Ditch the books and learn lots!

Looking back on my life I can pinpoint times of rapid and substantial growth and development. On a personal basis they sometimes involved life changing, and even life threatening situations. Professionally they were usually projects and/or roles that I initially didn’t want to do because they seemed too big a stretch. They were high profile and in one way or another, high risk.

One example was when I was serving in the Royal Navy and was asked to set up a residential training unit for the welfare staff of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Army. It was a totally blank sheet including:

  • A new geographical location where I didn’t have a network of support
  • No designated building
  • No budget
  • No experience as a trainer

I had 3 months to find, furnish  and resource a suitable building, and design, deliver and evaluate an 8 week residential programme, complete with volunteer guest speakers.

During that time I learnt many knew skills and discovered strengths I didn’t know I had.  Not from books; not from courses; but from experience. From taking action, reflecting and adjusting as I went along. And that is coming from a coach and trainer! Now, as a lifelong learner I am not saying more traditional forms of learning don’t work at all. What I am saying is that you can achieve deeper, quicker and more sustainable development from stretching, work-based assignments and this is often overlooked.

Although when I was first given the assignment I was scared and doubted my ability to cope with it, I am so grateful to my boss for giving me the opportunity and trusting in my ability. That kind of development opportunity is priceless.

What stretching, scary, development opportunities have you experienced that had a massive impact?

Where can you offer the same opportunities to your team members?


Julie Kay helps you improve individual and team performance by building the strong trusting relationships you rely on for your success. If you are genuinely interested in boosting performance, productivity and profits the answer is just a click away. For more information, just click here

7 Responses to Ditch the books and learn lots!

  • Hi Julie

    On a training course I attended in 2001 one of the ‘catch phrases’ that was used is “The Universe Rewards Action – NOT Thought”. While I gain (what I would love to think of as) extensive knowledge from books, video’s etc, as most trainers will stress, NOTHING HAPPENS until ACTION is taken, and what I find is that MOST people, because they don’t essentially want to ‘change’ expect that the change will magically materialize simply from reading the book – or in extreme cases, from putting the book on a book shelf.

  • Julie,

    I think what is important about this post is the fact that we cannot change our patterns of behavior until we physically perform the activities (in this case setting up a training unit).

    In respectful response to Geraldine, the emergency learning you are referencing is called incidental teaching (from Behavior Science). This learning, however is not only for emergencies as we’re developing new patterns of behavior every day whether it’s an emergency or not. So this type of “just do it’ learning happens from the moment you’re born but putting staff in a more concentrated form can improve their development.

    Lastly, books and knowledge infrequently allow us to have “lasting change” when talking about our physical behavior. As behavioral and psychological research has shown, getting a behavior (in this case training and implementation of a program) to generalize to other areas is very difficult to do in a real world setting, let alone through just reading.

    Essentially, just because we read something doesn’t mean that changes anything we do physically, and because its internal it frequently doesn’t.

  • In the writing world, we have a lot of these “types” of people. For some, they just get bad advice, i.e. read this book or that one to become a published author. For others, they know they want to write and since they feel they don’t know how, they get books to teach them how. I’m not going to slam all writing books, but to truly learn to write, you have to be willing to write—badly at first (maybe even REALLY badly at first) until you get good at ti. I had a new writer contact me the other day asking about a couple of online programs that claim they will “help” you write a book. She wanted to know if they worked.

    First, I don’t know because I don’t use programs like that. Secondly, I think you can try the programs, but what is going to eventually work the best is to write. One chapter, one page, one paragraph, one sentence, one word, one letter at a time. If you’re looking for something to supplant the work of doing that, maybe you should find something else to do for a living or for a hobby.

    At some point you’ve got to put feet to your faith and doing to your dream.

  • I agree that difficult situations, stressful and emotional ones, especially unexpected and unavoidable ones, will teach us to find a spontaneous response and reaction that we haven´t time to find in a book. Those to me are the emergency moments.
    But, long term shortcomings, or situations and/or emotions that I repeatedly have trouble dealing with, those are the ones I have my books for. I would not be without those tools that help me bring about lasting change through insight and knowledge. However, of course it is important that we learn to act in all circumstances and not search and research ourselves into apathy. The books, and the wisdom in them, are meant to spur us into action, not give us a reason to postpone living.

    • G. McAuley Thank you so much for sirhang this information! I was participating in a webinar for shelter professionals recently where talk of behavior modification in a shelter setting came up and revealed a shocking number of people who felt perfectly comfortable and justified in using pain or the threat of pain to "help" a dog. I can't understand some people continuing to adhere to these kinds of methods – aren't we supposed to be the ones with the bigger brains? 

  • Dear Julie, I agree with the principle that one learns best & quickest by doing, acting. Also, difficult situations are very apt to quick up one’s learning process. The “surviving” tool-set is activated and that’s a strong one.

    But and in this case there is a “but”. This “but” is about the “ditching the books”. For me personally arguably they are my “truest” friends. I do believe that my personal “survival tool-kit” has been partially developed through them and after an above described “quality-jump” (during which you do not have much time and temper to consult them) they newly become a must-have companion.

    So, jump into the situation and developing oneself quickly: yes, ditching the books: no. I’d rather say: use everything available in good proportion, with excellent balance an in good timing.

    • Thanks for your comments Miklos. I agree that ideally we get the most from a number of approaches. I am attempting to redress the balance and get real time, real world application and learning higher up the agenda rather than defaulting to looking for a book or training programme for the answer. I know plenty of people who read lots and are perpetual students and who don’t take action or change their behaviour one jot. Do you come across them?

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