“It’s amazing how you can turn just about anything into a learning opportunity for me, Mom,” said my son one afternoon during his senior year of high school, as we were driving home from one of his many extracurricular events.
This commentary was delivered without a discernible trace of sarcasm or irony. I know this because I whipped my head sideways so fast to stare him down in the passenger seat that it would have come spinning off if it hadn’t been firmly attached. He smiled at me, guilelessly, giant brown eyes all puppy-like and innocent.
I challenged him on it anyway (because at 18 and on the brink of high school graduation, occasional sarcasm and challenging of adults is just part of the growing up game), but the puppy-like innocence remained as he insisted that he was sincere, that it was “truly amazing” how just about everything that happens has a lesson in it that I could unpack, or help him to identify.
Satisfied that he wasn’t goading or patronizing me, I reflected on the essence of his pronouncement, which had come on the heels of my reaction to a long story he’d been telling of mayhem and mishaps triggered by a bad choice a friend of his had made the weekend before. We had explored how the situation could have unfolded differently if better and more thoughtful decisions had been made at key inflection points. But rather than telling him what I thought, I asked questions so that he could identify alternate options that could have been taken.
• What did his friend think was going to happen, and what actually happened?
• What went wrong and why?
• What you could he / she / they have done differently?
• What would you do if you were in that situation?
• How could you avoid the problems that were encountered? How could you mitigate the repercussions?
• Most simply: what did you learn from it?
Without doing it consciously, I was casually deploying “after action review” techniques. I shared that observation with my son during this particular dialogue, and from that point, we had a really satisfying conversation then about my work in knowledge management, how some of the key elements are learning from mistakes – whether your own or others’ – and sharing those learnings for individual and collective continuous improvement. I think he understood a lot more what knowledge management (and my job) was about after that. It’s a treasured connection and moment that we both remember fondly and reference, seven years later. (He still insists he was being sincere.) We also still have these kinds of conversations, and now that he’s an adult, my son is just as likely to use the questions on me. He can recognize a “teachable moment” just as well as I can. 😊
You can turn just about anything into a learning opportunity.
There’s truth in that.
© 2023, Glover Gardens
Note: I also posted this on LinkedIn, as it’s one of those times that Glover Gardens (personal blog) and LinkedIn (business connections) topics overlap. If you’d like to connect there, please click here and send me a request.