Some weeks ago I was at a local tennis centre and noticed a group of four having a knock about on a court. There was a fair bit of shouting and swearing going on, lots of judgment and not much fun. A thought crossed my mind – I wondered when any of the players had last learned something to improve their game.
By way of contrast a few days ago I went to a favourite local pub, the Princess Victoria in Acton, with my wife Jo. I have sometimes wondered what makes this place so good and on this day part of the answer was played out in front of us. We had arrived early and the place was empty of customers. One of the owners was showing a member of the bar team how to make a Bloody Mary. He made one first, they tasted it and then he asked the barman to make one, which they both tasted and then discussed. As this little scenario unfolded other members of the team started listening in and asking question. Everyone was paying attention, everyone was interested. As the show came to an end, another member of the bar team appeared. She asked the barman who had just learned to tell her how to make the drink. Which of course he did, with enthusiasm. Ten minutes and a good handful of customers later someone asks for a Bloody Mary. The late arriving bar person prepared the drink, watched by her colleague. After the customer had tried the drink they asked for feedback. What marked this whole situation out was that everyone involved, owner, bar staff and customer all enjoyed the experience. And learning was at the heart of it.
There is also something in this story about the Mastercraftsman/Apprentice model that has been fundamental to learning a profession in the past but that modern organizational structures have either forgotten or eliminated. A great loss.
What have we done with learning that, for many, has taken the fun out of it?
And, by the way, a key to a great Bloody Mary is some fresh, grated horseradish.