Monday, October 31, 2011

Dress Up and Pretend

In the US, today is a big day for dressing up and pretending, Halloween.

That got me to thinking about one of my favorite learning techniques which is essentially dressing up and pretending, or more precisely, emulating. As children we learn almost exclusively through emulation of the people around us. We emulate words and phrases. We emulate actions and activities. We dress up in our parents cloths and go to work or prepare dinner or have a party.

Emulation is more than replicating an action or activity. When we emulate, we pick up on nuances of the action, voice inflection, facial expressions, mannerisms, repetitive patterns. We come to understand what motivates the action and what to expect from it.

Kids make great emulators because they have no other agenda but to emulate. Nuances missed by adults are obvious (even irresistible) to kids. As we get into our teens our sources of emulation shift from parents to peers and public figures. We learn, we grow, we change. Emulation becomes a way of fitting in and defining ourselves.

As adults, we emulate; however, emulation shifts from a rich learning experience to a simply copying what we believe to be appropriate or cool. We loose something that made emulation such a great way to learn. Curiosity? Naivety? The absence of agenda?

Channeling Jimi
When I got to music school, I noticed that there was a significant difference between the really good players and the great players. Both the groups were technically proficient and had chops. However, the great players had something else. It was as though they'd picked up all these tricks and nuances from the masters.

Noticing the difference, I asked one of my friends about how he got so good. As I explained what I saw as the fundamental difference, he chuckled and said, "Yeah, that's about it. In fact, I would say that it's exactly it."

"What do you mean."

"Well, each month I pick someone who I admire and want to learn from. Then for that entire month, I listen exclusively to his music. I learn all his songs. I learn to play all his solos. My goal is to learn the player so well that I can create something new, but do it the way he would do it."

"Wow, that sounds like a lot of work."

"Tell me about it. You want to know the hardest part. It's when everything inside you is screaming 'play this note' and you know that Jimi or Al or Joe would have played that note. When you finally silence that voice, that's when you got it."

That stuck with me. I started to learn piano that way. I started to play saxophone that way. I learned things I never would have.

Later, when I first became a manager, I often found myself over my head in knowing how to lead the people who worked for me while managing my relationships with my peers and my bosses. One day, I decided to create a list of the great managers in our company and emulate them. I started making the decisions that I believed they would make, even when everything inside me was screaming "no, do this!"

As I took the alternate paths, I began to see why each manager did things the way she did. I began to adopt elements of each manager's style into my on MO. I learned.

Dress-up and pretend is a great way to learn. Who will you emulate today?

Happy Monday,

1 comment:

  1. wow! very cool. I sometimes look obsessed with particular communicators because I listen to them over and over for a period of time, to everything I can find, or read their books, mostly because I like them. I like the way they said what they said. Perhaps an intention to really study a particular individual is the next step in my communication development!


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