Its tempting to think that because we have achieved something, or had a particular experience, then we are automatically equipped to be an expert or a guide on that experience.
My thinking is that our lived experience is indeed the raw material that can and does yield wisdom and insight, but the distillation of lived experience is an active and intentional process.
We need to reflect, to ponder, to ask ourselves questions or be willing to be interrogated in supportive ways.With someone else’s help, what was always there, but just outside our consciousness, can suddenly emerge and we can clearly see it.
In July 2020, Steve, a COO I was supporting, sent me the audio recording a thirty-minute presentation he has just given to a major European airline, for any thoughts I had about making his pitch stronger. Towards the end of the pitch, the conversation became less formal, and someone asked Steve about his previous career as an elite athlete, including winning a Bronze medal in rowing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The man asked Steve, “What did you learn as an athlete that has really served you in business and leadership?” I was keen to hear Steve’s answer. Steve spoke for a couple of minutes, and to be honest, I was none the wiser at the end of it, and I doubt the questioner was either.
I have a good relationship with Steve, so was able to tease him when we reconvened. “Have you taken the time to reflect on what you did learn as an athlete that has helped you in business? That can’t have been the first time in the last twelve years you have been asked the question. In the best way possible, I think you owe to people to have considered and prepared answers.” He was a little sheepish, but acknowledged that he tended to shoot from the hip when we was asked questions like that, and hadn’t actually taken the time to reflect on his answer to this frequently asked question.
I was initially a little surprised, but then I realised that this probably wasn’t that uncommon. It dawned on me that most people are so busy doing what they do that they don’t take much time to reflect on what their experiences have taught them. Its isn’t that they haven’t learned a lot, but they haven’t necessarily given themselves the time and opportunity to reflect on the precise learnings form their lived experience.
So I simply asked Steve outright, “What four things have learned from you career in athletics that serve you day in business?” and suddenly fabulous insights and wisdom emerged, simply as a result of me asking him the question and then capturing his answers.
Steve then put his own spin on it, and published his answers as his first tip sheet on LinkedIn. As a result of preparing this, he felt better prepared to answer the question next time he was asked. But even more importantly, he was thrilled when the tip sheet gained the most engagement for anything he had ever published, which in turn led to invitations to speak and guest on podcasts. People really wanted to hear the insights from his lived experience.
It also opened his eyes to new ways he could share his experience and insight wisdom with his team across the globe, with his friend and his colleagues. Steve’s tip sheet was only contained 425 words, but that is what precisely what people wanted – to learn something interesting and relevant, quickly and easily in a structured way from a credible source.
If you would value a conversation about