Learning on the job is difficult.
But it can also be the best experience you ever get.
I’d never worked at an agency before I started at MEC.
I had no idea how to plan media.
I certainly didn’t know how to write a strategy.
Or uncover an insight.
Some of these things I think I can now do.
But now a large part of my job is making sure others can do it too.
Which means I’m helping others learn on the job.
Thinking about passing on what I know got me thinking about how I learned it in the first place.
I learned from others, obviously.
I’ve been very lucky in being able to watch a lot of very good people from very close up.
So I’ve learned a lot simply through copying.
But some things needed explaining.
To understand what to do, you needed to understand how to do it.
Or why it was important.
Or when to recognise you’d done it well.
Like uncovering an insight.
That takes patience and skill on the part of the person you’re learning from.
And not everyone can do it.
I have a friend who’s a lawyer.
In his spare time he’s learning how to coach football.
He’s being taught how to help others learn.
Recently one of the coaches shared a story.
It was about two former professional footballers who had learned to coach.
Dean Saunders and Gus Poyet.
Each had very different approaches to coaching.
One day they took turns coaching the same lesson.
The lesson was on executing a very particular move.
Standing on the edge of the opponent’s area, with your back to goal, receiving the ball in the air, turning 180 then volleying towards goal.
With a defender right behind you.
Dean Saunders demonstrated the move.
“Do this” he said, chesting the ball and swivelling.
“Then do this” he said, slamming the ball into the top right-hand corner.
He nailed it every single time.
Then Gus Poyet came up.
He edged slowly through the move.
He spent time breaking down each component part.
He did it over and over, describing every little thing.
He explained how you need to feel for the defender behind you, knowing where he is at all times.
He explained how to roll the defender, using just the right mix of pressure and flexibility.
When the ball arrives, he said, you need to know where you want the ball to be once you’ve turned.
It makes it easier to move it if you know where you want it to go.
He said to think about how your body will move the ball.
Your body needs to be a curtain, not a brick wall.
A curtain, not a brick wall.
All footballers can picture that comparison.
It helped them remember which to do, and why.
Be a curtain. Cushion the ball’s flight and gently allow gravity to take hold.
Then slam the ball into the top right-hand corner.
Saunders showed the players what it looked like.
Poyet told them how it felt.
When they tried it, they would be able to imagine what he had described, then feel whether what they were doing matched that description.
They would know why they were doing it.
They would know what decisions to make, and when to make them.
They would be able to recognise and moderate their own performance.
They could perform at their best during the spontaneous reality of a match day, not just the safety of a training session.
They were empowered to learn on the job.