The problem of learning a new skill

April 16th 2020

Although this entry was brought about by time sensitive circumstances (which was the infection and spread of Covid-19), my hope is that it will serve as a timeless encouragement to those who read it. As churches have, at this point, voluntarily closed their doors to public gatherings to flatten the curve on the infection rate in Saskatchewan and Canada and the rest of the world, many small churches have had to become much more change oriented and innovative in this period of time. Churches who have had very little to no technological equipment and processes have had to change course and offer online services, changing the way they think through how to be an encouragement to their communities.

I’m still within my first eighteen months here at Parkland Community Church as my first pastorate. The learning curve has been steep and expansive in everything I’ve had to learn and get a handle on. Although difficult, it’s been a great joy! Now, in our current circumstances with no longer hold in-person services on Sunday until our council gives the thumbs up, we’ve had to find new ways to reach our community and loved ones through technology such as video recording and creating a YouTube page. We are also looking at ways to use technology to help people give more easily! New technology can be a great help to us!

Truthfully, I think we would have moved in this direction in our near future anyways. But now, instead of having 18-24 months, we have had to have these conversations within the last few weeks. All of these changes and innovations are exciting but problematic. Why? Because the problem of having any new skill is it takes a time to master it.

One author, the name escapes me at the moment, uses the phrase ten thousand hours. It takes ten thousand hours to gain mastery of a skill. Mastery being understood as in the top percentile of those who do the work. Therefore, when you start something new, the truth will most likely be, you won’t be a master of the art but more like a child learning how to walk for the first time.

We love watching movies of child prodigies or intellectual masterminds hidden as janitors and we imagine ourselves as those types of people. However, the ugly truth is that we are not the main character of the story. We are more likely the extra standing in the background of the classroom marveling at the work our professors and hidden geniuses that are writing on the black boards.

So, learning new skills take time. Big whoop! Who cares? Well, many of us because as men and women are always weighing our options, outcomes and risks when it comes to our work and our learning. Many of you have full time jobs that take considerable energy and thought to accomplish. Some of you in that group have done the job for so long that you’ve become ‘masters’ at it. You’ve put it thousands upon thousands of hours into crafting your skills. You may have customers, followers, people who are cheering for you precisely because you’ve honed your craft to such a great art.

Now, because of an outward force (such as our current example of Covid-19 shutting down large swathes of society), or a new circumstance you’re facing, you’re being forced to change. What’s the problem here? The problem expresses itself in the fact that you, a master of a particular skill, are now being asked to become a novice in a different skill and possibly change the way you’ve done things. This could have huge implications on your business and your life!

Teachers are being asked to learn how to teach on the internet through webcamming. Pastors are learning how to record on iPhones. Workout Gyms are trying to figure out how to provide their customers with a new service from the comforts of their own home without losing momentum in their workout routines. None of these positions (or countless other positions) went into their profession praying that God would only create these incredibly unique circumstances so that they would need to adapt and learn a new skill! Teachers, trainers, pastors all learned in the past how to teach and train their clients how to do particular skills in person. Many have become experts and will find difficultly in changing their model of working!

I, myself, being in my professional role for only a year and a half now, am finding it a bit easier to make the following changes (than some other pastors) because in some ways I was still learning my job. So it’s a new processes I have to learn just as I am learning how to do other processes within my position. However, I do work with a council (a church board) many who have attended the church for decades! So this adds yet another layer of complication to the equation: How do you convince your leadership team to make the necessary changes if you’re establishment has been working in a particular manner for years upon years?

Some of you are probably business leaders and you’re asking the question, “How do I continue to provide a service to my loyal customers that is as good or better than what I have already been providing them” It’s a tough question. Maybe you’re in sales and sales come when a customer is able to see, test and hold a product! Many still feel uncomfortable buying products online. So now businesses are going to have to figure out how to continue to provide their product without someone first testing it. Not something you want to tell a thirty-year veteran of sales that instead of offering his best in person smile and personality, he now has to sit behind a computer and learn how to express personality over a keyboard!

When you’re learning a new skill, you’re going to not be as good as you are at your honed skill. It’s going to take more time and more energy and the pull is going to be towards doing what you’re best at so you can be the most productive at your job. So why would you ever learn a new skill? We learn new skills because even though we start out as stumbling infants, the hope is as that as we grow, we will develop into fully grown adults who are able to sprint after our food and catch it!

On a one to one comparison of your best skill to your new skill, we would always choose our best skill. However, we are not simple human beings. We’ve developed and learned this idea of future payoff: Give up something now to gain something later. So now, it’s not a one to one comparison. It’s a skill to skill comparison. So we ask a different question: What is the benefit cap of this particular skill? At this point we can begin to compare apples to apples. What is the benefit to selling online compared to selling in person?

  • Selling online we can sell to a wider base than from a brick and motor store in a stuck location
  • You can sell online to multiple people at a time where as you can only sell to one person in person
  • You might lose a loyal base of customers if you move online because you’ve been their provider for so long in person.
  • Customers can’t see your superior product in person and may make their decision based on price point instead of reliability or loyalty.

And there’s countless more points to make. For me as a pastor, my message ‘reach’ hasn’t been greater. I’m hearing from people all over the country that they’re hearing my messages for the first time. However, I know some of my current congregation have all but checked out! I know that if I had my choice, I do much better presenting a sermon in person. So, I’ve given up one skill (I’ve had some experience with) to pursue another with zero experience (now, to be fair, we were forced down this road and there would have been many who would still prefer to this day, that we meet in person). I know I’m now competing against other churches who have a much better production than we have, with more skills, experience, finances and countless other advantages than we have. This crash course we are on has left me feeling many unnerving feelings! I’m now having to weigh parts of my job differently.

The problem with learning a new skill is that it takes much more time, energy and resources to gain mastery over. Many will have difficulty with new skills because they already have mastery over different skills. Why would they make that sacrifice to learn a new skill that may or may not result in a greater abundance? But learning new skills have that possibility of greater advantages! Some will take that risk because if they don’t take that risk, they risk the possibility that a change comes to their doorstep that no longer allows them to stay as they have been. It will be at that point where they will be left scrambling and frustrated that not having learned a new skill for years, they are having trouble learning one now.

Are you willing to take the risk and pay now using a inferior skill…?

Or remain within your mastered skill set and risk paying later?

This is the problem of a new skill.

Parkland Community Church:
We Exist to Develop People Who Love Jesus and Serve Others.

William Con

Lead Pastor

William has been the Lead Pastor of
Parkland Community Church since Nov. 2018

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