Hello Leader,

Occasionally, someone will ask me how I got to do the work I do with executive teams, helping them accelerate learning and innovation and create breakthrough results. In this Key I am going to share with you how it all began -- my Learning Big Bang moment.

The point is that any moment, including what may appear as a funny or casual or even insulting comment, can carry a Big Bang potential. If, of course, you are AWAKE and PRESENT in your life.

Listen to our Podcast here. As always, your comments are welcome. Please forward this KEY to friends, family and associates.


Aviv Shahar

My Learning Big Bang

It all began for me on a beautiful spring morning in 1978. I was a 19-year-old kid sitting in the briefing room of the fighter pilot course on an airport base in the south of Israel. Thirty-five colleagues and I were just a few weeks into flying practice and we felt very good and confident about ourselves. In fact we were quite cocky. Just a month earlier we were a much larger group; but half of our friends didn't make the cut and were sent back to serve as infantry soldiers. Naturally, we felt we were the lucky ones. We were about to fly multi-million-dollar machines. It was thrilling.

In walked our chief instructor, right in the middle of our banter and the room went dead silent. He was a stern colonel and a good pilot himself. His first words were "Listen up everybody." It was clear an important message was coming.

He then proceeded to say: "Now I know exactly what you are all feeling. I know what you are thinking. You are feeling pretty good about yourselves, and you are feeling like the masters of the sky because you have been flying for a bit. And you're thinking soon you'll be fighter pilots in the Israeli Air Force and you will soon be Masters of the Universe.

"Now, get this. Flying is not difficult. Teaching someone to fly is not very difficult either. Understand, right there where you're sitting, we could have 35 monkeys sitting in these same chairs. And we could probably teach them to fly. Now, you may be asking, why are you sitting there and not the 35 monkeys? The answer is that this is the Israeli Air Force, and here we need to produce a sufficient number of good pilots within a narrowly defined window of time and budget. We suspect that monkeys would need a lot more flying hours and would probably crash some of our airplanes before they learned to fly safely. You have a better chance of delivering the necessary and critical level of performance within the window of flying hours and budget determined by the air force. If you learn to land safely in the next couple of weeks, you will qualify for your first solo flight and you will then move on to the next training phase."

Now you may think I was offended or upset that our chief instructor compared us to monkeys. But in fact, I was thrilled. I was totally mesmerized. For the first time somebody connected all the dots. Somebody explained that learning was more than just learning. What the chief instructor made clear to us was that learning meant delivering a desired level of performance within a narrowly defined window. Unless you could deliver the needed performance inside that narrowly defined window of opportunity, it was meaningless.

This instance and the big bang it caused in my mind started me on this journey. The big realization was about the power of true learning. What the chief instructor elucidated was that the economics of learning is defined by a critical performance achieved within a limited and narrow window.

A lifelong inquiry into the economics of learning started on that spring morning in the briefing room. I began to ask questions about why some people learn fast and others don't. What can we do as managers and mentors to help people learn faster? How can you accelerate the process of learning application? What are methods or practices to turn ideas into actuality faster?

These are the critical questions you grapple with as you lead and mentor your teams. Nothing ever happens in a void. Opportunity shows up within a narrowly defined window. The essence of organizational life, the essence of growth and of success is a lot more than learning and innovating. It is about speed. It's about the speed of learning and the velocity of application.

Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Discover your learning impulse. Take action. Create results in the critical window of opportunity that just opened for you.

© Aviv Shahar