In his new book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, Malcolm Gladwell says that psychologist Daniel Willingham conducted a set of experiments designed to test how quickly people become efficient at a task. For the experiment, he told people in Group A in what specific sequence a pattern of x's would appear on a screen.
Each time an x appeared, they were to push a key that corresponded to the x they saw on the screen. The people in Group B were not told the sequence in which the x's would appear, and they were instructed to perform the exact same task as the people in Group A.
Although the people in Group A knew the pattern in advance, as the experiment progressed, the people in Group B also picked up on the pattern and began performing well. Both Groups eventually began performing the task without thinking at all. The repetitive nature of the activity over a prolonged period of time created the perfect environment both group participants needed for proficiency.
What this demonstrates is that, regardless of whether you learn how to perform a task via explicit instruction or via implicit “learn as you go” performance, if you stick with it long enough, you will become successful at it.
As small and independent business owners, our access to explicit learning tools is often limited. We either don't have the time or the money to receive a full set of explicit instructions about how to successfully manage all of the aspects of a business before we dive in and simply start learning by doing.
While this can be a frustrating and agonizingly slow process, the good news is that we don't need explicit instructions to be successful. If we roll up our sleeves and apply ourselves to learning by doing, a certain “learning by doing” process takes over and we begin to perform the task as efficiently as people who had explicit instructions at the outset.
In each case, instinct takes over anyway. We begin to perform a business owners without having to think about it. It becomes rote, natural — a part of who we are.
Question: As a small business owner, what have you become proficient at without the benefit of explicit instructions? Are you glad you learned certain things by doing them rather than by having someone tell you how to do them?