There's the old adage that says if it's not broke, don't fix it. Because people learn best in the midst of ambiguity, it's important to let big questions simmer. Who will I be five years from now? What would I like to do now?
"Learn the unfamiliar, in a comfortable environment," says Ann Kousseff-Gilbert, a business educator and author of Learn: The Art and Business of Discovering Your Brilliant Side. "Have a little discomfort. Don't assume that everything is going to be wonderful."
"I wasn't sure I wanted to do business with them," says Knud Leintz of New Hampshire , who later hired Elizabeth Daniel to work in his marketing department. Leintz had worked with Daniel on an initiative in a department store. He liked her sharp mind but wasn't sure whether she had a career at the company.
Leintz, however, knew that he didn't want to fire Daniel. So, they worked together on a program that taught what Leintz calls "low-impact leadership." "We would work on the same issue over and over again and make minor adjustments to the plan," he says. "We would look at it as learning and growing instead of starting to project into the future." Leintz also made sure he saw Daniel’s professional journey through her eyes.
Learn as much as you can—in as much detail as you can possibly understand—and look for things that surprise you.
As she was leaving, Leintz told Daniel, "You're going to do great things." She smiled and said, "Yes I am." That didn't surprise Daniel at all. "If anything, I was surprised that he never said no."
Kousseff-Gilbert's advice for learning is to accept mistakes, even when you make them. "Make mistakes in ignorance of how you will feel about them," she says. It may be embarrassing or downright hard to digest—but mistakes are part of human nature. Sometimes, the best learning comes from unexpected growth.
At a corporate conference when Leintz was a finance guy, he noticed that the woman in front of him had never put on a dress before. "When I walked away, I felt like I messed up for the rest of the day," he says. "But five years later, she was an amazing salesperson who I haven't put a dress on since."
Learn as much as you can—in as much detail as you can possibly understand—and look for things that surprise you. Does it take a few lessons to figure out a new strategy? Does there seem to be one constant in your work?
While Leintz doesn't know exactly why he was drawn to Daniel as a department head, it started with something strange. "I always liked her," he says. "I looked at her from a distance, with a different viewpoint."