How do you prepare someone to learn? Is it possible? What if people want to learn but need to do it their way? How much can you push? Is it wise to force people to learn in a style that´s not familiar or comfortable? Sometimes it´s in the language. Or it might be the instructor´s art of persuasion-successfully convincing the students that there´s something in it for them. If I´m being taught something, I want to know how it´s going to help me be BETTER at what I´m doing now. Don´t you? Plus, I want to have something to show for my efforts.
For more than a year, a friend has been offering to teach me how to crochet. I recalled my days as a young girl knitting on the front porch and decided I wasn´t that little kid anymore. Still, watching my friend move the yarn through the hook and her nimble fingers made me wonder if, in fact, I could learn. Well, about a month ago I finally told her that I was ready. My daughter had asked if I would make her a scarf. Sure, I said. No problem. I´ll crochet one. So I asked my friend if she were still up for teaching me how to crochet. Of course she´d been ready for over a year. But I wasn´t. Anyway, one night at a basketball practice for our sons she presented me with a small shopping bag with a hook, a book of instructions (which I haven´t read), and two different yarns. Now I was ready.
So far, I´ve crocheted a really awful looking half scarf. It´s been awkward for me, wrapping yarn around fingers that have minds of their own and trying to mimic the movements of my friend. And when she got a look at my progress between my first and second lessons she began to unravel all my hard work. I stared at her with disbelief, wondering if she knew how much time I´d put into this new endeavor. But it wasn´t until the other night-sitting on the floor outside of the gymnasium where the boys practiced basketball-when I really listened to what she was saying that I began to understand the learning process. At first it was very important to me that my project turn into something, anything. "What about a potholder? Can´t it be a potholder? Or something that can hold dried flowers?" She looked at me like I was insane and said quite simply that the piece I was working on was to help me learn. It didn´t need to become anything but a lesson. Indeed, in the instructions booklet she gave me-the one I haven´t read-it says, "Crochet instructions, filled with repeated words and numbers, are cumbersome and can be challenging to read. Over time, though, a common language has evolved, providing the crocheter with a kind of shorthand that makes following instructions much easier."
Sometimes learning isn´t so easy, not because we don´t want to learn but because we don´t have the language or the language is too new and unfamiliar. As you consider ways to incorporate opportunities for employee development make sure you pay attention to the language. At first it may, indeed, be cumbersome and a challenge for everyone, but over time, it will become familiar and, like the one used for the novice crocheter, the language will become shorthand and even second nature.
Next time: Cabbie Charm School