Watch and Learn: Unlocking The Tumblers of Awareness

My friends were beginning to wonder if I had a death wish.

“Don’t worry”, they listened to me say, “I’m okay, I can do this.”

I couldn’t blame them for being skeptical.

Less than 24 hours earlier they had witnessed me suffer some of the most cringe-worthy, gravity defying, blatantly devastating wipeouts in the history of mankind. The fact that I escaped serious injury is undeniable proof of a Divine Presence.

That was on the Beginner’s Trail.

Now here I was, riding the gondola to the top of Wildcat Mountain, passing over menacing Black Diamond signposts marking a trail that echoed Jim Mckay’s iconic “. . . and the agony of defeat”.

My sudden boost in self-confidence can be attributed to what Oxford Dictionaries defines as ‘involving or based on experience and observation’. It is the definition of ‘Experiential’, which when combined with an appropriate amount of Introspection, enhances the impact of the process known as Experiential Learning.

I champion the art of learning through experience. One of my greatest concerns has been that technology will supplant human interaction as the preferred method of learning. Now it appears many of us won’t have a choice. Virtual Reality and other forms of interactive software fit a critical need at a time when person-to-person contact is limited. From a practical perspective, these still represent learning experiences.

Working or living through an experience without introspection is just a memory. Memories fade over time.

Introspection connects the learner to the intended value of an experience through a review of their own thoughts and feelings. Some models will refer to this process as Learning Transfer, but transfer implies movement, not the emotional investment we’re seeking.

Imagine if you will: When a learner can step back and examine an experience (what just happened?), they are free to evaluate the impact of that experience (what does it all mean?). A classic cognitive process.

When their response (how can I grow from this?) is generated through introspection, an immediate and unique sense of ownership is implied. This inner insight and dialogue improve comprehension, application, and self-confidence (I got this!)

If your Learning Strategy is aligned with the goals of the organization, the more likely changes in the learner’s behavior and performance will align with supporting goal achievement.        

The story that follows will touch on two aspects at the core of Experiential Learning, then provide an example of Introspection from a learner’s perspective. Those aspects are:

Seize the Moment (carpe punctum) – Powerful learning opportunities can come and go in the blink of an eye. Be ready when the moment presents itself, you may not get a second chance.

Observation – Seeing is learning. Often referred to as the “Show me” style of learning, the impact of stepping away from the action, or beginning with a demonstration, adds unseen value to both comprehension and application within the learning process.

Learning to Ski – Part I    

It started a few weeks earlier when we decided to go skiing at a popular resort north of Boston. The plan was to travel up on Friday, and then spend Saturday hitting the slopes.

I was the only one in the group that had never been on skis before. My friends, all accomplished skiers, said it wouldn’t be that difficult. They filtered through a series of similar activities, including roller skating, ice skating, roller blading, cross country skiing, and water skiing. When I admitted to never balancing on a blade or wheels, their tune changed.

“Then this is going to be hard for you” was the final consensus.

Please refrain from judgement. I’m tall, and when I fall it doesn’t happen quickly. Bongos play, my feet and hands fly out in every direction, and cymbals crash when I hit pay dirt. Its not pretty. Strapping into equipment that only increased my chances of falling was never an option.  Besides that, the only recreational activities I had participated in that involved snow were building a snowman and throwing snowballs.

Undaunted, I was ready to go Saturday morning. Skiing did prove to be a very foreign concept for me. Guidance I had received played like a mental soundtrack on repeat: tips of my skis together like a snowplow, push outward with your skis, keep my weight on the downhill ski. I took a deep breath and pointed myself downhill.

Beginning to slide without moving a muscle, I determined my first objective would be learning how to stop. That didn’t happen right away. Before I knew it, I was barreling into a bunker of snow at the bottom of the slope.

By Noon I could make it down the Bunny Slope without risk of serious injury. This coincided with my discovery that it was called the Bunny Slope (that explained all the small children). I decided to self-promote myself to the Intermediate Slope. Things progressed nicely, although stopping still gave me trouble. With no convenient bunker at the bottom to stop my momentum, I adopted a technique that began with a silent battle cry of “Abort the mission” . . . followed by a purposeful loss of balance and crash to the ground.

Slightly painful, but effective.

Learning to Ski – Part II  

The self-confidence generated that day led to my accepting an invitation for the next ski adventure. This time we would spend two days on Wildcat Mountain, located in the picturesque White Mountain national forest in New Hampshire.

It was a beautiful morning in early Spring, plenty of sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.

The group agreed to accompany me on the first trip down the Beginner Slope. We rode the lift to the top of the run. I had no experience in comparing resorts, but this Beginner Slope seemed a lot steeper than the Intermediate Slope from before. I looked around at the layout of the resort. Wasn’t there a Bunny Slope or something I could start with?

There was not, this was it. I pointed the tips of my skis downhill. That’s when the carnage began. I didn’t have to worry about stopping this time . . . Mother Nature and the laws of physics were taking care of that as I fell repeatedly. A child no more than five-years old swooshed up next to me as I lay there like fallen prey on the snow.

“Mister, are you alwight? ‘Cause you don’t look alwight”

I muttered “Yes” and he swooshed away. I tried another run, same results, though managing to escape the harassment of another preschooler. Everyone in my group took turns monitoring me, I suppose to expedite notifying next of kin.

By Noon of that day, I was bruised all over and done. I told the others to meet me in the lodge when they were through and settled into a sunny spot on the observation deck. My server grimaced and felt compelled to ask if I was okay.

That afternoon was spent watching skiers come down the mountain. Watching skiers skiing . . .

The only place I had seen people ski was on television. They made it look easy. I could not relate to verbal references such as ‘downhill’ ski and the other tips. There was no practical or intuitive connection.

Once I seized the opportunity to observe several hundred people applying those concepts, things changed. I could hear the slushing of the snow as they shifted their weight. I could see the bend in their knees, how they used their poles for balance. It made sense now.

The outlook for the rest of the weekend improved dramatically as the afternoon progressed. When the others were done for the day, we returned to the lodge. Their main concern was how I would occupy my time, having written me off for another day on the slopes. My confident response of, “Oh, I’m skiing alright”, sent shockwaves of disbelief ping-ponging between them.

Which led to our trip to the top of the mountain that next morning. It wasn’t graceful or a thing of beauty, but I was back in the business of learning how to ski. Stopping? Well, that remained a question mark, although I did manage to bump into several interesting people at the bottom of the hill. Literally.         

Introspection: Observation unlocks the tumblers of awareness. Even with prior discussion, demonstration, and preparation, a learner can get “too deep”. They become consumed with the act of performing, losing connection to the purpose of the technique or process involved. A few moments on the sidelines, observing the performance of others, creates powerful awareness.

Just think “Watching skiers skiing” . . . There was no question that I had been overwhelmed by the pace of learning in this scenario. There were too many physical factors involved that I could not control.  The result was that verbal instructions and initial demonstrations had little impact. By seizing the moment, I was able to remove myself and observe others for an extended period. Seeing a large cross-section of people performing the same basic techniques bridged the gap between theory and application. This was more effective than if I were to study video of myself and attempt to adjust.

Building on this intuitive foundation, I adjusted key elements of my technique virtually overnight. The next morning, I was eager to apply what I had learned. The experience had generated enough self-confidence and enthusiasm to overcome my epic failure from the day prior. Though the results were not perfect, they supported the presence of potential . . . to improve, to grow, and to avoid serious bodily injury.

Tall Tim Tips: Introspection

Your role as a Leader or Learning Professional includes a commitment to facilitating Learning Introspection. The following Tall Tim Tips will support of your efforts:

Open Ended Questions: Become fluent in asking questions that generate more than a one-word answer.  Remember, you are guiding the process . . . allow the learner to discover, or uncover, their unique avenue to growth. This can be accomplished in person, by phone, zoom, etc.

Timing Is Everything: Read the emotional state . . . yours and the learner’s. Plato described Introspection as a chance to “calmly and patiently review our own thoughts”. Many situations will allow themselves to be worked through immediately, almost on the spot. If you’re coming off of a tough shift or service call, consider waiting until the emotions can support ‘calm and patient review’.

Be Positive: Learning is about growth, by nature a positive endeavor. Continue to promote your trust and belief in the potential of the learner. This is when patience is critical on your part . . . people learn at their own pace. Allow completion of the learning cycle, the results will make it worth the wait.

Become a Learning Leader: You can pre-load the intent of Experiential Learning prior to a planned learning experience. Virtual Reality is an example . . . your learner may not know what to expect, and certainly will not glean everything applicable about the experience. Discussing the objectives of the content, then revisiting the “what” after the experience jumpstarts the process of Introspection . . . and results.

Final Thoughts

Continue to embrace the value of learning based on experience and observation. Embrace that building acumen required to effectively promote Introspection takes time. People respond differently when encouraged to explore their own potential . . . in essence turning on their own light bulb, instead of waiting for someone to do it for them. Your improvement begins with a look in the mirror . . . follow the process with your most recent or next learning experience. This insight will boost your self-confidence, and have you saying, “I got this.”

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!

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