Friday, October 26, 2012

What makes an experience FORMATIVE?

Why do I think about my time in some countries almost every day, but completely forget others I've visited when summarizing my travels for a new acquaintance?

Why can I recall whole paragraphs of text from a design book, but have no recollection of even the topic of my 3-hour lecture on Friday?

What makes some experiences so formative, while others - even what could be rather major life events - just pass by us, seemingly unnoticed? 

I've pondered this from time to time throughout the past few years.  The conclusion I've come to is that it's about taking ownership of the situation, the moment, the material, or the skill. It's about being active instead of passive. It seems self-centered, but if you really want to learn, relate new information back to yourself. Draw connections from the outside world to your own thoughts, feelings, well-being, or interests. 

I know these aren't new concepts. They are theories that are presented each year to thousands of students around the globe. I sat in classrooms and learned them myself at one point not so long ago. But it always behooves me to reflect on this from time to time. 

My most recent reminder was just last night. It was the third day of my intense study session leading up to today's Advanced Strategic Management exam. My brain was becoming a bit fatigued, but I wanted to learn more.  I wanted to rekindle that spark that puts my mind into full gear and gets me really excited about learning everything possible about a topic.  Then it hit me.  Even after days of drawing tons of pretty little diagrams and charts and mind maps, why should I expect to be able to memorize a labyrinth of impersonal lists and bullet points?  "Why am I learning this, again?" I asked myself.
Oh yeah, because I'm going to be the best entrepreneurial strategist in Helsinki. How could I forget?  

I knew that the key to internalizing my notes would be to make the information relevant. If I want to be able to use these frameworks later, I have to be able to use them now.  In two seconds I'd thought up my solution and fully committed. For the rest of the duration of my studies, I'm going to work through each course as if it's a consulting project for a specific company. The companies I choose will be those owned and run by my friends and family, in industries that I'm familiar with or want to learn more about. Each course will yield a strategy and implementation plan for the chosen company.  I'll send the resulting materials to my contacts at each company and solicit feedback. I'll encourage them to use and build on my work if they like the direction I took. Not only will this method dramatically increase my learning curve and retention rate, but I'll graduate with 
- proof that I can apply frameworks & theories, 
- a professional portfolio, 
- and experience working with potential clients. 

If you're interested in seeing me do a project on your company, I'm open to suggestions.
Get in touch!


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