Thursday, January 11, 2007

Learning From Experience: Opportunities & Constraints

Having spent more than 40 in executive positions and then as a management consultant, side by side with my academic career, my belief that experience is the best teacher was always confirmed and was never been shaken.
This belief is based on two assumptions. First, we live in an age when dramatic personal change is required of all of us. Second, systematically, learning from experience is the best means at our disposal for changing in the ways we need to. the problem is that learning from experience is not automatic, either for individuals or for society. It is all too natural for people and organizations, or even civilizations, to make the same mistakes over and over again. What happens consistently is that people don't notice when chance is required. To actually learn something new from experience requires an intentional and disciplined effort.
In today's corporate life, and because the world around us is changing so profoundly, the least adaptive among us are being ruthlessly weeded out-professionally, emotionally, and even physically. In order to be able to learn, to consciously change and improve your patterns of behavior, will dramatically increase your personal effectiveness.
Many of us today, are faced with the need to learn some of the most important lessons of our lives.Professionally, the learning mandate, ranges from such matters as how to lead a team how to influence people you are not the boss of, how to take on one more project when you are booked solid. Personally, most of us are dealing with such issues as the need to find more constructive resolutions to conflict in intimate relationships, raising children in an age when the stakes of peer pressure are higher than ever, finding calm in the midst of stress.
If you choose to accept the mission of profiting from your experience , the profit you realize will come from the creative tension that steady discipline brings about. To understand the kind of tension I am talking about, hold a rubber band between your two hands, and stretch it tight by moving your right hand away. Move as far with your right hand as you can without breaking the rubber band. Feel the tension. the rubber band is a metaphor for life. Think of your left hand as the status quo, your circumstances as they presently exist. Think of your right hand as the direction in which you would like to move. Now, relax the tension on the rubber band by moving only one hand. Once again, you made a decision. Your hands didn't decide. The rubber band didn't decide. Did you go to the left or the right?
The natural choice, by the way, is to let the right hand move back to the left, the status quo. Nobody likes to change. Why fix what ain's broke? You now have to think about something else: was the decision not to change a good one, or should you reconsider? This choice, too, is yours alone. You can't avoid making choices. Having this kind of internal conversation can change your life. It reflects heightened consciousness and persistent self-reflection. We control our destinies in direct proportion to our self-awareness. Two thousand years ago a Chinese sage, Lao Tsu, put it this way: "Those who know much about others may be smart, but those who understand themselves are even wiser. Those who control many may be powerful, but those who have mastered themselves are more powerful still."
Most of us don't learn useful things from our experience, at least not consistently. Our learning is often by accident, and it doesn't come easily. We often learn dysfunctional behaviors-hating or blaming other people, being depressed. What we want, of course, is to learn how to think and behave in ways that accomplish our purposes with grace and flexibility.

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