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Two Brief Lessons from the Mile High Learning Club

I do some of my best learning when I am settled in at 35,000 feet. I read. I tap into the large store of iPod learning content I keep on hand. I think (although it may look like I’m sleeping). Sometimes I even manage to find a nugget of wisdom in the airline magazines. Here’s a couple from a recent flight from Raleigh to Baltimore, compliments of the Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine:

Be Deliberate

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated and Eating Animals, says that his choice to be vegetarian is “one of my ways of being deliberate within my life.”  Safran Foer goes on to note that:

Eating can be so mechanical, something for which one feels exactly nothing. We eat merely to get full. It’s nice to have a chosen approach to food; eating a certain way – even if it’s arbitrary, although my vegetarianism is the opposite of arbitrariness – brings consciousness to an everyday act that rarely calls for any.

We do any number of things unconsciously on a daily basis. I think a great exercise in learning is to approach common, everyday activities in a deliberate, conscious way.  You can’t help but ask why more when you do this – Why do I eat what I eat? Why am I compelled to be at my desk by 9:00 each morning? – and asking why is often the first step in learning.

This sort of deliberate, conscious approach to things underlies the under-appreciated learning strategies I wrote about earlier. (Just a nudge to check that one out if you haven’t before.).  Cultivating reflection as a learning habit also helps greatly.

What do you think? Have you found value in being more conscious of and deliberate about some of the common activities in your own life?

Beware of Marketers in Teachers Clothes

Speaking of cultivating consciousness, Christopher McDougall, highlights how we may often be unaware of pitfalls in “education” seemingly intended for our benefit.

McDougall is the author of Born to Run, a scathing critique of the running shoe industry. Running shoes, he contends, are a racket – and a potentially harmful one at that. The rate of some running injuries has actually gone up since Nike introduced the modern running shoe in 1972, and confusion about the bewildering range of running shoe choices has multiplied at an even greater rate.

The solution? Customer education.

The trend in recent years has been for running store “experts” to coach shoppers in the process of finding the perfect shoe. This is a reasonable idea on the surface, but seems less so when you consider that most of the confusion is manufactured by, well, manufacturers.  Nike and others keep pumping out model after model, and if you believe McDougall, none of the models is a particularly good choice.

I happen to be a big fan of customer education – I preach it in my job-that-pays-the-bills – but like any educational experience it comes with fundamental pre-conditions:

  • those generating “content” (in this case, running shoes and all the accompanying data) must do so on an ethical basis;
  • the “teacher” must take responsibility for truly understanding the content and its context;
  • and the “learner” must be prepared to question the teacher. (Questioning, after all, is a key practice of the “sophisticated” learner.)

Everyone, I’d add, should to come to the table with critical thinking skills in tow.

I’ve definitely been through the whole running shoe education scenario myself. I tried on shoes, had someone watch me run in the parking lot, bought the whole thing hook line and sinker and paid probably $20 more than I might have otherwise for the shoes. Maybe I got something of value for that $20, but I wished I’d questioned the experience more at the time.

How about you? Have you been pulled in by customer education experiences, good or bad?



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