Most of my school days the responsibility of learning something was always for the student, if we did not understand something or we are confused then it was so easy for the teacher to punish or give a bad rating. When I had to don the role of a trainer I decided that both the learner and the teacher are responsible for the task.

The first part of any learning is to avoid fear of failure. No one can succeed in the first attempt unless it is a gamble or the steps to success is just one or two steps. It is not just in learning, fear is present in all fields. I happened to read about Doug Dietz and his contribution to make children enjoy the hospital experience, children are given a pleasant experience to go through what might otherwise be a harrowing experience. The details about that has been captured here by Vivek Kemp. At this point the engineers and the medics did not say that we have the state of the art of the systems, we do not care if children like it or not; instead they went to the extent of making it a pleasure ride.

I related Doug Dietz’s experiment to the training world. The trainers as I have seen put immense efforts to prepare and deliver, this puts a narrow focus on the outcome and the pressure to learn and excel is transferred to the students. Most of the world’s lectures are boring, students wander off and people just sit through the lecture. Presentation tools have added to the misery where the documents get converted into slides which has led to the famous term “Death by Powerpoint”.

How can we guide someone to mastery?

Engineers at GE when they created the adventure for the kids, they literally tested the setup from a kid’s perspective. They knelt down to a child’s height and prepared the room at that eye level. Like that everyone who is trying to get something done or help someone achieve something, then it is mandatory that the style of delivery is prepared as per the receiver. The preparation should be such a way that there is mutual respect, clarity of content and should give an experience that will leave people wanting for more.


In the book Pragmatic thinking and learning, the author while explaining about Dreyfus model introduces the martial arts term Shu Ha Ri to help learn something new and become an expert.

Shu – Copy and imitate exactly like how it is taught. Follow a recipe and practice by just copying. This helps to get introduced to new terms & concepts; imitating something means we are doing it the right way. In this phase it is more important to be right than be original, just like an artist learning brush strokes with various brush tips or a musician trying to play every note in her instrument. The advantage of imitating something is that brain subconsciously develops motor memory for the given task, it will soon proceed to a state where the instincts take over the conscience for the same task.

Ha – As a result of learning by imitation the motor memory could have become strong enough such that the new tasks are performed with less mental energy. This gives rooms to experiment with newer settings, like a new cook trying to tweak the recipe to her needs. Changes from the recipes in smaller increments greatly enhances the visibility of the subject and promotes more deeper understanding. Deliberate practice to understand the shortcomings and great areas will widen the scope of experiments.

Ri – This is the stage where one becomes the master or the practitioner of the art. If the skill involved is non verbal then almost no thinking would be involved in performing a task. Top sportspersons, artists, musicians fall into this place; as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers people would have spent considerable time practicing the task to become a master or an outlier.

Keep in mind these simple steps Shu-Ha-Ri when beginning to learn new things. It will help us bring focus to our learning and cut out the fear of failure.

Nat Geo’s air crash investigation series gives a good deal of idea behind what went wrong behind an air crash or failure. I was watching one of the episodes which was about the rudder malfunction of Northwest Airlines Flight 85 and how the pilots kept such a large plane in control and landed it safely. All the pilots in that plane continued to fly the plane by adjusting the engine thrust and ailerons to fly to the nearest airport and land safely.

As per the captain’s account it was a very tough thing to fly such a large plane manually. The captain is also a flight instructor so he had a sound understanding of the dynamics of the plane. When interviewed he said “Learning to fly manually is an art, sadly that is a dying art“. Increasingly planes are being designed and manufactured to fly themselves most of the times. This makes the lives of the pilots so easy that most part of the journey is assisted by the machines. But when the machines fail or not designed to handle failures, can humans take over?

What happens to other professions where there is an ever increasing assistance provided by the computers and machines? The result must be the same; when something goes terribly wrong; then there will be a disconnect between the man and the machine. From that point onwards it will be just trial and error handling if there is no deeper understanding of the system.

I read this article on leaky abstractions longtime ago. The author states that if something non trivial is abstracted then the abstraction will be leaky and put us in a spot. This article also prompted me to dive deeper into something if I am learning new. It is really tempting to hang on to the hello world examples & the new hello world of GUI “To do lists” and get away with a feeling that I have got a fair exposure. If I just learn that but not spend enough time to understand the internals, then I would be in a bad spot someday when I least expect.

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