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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Learning How to Change Gears

I was descending a hill during my evening run at the park recently when I overheard a boy coming up the hill on a bike call back to his sister with a desperate question. "Am I going uphill or downhill?!" he cried as his hands worked frantically to adjust the gears on what looked to be new bike. "Uphill!" his teenage sister retorted obviously thinking her brother a bit daft. I chuckled at the tone of their exchange; I have four siblings myself and am intimately familiar with such sibling, er, conversations.

But as I rounded the bend and ran along the short side of the lake situated in the center of this wooded park, I chuckled more at the familiarity of the boy's struggle. So focused was he on learning how to change gears on his new bike he seemed to have completely forgotten what "uphill" was versus "downhill."

How often don't we do this? When faced with the acquisition of new knowledge or a new skill, our energies get so channeled into incorporating and mastering it that we overlook old skills and knowledge. Or in the midst of a significant change, we temporarily neglect to tap into what we already have/know/do well to help propel us forward to a new normal.

I did this very thing at work last month. At the beginning of a new social media project with a tight deadline, I zoned in on acquiring the necessary technological knowledge. Burrowing into best practices online and reading articles and white papers and books and blogs and listening to podcasts quickly sucked me in. I was frantically trying to figure out the new tools when a friend and colleague I had confided my angst to reminded me that I have an extroverted preference and was overlooking the old "skill" of connecting with people. Reach out to people who already know the tool and talk with them about it? Why didn't I think of that?!

Because I was too focused on changing gears and couldn't recognize that I was going uphill.

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