I went snorkelling for the first time in Malaysia, off one of the southern islands, Sibu. I’m not a strong swimmer, so the thought of going out of my depth made me nervous, but the addition of a lifejacket dispelled this fear. The risk of sinking diminished, i was able to duck my head under the water for the first time and discovered a whole new world: a world of colour, movement and beauty, hidden from sight by the surface of the sea. After ten seconds, both Cath and i stuck our heads up above the water, both wide eyed, tripping over ourselves to express our amazement at what we’d seen.I’ve lived my life by the sea: from early days building sandcastles and digging ditches, i’ve graduated to kayaking and sailing relentlessly, but all the time on the surface (if you ignore the ignominious dips into the soup after ill advised turns). It was only this trip, with lifejacket, mask and snorkel that the window on a whole new world opened up for me.
Perspective is a funny thing: we think we know something, then our eyes are opened and we realise we were missing a huge part of the picture. This initial disturbance is a key part of learning (as are the performance support and exploration tools that enable us to change our perspective). We have to disturb our current view before we can take on a new one.
Sometimes this disturbance is planned, sometimes accidental, indeed, unravelling ‘how we come to learn‘ was one of the themes i explored at the conference. Sometimes planned, sometimes needs driven, sometimes through curiosity, sometimes by accident, it takes disturbance to start the process, disturbance either externally (planned and need) or internal (curiosity).
I’d never have discovered this new underwater world without the support, literally, of a life jacket. I would never have had the confidence to jump, but it’s only by jumping that we learn. Maybe sometimes we should focus less on the end results of learning, more on supporting the process.
Helping people to jump in safety, creating the right type of disturbance, and celebrating when we find the riches that lie beyond. That’s got to be a great approach to take.