponsors were (dont challenge their comments, it's not Question Time); and to keep my intro to one line (no company pitch, you're not a sponsor).

Lara therefore came as a complete surprise. Founder of Pacific Direct, CompanyShortcuts and a whole string of entrepreneurial successes, Lara Morgan opened her talk with "I worked really hard on sales and developing customers for a time then sold a 99% share for £22m. I didn't realise that I was unusual." So much for the risks of upstaging her.

When the question of CPD arose and I listened to the other panelists, pitched my own view and later reflected on my responses, I realised that I had "accidentally learned" a lot from Lara's talk. Clearly she made an impact because I had referenced her message in several of my answers. In reply to the mandatory "does the panel believe social media is important for..." question, I found Lara's plea to "be authentic" sat very well with me. You dont have to do what "the suits" tell you, especially if it's boring and predictable, she told us. Be different, be yourself. So I admitted I didn't use FaceBook because I simply didn't like it, and didn't tweet at all (seriously off-message given the 3m x 6m live Twitter feed displayed in the venue). There was a momentary silence as I risked the briefest of dramatic pauses before delivering my denoument "I'm being authentic, just as Lara advised." Then, in a flush of guilt at daring to break step from social media convention and be myself I meekly added "but I really like Linked-In and blogging".

The story doesn't end there. A couple of years ago I read Portia Tung's excellent eBook The Dream Team Nightmare and "accidentally learned" her technique for personal review. It's simply a daily log with 6 headings: where; activities; what went well; what went wrong; improvement actions; day rating (points out of 10). I'd read her book on a flight over to Washington, so was still in the semi-robotic state of shifting time zones, waking at 4:30am because it was nearly noon at home, and staying up until midnight to hasten the adjustment. For a couple of day writing that daily log became something to do in the early morning before breakfast. As I aclimatised I switched to doing it in the evening, and I became aware that this simple act of reflection was very powerful.

What reminded me of the daily log today is that I noticed there had been a pattern to high-scoring days. They tended to follow rising early and spending a good while under the shower. I often emerged charged with useful ideas and keen to put them straight into action. Where was I when I thought of this? Right, in the shower, thinking that I should take up writing the daily log I got from Portia.


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