A highly intelligent female friend of mine recently broke up with her longtime companion. In an extensive conversation, she recounted what worked and what didn’t over the course of their relationship.
At the end, I posed a question: What did you learn?
Her observations up to that point had been acute. I anticipated her answer with interest.
I was disappointed when she gave the only response that I would classify as “wrong.”
An Infinitude of Right Answers, Only One Wrong Answer
She reacted with surprise—even a touch of pique.
“What did I learn?!?!”
She seemed to process the question as unexpected and, just perhaps, vaguely patronizing.
“I didn’t learn anything….. I wasn’t the problem….”
That pretty well wrapped things up.
I was looking forward to learning more from her own learning from the failed relationship. I had no idea what that learning might entail, where that vein of reflection might take us.
If there is an infinitude of “right” answers to the question, there is only one “wrong” answer. And she had given it.
A Powerful Question for Life and Work
Along with the fundamental question of Serve to Lead–Who Are You Serving?—I regard What Did You Learn? to be compelling, potentially transformational. I pose it to myself and others constantly. I ask it after successful or disappointing interactions with others. I ask it about relationships. I ask it after meetings or presentations. In fact, there’s never a time I’m not asking it to myself and others.
To be sure, some people react like my friend did. For example, at the conclusion of a professional conference, I asked a famous CEO what he had learned. He reacted as if I were suggesting he had something to learn—a viewpoint he apparently would not countenance.
Had he turned the question back toward me, asked what I had learned, he would have realized it’s a question that I use to challenge myself all the time.
We each might then have learned something. At the least we would have got a sense of the other’s perspective, how we each experienced and interpreted a shared experience.
What About You?
What did you learn in your recent work experiences? ….your recent life experiences?
What did you learn from your last client interaction?
What did you learn from your customers? … your clients? … your employees? … your colleagues? … your allies? … your suppliers? … your competitors? … your adversaries?
What did you learn from your last meeting?
What did you learn from your recent career education or training?
What did you learn from the accomplishments or shortcomings of others?
What did you learn from your defining successes? … your public failures?
What did you learn from the course of your most important personal relationships?
What did you learn in the past day? … the past week?…. the past month?…. the past year?
You might even want to write it down…. to provide greater detail, richness and methodical creativity into the biography of the person you’re becoming….
What Did You Learn?