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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

5 Ways to Learn a New Skill Today

One of the biggest objections that I get when I advise people to add visual presentation to their presentations is that it takes too much time to use the software to create a good slide deck. They argue that the time is better spent refining the existing presentation rather than adding something new.

That's true, for the presentation that's due tomorrow. But, for the presentation after that, and the next one, it's the willful retardation of development. If you think that you should stop learning new skills and focus on refining the skills you've got, you won't advance in your career. You're done. Enjoy the coast to retirement.

But, if you're hungry to grow and to get better at what you do, you have to be adding new skills to your repertoire, almost constantly. It's not an option. The option you do have is to choose which skills to add. And, perhaps the most important, is the skill of learning skills.

So, how can you learn a new skill, today?

1. Become a Beginner
Try something that you've never done before. It's frustrating and confusing, but you'll be creating new neural pathways that will open your mind up to learning in general. Learn a dance or pick up a skillet and try to flip the veggies in the pan. You will fail, but that's a part of learning new skills. Be awkward and clumsy and figure out how to do something new.

2. Become an Apprentice
Learn a skill from someone who knows it well. Ask the computer guru how to use keyboard shortcuts. Check with your uncle who's a carpenter and get some lessons on finishing that old table in your garage. Mobilize the resources you have at your disposal and turn them into new skills. People are the best teachers and learning happens best in relationship. So, learn a new skill from someone you know and trust.

3. Tweak what You Do
Take a skill that you already know how to do and make it better. One example is in the video below. You already know how to tie your shoes (I'm guessing), but do you know how to tie them the right way? Terry Moore explains in this video how you can tie your shoes correctly and how it benefits. It's a small change, but even small changes help to re-form your brain into a learning machine. Plus your shoelaces will look better.

4. Get Stuck
Necessity is the mother of invention and it's also the step-mother of new skills. If you're stuck, your brain will start cranking in some new and interesting ways to help you find a way out. Think of it as the MacGuyver principle, you're locked in a room with a toothpick and some hydrochloric acid; now get out. One way to do this is to make a meal from only what you have on hand. Figure out how to substitute and fudge to make something that you've never made before. Force yourself into situations where you have to use your creativity to get out of it and you'll learn some new skills.

5. Learn the Principles
I love watching Alton Brown's Good Eats because he doesn't just give the recipe for some food, he gives the principles behind the recipe. Armed with those principles I can then apply them across a range of situations. Learning about the Maillard reaction (the magical moment when food turns golden brown) helps me to make not only better steak but also better toast, bacon, roasted squash and chicken salad. Every skill has an underlying principle. Understand what that is and you will have unlocked the door to that skill.

How can you learn a new skill today?

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