Apply Your Core Knowledge

Everyone knows something and in order to know something they must have studied what they know.  There’s a wide variety of ways people acquire information and knowledge.  I work with some extraordinarily smart individuals and some of them hate reading.  They find themselves suffering through the four-page zone.  I have another friend of mine who’s a helicopter pilot and is terrific with advanced mathematics but finds himself performing best as a tactile learner.  He’s in his 30’s and always carrying his fidget spinner.

All of these people are high performers.  But sometimes their quirks appear to be their Achilles heel.  As life forces us to get stretched outside of our comfort zones it can be easy to hyper-focus on the problems in front of us instead of focusing on the formulas we’ve used for years to overcome similar problems.  I’ve recently found myself coaching people through this sort of situation and my starting point in the conversation is to ask them about their hobbies.

Hobbies are different than our academics.  All too often necessity has forced us to use multiple-choice tests in academic settings.  They’re a great format for getting people to pass because you’re giving them choice that includes the single right answer.  They’re also terrible because they’ve programmed us to believe in life that we’re looking for a single right answer.  Those who believe in the single right answer syndrome have never had someone they love asks them if an outfit makes them look fat.

The outward expression of our hobbies varies, but the inward process is very much the same.  At first glance, every hobby appears to be a study in that particular discipline.  This isn’t an untrue statement, but it’s not a complete one.  More importantly, a study of a hobby is the study of oneself.  To the individual practicing a particular discipline, the hobby will reveal certain things about themselves that they enjoy learning.

Golf is an apt example.  It involves a very brief interaction with the ball and a metal striking surface of a club.  The contact occurs over a very small surface area and yet the ball can fly towards its target and land over 200 yards later.  The mechanics are amazing, but it’s also a fascinating field to study oneself.  The discipline involved to learn to adjust one’s muscle coordination to impact the angle and speed of impact of the ball.  Golf is not just a study of physics and strategy, it’s also very much a study of oneself.

LARPing will strike most individuals as a bit of an odd past time, but it’s not too far off from the same motivation that has turned Halloween into one of the most popular holidays.  Those who participate in LARPing find themselves developing skills in crafting costumes and writing out scenarios for your characters.  Unlike a book where the reader is only a passive participant, LARPing requires the participant to explore their own emotions and problem-solving skills when faced with the obstacles of the scenario.  While it shouldn’t replace reading, it should be easily recognized as a scenario-driven activity that trains its members.  Its environment may be fantasy, but its exploration of the human condition is very real.

From a leadership perspective, you don’t have to enjoy the same hobbies, but you need to well versed in what’s respectable about each one.

It’s been interesting to see this same thing play out in the home as well.  My oldest boy loves Minecraft and will spend hours watching videos about how to play and build complex things.  Every few months I try to have a conversation with him about his learning patterns for the game and get him to realize that if he applies those same learning patterns to other subjects in his life he’ll be just as successful.

I was a terrible student in high school.  Now I have a Masters in IT & Project Management.  During my 18 months finishing up my bachelor’s at Utah State University I was awarded the Man of the Year award.  What changed?  My parents would attribute it to becoming more mature, but having lived through it the reason seems to be a bit more tangible.  Once I was out of school I had time to think about how I liked to learn.  In college, I chose classes that would allow me to apply my techniques for learning and be successful.  

Now, it’s easier to do new and hard things because instead of following someone else’s prescription for learning I can apply my own.  I know it’s effective and I know it’s fun.  When it needs mentors I know how to find them.

When you take the time to look at the things that are part of your core, that you love to learn take the time to look at how you learn those things.  The how is more likely going to be your method for all your learning and if you can take the time to write it down you might just see how easy it is to follow.

Show Me Your Hobbies!

Adobe Audition editing the Minecraft Soundtrack
Adobe Audition editing the Minecraft Soundtrack

I work in an organization with nearly 40% annual turnover.  In addition we often find ourselves shuffling our talented people into ad-hoc teams in order to meet and exceed our customer expectations.  Over the past year one of the most important things I’ve had to learn about our team members isn’t where they’ve previously worked, but rather what their response is when I ask them to list their top three hobbies.

This short interview question reveals a great deal of bias (not a negative word) towards how they see the world and how they prioritize their time after work.  For our teams to be successful we have to have the right blend of nerdiness (we do work IT after all) and practical decision making.  

The question on hobbies doesn’t stop being useful for team assignments, it’s useful long term as well.  I’m rather candid with my employee philosophy.  My goal is to help them be their better selves–and yes sometimes that involves discipline, but often times it doesn’t.  One way to do this is to personalize the common vision leaders are supposed to share with their team.  Knowing my team mate’s hobbies allows me to personalize how I communicate that common vision.  Hey team, this next project is going to help you get better at X or Y (insert something they’re interested in).

I have one young team member who’s found himself a bit out of water doing clerical work and having to learn the nuances of formatting for our organization’s standards.  He’s also a big Star Wars fan.  One day he created a memo detailing a policy about discussing the spoilers in the latest Star Wars movie and tried to sneak it into a stack of things I needed to sign.  Because he wanted my signature on it he took extra care to ensure it complied with formatting rules.  He bit his lower lip as I moved my way through the stack reading from top to bottom.  When I got his memo I found no errors or objections to how it would change behavior in the company.

I signed it and because he felt like I’ve invested in him and his hobbies I’ve gotten nothing shy of the best quality from this person since.  The memo was posted on the front door and added a much needed human dimension to that timeframe at work increasing everyone’s productivity.