From Whence The Lesson?

Life is a continuum of learning. When you stop learning, your brain atrophies and it is a headlong slide into the grave. But, how do we really learn in life?

The Lesson >>> The Test >>> The Learning

In a good many things we are prepared by formal teaching, followed by testing, and then consolidating the learning.

One would not want to try to learn how to fly an airplane by oneself. You agree?

So, you take a “ground school” course that pours the theory of flight into your head, informs you about how airplanes perform, teaches you how the air traffic control system works, familiarizes you with the environment around airports, and only then do you hire a flight instructor, rent an airplane, and take actual flying lessons.

As you take lessons in digestible bits (one can only absorb and process so much of a foreign undertaking at a time), you slowly turn theory into practice thereby developing competence and put the lessons that build on each other into into a coherent whole that qualifies you to be tested by a Designated Examiner to see if he and the Federal Aviation Agency believe you should be allowed to pilot an airplane all by yourself.

The actual learning as to how to fly from your departure airport to your arrival airport is then the final learning as you deploy your teaching and testing into a learning. This final learning is the actual useful skill now mastered.

Practicality is a good thing

Part of that learning is to find what works for you and why. As an example, I was always fixated on where fatal crashes happened around airports when planes land.

For small planes, the biggest problem was the loss of lift because the pilot was going too slow, dipped his wing nearest to the runway too low thereby killing more lift, and the plane stalled at a low altitude (too low for the pilot to recover), and crashed.

Thus, I always flew the downwind, base, and final legs of the landing pattern slightly faster (speed = lift) than the prescribed numbers — you fly slick, hot planes by the numbers — and relied upon my ability to bleed speed on final approach which I did by a combination of nose up attitude, flaps down, and throttle retarded. This combination bled off the speed and I flew over the numbers at a very nice, safe speed.

I also made very shallow, deliberate turns refusing to dip my wing very deep when transitioning from downwind to base to final.

When I took periodic refresher training or trained for my instrument and commercial ratings, my instructors understood why I did what I did. By then I had the skill to back up my learning and they agreed.

Startup Guy — Test >>> Lesson/Teaching >>> Learning

As an entrepreneur who is attempting to create a solution to a problem that is unsolved or that mankind doesn’t even know they want yet, you are not going the Teaching >>> Test >>> Learning route.

Your learning will be the Test >>> from which you will extract the Lesson/Teaching >>> ultimately consolidating it into the Learning. You may very well consider yourself “self-taught.”

When you are doing something unique, there is often nobody available or willing to teach y0u and a goodly number of people will say, “That’s nuts. That will never work.”

When I deal with founders, I often chat with them about this reality as it is a little scary to learn by testing your hypothesis until you’ve done it a few times and are comfortable with the notion there is a solution out there.

When you become a serial entrepreneur or just a salty founder, you will be amazed at the number of things you teach yourself that become a learning that creates an expedited path to the solution.

As an example, I learned you can never win a bidding war when a key employee comes to you and says they are considering another opportunity. I learned to just wish them well and to move on. I think it took me five years of steady CEO-ing to get that learning into my head.

Getting advice

One of the things I believe is liberating for founders is the ability to get advice from someone who may have trod that path — maybe not the exact same path as it is a unique product or service.

The most important element of that self-teaching is to engage with someone who has actually done something similar.

I once critiqued an entrepreneur’s plan by saying,

“Who told you this was a good idea? Who gave you this advice?”

“My lawyer,” the founder said.

“Has he ever founded, run, scaled, and exited a successful company?”

“Well, no, but he’s done legal work for a lot of startups.”

This is the equivalent of asking a passenger in first class his advice on flying the plane. He sits very close to the cockpit, but he has never held the yoke in his hand in a crosswind landing.

The greatest oversupply in the world is BAD ADVICE!

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

Fine, dear reader, here it is:

 1. Ask yourself, “What is my learning style?”

 2. Understand there are some things — many things — that are Teach >>> Test >>> Learning.

 3. Also understand when you are a pioneer, founder, entrepreneur there will  be a goodly many things that are Test >>> Teaching/Lesson >>> Learning.

Know this and understand it will liberate you. The chaos is good.

 4. Take a few minutes every couple of months and study what you have learned.

 5. Catalog the learnings regardless of how you receive them.

 6. Look for the learnings and modify your practices to embrace them.

But, hey, what the Hell  do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.