So What

“Leadership training is like first-aid training. You never know when you’re going to need it, but when you do, it could save a life” – General Lewis MacKenzie

A frustration many of us experience when taking all this wonderful training and realizing a week, month, or year later that we don’t even remember the instructor’s name. Early on I figured I’d either have to start finding a way to carry out something, anything of what I’d leaned, or stop wasting my time and my employer’s money by not going to any more trainings.

I’ve been to a lot of training in my life. Starting at age thirteen in Air Cadets (I was a geek from an early age), on through working my way through university in the Communications Reserve, and then working my way up the corporate ladder. I’ve leaned team building, listening skills, and project management. I’ve been to lunch-&-learns, off-sites, and conferences.

I don’t remember or use most of what I was supposed to learn at most of these conferences, but I got something useful out of all of them. Even the bloody awful ones. I did this by applying the “so what?” question.

The “so what” questions will help you figure out one thing, anything, that you can take back to work with me and put into action the next day. Something you can write down in one sentence on a yellow stickee note and put up on your computer monitor and practise daily until it becomes a habit. If the class was active listening, the summary was “pay attention”. I might summarize the basics of project management as “who does what by when”.

What happens if you don’t apply what you’ve learnt? I’m talking in general now, not just in terms of management and leadership. It takes about 30 days of daily practise for a habit to become ingrained. Even as something as simple as flossing your teeth. We all know that it’s important for dental hygiene, but some of us have a hard time doing it every month, let alone every day. Yet once it does become a habit, something we do without thought or hesitancy, it become effortless.

It seems trivial and over-simplistic to put a one sentence reminder on a yellow stickee. But that sentence (or image or sound) is a trigger for everything else that came before it. Leaving it up on your computer monitor (or bathroom mirror, or dresser) reminds you the entire experience it came from.

Becoming better at what we do, if it’s welding or managing welders, is also a habit. It requires focused, disciplined effort, feedback, and practise. After a while it becomes automatic, like driving a car or flossing your teeth. Then you’re ready for the next change.

In our busy lives, the thought of adding one more thing to an already long list of things we feel bad about not doing is not appealing. Yet doing the same thing day after day, when it’s not working, is not going to make things better either. Making things a little better every day is like compound interest. Doing something a little better every day you do it adds up a lot over time.

If a big goal is so overwhelming that it doesn’t seem possible, break it down into smaller goals. Find that one little thing that you can do better, and practise it until it’s a habit. Then move on to the next one. One at a time, over time, is the fastest way to improve.

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One response to “So What

  1. Pingback: Goldilocks Data « Practical Managers

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