Experiences that have changed my life (hint: not courses)

Now I’m Freelancing I have time to do things like engaging in debate on LinkedIn. I recently saw an article by David James (@looop) – not the England goalkeeper, which challenged learning professionals to think about how ‘soft skills’ are really developed. It got me thinking about experiences that have changed my life – I was curious to know whether any of them were ‘learning interventions’ constructed by an L&D department.

  1. How to have confidence: the first day of university, walking into my student halls and realising that no one knew me and therefore I could be anyone I wanted to be. I decided to be confident, outspoken and ‘fun’ which contrasted with my self-perception at school.
  2. How to treat less experienced colleagues: being shouted at by my boss for not completing a task properly. The same boss also demanding to read all my outgoing emails to clients. This meant I spent three times as long writing emails, and regardless, every time I was pulled up for some turn of phrase or omission.
  3. How having favourites can be damaging to team morale: leading a team of seven and deciding to sit with two friends. We had all the fun while everyone else was clearly being excluded.
  4. How to be credible: joining BP and giving an awful presentation in my second week in which I clearly showed my lack of expertise and inexperience.
  5. How giving feedback is mostly about trust and intention: giving a former colleague feedback which she then said ‘changed her life’ because it was honest and specific.
  6. How many chances people deserve: having my car towed for the second time whilst studying film in London, my dad said to me, “first time is unlucky, a second time is careless, third time is unacceptable”.

I suppose it’s unsurprising that none of the experiences that have shaped my mindset involved learning courses, online or face to face. That said, I once did an Agile SCRUM course over 2 days which gave me the basic technical skills (and confidence) to manage projects in an agile way. Even though I could already manage projects using my common-sense, having the tools and coaching from an experienced professional was useful, and yes, changed how I behave on projects.

This is stating the obvious but sometimes that’s worthwhile. Tools (resources/cheatsheets etc.) are good because they can be referenced on the job. Classrooms, therefore, are an opportunity to introduce tools and to practice using them. But to make the same point in a slightly different way, L&D professionals can’t expect to have an impact on people’s lives or improve workplace performance unless they can find a way to be relevant in the workplace. That’s where the magic happens. As my little experiment shows, the real experiences happen in ‘life’.

I expect the dream for most people regardless of their industry is to hear, ‘you changed my life for the better’. Perhaps the best L&D can hope for is, ‘that thing you did made the company money’, or ‘that was useful, I use it every day’.

Need help with a project? Contact charlie@spongeparrot.com



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