Lightbulb moments

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Liv Wilson
November 9, 2020

See this?

Learning through doing lightbulb moment

That red glow at the top of the picture? It usually indicates that the car in front of you is stopping.  

But in this case, it’s showing off some of my skills in car maintenance - courtesy of my flatmate in the late ’90s.  

He was horrified that I was a car owner and didn’t know how to do some basic mechanics. So, when Fred the Fiat (as you always should name your car) failed a WOF due to the brake light not working, he basically bullied me into learning how to fix it myself.

Cue me getting my hands grubby and learning how to take apart the light cover things, identify which bulb has blown, figure out which of the 100s at the car repair shop place is the right replacement, and put it all together again.  

Since Fred, I’ve owned at least another ten cars and have changed at least another six bulbs.  

It hasn’t saved me a lot of money (bulbs cost about $10 for two), nor is it a particularly transferable skill. In fact, I imagine at some point soon, it will even be an obsolete one.  

But I’m stoked that I can do this and often bring it up in conversation.  

Now, you might be thinking that it’s weird to be proud to do something so obscure, and even weirder to not only bring it up in conversation but write an article about it. But where you see weird pride, I see a lifelong learning journey.

See a need, fill a need

My flatmate loved cars, and he would have witnessed my absolute disinterest in all thing mechanical before Fred’s light blew. But he picked the right time to show me a new skill.  

If he had tried to show me how to replace light bulbs on his car, or when nothing was wrong with my car, he would have lost me completely. The WOF failure was the catalyst for learning a new skill - the skill didn’t come before the failure.  

The learning happened when it mattered to me.

Safety first

My flatmate was there with the right tools and was a safety net if I did something wrong. I watched when he removed and replaced Fred’s bulb, then he stood over my shoulder while I did it myself.  

We then took a tour of the cars in the driveway and he showed me other variations - so I knew what to look for in my next car.

The learning happened in a psychologically safe environment.

Learn the important stuff, forget the rest

If you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t know the names of the things that cover the light bulb. I know that they usually have twisty bits, and things to clip, and sometimes brute force helps.  

But me not knowing their names doesn’t make my skill any less impressive. If it’s not important. I don’t need to know it.  

However, if I decided to become a mechanic, I’m sure those words will become important - at the very least to reassure my customers that I actually know what I’m talking about.

The learning focussed on what mattered most.

Trial and error

I honestly can’t remember if I’ve used Google or YouTube to figure out how to replace light bulbs in any of the cars since Fred. But I can tell you that the light bulb in the picture was replaced without any external expertise (and it involved me lying in the boot of the wagon with my hand wedged into a space where I couldn’t see what was going on).  

I’ve broken bulbs, I’ve bought the wrong replacements, and I made myself look like an absolute idiot in the car repair shop place when I took in the bulb that hadn’t actually blown.

It’s okay to make mistakes. As long as I learn from them and don’t make them again.

My flatmate didn’t set me up for absolute success in all future endeavours when replacing bulbs, but he nurtured my small amount of curiosity and encouraged me to keep trying. I haven’t flatted with him for at least 15 years, but he’s in my mind whenever I say “I can replace that myself”.  

The learning supported a growth mindset.  

So, the next time you’re thinking about how learning journeys will work for you or your people, think about me tinkering under the hood (or in the boot) of a car changing a light bulb, and consider how you can encourage the building of a lifelong skillset.

It’s not about giving everyone the answers, it’s about supporting your people to support themselves… to create their own light bulb moments.

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November 9, 2020
November 9, 2020

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