Monday, September 3, 2012

Something New

Okay, this is important.

Well, not like super important, I guess... I mean... well you know, like in the grand scheme of things.

Forget "important". This is about what I was thinking about this morning in the shower.

It all culminated in the question: "When was the last time you learned something new?"

I don't mean, "kind of" new; I mean, "really" new.  You know, like learning a foreign language or snowboarding or public speaking.

And I don't mean, "kind of" learn; I mean, "really" learn. You know, like becoming a translator at the UN or qualifying for the Olympic snowboarding team or going on a speaking tour.

Given that context, I repeat: When was the last time you learned something new?

The question came to mind as I contemplated people in my life who seem reluctant to learn new things. In these cases, the "new" isn't all that new and the "learn" not all that deep. Yet reticent they are and their reticence is cramping my style or at least holding me back.

By "holding me back", I don't mean to say that they're stopping me from doing what I want to do. I mean that they're stopping me from doing what I want to do when I'm with them.

I used to think that it was simply an issue of cost-benefit analysis, that each person didn't see the benefit in learning the new thing or that the benefit wasn't worth the effort. That made sense to me; why would anyone undertake a task with no upside or that was simply too much work for she what she got in exchange.

Seeing this, I took the most obvious course of action; I launched several campaigns designed to prove the cost/benefit of learning what I had in mind. Unfortunately, all were to no avail. Well, that's not exactly true. There definitely were points where they availed responses like "Just drop it!"

Surely after my thorough explanations, the question of cost/benefit could have no longer be the issue. There must have been something else.

Not to be deterred, I determined that the "something else" was simply not knowing where to start. I thought, "Perhaps I should just start showing each person how to do what I'd like them to learn to do?"

In some instances, this required that I first learn what I wanted her to learn. So, I go into learning mode and learn. Expecting the response, "Shoot, if he can do it, then certainly I can do it", the next time we get together, I show her what I learned.

That didn't work, either. In fact, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Rather than inspired, she'd feel diminished. Sigh...

Next, I tried boundlessly enthusiastic encouragement.

Nope, that didn't work either.

Contemplating all this in the shower, I came to the question, "When was the last time you learned something new?"

My new theory is that all my specificity about the item to be learned, (its cost/benefit analysis and demonstrating how to go about learning it) doesn't get at the heart of the issue. It's not about specifics; there's a more general and pervasive phenomenon where people simply stop learning.

It's like a cancer that goes undetected for years and is only identified when it's spread everywhere. At first the decline in learnability goes unnoticed. You see it only when you cast it in high contrast (hence the "really"). However, it slowly spreads making it's way from big, deep learning to tiny, shallow learning. Before you know it, just learning to get up on the other side of the bed each morning seems too much.

I tend to prefer the "moving towards" approach to the "moving away from" approach, but perhaps my efforts would be enhanced by taking the latter and pointing out the short- and long-term side effects of cancer of the learning. I could even put together a presentation including before and after pictures.

Okay, maybe this is important. Hmm...  Time for a learning MRI.

When was the last time you really learned something really new?

Happy Monday,

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