Back to school: It’s time to learn something new

Aaron Holmes

Guest Editorial

Tuesday, September 3 2013

As the ‘adults in training’ go back to school this fall they’re going to learn all sorts of things. Some you’ve mastered, some you’ve forgotten, and some you’ve never heard of.

If you’re doing something routine, everybody expects you to get it right. There’s not much room for experimentation, error, or deviation from what’s expected.

When you’re a beginner, mistakes are expected, even encouraged. You don’t know what’s ‘impossible’ yet.

A lighting company used to haze new engineers by giving them an ‘impossible’ problem. It involved creating a durable frosting for incandescent light bulbs. This was intended to break in the new engineers and show them how the real world was different from school. Then one of the newbies succeeded, creating a product that made lots of money for the company. Nobody told him it was impossible.

Trying something new sheds light on other things you already do and makes new connections in your brain. Your brain cells work better when they have friends nearby.

Getting back into ‘beginner’s mind’ helps you learn like a toddler, trying things, paying attention to the feedback, then trying again, a little differently.

Doing new things helps your brain make new connections. It  provides a wider set of experiences to draw on when it comes time to solve other problems down the road.

Maybe knowing how to juggle, row, knit, paint, or fold little origami cranes will provide the spark you need to solve something unanticpated.

Share your mistakes. Often we can learn more from things that don’t work than from things that do. Learn from the mistakes of others, it takes too long to make them all yourself.

The kids are going back to school. We know they have more to learn. You have more to learn too. Break out of your box. Do something new. Be bad at it. Make ridiculous mistakes. Pay attention. Get better. Repeat.

Pro tip: Take a mental break (maybe even a nap) after you learn something new. That break time will let your brain  move what you’ve learned from short term to long term memory.