Learning by doing

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – not my station!

How did you begin to learn to do what you do for a living? I started in my first job by being given a pile of basic routine work to do. When I had done it, I was shown how to apply it to produce the finished product, which in my case was a service provided to a customer.

I could not have learned by watching someone else just sitting at a desk. We all need to have hands-on experience to learn and become interested in a subject in the first place.

It is the same with anything we do which can inspire us. As some of you may know, I am a radio amateur or ham. I first became interested in radio when I was at school, aged about fifteen, and watched and heard people (mostly older boys) using the army cadet forces network to communicate. It was learning by watching and by being involved, and it opened up a whole new world to me.

If it had just been a question of someone using headphones and hearing just one side of a conversation, I would have learned nothing, and would have been bored. My being involved in the entire conversation was essential to spark my interest. It gave me a hobby I value today in the same way I have had an entire career from being involved and useful from the start.

Whatever we do, we need to have a sense of self-worth. How do you inspire those who will come after you and follow you?

Does watching TV dull our business brains?

Old televisionThere is a school of thought that watching TV is a waste of time and I understand that view.  I can see that for soap addicts in the UK there is a potential to waste fifteen hours a week watching unlikely story-lines without straying from the first five channels on the programme menu. That is time down the drain as far as I am concerned and the equivalent of almost a couple of days at work a week for some so-called full-time employees; perhaps not for small business owners.

It seems to me there is so much useless rubbish to watch. There are apparently many reality shows including the “talent” ones, bizarre artificial ones with strangers being forced to live together, and business shows involving strangers thrown together. None of these seems useful, educational or even simply relaxing after a hard day’s work. Does this dumbed-down nonsense fog people’s brains?

I do not claim to have virtue in watching TV for only a couple of hours a day. I do like to see the news and especially business news in the morning. It is important to know what is going on in the world. I like programmes where I can learn new things. I like natural history and astronomy. Those subjects are fascinating to me.

Yes, I do watch the occasional escapist fiction because I think it has the same effect on my brain as reading a good book, and because it is important to share the experience while relaxing and spending quality time with my wife.

Am I a TV snob? Maybe, but I do like to use my time profitably both in the business and figurative senses. Do you think TV is a waste of time or are those soaps a safe haven which help you unwind after the business day?

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First impressions


Elephants never forget

There are an awful lot of cliches. You know the sort.


  • You have thirty seconds to make an impression on a first meeting.
  • You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression.

Psychologists tell us that we do make judgments about the characters of the people we meet fairly instantaneously. It worries me that people do this, because we can all be wrong, and quite radically wrong. If we are out networking and therefore perhaps working our way round a room, I think we can make quite serious mistakes.

Fish out of water

When I left the corporate world and started in business on my own I carried with me all the old prejudices, and because I started meeting a greater variety of people and indeed clients, I floundered at the outset. I didn’t know how to deal with many of them.

In the world of the City, most clients were wealthy and / or high earners and most had a good educational background. By “good” I mean that they had gone to schools in better-off areas, and had gone to university or college. Perhaps they had worked their way up after starting as school-leavers. Perhaps they had been taken on by more sought-after employers because of whom they knew or more likely whom their patents knew. It was all very cosy as I now realise.

The new pond

However, there are some very smart people out there who do not speak “posh”, who didn’t get through college and who have got where they have got through hard work of course, but also because they are very bright; yes, intelligent.

It takes not just guts to build a major firm of hauliers (for example) from scratch. It takes intelligence and an ability to think on one’s feet. An ability to keep quite a few balls in the air if only in the head. An ability to adjust quickly to deal with the unexpected. Of course this is stuff we mostly don’t learn at school anyway, but it takes a clever person as opposed to just a well-educated person to run a business well.

Some people may come across as brash. They may have a questionable taste in clothes (although they may think we have). They may have hobbies we might think of as odd. They may just know what they are doing pretty well and can teach us a thing or too.

Mr Memory

It is easy to judge a book by its cover – and I am rolling out the cliches – but I remember in another context making a mistake I am glad I made because I learned from it.

A few years ago my wife and I were in South Africa staying in a hotel in the bush on the edge of the Kruger National Park. We had a waiter who was not in the first flush of youth. He was a local with a brilliant sense of humour, but obviously with no or little formal education. Because we were on a tour, we were regularly seated at a table of eight. This guy came and took the orders for the starters and main course (different every night) in one go, plus the drinks order and the wine for later. That isn’t necessarily the done thing in restaurants at home, but we weren’t at home.

The thing about our waiter was that he never wrote anything down. Sixteen food orders plus eight aperitifs and the wine, all in one go. Plainly the reason our waiter didn’t write down the orders was because he couldn’t read and write. He never got anything wrong though, and when he brought the order he remembered who was having what.

Plainly this gentleman had a fantastic memory and probably a terrific brain, but he had never had an education.

So please don’t judge a book by its cover or a person just by their appearance and the way they speak. You may be missing your next great business opportunity.

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Are we pre-conditioned for our working lives?

I was listening to a discussion on a news channel this morning in which there was a debate about the new British Coalition’s proposals to get unemployed people to where the work is by helping them re-locate, and how this sat with the review of the current range of benefits, particularly unemployment benefit (known as JobSeeker’s Allowance) and Incapacity Benefit for those deemed unfit to work. There is quite a lot of debate about Incapacity Benefit. Of course the majority who receive it are those for whom it is intended, but there was a suggestion that some long term unemployed receive this benefit because the State currently has no other options.

I do not want to debate these complex issues and there must be people much better able to comment than I. However, what was interesting to me was the general agreement that unemployment in young people in deprived areas was often a culture derived from their parents and sometimes their grandparents; possibly third generation unemployment. One commentator said that she felt that the problem was partly in failing to encourage the young to get a proper education; to pay attention at school. Some parents feel that school didn’t help them to get work so they do not encourage their children.

This seemed to me a worrying view, but when I thought about it I could see the point. It struck me that there is also a culture of employment which tends to make people think that should be their lot. Things have moved on since I started work, but at the time I went for a job in a bank because both my parents worked for banks and it was agreed to be the right thing to do. I only ventured into business on my own account when I lost my (well-paid) job and couldn’t get another of any sort due to a downturn and my more mature status. Running your own business needs a whole different mindset.

I applaud at least one local school which I understand does give near-leavers in the sixth form some time to study independent business – being self-employed – but I wonder how much we are conditioned through parenting and education, or lack of it, to be employed, self-employed or unemployed?

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Networking and leading a horse to water

I had occasion this past week to contact a visitor to our breakfast networking group we have not seen for a month or so to find out why we had not seen him recently. His business would have fitted in very well with our current strong team of businesses.

In response I had an email which in part the visitor said “I am not sure if or when I will be coming back, I enjoyed the people there and meeting up, but if I am honest (and this is meant in a positive way) I could not see the benefit of talking about what I did every week to the same people; I know there are sometimes some new faces but in the main I knew what everyone did and they knew what I did.”

Well, yes, my friend. We know what you do. However, we don’t really know you. You seem to be a good guy, but if we refer our clients and friends to you, can you be trusted to do a good job? Are you reliable? Do we know you will not embarrass us? Of course, we have to admit that we as a networking group may have failed if we did not convey through education what makes a good networker, but on the other hand, you rushed to judgment and didn’t give us a chance in your couple of visits.

As serious networkers, we do not wish to teach our grandmothers etc. and be patronizing but should we talk about the essence of networking every week for the benefit of the visitors? Maybe we should, and perhaps I have made assumptions that people know why they are there. I know why I do it, and that is because I have built a trusted team of advocates whom I can advocate myself when I see an opportunity for their businesses to make a sale. Maybe stridency is needed in networking evangelism at the risk of causing some discomfort.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post:

Breakfast referral networking and gaining trust