How to learn exciting new skills like Wilbur Wright.

We experience life in three modes.

  1. Growth Mode.
  2. Maintenance Mode.
  3. Atrophy Mode.

These modes are not sequential. You can shift from one mode to another in any order you choose. Read a book and you are in Growth Mode. Do some drugs and you are in atrophy mode. Brush your teeth and you are in Maintenance Mode. (Listen to some 80s English electronic music and you are in Depeche Mode.)

Right now I am spending as much time as I can in Growth Mode. I am reading for learning. I’m working out regularly. And I have started my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry, which pushes me to grow every day.

Growing By Learning From Others.

To push myself for more growth, I am soaking up as much as I can about inventors and pioneers. Recently I’ve studied Walt Disney, Lewis and Clark, the team at Pixar, and Ernest Shackleton. Right now I am studying Orville and Wilbur Wright. Notice I say that I am studying them. Not reading about them. You can read simply to be entertained. Or to kill time. I’m studying because I am trying to learn and grow.

The Wright Brothers

For those of you who aren’t up to date on your turn-of-the-last-century trivia, Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Dayton, Ohio, invented the airplane. Which changed the world forever. In fact, if it weren’t for them you wouldn’t be able to complain about the lack of leg room or that spotty in-flight wi-fi as you cross the entire country in just 6 hours.

One of the things that stood out to me about the Wrights was their highly pragmatic approach to their own growth and learning. Today, you and I can use their approach to develop our own breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.

The Wright Stuff

To learn and grow like the Wright Brothers read the following excerpt from a talk Double Dubs (my nickname for Wilbur Wright) gave to a group of engineers in Chicago:

Now, there are two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: One is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast a while, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks.

The latter system is the safest, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety, you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.   -Wilbur Wright  1901

4495439099001_5325821989001_5305199910001-vs
Orville and Wilbur Wright were no couch potatoes. They were the worlds first airplane potatoes.

Applying Wilbur’s Approach

The same holds true for you my friend. You can study that challenge in front of you from the comfort of your couch. You can read about it, talk about it and watch other people do it. But if you really want to learn how to do it yourself, you have to climb aboard your own flying machine and learn the tricks yourself, through trial and error.

That’s how I started The Weaponry. I read and studied and tried to prepare ahead of time. But eventually I had to jump in the cockpit, pull back on the wheel and start messing with the controls. I’m learning by doing. And I’m learning faster than I ever could from a book or a class.

Your Growth

The same approach holds true for learning anything. You learn how to kayak, juggle, write code, start a non-profit, lead, cook, invest and speed-eat hot dogs by doing.  Experience is the greatest teacher. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes help you course-correct and keep you moving forward.

 Conclusion

Don’t settle for Maintenance Mode. Avoid Atrophy Mode at all costs. And keep growing. Not by watching or reading. But by doing. Get off the fence and climb aboard your own horse, bicycle or flying machine today. Then just keep at it until you get it Wright.

*If you got anything out of this post consider subscribing to receive future posts via email. I’ll try to write something smart or funny to make it worth your while. Heck, I’ll even spring for the email postage.

Advertisements

Why I ask job candidates if they can Double Dutch.

Starting something new is hard. I’m not just talking about things like going to prison. Which I imagine is really hard at first. And in the middle. And towards the end.  It’s hard to be a rookie at anything. Some people enjoy the luxury of not caring whether or not they look dumb doing something new. I don’t have that luxury. I care.

But I also really enjoy taking on new challenges. And I have developed my own technique for starting new activities that you may find usefeul. I refer to it as my Double Dutch technique.  You remember Double Dutch. It’s the playground activity where you try to jump two ropes, swinging simultaneously, in opposite directions. Because jumping one swinging rope just isn’t hard enough.  Double Dutch can be a ridiculously intimidating activity. Those ropes are relentlessly nipping at your heels. And once they bite your foot the game immediately halts to bring everyone’s attention to your failure.

But I like Double Dutch. It’s an activity for people who like to try hard things. It’s much more challengeing than single Dutch, or non-Dutch rope jumping. And it’s infinitely harder than just jumping up and down with no rope (which always earns me funny looks).

I like to try hard things.  It makes me feel stronger, more confident and more capable. It makes me feel like I am growing. And I like to work with others who enjoy pushing themselves.

Today, I utilize my Double Dutch technique all the time as I grow my advertising agency, The Weaponry. Because not only am I taking on new challenges personally, I want our entire team to continuously expand our capabilities and find new and better ways to help our clients.

Here’s how my Double Dutch technique works.

I get close to the activity. To get a feel for Double Dutch you have to step into that space right next to the ropes. And when I start something new I try to first get really close to the action without fully engaging.  There is something about being close to the activity that helps you absorb how it works quicker. If you want to climb Mt. Everest go to basecamp first to get aclimated.

I watch others. Aside from the very first Double Dutchers on Earth, whom I assume were twins from Amsterdam, I bet no one has ever tried jumping the two-ropes-of-doom without first watching someone else do it. That’s why I always watch other people performing the task I want to learn. I study the moves, the attitude and the technique. Much like an actor studies others when preparing to play a role.

I find the rhythm  Double Dutch has a unique rhythm all its own. You have to get in sync with it to succeed. Most human interactions are like this. The interactions at a networking event, a yoga class, and in business meetings follow a certain flow and cadence. Learn them so you can anticipate the order and timing of the activity.

I jump in. At some point if you want to Double Dutch you have to jump in.  Once I have armed myself reasonably well by getting close to an activity, watching it, and finding the rhythm, I channel my inner Davd Lee Roth and I jump (might as well, right DLR?). Sometimes it goes well from the start. Other times I need a mulligan.

I recalibrate  In Double Dutch the rope tells you what you did wrong. And the problem is always that you touched the rope. The question is where. Use that feedback to do better on the next try. If you jumped too soon, wait another beat. If you jumped too late, go a bit sooner.  This is little data at its best. Create a new plan based on the learnings.

I jump in again. And again.  To jump ropes you have to keep trying. This is how life works. Get in and jump, over and over until you get it right. Whether you want to build a great brand, learn how to knit, or run QuickBooks, there is ultimately no substitute for doing. Be a do-er.

As you focus on growth and acquiring new skills consider the Double Dutch approach. Give yourself a chance to get close, observe, absorb, try, learn and try again. Soon you will find yourself in rhythm, jumping, and singing, ‘Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries.’ Let’s talk about how well you’re doing when I see you at recess. Until then, here’s a little inspiration.