Discovering New Ways to Learn (While Holding Onto What Works)

7008333501_f599f8f4aa_b Laura Baker worked for Verizon working her way up from their direct marketing call center to the Solution Center to first line management and finally to Specialist where she was part of a team that handled mission critical system outages. In this position, Laura described it as “intense work with no breaks. You had to learn on the fly by watching, listening, and paying attention to everything that was going on.” The work demanded an understanding of the system and the links of the systems so that problems could be managed. Her years in the Solution Center handling minor system and equipment troubles gave her great training for solving problems. Of course there were technical skills she needed to have, but she also needed diplomatic skills for when the problem called for senior management to get involved. Her principle learning came from someone showing her (or her observing) how something worked. “Show me once, and I will remember.

Today, having left Verizon some 10 years ago, I can still go in and work on the Inauguration every 4 years (here in DC), because I still remember what I learned.” Show me is Laura’s mantra. Today, Laura is a producer in a small company where having someone ‘show you’ is a luxury. “I use lots of trial and error – I keep pushing buttons. I keep telling myself that this should be simple. But it means that I have to call upon my self-confidence a lot, reminding myself I’m not stupid, and I can learn it.” When Laura discovers something new, she treats it as she did problems from her Specialist days. “I wrestle the problem to the floor. For example, when I came here, I had never used Pages (Apple’s answer to Word.) I was strictly a PC person. As of today, I have laid out three books using Pages.”

Laura is a big reader, but reading a manual is not helpful to her, “because the language of manuals doesn’t fit the way I describe things.” But reading books is a great source. Laura and her Kindle get along just fine. “I also read the newspaper daily so that I can talk with my mother about the news of the day.” But the big way in which she still learns is through direct observation.

The stories she told me about learning through observation still make me smile. As she tells it, “I saw a truck slowly making circles in the court in front of my house 3 days running. Now this court is at the end of the street. There is no reason to be here except to do something at one of the four houses on the court. So, I stopped him and asked what he was doing for the last 3 days. He replied that he lived in the neighborhood, but I knew he didn’t and told him so. Well, I haven’t seen him since. And I also observe my garden. When I moved here, I decided not to touch the garden until I had seen it through the seasons of a full year. Only after I observed what came up where, did I begin to make changes. But before making changes, I observed what was growing well in other people’s gardens. I didn’t want to waste my time planting something that wouldn’t like the area.” See what I mean about great stories that can make you smile?

Laura was forced to create a new style for bringing in necessary information and knowledge to do her job, and she dived in with gusto. But she has never left her love of ‘show me.’ Think about your favorite way to bringing in new information. Have you challenged yourself to try something new? Sometimes trying something you don’t like as well as your favorite can widen your appreciation of your own abilities.

Photo by Tim Hamilton