January 24, 2017
A recent Simon Sinek talk has been making its way around the internet and if you haven’t watched the video I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to what he has to say. But before you jump on the bandwagon about how much you like or dislike Simon I want you to stop and think – regardless of your feelings about a person or their views consider the value in listening. Not hearing, and certainly not agreeing, but merely listening. Too often I think we form our opinions and then filter what we truly listen to as a result of our own way of thinking. But you don’t have to take my word for it…
Bunny Trail: As a kid I grew up watching (and admittedly liking) Reading Rainbow with Levar Burton. This was a classic tv series that even now I remember bits and pieces from. As I am writing this post I’m reminded of a phrase Levar would say every time before the “book reviews” section of his show. He would always introduce the reviews, provided by other children, with the same line. “But you don’t have to take my word for it.”
Obviously the idea of hearing opposing views and actually listening to them existed long before I ever suggested it. In fact, even one of the greatest philosophers of all time shared something similar. Socrates, the Greek philosopher and one of the founders of the entire concept of Western philosophy said this phrase:
“Wisdom is the ability to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time.” – Socrates
There are many times when we talk about wisdom and knowledge. And sure, we know the difference between the two: knowledge the ability to recall facts and figures; wisdom the practical application of knowledge. But there are almost always areas where identifying and demonstrating wisdom is incredibly difficult. Situational wisdom as it applies to every day living seems quite easy to understand. Basic example – I know how to change a tire. Raise the car by placing a jack under the mount near the flat tire, remove the hub cap, unscrew the lug nuts, pull the tire off the vehicle and replace it with a new one. (Boy, that sure sounds simple but trust me…every single one of those steps has about a million ways in which it could go wrong, terribly terribly wrong).
Those steps I just shared are knowledge. I have the knowledge about how to complete the task. Now when I actually have to change a tire and I realize that unscrewing the lug nuts take a significant amount of torque and the longer the tool I use the easier the job becomes (I’m ignoring the mechanics and their air drills for the moment); I’ve not only taken that knowledge but applied it to a specific instance. I’ve inferred more into the process and I have a deep understanding now not just of the steps but also how to perform them. This is knowledge applied, this is wisdom. I trust we can all see and agree with that. I’d call that situational wisdom, it’s knowledge applied to a specific situation.
The other type of wisdom I think about (and the one where I believe we struggle more to see practical application) I’m going to call abstract wisdom. This is knowledge applied to an abstract concept. In these situations there’s not evidential or tangible product by which we can judge whether or not wisdom exists (knowledge has been applied). These situations are the ones I am referring to when I talk about demonstrating wisdom.
We all laugh about the internet and this world of opposing views where everyone has an opinion. Take this meme for example:
This is all too common of a scene, and no I don’t mean dressing up in pirate gear and running along the beach. But the underlying principle of how we address opposing or conflicting views.
By now I hope you’re starting to see what I’m suggesting. One way we can actively demonstrate our abstract wisdom is through our ability to not just hear but listen to opposing views; to actively hold them in our minds and consider them thoughtfully. Rather than jumping to conclusions based on our opinions or previous experiences (or how we feel about the speaker’s hair) we can demonstrate wisdom through thoughtful consideration of opposing ideas. As you browse the internet, engage with co-workers, or even sit around the table with friends and family keep this thought in your mind. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Process what you’re hearing and form an opinion based on knowledge. When you do this you’re demonstrating wisdom. You’re applying your knowledge to the conversation.
Have ideas on other types of wisdom? I’d love to hear them. I’ve only briefly touched on two forms. Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think, I’m listening. (See what I did there?)
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey
June 27, 2014
Take The Time To Teach
Everyone has a different set of life experiences as well as a different set of skills and background. As a result there is always something to be learned from everyone you meet. Sometimes this is less obvious than others but there’s always something to be learned. You should take the time to teach what you know to others.
There’s a flip side to this idea of you learning from others; you have something of value to share. Your background and experiences make you an excellent candidate to share and teach your knowledge to someone else. And yet I know many people are hesitant. They make excuses and they keep to themselves. Here’s a few common reasons and my replies to each.
“I’m Too Shy”
This is a common one, in fact quite possibly the most common. People like to claim they are too shy to speak up and talk to others. While I understand completely the introvert nature (in fact, I identify most with the introvert personality type) I believe the claim to be shy is a poor excuse. I’ve read many articles (Inc Magazine, Susan Cain, and more) who very plainly point out that introverts actually make for better speakers.
I won’t take the time to go into the various reasons why I agree with the focus of these articles — I encourage you to read them for yourself. However, I will say as an introvert and naturally shy person myself; the claim of shyness for not speaking is a poor excuse.
“I’m Not An Expert”
As I shared in the introduction, this is simply not true. You may feel you are not an expert, and this may indeed be the case. I’ve found no matter how much I learn about a subject and no matter how deep I go in my learning of a particular area there is always someone who knows more. Always. But I’ve learned another interesting fact. Just as there is always someone that knows more there seems to always be someone that knows less.
My experiences and the things I have learned are still considered expert by someone else. I can share what I know and help them learn. The concept of being an expert is a funny one because most people never view themselves as an expert, regardless of how much they know of a subject. The truth is your knowledge is unique and you should share it.
“I Don’t Have The Time”
I guarantee you, you have the time. You may lack the motivation, the interest, or the enthusiasm. You absolutely can have the time. How can I be so sure? Because those things you place value on you find time for. You make the time.
Teaching someone else is a wonderful opportunity unlike anything else. It only takes a minute to teach someone a single concept. No one says you have to jump directly in to teaching a 12 week instructional course. Start small — just start. Set goals which you can easily accomplish. Small goals that may take only 10 or 15 minutes. Write a short paragraph about how you do something.
“I’m Not Sure Where To Start”
This is a great problem to have. I say it’s a great problem because it means you already acknowledge that you can do it. You are willing to teach someone what you know and you merely need to figure out how and where to get started. I love this reason. Get started anywhere. Do you like writing or talking? Do you like things done on-the-fly or rather with a lot of preparation? Answer these questions and it will be easier to decide how to get started.
If you prefer writing, start a blog. If you prefer public speaking check out what events are close by and have a call for speakers. Like preparing? Do recorded videos and screenshares. Prefer in-person live communication? Look at programs where you can be a mentor to someone else. (Do you do PHP? Here’s a great opportunity – http://phpmentoring.org)
So there’s just a few excuses (rather poor excuses) commonly made for not being willing to teach. I should close by saying a few important things to remember about taking the time to teach.
Not Everyone Is A Teacher
First, not everyone is a teacher. Taking the time to teach is very, very different from being a teacher. You can teach someone how to do a particular thing without being a teacher. I touched on this idea briefly in the post above, I’m not referring necessarily to teaching a 12 week course – leave that to the professionals. (Interested in teaching a longer course? Let me know!) I do believe everyone can share their knowledge. Everyone can teach something.
Because You Care
Second, teach something you care about. Don’t try to tackle something you’re not familiar with or have an interest in. Remember, you’re teaching from your experiences, you’re sharing knowledge you have. That puts significantly less pressure on you then attempting to learn a subject just to teach someone else. You’re sharing what you know. Take the time to teach because you should care. You should care about helping others, and you should care about making sure your knowledge and experience is continued forward. Don’t let the skills you possess die with you.
Because It Matters
Last, take the time because it matters. If you’re sharing what you know and you’re sharing something you care about – then it matters. It doesn’t have to matter to everyone (You’re not trying to teach the world). Find the niche and the tribe of people interested in what you are interested in. Seek out your place and share what you know because it matters to them. It matters to all of us.
We’re all in this together! Let’s share our knowledge.
May 2, 2014
Lessons in Learning Open Source
I’m leading another talk on developing code using an open source framework. Only it’s going quite slow this time. In fact, I’m pausing after every sentence. And yet the room is far from silent and the excitement is quite high. What causes this excitement instead of frustration?
I guess I should clarify. This particular teaching opportunity is taking place in the great city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. And the reason I’m pausing after every sentence is to allow my translator the chance to repeat everything in their native Portuguese. It’s an intense experience. If you’ve never had the opportunity of sharing a highly technical topic with someone who understands only one out of every dozen words you speak then you are missing out on an experience. Now imagine there are a dozen other people sitting in the room also listening to you and trying to follow along. As I said, it’s an intense experience. But it is an unmatched feeling. Incredible might be a better word. And it makes me think about another power which open source possesses. Here’s a few lessons I draw from the unique opportunity of learning open source.
Learning is community centered
Sure, there are books and tutorials and videos, and a multitude of other resources available. In fact, there are schools and courses and an infinite number of ways to learn. However in open source you’ll often find the best learning is done within the community. People learning from people in a group setting.
The concept of group learning is unique in some sense to open source. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re not being paid to spend our weekend sitting in some classroom learning. We do this because we want to learn. And almost as much as we want to learn, we want to help others. That’s the other side of the coin. No matter how much I learn I always always find someone knows more. And someone else knows less. This means just as important as learning more is the idea of sharing knowledge with others based on what I know. Helping others. We’re a community of like-minded people focused on a particular set of values and shared interests. Our learning is centered on this.
Learning is personal
Even though we’ve discussed how learning is community centered learning is also very personal. People grow internally based on their experiences and they learn based on the instruction they are given. This learning causes them to change, and hopefully to improve.
When we are in an open source community we are often stretched outside our comfort zone. We don’t start that way, but over time we grow and the desire to learn more, or to be better forces us to timidly reach beyond our comfort zone and reach out to others. We’re driven by the deep down longing to learn more. As a result of this longing and learning we change who we are (to an extent). We improve ourselves. The very act of learning in an open source sharing community makes us a more well-rounded, and better person.
Learning is empowering
There’s something intrinsically powerful about knowledge. It’s a pretty commonly understood idea. “Knowledge is power.” But extrapolating on that notion leads back to the root that the very act of learning is empowering. By learning we are gaining knowledge and we are gaining power.
Open source is teeming with knowledge. When every line of code which makes up an application is made publicly available to be analyzed and poured over by anyone interested the result is empowering. Open source encourages learning and as such encourages the increase of knowledge and power. When you look at code and see what can be done and learn how to do things better you are empowered to do more. Now you can share that knowledge with others. Now you can become the teacher. Open source alone gives you the perfect environment – the opportunity to learn woven inseparably with the opportunity to teach.
Learning is exciting
I left one of my favorite lessons for last. Learning is most definitely exciting. I’m not referring to the type of learning you were doing in university with first year studies of ancient history (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). Instead I refer to the type of learning you find in an open source community. There’s a rush of excitement you can feel when you walk into a room on a weekend to meet with others in a community for the sake of learning. It’s very exciting.
As I wrap up my session in Brazil, the excitement is clearly evident. People talking over people, hands being raised, fingers flying on keyboards. Yes, this is what open source learning is all about. Watching someone understand the concept you’re teaching. The smile that spreads across their face when they successfully complete a task. The eyes glint with the newfound knowledge and the empowering, exciting, personal growth they’ve experienced. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this before. You should. Find a community and become a part. Get involved and see what learning in an open source environment is all about. I guarantee you – you’ll be changed forever.