Ann Baldwin – Willing to fail in order to learn.

As the lock on a bedroom door jammed for the third time that morning, I unscrewed it again and swore loudly. Adult learning is not as easy as the government would wish.

I reflected upon my list of conditions required for learning new skills: willingness; confidence; determination; support; instruction; practice. Certainly, I was willing to learn – I had three doors whose catches and knobs needing repositioning before our visitors arrived.

I have also an unshakeable belief that I can learn. I used to think that there were those who were talented and there were the rest of us, but some time ago I concluded that persistence and practice are the keys to success. Setbacks are part of learning.

Children know this. They don’t give up trying to walk at the first stumble or stop riding if they fall off their bicycles. I reminded myself of this as a china door-knob hit me on the foot.

To learn quickly, I know I need a supportive and stress-free environment.

With my brother sneering that I was going about it all wrong, and guests due imminently, perhaps I hadn’t quite got that condition in place.

I had the right tools, but I certainly needed more practice. Drilling a perfect horizontal hole is not that simple.

I struggled on. Door one was finished although a large quantity of wood-filler was needed to hide the scars. Door two: I mashed the thread on the metal plate and a passing neighbour straightened it. He kindly offered to complete the tasks, but I wasn’t giving up until all the medical dressings ran out. Door three: excellent. Even the catch fitted brilliantly into the hole I had chiselled.

It is not more subject-specific courses we need in this fast-changing world that won’t promise us a job, let alone a career – it is the secrets of successful learning, including a child’s wisdom to keep going.

May all your failures in 1999 be the foundations of your success.

Ann Baldwin, FCA, is a management trainer and conference speaker.

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