…because some thoughts are worth remembering
When we prepare for a test, take on a new project, start to organize an event, aim for a promotion, there is a strong drive to learn exactly what we need to know to get the job done. Not all learning is created equal and we soon recognize that certain things should have been mastered long time ago and there is little to be done. But there are some things that can be learned up to the minute.
Knowing what needs to be learned and mastered is important, but more so is preparing our minds for the learning. I found out that simply noting that there are three categories of learning helps me realize how I need to prioritize vast amounts of learning I have no time to complete.
I categorize them as follows:
Knowledge has to do with specific information within a particular domain required to accomplish the goal. If the goal is to put on a conference, data required include: venue and speaker availability, budget, rules that govern the design of that particular conference, who would make a good master of ceremony, which companies might be good sponsors, audience expectations, what comparable conferences are charging, etc.
Techniques/Skills has to do with the ability to execute something. Newscasters often make good masters of ceremony (knowledge) because they have the skills to engage the audience and can think on their feet to ad lib if things don’t go according to plan. It’s not something we can develop overnight. Having a group of volunteers in the conference planning committee is going to take strong leadership to embrace the team’s passion and direct their energy to completing specific tasks. Knowing that is important, but knowing alone doesn’t make you the strong leader required for the task.
Self has to do with your values, what we are bringing to the table besides techniques and knowledge. It may be a strong sense of community service to put on this conference. It is what makes up our brand, style, sensibility, your “voice” and poise. It is how we choose to conduct ourselves when faced with personality clashes, budgetary shortfall, and how we make decisions when there are no right answers.
Obviously there are overlaps, and they also evolve in time: e.g., it is hard to develop good technique without knowledge that has been internalized or different pieces of information that has been synthesized. Our brand is shaped by how we apply the techniques and use our knowledge. But for the purposes of having a mental map or to develop a mindful schema on where we are competent/comfortable and where we have gaps, the basic categories should be clear enough, generally listed in the order of ease and time required for learning.
When a project is about to start and we need to prepare ourselves by addressing gaps in our learning, what should we work on first, by ourselves or ask for help, and for how long? If we don’t have the techniques down before the project is about to start (e.g., strong people skills to manage the team), starting to read a management book now probably won’t help immediately to get the results we need. But it may be enough to realize that given limited time and resources, the best way to address the gap is not by learning it ourselves but to identify someone else who can do it (and perform the task along their side so the experience helps us build the knowledge base, which we can weave together and practice to make it into a leadership skill).
Although listed last, starting with the “self” with respect to the goal at hand will help prioritize the learning necessary for knowledge and technique: why do I want to take this on, what do I bring to table, what do I want to get out of this experience, what kind of a team member am I, what are the values that anchor me?
Know thy self.
Plenty of joy can be found in learning if we can acknowledge that there’s also work involved. While I appreciate languages, I’ve found language classes to be frustrating. Recently, I realized it’s because techniques and knowledge are taught together without any distinctions as if they were both the same: what this phrase means (knowledge, easy to understand, and perhaps even memorize), but how to properly use it in a sentence or when it would be appropriate to say, or how to get the pronunciation of it just right to sound like a native, those are matters of techniques that require practice. There are other pieces of knowledge required beyond the meaning of the phrase, such as the placement of the tongue and intonation, which then needs to be practiced again and again. The learning seems incomplete by knowing what it means but not being able to pronounce it properly, to the point it may even prevent me from remembering the meaning of the phrase. As soon as I realize not all parts are meant to be learned at the same time with the same expert level before going onto the next chapter, identifying that certain items covered in the text book are knowledge, and others techniques, made it less frustrating for me.
How does “self” come into play here? I realized that while I enjoy dynamic and organic ways of learning, when it came to languages taught in a school setting, I expected the learning process to take place linearly and monotonically. I should have known better: very few functions in life are linear and monotonic.
Photo: Street sign in Hamburg, Germany, where The Beatles honed their skills by playing multiple gigs a night.