NonsenseAtWork Description: Real learning happens once you admit that you don’t know. Success begins to happen when failure no longer scares you. Real change happens when you try to restore balance.
I wrote the following individual pieces for public radio (see footnote #1) in 2008. After reading Ozan Varol’s piece Why you should let your children fail more often I realized that I still feel strongly about my ideas which I shared with listeners way back then. I dug them out (the pieces, not the listeners) and polished them a bit to turn the individual pieces into the short article below.
The article is aimed at adults. However, I hope that those in charge of adults-in-the-making will read my article, as well as Why you should let your children fail more often.
Be quick to admit when you don’t know
When does real change happen? Real change happens when real learning begins.
Real learning begins when you admit that you don’t know. What stops you admitting that you don’t know? Your ego.
Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? At first you did not want help, because other kids made it looked so easy. But you fell, again and again.
Through your tears, you finally admitted that you did not know how. That’s when learning began.
The same concept applies now that you are an adult. Real learning only happens once you admit that you don’t know. This is the critical moment. When you (finally) admit that you don’t know, you open yourself to new ideas, to weird concepts and to help from unexpected sources.
The sooner you drop your ego and admit that you don’t know, the sooner you will learn, the sooner you will change, the sooner you will stop falling down and the sooner you will get unstuck.
Dump your training wheels
According to cycling boffins, it’s time for kids to dump their training wheels. Training wheels don’t teach balance. They simply stop you falling over.
Balance is a critical skill in cycling, but the tool designed to teach you that skill actually prevents you learning it. Why? Because it creates the illusion of balance.
This got me thinking about life. Surely, we often use similar crutches to prop us up so that we can pretend to be balanced and in control.
Get rid of the illusionary crutches! Balance does not matter. What matters is your ability to get up when you’ve lost your balance.
Losing your balance will happen often, because…
Surely you know when you’re glad is not when you’re itchy or scrappy
And crying is never that bad if it means you can tell when you’re happy
Yes, go for balance I say, but don’t get upset at a tilt
It’s all just part of the play, to be jilted or stilted or spilt.
(If you like the above stanza and want more, please see Footnote #2)
Fear of failing loudly
I learned quickly how to ride a bicycle because I had no training wheels. I learned quickly because I learned not to be afraid of falling.
I don’t see many kids riding bicycles today, never mind falling down. (Sorry, kids, virtual bicycles don’t count.) This worries me because kids do need to learn how to overcome their fear of falling.
Did you know that we are (apparently) born with only two natural fears? The fear of falling is one. All other fears are learned, mainly through our ability to imagine negative outcomes.
I did learn two things about falling off a bicycle. Every time it scared me less and every time I got better at getting up.
By the way, our other natural fear is the fear of loud noises.
Like someone shouting ‘don’t fail!’ Which is why so many of us struggle to succeed.
Keep moving to stay upright to get ahead
Falling and getting up repeatedly as a kid should have helped me later in my life when my first business venture went bad. Instead, I froze.
Not knowing what to do, I did nothing. Years later I realized that failing is simply another version of falling off and getting back on again.
Today, when business falls off I don’t freeze. I simply do the next thing to be done. Any next thing, as long as it gets me moving and keeps me moving.
As with riding a bicycle, you must keep moving to stay upright.
(I suspect one can apply this even to losing a job. When you lose your job, you come to a sudden stop. How do you then prevent yourself from falling, from feeling down and staying down? By immediately doing something, anything, to keep moving.)
Create imbalance to make change happen
Let me now contradict myself by being a contrarian (thanks again, Ozan Varol). (Also, see Footnote #3.)
Did you know that the way to create change is to first create imbalance?
I realized this the first (and only) time I tried to ride a Segway. No, this is not a commercial. It’s a segue to the point I want to make. (I agree. That was a painful pun.)
Let me explain. When is the Segway stationary? When it is in balance. How do you get it moving? By leaning forward.
In other words, to get it to move, you must create imbalance. The more imbalance you create, the faster you go. Want to stop? Lean back until you are back in balance.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but we are all like Segways. We will only move to change our position, our thinking, our beliefs and even our life when we feel out of balance. (By the way, your organization is also like a Segway — it will only change if a system or process is out of balance.)
Why do we change if we are out of balance? Because we want to restore balance!
So, the trick to making change happen is to keep yourself (or your people) off balance just enough to keep you (them) going in the right direction.
May the nonsense be with you.
Footnote #1: From May 2006 to May 2016 I wrote and recorded two pieces every week for a regional public radio network (WCVE) in Richmond, Virginia. (Readers in Northwest Indiana can listen to my nonsense every day, since 2015, thanks to Lakeshore Public Radio.) Why am I telling you this? Because, although my first piece of nonsense was aired more than 12 years ago, I still don’t know what to do with the more than 900 radio pieces and related material that I wrote. It is the equivalent of falling off and staying down. Please, if you have an idea (for anything, a product, service, book, article) don’t make the same mistake. Heed the warning of Sarah Cooper in the side note following her opening paragraph of From Medium to Book Deal in 12 Months.
Footnote #2: The stanza is from a ‘poem’ I wrote many years ago. I say ‘poem’ because I do not consider myself a poet or my ‘poems’ to be poems. The ‘poem’ is called Crying is never that bad and it is included in a book of similar poems called Pointers On My Path. If you would like a copy of Crying is never that bad in PDF format, then please contact me at “james at nonsenseatwork dot com.” If you want the whole book, then say so and I will send that to you instead, as a PDF. (The book is still available as a paperback on Amazon.)
Footnote #3: My way of promoting contrarianism since 2004 is to teach (in my roles as coach, consultant, CEO/President and writer) that nonsense always contains sense. You don’t believe me? Look for it. It is right in front of you, in the word nonsense. You cannot say nonsense without saying sense as well.