OJT–Learning by immersion

In my house, my wife and children speak Hebrew, but I am not conversant. While I can function in some everyday household conversation, as my kids get older, its getting more important to understand the subtleties of the more complex conversations.  This weekend a friend of mine, who successfully learned a second language as an adult, challenged me by suggesting I just go cold turkey on English and we struggle through learning.  This is called immersion language learning.  I gave several weak excuses including not having someone to patiently coach me through the places where I am stuck. 

My approach to coaching is that lessons are best learned while you are in the actual role, not practicing for the role. The best learning comes immersion in real problems.  The more you can’t fail, the more likely you are to learn real lessons.  Common practice suggests that 70% of management learning should take place on the job (OJT).  (In case you’re wondering: 20% from workshops and seminars, 10% from books).  

Today I read this little piece by Ann Holm, MS ACC CCC that also ties these two ideas together.  

“[While] much of our approach to living is fairly consistent, much of it is also malleable because our brain is adaptable and responds to the demands placed upon it.  We can all change and broadly, this is how we do it:

1. Some sort of dampening down of the usual mind map has to take place, one of the most effective ways being through immersion.  So for example, if you were going to learn a new language, ideally you would have to eliminate as much use of the native language as possible so the new language could build resilient neuro-connections in the brain.   The brain doesn’t like competing stimuli. That is why language immersion programs seem to work. Similarly, if you were relying on your sense of touch to get around in a dark room, you would immediately switch to your preferred mode of sight to get around if the light switch was turned on.  In other words, the preferences that were present first take precedence but if they are greatly attenuated, then new pathways can develop.”

The same is true of leadership.  A little comfort is all that is needed to jump in head-first.  I am not always sure what the measures of readiness are–intuitive or measured, but it’s up to you.  Having a little supportive push from a supervisor or spouse helps to establish momentum.  Perhaps a little friendly coaching along the way to get you through the tough spots. But as with learning a new language, it takes work.  Sometimes you’ll stumble.  But if you admit that you are a new speaker, most people will work with you, be understanding, make suggestions, be patient.  

Jonathan Shaver