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Is your attitude stopping you from learning?

Are you closed to learning something new because you don’t want to fail, or look silly? You might be missing out on huge opportunities to increase your skills, and your competitive advantage.

“I don’t want to do it!” she said to me. She pursed her lips, folded her arms and shook her head. No, this was not a tantrum-prone 3-year old as you might imagine… This was an executive on a visual thinking course that I run. Before the session started I was going around the room introducing myself and I asked her whether she was looking forward to the session. I could see that she was nervous and more probing questions revealed that she was anxious about her believed inability to draw. In fact, I see it often on this course because a lot of adults have “unlearnt” how to draw – sadly this is not seen as a valuable skill anymore. So, naturally I was expecting some resistance.

However, what was surprising (and alarming!) was the fact that most executives in the almost 40-strong group was either overly negative or actively resistant. I had to answer challenging questions about “what value is drawing stuff to me?”, “whatever are we going to use this for?”, “this seems like a waste of time!” It took most of the morning showing them how to draw simple icons to create meaning and impact to turn the room around. Wow, tough crowd. But they pushed through and created some good work by day’s end.

A very different situation greeted me less than a week later when I ran the same course for a group of graduates. These 20-somethings were excited about learning a new skill, laughing good-naturedly at one other’s drawings and having a grand time. And, the work they produced was of superior quality than the execs from a week ago.

Why is that? We know that as adults we are concerned about not looking foolish. I get that. But in the act of “saving face” we might close ourselves off to learning. And learning how to draw requires you to connect with the inner child, to play, to fail, laugh and try again. Are you your own worst enemy when it comes to learning something new?

Here’s a couple of limiting assumptions you might want to ponder:

  1. I have to get it perfect all the time. No, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be real and authentic and just good enough. It’s not about the drawing, it’s about the meaning.
  2. I can’t draw. Yes, you can. Go ahead – draw a stickman. Or a house. You just have to be willing to try.
  3. I cannot be seen to fail. Well, newsflash: failing is learning. Without trying, and failing, you won’t learn. Ever. How will that serve you?

So, next time when you’re feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable facing a new skill, be your own best friend and try. Laugh at yourself and let go a little bit of being the adult all the time. You might just amaze yourself.

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