Memorable Learning Experiences

I’m in a hotel room in Cleveland Ohio. I’ve been in this great city for a few days and enjoyed an excellent weekend with friends. Later today I head off to Sandusky to help prepare for the annual Ohio Society for Human Resource Management conference. There will be 950 of us under one roof learning with and from each other, I’m excited to be here.

This is my third time here and I have a deep connection with the event itself and the people associated with it. Back in November 2011 I had a conversation with my Dad about ‘what next?’ and the idea of doing interesting things in the USA emerged from that conversation. My Dad died unexpectedly just two months after our chat and a month after that, I got confirmation that Ohio had accepted my ideas for a presentation. I honour that conversation with my Dad each time I come here, and this year I’m facilitating a session on connectedness, We Are Better Together. Here’s where you come in…

I have a ton of ideas, stories, frameworks, models and behavioural stuff to play with. I’ve been preparing and planning for this session for months, and because it contains a high level of improvisation – twists and turns will emerge, about which we currently know nothing. It’s a bit like a subway map, we can see how to get across town and there are many choices and directions we could take to achieve this.

In support of building and following our own version of the map, I would really appreciate your help. What are your most memorable learning experiences? Good, bad, behavioural, tactical, technical, etcetera, I’d love to hear from you. How did you feel, and what did you learn? I’d love to include a few of your stops on our journey, and I promise to share the map we draw together once the event is over. Thanks in advance for your help, have an excellent week.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

8 thoughts on “Memorable Learning Experiences”

  1. There are times when you send a message and I just stop what I’m doing to get a reply to you ……. This may or may not be of any use at all but feel free to ask questions!!

    so ….. What are your most memorable learning experiences?

    1. “Sink or swim” – learning by immersion – moving to a senior manager role. Learning how to let go, how to pass accountability but keep the responsibility in a way that let’s others grow without interfering!! When you pass your babies over to others, it’s very, very hard to keep away when things go in a way you didn’t plan for. A painful learning experience but eventually a very gratifying one (when those you nurture go on to better things for instance)

    2. “Bloody courses” – active learning – except for the one which threw me into the world of negotiation but not of the “here’s how to screw the other side” variety. The variety that says read your “opponent”, listen always, seek compromise, work out the value of things before you talk about them, body language (and how to use it, not just read it). There need to be 2 winners (just make sure you win more!!)

    3. The Chimp Paradox – need I say more? – inquisitive learning – The best and most interesting book that I just keep reading. It doesn’t teach you how to do anything particularly but it does teach you how to understand what may be going on and has changed the whole way I deal with pretty much anything from work stuff to riding my bike better! I know this kind of thing is horses for courses but this one hits my buttons.

    Have a great conference Doug



    1. Excellent stuff! I really appreciate you taking the time to share some good ideas, the wonderful people of Ohio will benefit from you and your contribution. Very good to hear from you.

  2. Doug, some of my most insightful moments come when I hear something in a different context that then resonates strongly.

    Most recently I was watching Sky Arts’ Master of Photography series (well recommended!) and the guest for the final was Jonny Briggs, the British photographer. Early on he made the point that the world has changed – it used to be considered that the camera never lied, but now (with digital photography and so much post production software) it is now viewed that the camera always lies!

    I say this as a reminder that we must always be careful how we accept and process information. Often the rules we were taught as we grew up no longer apply or at least have been warped.

    At the risk of being critical, maybe your tube map analogy should rather become one of the Hogwarts staircases that are always moving and making new connections?

    1. Excellent stuff thanks Ian, and the Hogwarts idea is so much better than the tube map! So, in addition to learning from you directly, I refine my existing work through sharing it. Cheers!

  3. This sounds super cool….we really must have a chat sometime. I have a number to share:

    1. Having dinner with my nephews best friend Joe (I knew him since he was 2) he had just started on a graduate programme as a recruitment consultant in London and was horrified at the cost of living in the capital. So much so he had to make adjustments. One change was washing and ironing his own shirts rather than having them laundered (I know!)…. So how did he learn…by watching YouTube videos of course….that was a massive moment in the evolution of learning strategy for my company. Next day I got my learning team and digital team together and set out on a journey of one minute lessons….it’s had real impact!

    2. Working with a superb boss and watching him with people. I believe leaders have to be true to themselves….not trying to be someone else but I also believe when you work with the best if you watch and reflect you will learn valuable lessons.

    3. I love to read……we should never lose that!

    4. I heard a great leader once say he kept a journal to help reflect and make sense of the day. I adopted that too and it works for me.

    Have a great event


    1. Great stuff, thanks Anne! More than happy to chat some time, this is a great list. I need to curate all the responses I’ve had across here, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, there’s a ton of good stuff been shared.

      Cheers – Doug

  4. I received a few more excellent responses to this post after sharing it on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I’m gathering everything together here so I don’t lose anything!

    Anne Marie Rattray (LinkedIn) said:

    Hi Doug. Sounds like you are going to have a blast. For me, learning to drive at the age of 55, and passing my test first time was memorable. Such a common thing that most people do and I had convinced myself I couldn’t do it. Anyway, moving to live in the countryside I had to do it. So why memorable? I had a reason. I was determined. I was delighted that I had fewer lessons (slightly) than the 17 year olds my instructor had at the time (I made her check). I now have a skill I can carry on improving. It has changed my life. I love nothing better than going on long roadtrips throughout Europe. On an early long drive, my husband made me drive through Basel in Switzerland, on roads that tunnel the city. I’ll never forget coming out the tunnel in evening sun and the mountains opening up in front. Magic!

    Sean Trainor (LinkedIn) said:

    My greatest learning experience in the workplace was on a leadership retreat early on in my management career. At the end of each team session we invited feedback from our learning group on our performance. A senior colleague (Mr X) was told by the group that they all loved how much he displayed his ‘natural child’ showing high levels of curiosity and authenticity in his session and how he worked well in a team, despite his seniority. He burst into tears and ran out of the room. Our facilitator ran after him and returned later to give us some insights on Mr X and what had just happened. By that time we had stopped giggling like schoolgirls. Mr X was a leading R&D scientist in his field. He was in his 50s with grown up children. He was a child prodigy. Excelling at everything he done academically, he never got praised. 100% was an expectation. If, on the rare occasion, he dropped a mark, his parents would pull a face and ask “where did you go wrong?” His brother, on the other hand was academically challenged and would get a fanfare response to achieving a C grade. Overtime Mr X developed a strong -ve strokes balance. He never got praise and couldn’t cope with it when it came, dismissing any recognition for all his great work as simple stuff that anyone could do. This was the first time anyone had looked him in the eye and said how much they appreciated what he had done. He couldn’t cope with the feedback – it was overwhelming. What did I learn? 1. The value of continuous feedback and appreciation, not sometihng you do once a year.
    2. The need to understand how others receive feedback (its not universal)
    3. Feedback is a gift but only when invited.
    4. What a bloody great guy Mr X was.
    Hope this helps Doug.

    Paul Hebert (LinkedIn) said:

    Keep sharing!

    Mark Catchlove (LinkedIn) said:

    Hi Doug – great post – and I wish you a successful event. – For me, participation and interaction during the session is always valuable. I have always found mnemonics useful, even more so as I get older. The other important part for me is applying the learning as soon afterwards as possible. I learn more about things I have an interest in than those that just bore me. This has literally just dropped into my inbox

    Hope this helps.

    Bianca Tulleuda (Twitter) said:

    Learning needs awe, curiosity, love, impact and sharing. Mistakes become milestones. Process, repeat & improvement.

    Kim George (Twitter) said:

    Learning on job, first job (learning from mistakes; practice; being mentored); first aid course (practice; repetition). Living+teaching in China (out of comfort zone, new experiences); surviving skin cancer (learned about myself, resilience).

    Frank Zupan (Facebook) said:

    When I’m able to successfully fight the urge to speak and conversely embrace/practice the art of listening, I learn.

    Mary Faulkner (Facebook) said:

    I learn the most when I’m researching to create content that I’ll share with someone else (training class, writing, whatever it might be). Having to think of how another person would learn it forces me to think about it in a new way.

    Tammy Colson (Facebook) said:

    My most memorable learning experiences are small group or individual conversations, where we have taken an idea and expanded, exploded, shrunk, discarded, spindled, mutilated, embraced, evolved or unpacked viewpoints around it.

    Those experiences seem to happen when it’s safe for everyone to share (Not necessarily widely accepted) thoughts and it challenges my own expectations, because it’s not an echo chamber.

    Niall Gavin (Facebook) said:

    Early L&D trainer training: Feedback skills. Asked to draw our ‘dream house’. Facilitator went round the room and ‘commented’ on each, in my case with “Well, that’s not a very good drawing, is it? Is that the best you can do?” Others were praised, others were questioned, others encouraged, etc. Then all asked to say how we felt about the feedback and its impact on us. Always stuck with me as a great experiential example of how our words and our manner in such situations are so important.

    Brian Deming (Facebook) said:

    The ones where it’s safe to fail. Try something I’m unsure of in order to arrive at a better solution. Be allowed to fail and learn without judgement.

    The ones where the only goal is to create something better for all involved.

    Tim Gardner (Facebook) said:

    Sometimes, for me, the learning comes after an extended incubation. I might be 3 years away from a previous role when something that happened there hits me and I realize how that learning applies to what I am doing in the moment. I think my sub-conscious is always churning on past events.

    Arun Bose (Facebook) said:

    Generally if I don’t understand something I’m going to learn something. Obviously if I pay attention and follow through.

  5. So many good ideas in this post and it the comments! For me, I learn the most important things from may colleagues. even when we work on separate projects, a simple exchange of ideas and experience can benefit us all. A healthy competition is good, but sometimes it’s great to know you have other people on your side.

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