Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Are You Teaching Quality

April 28, 2017

Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about the death of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values as seen in The New York Times.

The book is not really about Zen (a form of Buddhism popularized by Alan Watts and the Beatnik generation) or about repairing your motorcycle. “The real motorcycle you’re working on is yourself.”

Along with the Bible and St. Augustine, this book was most influential in my life.

While teaching rhetoric at Montana State University in Bozeman, another professor asked while passing him in the corridor, “Are you teaching quality?”

That led him into a deep dive into the meaning of quality.

Part is philosophical as he detailed his battles with the famous leader of philosophy at the University of Chicago. (I’ve read Mortimer Adler. I prefer Pirsig.) I think he was right about the decline in western thinking with the over emphasis on rationality thanks to Plato and Aristotle (especially the latter).

Part was details on working on his motorcycle preparing for a cross-country trip with his son and two friends. He must have been worse than me, by the way, as a travel companion. I often get lost in thinking. He must have gone a bit overboard on that.

He talked about learning skills in metalworking to do his own repairs because he was upset with the lack of care so many mechanics took in repairing thing.

Quality in part comes from caring about what you do.

He also taught logical troubleshooting. Something more of us need when we approach a problem.

Living With God Every Day

March 28, 2017

Do not be transformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God. Paul, the apostle, writing to the church in Rome

Paul has dropped that ancient wisdom on us before–you become what you think about. He knew that centering our minds on the right thing leads to life. On the other hand, focusing on the wrong things leads to alienation, strife, destruction.

Yesterday, I was pondering the passage from Steindl-Rast’s book about spirituality infusing us as an everyday thing. Perhaps this is a part of that living spirituality.

We transform our minds. That means a choice. And will. We intentionally choose things, reading, activities, and the like, that will renew us in our knowledge and relationship with God.

With our minds renewed daily by focus on God, we can move beyond the vicissitudes of political winds–beyond “political stupidity”, which by the way is different for you and for me. Or theology which is often different for you and for me. But God is still God. The creator. The essential life-force.

Just before Paul told us this, he told us to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God.

I’m not entirely sure about all the implications of what he meant. But I’m sure that he means for us to wake up daily, pray / meditate asking God what we are supposed to do for him today. The day is his, not ours.

And if we are clueless, then Paul drops some hints. Read Romans 12:9-21. Paul Simon once sang about 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Paul the Apostle gives us 29 ways to show love and be that living sacrifice–he could have written a song “29 Ways To Be a Lover”.

Overcoming Our Own Ignorance

March 10, 2017

“Our mind is the instrument of knowledge, but it is very imperfect and filled with all sorts of ignorance.” John Climacus

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has been on my “to read again” bookshelf for a long time. John is so perceptive. It’s an education in psychology as well as spiritual development to read his work.

It is easy to see ignorance everywhere–everywhere but in ourselves, of course. Does your heart ever ache at those times when someone seems ignorant on purpose? Proud of it? The answer is right there in front of them, and they stubbornly cling to an idea completely different?

I actually took a couple of years to study brain science to figure that out. But, I digress.

Have you ever stared at a passage of Scripture and then exclaim, “Oh, that’s what he’s saying???”

Happens to me often.

I try to be open to new ideas. New interpretations. Open to God breaking through and going “Open your eyes, dummy, and learn this.”

Two things help. One is to read a lot. I watch about 3-4 hours of TV a week (well, plus another 4-5 hours of soccer, but that’s s different story). Otherwise I read.

The other is meeting people. Not just seeing people. Meeting them. Christian fundamentalists. Ordinary Christians. Atheists. Pagans. Muslims. Hindus. Buddhists. And having conversations. And listening. And seeing people as people–God’s children.

Know what? People are different from what you see in the news. Some people like to see their names in the news. Most people try to live a moral life as best they can. Most Christians I meet no matter what flavor of theology are just trying to live a spiritual life an hour at a time. Quietly. No headlines. No anger. No hate. Just people.

We have to watch our minds. Root out our ignorance through continual learning. Listen to someone today.

Talk Less and Listen More

December 9, 2016

For those of you who get up to read these essays by 7 am EST, I’m late. Plane was delayed and I got home at 1 am. 

Here I am. Five hours of sleep. Nothing prepared. Nothing on my mind.

But I try to write leadership thoughts on Fridays.

So, here is the thought of the day. Works for leaders. Works for parents. For spouses. Even for public speakers 😉

Talk less; Listen more.

I could give examples. But…you get the point. What are you going to do today?

Foster A Learning Organization

September 30, 2016

There are two institutions in society where time spent matters more than work done–schools and prisons.

I saw this quote in a book some 40 years ago. I forget the attribution. Twenty minutes just went down the drain searching the Internet for it. Oh, well, how many of us resemble this remark?

There was a candidate for a job opening. “I have a BA degree, therefore I’m an expert in that topic.”

Some people see themselves as never done, as in they must always be learning–both inside and outside their disciplines. Marketing guru Seth Godin has another phrase–Fully Baked. “Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.”

Managers in all manner of organizations are taught to say “people are our most important asset.” Yet, how many of them encourage the continual learning required to keep the organization fresh and innovative. And to encourage their people to grow and develop?

This works for marketplace organizations, non-profits, and churches.

Are you the sort of leader who leads by example? What are the latest books you’ve read? Podcasts you’ve listened to? Conferences you’ve attended? Notes you’ve put into your notebook or Evernote?

Are you the sort of leader who listens to others–indeed one who solicits advice and then acts on it?

And not just business or leadership books. Read outside your area. Learn something totally new. My reading in brain science has deepened my understanding of Scripture and how to change habits to incorporate the new information.

How about a goal? Read at least one book a month for new information. Then maybe you can make it two. Then you can read that mystery for relaxation.

By so doing, you can influence others to also adopt a learning lifestyle.

Michelangelo wrote on a canvas when he was 87, “I am still learning.”

The Joy of Learning

September 28, 2016

I hated school. Well, I was bored for much of it. Then I went through a period of not working hard enough. Then I learned the “game” of school and got good grades…and got out.

There was the time in graduate school when I looked at the professors and thought, “I don’t want to be them. I don’t want campus politics. I don’t like the picky hierarchy.” So, I got a job.

When you’re no longer doing something just for the grade, it’s liberating. Not that I didn’t learn a lot at university. I did. It’s just learning wasn’t fun.

Paradoxically, I’ve had on my mind for months the idea of the joy of learning. A couple of years ago, I went through about 1,800 pages of scholarly work on Paul the Apostle. Had it been a grad school assignment…well, who knows. But such a deep dive over an extended period of time brings an understanding of the person that can only be explained as a great joy in learning–and in understanding.

I missed a couple of posts last week and I’m a little late this morning because I’m on the West Coast. Well, today I’m in Phoenix, not the coast for sure, but the same time zone. What am I doing? Learning. My job for the past 20 something or even 30 years has been to learn about a technology, digest what it means, and then explain and interpret it for others. There is joy in that exercise. The end result is to help others build machines and processes to improve manufacturing and production.

The same holds true for Bible study–or also studying great interpreters. It is the pure joy of learning what the Scriptures really say and then bringing it into a life that builds deeper understanding and a deeper response to life.

The challenge in this sort of study is to understand the gap between knowing and doing. Or as some writers have taught–the distance from the brain to the heart. There is joy in learning, but the goal is to change the way you live. That comes when the knowledge becomes embedded in your entire being. You change the way you live.

Purpose of Education in Spiritual Development

June 2, 2015

For a very long time, I’ve been concerned with the prevailing “wisdom” that education exists solely for vocational enhancement.

I respect the engineers and pastors and other professionals that I work with in my various “lives” who had the intelligence and tenacity to finish degrees, and advanced degrees, and even more advanced degrees. But that isn’t me.

I learned almost all the electronics, computer science, theology, biblical studies through my own “outside of the education system” education. The university was good. I have a degree. Most companies didn’t ask what it was in. They looked at my experience and I got several engineering jobs. And, I guess I did well. I’m pretty technical and love technology.

Mostly, I love learning. I want to know everything about everything. (To dream, the Impossible Dream….).  My unique perspective prepared me for my 10 career changes.

So, how many career changes have you had?

Here is a voice from the Silicon Valley venture capital community issuing a warning much as I would. In Hard-Core Career Advice for a 13-year-old, James Altucher notes, “[My experience] shows that school is too focused on ‘education leads to a job.’ This is not true anymore. “

He continues, “The reality is the average person has 14 different careers in their lives and the average multi-millionaire has seven different sources of income. So anything that is ‘one-job focused’ will create a generation of kids that will learn the hard way that life doesn’t work like that.”

I have always believed that education is necessary for personal growth. And beyond personal growth, it leads to social growth and understanding. It should broaden our awareness of the world around us and the people who are our neighbors—no matter where on earth they may reside. 

The best blend of education includes technical and humanities, institution training and personal study. My university education both in engineering and Liberal Arts formed a nice foundation. Unlike what some people I’ve interviewed over the years have believed, I never thought that an undergraduate course made me an expert in anything. In face, my graduate courses were not much better—but that may just be a result of the school I chose to attend. 

Engineers who have no art, literature, history or music education (whether self-taught or through a university) are usually too one-dimensional. They can solve problems, but they often don’t know which problems to solve. And personally, they are missing out on much of what makes life interesting.

On the other hand, humanities or social science majors who think that they cannot learn technical things are also missing out on an entire body of knowledge that would deepen their understanding of the world and help them read popular (i.e. news media) articles much more critically. 

So, I’m with Altucher. Prepare for many careers by obtaining a broad education obtained from many sources. Most of all, learn to read critically, think rationally and express yourself clearly whether written or oral. 

I just finished a long work of deep scholarship by N.T. Wright on the Apostle Paul. I understand the complexities of scholarship even though I am not one–technically speaking.

With effort, you could learn that, too. It calls for suspending emotional responses and seriously considering arguments. That is the way to greatly increase depth of learning–something seriously lacking in today’s so-called university education in the US.

One thing I’ve learned about people–simply possessing a degree is only an idicator of the perseverence of completing the program. It is no assurance of actual knowledge. That comes from reflection upon continuous learning. Learn continuously so that you can grow continuously.

How To Keep on Learning

March 9, 2015

Thanks to Seth Godin for a great thought. How do you keep on learning?

He asks, “Quick, what’s XIV squared?”

Did you know that there is no zero in Roman numerals? You can’t do advanced math without a zero.

He links the idea that if you are missing a few important tools, even one, then your work is hindered. You have to obtain the necessary tools–which usually consist of vocabulary. A limited vocabulary will limit your career growth.

Says Godin, “Here’s my advice: Every time you hear an expert use a word or concept you don’t understand, stop her and ask to be taught.  Every time. After just a few interactions, you’ll have a huge advantage over those who didn’t ask.”

I’d add, read with a dictionary (or dictionary app or browser). When you don’t know a word, look it up.

Mentoring and Training

February 3, 2015

The other day at the coffee shop I chanced into a conversation with a young woman. She is a local community college student who is heading toward a degree-granting (BA/BS) university. She was full of enthusiasm for a career. She knew what she wanted to do.

I started thinking (that’s my weakness, but fortunately not while she was talking) that what people want to do is a question of training them in a skill. They can do computer science, plumbing, tool making, selling, marketing, writing.

But, what if we who are older and have been down the road realize that what is even more crucial is to help people realize who they can be.

Sometimes these things can be accomplished at the same time. I help teach young people how to become a soccer referee. That’s a skill. But that’s only the first step. Of course, they must continue to develop their skills–foul recognition, mechanics, physical stamina.

We also teach them how to be. Through providing them games and mentoring, we show them how to develop strength of character, decision-making skills, people skills. These things help them grow as people no matter what they choose to do with their lives.

Then we can reflect  even on ourselves as we are mentoring young people–realizing that learning should never end; evaluating who we are vs who we want to be; growing in emotional intelligence.

As we get older, one thing we should become is a mentor. Pick someone, help lead them into becoming what they can be. Help them explore their spiritual gifts and talents.

Love Language of Receiving

January 20, 2015

He then realized that his wife’s “love language” was receiving. So he decided to give her something every day for a week, and then to give her something every week for a year.

John Ortberg mentioned as an example this story from a book called “Five Love Languages” or something like that. Disclaimer: I have not read the book.

But that example really threw me. A love language of receiving? I suppose that everyone likes to receive a gift. Even me, although I have few wants or needs. But, as a way of life?!

I have another word or two for that “language” or life attitude. Spoiled. Self-centered. Self-absorbed.

Maybe I’ve taken the illustration too far. Maybe there is a nuance I missed or that Ortberg didn’t mention.

It seems to me through observation and reading that one of the major problems of our times–and this isn’t only America–is just that self-absorption or self-centeredness. I’m amazed at the number of times in a day I can observe examples of people thoughtlessly unaware of others around them. (Oh, and you can tell a self-centered person by asking them–they’ll think that there is nothing wrong in the example I just cited.)

But there is a spiritual gift, agape, that entails giving. I don’t know what we learned about the wife, really, from Ortberg’s example. It is obvious that at least one person made the leap from self-centered to thinking of someone else.

For that, the apostle Paul would rejoice. He taught that many times.

Receive as a blessing; give to be a blessing.