Learning on the Fly

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Learning on the Fly

July 20, 2016


I recently gave an internal presentation to current and up and coming company leaders at Angie’s List. Here it is adapted for external audiences.

Learning on the Fly is the perfect success factor for me to address.

Learning on the fly sounds – and is – so much better than making it up as you go along.  

I got my start at Angie’s List by learning on the fly. Let’s face it—I was 22. So I was learning all the time. (To be perfectly honest, I’m still learning. And you should be too.)

On the fly means, "while something (in this case, Angie’s List) or someone (me) is operating or moving." You’re not making anything up. You’re adding to your arsenal.

You are learning on the fly if you are:

Taking calculated risks: Use your instincts and/or experience to test, learn and iterate when you’re ready to take a leap. Every test isn’t going to result in an innovation. Some will outright fail. But you won’t know if you don’t explore.

Open to the new:  If you’re not actively reading about the competition, staying up on current events and innovations in your field, you won’t grow. Angie’s List started before the Internet was a thing. What do you think would have happened if we ignored it?

Inviting opportunity: Say yes more than you say no. Get in a habit of asking yourself and your team “What if we did this?” What is that and how can we use it? “Wouldn’t it be cool if we tried…?”

Pushing through the unknown: Change is scary but it’s often necessary to grow. Just remember to be calculated – test, test, test. Learn equally from successes and failures.

Now the crucial difference between learning on the fly and making it up as you go along is the learning part. At some point I stopped improvising because I had established guidelines, structure and rules. That is, I had absorbed information; discovered new approaches; understood something more deeply. And the knowledge, skills and experience I gained each time helped me the next time I needed to rise (again) to the (newest) occasion.

Learning (to not be afraid) to learn on the fly will never let you down. If I hadn’t been ready, willing and able to jump in there, neither I, nor Angie’s List would be where we are today.

No one was doing what we were doing. We saw a need and worked to fill it with an idea that has continued to evolve. So we had to step out into the unknown, over and over again.

I really appreciate people who are ready to learn on the fly, who are adaptable when things don’t go as planned. As a business grows and changes there are times when it feels easier to drift back into performing tasks that are safe and comfortable. Believe me, I get it. But pushing outside that comfort zone to continually learn and to take smart, calculated risks can have a wonderful payoff for that individual and for their company.

Unsure what learning on the fly looks like? To me it means someone who doesn’t give up. Someone who thinks on their feet, is inspiring, enthusiastic, willing to try, flexible, curious, open, personable, and yes, even courageous. Someone who recovers and regroups easily: resilience. Ultimately someone who takes their work seriously, but not themselves.

There are plenty of opportunities in all of our daily lives to stretch our learning on the Fly traits. Take the leap…you won’t be disappointed. 

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