Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spitting Cheerios - How to Learn Faster

At PSL I had a social conversation with Jerry Weinberg that has stuck with me.

Jerry and I talked about dogs: our dogs, training our dogs, how to train our dogs, and lessons I learned while training my dog. It was an opportunity for me share my love of dogs with someone who I respect, who has that same passion.

Now Jerry and his wife Dani are expert dog trainers, while I am an enthusiastic amateur owner who went through one class. Some of the insights I learned from training my dog where:
  • Trust is fundamental.
  • You are always training your dog.
  • What is called "dog training" is really "owner training".
  • Be intentional.
  • Be clear - simplify your communications.
When I first started training, I became frustrated with my inability to give treats to my dog. I was too slow and I would quickly run out of nibbles.

Finally I resolved to do something different.  I observed that my trainer had a treat pouch on her belt. So I bought one and started using it like she did. I filled it up with kettle corn popcorn, and would reach in and reward the dog when I saw the behavior I wanted. What a simple and optimized solution.

I shared that story with Jerry, and he replied: "I reward the dog by spitting Cheerios."

For two seconds the meaning of those words were pure moon-language to me. Then my solution crashed down like a house-of-cards in the face of Jerry's better solution. I tried it when I returned home - it is more effective.

So what does this have to do with software testing or organizational change? 

Before my conversation with Jerry, I had been thinking about how my "training-Griffin-to-train-my-dog" learnings were so similar  to "training-Griffin-to-be-a-better-change-artist".
  • Trust is fundamental to taking risks.
  • You are always training yourself, (especially when you are not training).
  • Focus on yourself, not the other people.
  • Be intentional.
  • Be clear - simplify your communications.
And then I wondered, have I been "spitting cheerios", or using some inferior recognition/reward method with myself?
How can I have that positive reward waiting-on-my-lips (pun intended) for the exact golden-moment?
The metaphor forced me to re-examine some old habits and search for better alternatives.

I still struggle doing this, but learning how to "spit a Cheerio" is helping me learn faster.

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