When was the last time you built something — I mean the stand there in the garage or backyard or craft room with a satisfied smirk on your face kind of build? A “build” that forced you out of your comfort zone, came with sparse instructions, confronted you with few tools other than your wits and resolve? One where the whisper of catastrophe was the Rasputin in your ear?
If you’re in executive management, I’d propose that such an experience may be crucial to your learning. and growth.
I was reminded this week of how much our technology-saturated lives can create yawing distance from the physical world, but also from a world of the unknown, the place of adventure where learning resides. It was an article in the Washington Post that essentially served as a eulogy for an era when guys (yes, mostly guys) worked on their own cars. Those were journeys in problem-solving, resourcefulness, innovation and perhaps a bit of mischief. It was physical, tiring, rewarding. We had no YouTube videos to guide us — just inventiveness and determination — and a cadre of fellow car owners who exchanged knowledge, tools and bragging rights. It taught lessons that lasted a lifetime.
Today, cars are so complex, so self-governing, so inaccessible that they serve as a metaphor of larger areas of life. Technology can make everything so easy, we lose sight of what is hard and the value it brings. We are forced or seduced into pursuing efficiency and speed as the higher order. We can convince ourselves that our ability to control our condition and be proficient are the measures of success, and forget all about curiosity, exploration and flat-out, white-knuckle risk. You are not necessarily growing if you are just getting better at what you’ve always been good at doing.
No, you don’t have to work on cars (can’t much these days anyway), but how do you be intentional about reclaiming your sense of adventure and stretch-growth? Here are some things to consider in finding that “building” activity:
Get in over your head. Whatever you choose, there is something about feeling totally outside your element that invites you to reach inside yourself or reach outside yourself. You’ll never know your limits unless you try to exceed them.
Do something where you will need help. While it may be satisfying to figure things out for yourself, leadership is never about being inside your own head, nor should its learning. When we invite others in to our struggles, it gives them an avenue to be needed and reminds us of our interdependency.
Welcome failure. It’s all about resilience, resourcefulness, patience, stamina.
Make it up as you go. Most of us who built our muscle cars years ago never started with a project plan; we just learned as we went along, adding “stuff” as our confidence and knowledge grew. Take a hike and just see where it takes you.
Burn the instruction book. Nothing will test your logic, your problem-solving, your intuition like not having a clue what to do.
Look down, not just up. Our mantra for learning is always reaching up to that higher platform, but sometimes the greatest growth is the humblest — taking on tasks or activities that feel a bit beneath us, but can remind us that there is honor in work at any level.