Humility in learning – becoming a kitesurfer

I firmly believe that in order to engage credibly in any activity like teaching, coaching, counseling or consulting it is valuable for us to engage symmetrically.

To serve powerfully as teachers, we should engage deeply as learners.

To serve as credible coaches, we should regularly receive coaching.

To serve as trusted counselors, we should from time to time seek counseling.

To serve as consultants with impact, it is valuable for us also to retain consultants that guide us.

We benefit from seeing situations from multiple perspectives. Regularly filling these different roles lets us consider issues and opportunities from several angles – thereby giving us deeper insight and equipping us to serve more meaningfully. Alan Kay says: “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” On top of providing additional IQ points, I believe that a change in perspective also strengthens our empathy.

This year I engaged as a learner in a new way: I committed to learning kitesurfing. I believed that I was reasonably well prepared: I am fit, I am an able windsurfer, I have kitesurfed on snow and I have had fun wakeboarding. So I thought kitesurfing on water would be pretty straight forward. Wrong! The volume of seawater I swallowed on my first day of learning testifies to my error in judging the magnitude of the challenge. I was intensely frustrated. I was confused. I felt very small and humble. Swallowing seawater over any extended period is not fun. On my second morning, though, I progressed. I was still dragging around in the water, but I swallowed less of it. Some of the principles started to sink in. On my second afternoon, I got onto the board and I was riding. It was a thrilling experience. Skimming along the water at great speed and with little effort was exhilarating. The humiliation along the way was worth it.

As I reflected on my learning journey, it struck me that many of my struggles came from not having the right mental model.

My vision was clear and I was strongly motivated. I would faithfully seek to perform each action that my instructor gave me. I would copy those who had come further than I had. I was receiving all the training I could absorb. Yet, progress was slow in the beginning. My mental model of what kitesurfing involved was simply inadequate.

It is challenging to convey to someone else a rich, integrated mental model. It is easy to teach tips and tricks, but they often do not help a lot. They are not irrelevant, but they only go so far. Sharing a mental model, on the other hand, my seem a poor investment – it is not immediately “actionable”. But it is often required in order to build any complex (and therefore interesting) capability. It is what I needed.

My recent experience as a learner in a new area strengthened my awareness. I will focus (even more) on helping learners who work with me build a good mental model early on.

Tor regularly writes articles on his LinkedIn profile. You can visit his profile and follow him to receive the latest content and leave comments.