Learning by doing, by failing and by teaching

5 07 2013

They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I sincerely hope that is not the case as my dog Lola is the same, equivalent, age as I am and I’m currently trying to teach her not to cry outside my bedroom door at 6:30 each morning. By training here I really mean yelling, “Go back to your bed!” but it seems to be working. And if Lola can still learn then so can we all.

1. We are all learning all of the time
We tend to think of life-long learning as being all about courses, classrooms and certificates when in fact we are all learning new things every day. For example, this morning while walking Lola I collected some seeds from the path. I brought them home and identified them and I now know the difference between sycamore and field maple seeds. And later today I’m going to make a batch of elderflower wine. Of course it will be several months before I know whether I am any good at it and I will probably never be an expert wine-maker but I will have learned something new today.

2. Learning by doing
We tend to think that we have to learn from others, maybe from books or in a classroom yet the most profound learning experiences can come from just giving things a go. I ran a fantastically successful internet retail business for some 10 years. We started to sell on-line in 1996 so for the first few years we were absolutely at the forefront of this new technology. We had to write our own software to build our own on-line store, create our own secure interface to take on-line payments, write our own affiliates software, create our own on-line mailing lists and more. None of the off the shelf or plug in systems like Paypal or WordPress existed. We had to learn as we went along. We’d try something and if it worked we’d do more of the same. If we tried something and it didn’t work we would try something else. It was incredibly exciting and an amazing learning experience.

3. Learning from mistakes
And at the end of the business, when things had started to go less well, the biggest lessons were learned.

Many years ago, in the early 1990′s, when I was involved in technology transfer I was struck by the contrast between the attitudes of UK and US venture capitalists. In the UK if an entrepreneur had a business failure on their c.v. there was virtually no chance of that person getting funding for a new venture. In the US investors were more likely to fund a start up business where the entrepreneur had been in business before, even if that business had failed. The thinking was that the entrepreneur would have learned from previous mistakes and would be much less likely to fail a second time.

We all make mistakes, particularly when we are trying to learn new things. Whoever learned to ride a bike without falling off at least once? The key is to learn from each fall so that you don’t fall again, or at least don’t fall so far!

And I’m reminded of Justin Rose in his speech on winning the US Open Golf a couple of weeks ago. He said that golf was a game where you loose week in and week out. You learn to win by loosing all the time!

4. Learning by teaching
The best way to learn is to teach.
Around the turn of the century I was doing a lot of yoga and wanted to learn more and to improve my practice. So I took a teacher training course. By learning more about the postures and philosophy in order to teach others I was teaching myself too. And standing up in front of a class explaining why things are done in the way in which they are done is the very best way of grounding the knowledge in yourself.

And I know more mathematics now than I did when I was a teenager, mainly by virtue of helping my son with his maths homework!

Even if formal teaching isn’t for you, share your knowledge. By talking to others about the things you know you will be helping them and embedding your learning yourself. It will improve your confidence too. You’ll surprise yourself with just how much you do know when you are prepared to share that learning, skill or experience with others.

Net-working beats networking

7 06 2010

When I think of networking I think of the plethora of networking events and in this respect I am neither a natural or enthusiastic networker. I say this knowing that to most of the hundreds of people I meet each month this will come as a big surprise and may even be heretical for someone in my position, particularly this month, when networking is the theme of the magazine.

I attend many networking events, as delegate or speaker, and have no difficulty approaching people and chatting away. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy the whole networking thing. I don’t. But I do love meeting people. I am genuinely interested in people, how they think, what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations. This is one of the reasons I love working with the3rdi magazine. There are so many interesting women and businesses out there, all with their own fascinating stories. However, you rarely meet people for long enough at most networking events to gain these sort of insights. I make an exception here for Athena. I am a fan. Here there are small groups within the larger grouping and there is a real opportunity to establish long-term business relationships.

However, most networking events are like mornings in the zoo; lots of voices clamouring for attention, all needing to get heard in order to get their reward. In the zoo this is breakfast. For the networker this is the exchange of business cards.

The swapping of contact details, rather than listening to the other person, is the driving factor. Most events will exhort you to bring £10 for coffee and lots of business cards when attending an event. They are more speed dating than long-term relationship. That’s not to say that it is not possible to make a great new contact at a networking event but surely there is a better way to meet your prince than kissing hundreds of frogs?

And that brings me to social networking. What I am going to say is counter-intuitive. I know that as only 6 months ago I was a complete sceptic, no more than that, I was a denier. One of my first blog posts was called Twitter Ye Not, and I detailed my objections to social media in general and twitter in particular. As you can read, I was unconvinced but you will see from the postscript added a couple of months ago, I am now persuaded of the value of social networking for business.

And actually it is more than that. Twitter suits me!

When I first considered the benefit of hearing what anyone had to say in just 140 characters I thought it unlikely that they could say anything of interest in that few words. I reckoned without human ingenuity…..and most communication is managed without annoying teenage textspeak abbreviations. You do have to pick the accounts you follow carefully. The amount of banality and vacuuos nonsense out there is truly mindblowing – there are only so many times I can read “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and other such ludicrous platitudes before I want to throw myself out of the window, taking the tweeter with me!

But the big positive for me is that by following short posts on twitter over a period of a couple of days you can get a far better insight into the person than you can in the business card frenzy that is the networking breakfast. You can choose, from the comfort of your own seat, whether to engage with that person or not, as opposed to being wedged into a corner of a second-rate hote room by a used car salesman or aromatherapist. And most posts come with a link so that you can instantly find out more about the issue, business or person. At an event you have to wait until you get back home and visit the website described on the business card to find out that the international grain merchant you spent the whole event talking to actually runs a bird seed shop in Peckham.

So, I’m a convert, to twitter at least.

If you have got a twitter account yourself then let us know and we can follow each other.

You can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/kebirch and the3rdi at www.twitter.com/the3rdimagazine

See you there