Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

American IdolMy wife and I have enjoyed watching American Idol for years.  I missed the first season, but have been a big fan since then.  Now that we’re into the phase where America votes weekly on who remains, I thought it might be nice to reflect on some of the many lessons that can come from watching this show.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. People aren’t always as talented as they think they are.  The early episodes of every season are proof of this.  Some are just painful to hear.  William Hung, anyone?

2. Talent can be found in unexpected places.  I’m not talking geography here since people travel all over the country to these auditions.  I’m referring to the fact that a booming voice might come out of a soft-spoken, unkempt, homeless person nobody would ever suspect as a good singer.  File this one under “can’t judge a book by its cover.”

3. You need social skills in addition to talent.  The contestant who has a great voice but who can’t get along with others, also fails to connect with the voting public, and eventually loses.  It’s not just about you and your talent; it’s about living in the context of a community and relationships, and that’s a whole different ballgame.

4. Only the strong survive.  I feel for the singers who get matched up in group week with people they can’t relate to or with people who don’t want to do their fair share.  That week requires everyone to work hard – all night if needed, and those who slack off tend not to progress to the next round.

5. Never assume you’re safe.  How many singers through the years have been surprisingly eliminated early in the voting, most likely because people didn’t bother to vote for them since they considered them safe?  Assume nothing.

6. Your vote counts.  Or, more accurately this season, your 50 votes count.  If you don’t vote, don’t gripe about the results.  Do your duty and vote if you care about an outcome.

7. Not everyone who judges you is worthy of doing so.  While the four judges this year had sole authority to determine the top twenty, they may or may not have made the right calls.  They may not be representative of what America wants.  They may have hidden agendas and criteria we never hear about that impacts their decisions.  Do I personally really care about anything Nicki Minaj ever thinks or says?  No.  But she’s paid the big bucks to sit there looking dumb and sounding dumber, so whether she is worthy or not isn’t the point now.  Contestants will still be impacted by her comments for good or bad.

8. Give it your all.  When singers play it safe and just blend in with other so-so performances, that doesn’t cut it.  You need to give it your heart and soul and know that you left it all on the stage.  The final results may be in others’ hands, but you can at least know you did your best.  There is great satisfaction in that.

9. Always keep learning and improving.  Whatever your current skill level, there is room for improvement, so do what it takes to learn and grow and reach your goals.

10. Make friends along the way.  Nobody wants to be around others whom they fear would willingly stab them in the back to get ahead.  Don’t be such a person.  Be the one who takes the time to notice and befriend others as you go.  Praise the members of the band.

11. Climbing a ladder isn’t a lifestyle.  There is more to life than just trying to get somewhere else in the future.  It’s about experiencing the present, too.  You climb ladders for a short while so you can do something else at the end of that ladder.  Know when to step off the ladder and do other things.

12. It’s OK not to get the most votes.  If there are 10,000 people trying out and only one can win, does that mean 9,999 are losers?  No!  It just means that the system is set up to give a greater reward to one person.  Many contestants go on to very successful careers without winning the competition.  You get to define success in your life.  Don’t let others do that for you.

13. Fame and fortune comes at a cost.  Some have the personal character, wisdom and right people nearby to handle fame and fortune.  Some give in to its temptations and flame out early.  If you think you’ll be the one making all the calls about what happens with your life at the level of stardom these singers seek, you’re wrong.  There are trade-offs your dreams didn’t envision.

14. Enjoy the ride.  We know that some things can’t last forever.  That’s OK.  Be thankful that it happened as long as it did.

15. Give back.  You didn’t get where you are completely by yourself.  Parents, friends, teachers, even bitter enemies all worked to help shape you into the person you are, as did your own dogged determination.  Others are invested in you with their lives.  Give back to them.

I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious lessons that my fellow American Idol fans can think of.  What are they?  Tell me in a comment.

p.s. – If you haven’t figured it out by now, the lessons above don’t apply just to a singing competition.

Willing To LearnOne of the enormous takeaways from writing a daily lesson learned for all of 2012 is the realization that it is possible to learn something every day if you try.  Some days it’s easy because you have been very intentional about learning some subject or pursuing something new.  Other days it’s unintentional and the particular lessons learned may be welcome or somewhat unwelcome because you learn them through mistakes or pain or the negative consequences of actions.

Because I approached each day of 2012 with the framework of my three words – ground, stretch, reflect – I was more intentional about reflecting on each day’s events, drawing some lesson from at least one thing that happened.  Without that final period of reflection, much of what happened would not have resulted in that last step of capturing some truth.  Maybe I would have learned some lessons anyway – maybe not.

As one who spent most of my adult career in a professional learning role, learning is important to me.  It always will be whether I am in such a formal role or not.  Those who spend their days teaching, facilitating, guiding, etc. know, however, that actual learning is up to the learner.  I can’t really teach anyone anything.  I can’t force someone to learn who is not willing to do so.

By the same token, it is not possible to keep people from learning if they are determined to do so.  Individual, self-motivated learners may have more work to do than if others spoon feed them, but if you pursue knowledge, it will come.  That means that nobody has an excuse of blaming others for failure to learn.

Of course, we aren’t all suited to become experts at everything.  Through a combination of natural talents, God-given gifts, environment, opportunity, effort, and the influence of others, we hone in on those things which attract our interest and fulfill our passions.  We are wonderfully and thankfully diverse in how that plays out in each of us, assuring that somehow we all fit and work together as a community in the end.

I hope you don’t think you’re finished with learning.  I know I’m not.

Leap year lesson #365 is You can learn if you try.

Dig DeeperAs the nation deals with yesterday’s tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the long process of grieving begins.  I appreciate stories from antiquity that tell of allowing long periods of mourning – a month or so – in recognition that grief isn’t something that we turn on and then turn off like a switch mere days later.  You probably feel a little bit different today than you did yesterday, and different today than you will tomorrow, but you and I will be impacted for a long while to come.

Part of the process that helps me deal with such tragedy is to dig deeper into the subject through the writings of trusted sources.  To that end, I have read a number of articles written on the subject in the past 24 hours by Christian leaders more experienced and wiser than me.  I started accumulating them and posting them as comments to yesterday’s lesson and will continue to add others there as I find them.  For the sake of convenience and to reinforce the point of today’s lesson, I offer them in the list below as well.

1. Billy Graham: “Suffering: Why Does God Allow it?

2. Russell Moore: “School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare

3. David Platt: “The Gospel and Newtown

4. John Piper: “How Does Jesus Comes to Newtown?

5. John Piper: “A Lesson For All From Newtown

6. John Piper: “How Shall We Minister to People After the World Trade Tower Terrorism of September 11, 2001?

7. Al Mohler: “Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut

8. Douglas Wilson: “And Slew the Little Childer

There is much that goes through our thoughts and emotions in times like these.  It helps not to travel that path alone.  Discuss it with others.  Bare your soul to God.  Seek and glean the wisdom of others to help bring clarity of thought and to try to make sense out of the senseless.

Leap year lesson #349 is Dig deeper for understanding.

Lessons Learned - EmersonWhen I posted my last lesson about saying yes to saying no, I suspected that I had already posted something on the topic earlier.  A search of the blog yielded the lesson from January 5 – Learn to say no.  There is a lot of similarity in the posts, although they aren’t exactly the same.

In fact, I thought at first, “I can’t do this; I already wrote a lesson on that subject.”  Then it occurred to me that even if the main takeaway from January 5 was similar to yesterday’s, it is a cold, hard truth that the lessons we learn don’t always stick with us, and even though our minds know something to be true, we don’t always act accordingly.  Thus we find ourselves re-learning the same lessons over and over again.

It would be good if individuals, organizations and businesses retained lessons learned, but too many do not.  I can think of a few scenarios where retaining what we learn (or the lack thereof) can make a huge difference:

  • In academics, the fact that we pass some test and get a grade at the end of a course is no guarantee that we recall or act in accordance with that knowledge months or years down the road.  How much of my college or graduate degree content do I remember?  Why should that qualify me for any job today?
  • In business, how often do leaders or groups repeat the same mistakes?  What will it take to document lessons learned, to disseminate that knowledge throughout an organization, and grow the corporate knowledge base so such mistakes don’t repeat?
  • In families and other relationships, do we try to learn from the past and improve relationships, or do we bounce along life’s bumpers reacting to present pressures like a pinball?

Science tells us we use a small fraction of our brain.  Maybe it’s time we use a little more of it to retain past lessons learned.

It isn’t just those who don’t know history who are doomed to repeat it.  It is also those who do know it, but fail to remember or apply it.

Leap year lesson #342 is Sometimes we need to learn the same lessons over and over.

This past weekend was killer.  That’s why I’m now a couple of days behind on these posts.  There was simply more to be done than ought to be planned for a weekend, but not all of it was within my control.

When Sunday rolled around and I had several things still to get done, it was vital to take them in order of importance.  It is easy to get sucked into doing things you enjoy the most and never get around to other tasks that are essential.

That meant I had to first prep for a class I was teaching later Sunday morning.  While some prep had been done prior to Sunday, the rest had to be done from about 2:30 a.m. until 7:00.  It isn’t normal for me to wait until Sunday to do that, but I had few alternatives this week.

Once I was home again after lunch, it was time to tackle priority number two – studying for and completing a final quiz to wrap up a five-week course I recently completed as part of my professional development plan for the year at work.  Fortunately, that didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it might and was complete in about three hours.

Then I needed to attend a quarterly meeting at my church that normally only goes about two hours max.  This one lasted three.  Ouch – wasn’t planning on that.

Finally, I had to do my part in carving/decorating some pumpkins that were due in the office Monday.  That took a few hours as well.  The world would not have ended if I didn’t do that, but I can’t stand not following through on my commitments, and the rest of the team had already done their part.  So my bee-themed pumpkins finally were complete a little after midnight.

There were other things to do along the way, of course, and I took momentary breaks for social media check-ins and other quick diversions.  The only way to get it all done, though, was to approach the list by doing the most important thing first, then moving on to the next until it was all complete.

Leap year lesson #293 is Do things in order of their importance.