Living a LearningLife

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When I'm 64... I'll Hop on My Magic Carpet and Ride

From Andy Gilats, LearningLife director

Adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.

Richard Pascale in Surfing the Edge of Chaos

This is a short story about a small coincidence.

For at least the past several months, and probably for longer than I realize, I've found myself approaching challenges, changes, and even slight frays in my status quo in ways that run contrary to standard practice, long habit, and even, I've been thinking, to my "nature."

My one-eighty started with a feeling of anxiety. I was doing business planning for a personal helping venture, and even though I had an expert adviser (luckily, my brother), I couldn't seem to stay focused on the process. I began to ask myself how much planning I would have to do in order to be "ready" to actually pursue the helping work that meant so much to me.

One day my brother asked me, "What don't you have in place that would need to be place in order for you to start helping people in the way you want?" Ever the planner, I dutifully started making a list. About six items into it, I had an epiphany. It dawned on me that the biggest impediment to getting my work underway wasn't incomplete or inadequate planning, it was the simple fact that I had never before dared to pursue the exact work at my project's heart!

Duh! After the obligatory pounding of my head against the wall and self-administered kick in the rear, I jumped in and starting doing - trying things out and learning from mistakes, but at the same time, genuinely helping people. You can imagine how much more meaningful and effective my planning process became when I began drawing from actual experiences to inform it.

Now, here's the coincidence.

I just finished reading an engaging and valuable book called Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra, an international expert on career transition. (FYI: "Retirement" has finally emerged as a bona fide career transition, but more about that in a future installment.)

I was ablaze when I read the following on page 33:

Management guru Henry Mintzberg once contrasted what he called "planning" and "crafting" strategies. When we think of planning, he argued, we think of a person who "sits in an office formulating orderly courses of action derived from a systematic analysis that precedes implementation." Crafting is completely different, involving "not so much thinking and reason as involvement, a feeling of intimacy and harmony with the materials at hand, developed through long experience and commitment. Formulation and implementation merge into a fluid process of learning, through which creative strategies evolve." The more unfamiliar the new possibilities, the more necessary it becomes to learn about them through direct involvement rather than planning.


What Ibarra calls the "test and learn sequence" seems ideally suited to those of us with "long experience" and the accumulated wisdom it yields. We're beautifully equipped to "craft experiments" and try them out even as we plan and prepare for what's now or next. Doing while planning doesn't diminish or negate the value - and necessity - of planning, it significantly enhances it.

Why shouldn't your flying carpet feel as natural as your security blanket? Navigating change should have room for freedom and joy. When I find myself acting too much like an old dog trying to learn new tricks, I'll come back to Mr. Mintzberg's breath of new, early morning air.

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