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Learning is Best the Hard Way

Dec 7 2018

Learning is Best the Hard Way

I had a great opportunity for a teaching moment recently and wanted to take the time to share it with anyone that would take the time to read this.

Though I am still young myself, I still take every opportunity I get to mentor others in areas that I possess experience and expertise. For a little while now, I have been helping to tutor a young automotive technology school student that has fairly severe dyslexia as well as some other things, and has had a pretty rough go of life all around. When he came in for his lesson recently and we got down to his homework, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn't even try to read the material provided to him. No matter what challenges people face I am one to only offer a helping hand and not a "handout", meaning that I wasn't just going to give him the answers. I suggested that he take some time to read as far through the material as he could in the next 15 minutes and that we get as much the homework done as possible based off of the material he was able to read in that amount of time.

About 5 or 6 minutes pass before I peek over to check on him, and what I saw really bothered me. I saw him with the homework open in one window on his screen and the information open on the other. That alone was nothing to be concerned with at all. It was the fact that he was using the "Ctrl + f" function to search the material for answers to the questions instead of actually reading the information.

I politely explained to him that although he may be finding the answers and getting through the work, he is cheating himself out of valuable knowledge. He began to explain to me how difficult reading is for him, but I stopped him short and told him that almost nothing in life worth doing is easy. His response to this really staggered me.

“Well, my instructor at school told us to do it this way.”

 Boiling on the inside, but keeping a calm tone I asked if he was serious and he responded with:

 “Yes, he said that it was the quickest way to get the answers”.

I told him that may be true but it’s far from the best way to get the answers. I explained to him that as a technician I rarely remembered the cars that I diagnosed quickly and easily, and that the only ones I really remembered were the ones that really kicked my ass trying to figure them out. I could tell by the look on his face that my message was failing to resonate with him so I took another approach.

I’ve been working on building my business/product for a few years now and, like many before me, made a lot of mistakes and took some lumps along the way but continue to forge forward a much wiser man than I was when I started. Knowing what I know now, if I lost everything that I’ve been working on for the past ~4 years I could probably rebuild most of it in less than one.

This young man also has an idea for a product, it’s something that he came up with/stumbled across that has helped him focus and get through trying or anxious times, it’s actually a pretty cool idea that could probably help a lot of people deal with mental health issues. He recently presented this idea to me and asked for my “help” in figuring out how to bring it to market. I say “help” in quotes like that because what he really wanted was for me to do the majority of the work and let him enjoy the profits. I told him at that time that if he would like me to “help” him like that, then I would need to have a majority stake in the company. He declined. I didn’t say it out of greed or in an attempt to steal his idea, but I knew there would be a time in the near future when I could look back on that conversation and use it to teach a greater lesson. That time had now come when he came in this time to do his school work.

Circling back to my new approach, I asked him how his business venture was going.

“Not too well” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because, I can’t find anyone that wants to help me that doesn’t want to take most of it.”

“Well you can’t expect people to do all that work for nothing. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked, and research that needs to be done. The more work you do the more you get to keep.” I said.

“Yeah, but people like you have done stuff like this before! I don’t even know where to start!” He replied.

“You start by asking questions” I said.

“Yeah, but what kind of questions?”

“The same questions I asked you when you presented me with the idea. How much would you want to charge for it?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“How much would it cost to make?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where would you want to have it made?”

“I don’t know… America?”

“Why America?”

“I don’t know… See!?! This is why I need help!”

“I am helping you” I said. “But you’re not asking for help, you’re asking for answers.”

“Well what hell is the difference!?!” He asked, frustratedly.

“Helping is asking the right questions, not spouting baseless answers. The truth is I don’t know the answers to these questions either. But, anybody investing any amount of time or money into your idea or business is going to ask all of these questions and many more. If it is your company and your idea then it needs to be you who answers these questions, because the answers you come up with are going to be a direct reflection on whether or not people will believe your business will succeed. And, not only are you going to need to be able to answer these questions, you are also going to have to be able back up your answers and explain how you came up with your answers. You are going to need to do the research and come up with solid answers and information backing them up.”

He remained silent for a time so I continued.

“This is what I’m trying to tell you about your school work. It’s not enough just to come up with the answer for the answer’s sake. You need to know what makes the answer correct.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He finally said.

“Look at it this way,” I said “You’re investing in yourself to go to school, right?”

“Yeah, my parents too.”

“Well what message does it send to investors if you are going to school on your own dime and doing just the bare minimum? Do you think that they would expect you to do any different with their money? Starting a business is a lot of hard work and long hours, the bare minimum just doesn’t cut it. Do you see where I’m coming from? Working hard now is practice for the future no matter what you end up doing.”

Once I stopped talking, there was a silence that seemed to last an hour. I could tell he was deep in thought so I let him sit to contemplate what I had said. When he finally broke the silence he said;

“You're right, I really need to get my s#@t together….”

Our usual time together wasn’t up, but after a short pause he stood up and gathered his things. When he reached the door, he turned to me and said;

“You’re the only one that doesn’t seem to treat me any different for my disability…. Thanks man.”

and he turned to walk out the door, but before he did I gave him one last piece of fortune cookie wisdom that I had heard somewhere.

“It’s not our successes that define who we are, it’s the challenges we over come to achieve them.”

He turned back, smiled, shook his head and said;

“You always have to have the last word, don’t you buddy?”

We both laughed and I told him I hoped to see him again tomorrow.

When he came in the next morning he had gotten through the assignment from the previous day. As we worked through this next one it was obvious that he had put in the time to read through the chapter, only referring back to the book a few times. He was even able to answer some follow up questions as to what made the answers he chose correct. I was really quite impressed and felt a quiet sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that my words, at least for a time, had a positive impact. Time will tell if his new-found work ethic will become habit, but for now I remain optimistic.

I wanted to share this story/conversation because I feel like it contains a lot of different lessons that can apply to all types of business, and also demonstrates what happens when those we rely on to teach the next generation try to “flat rate” their teaching methods. As teachers, mentors, coaches, role models, and elders we have a fiduciary responsibility to the next generation and ourselves to be accountable for the sake of the future of this industry, and all others for that matter. There is currently a shortage of qualified technicians in our industry. “Flat Rate Teaching Methods” and just teaching to the test in our technical schools and training classes is one of the major causes, along with inadequate or non-existent mentor programs in shops and dealerships. It is up to all of us in the industry to change this, or else the consequences many are already feeling are going to get much worse.

Moments like the one I just shared are what motivate me and drive me to get out of bed early in the morning. I love to make a difference. I hope that by sharing this I can help make a difference in just one other person’s life as well. I hope that after reading this leaders, coaches, teachers, trainers, and mentors take some time to reflect and ask themselves “Have I ever used flat rate teaching methods?” and students and mentees ask themselves “Am I cheating myself out of an education and knowledge?”

If you think this article made a difference for you please feel free to comment or share with others. At the time of writing this, this is my first article posted. Check back often to find this and other articles in the “News” section.

Thanks for taking the time!

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash


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