Learning from life: what I learnt from cutting dogs hair

Dog and hair dryer

TJ’s resident dog lover and regular blogger, Michelle Parry-Slater reflects on what she learnt from learning a new skill

Everyone needs a hobby, right? Some people play musical instruments. Others like to garden. Perhaps you’re more adventurous and spend your weekends hang gliding. For me, I love my dogs and my hobby is grooming their hair. I started out with my dog on the garden table and a ‘Groom your Cocker Spaniel’ DVD as my guide. There are no photos of my dogs from those days for a reason – sorry Pixie!

I learnt so much from an experienced professional

I later invested in all the gear and watched a lot of YouTube. I got a little better but I needed guidance, teaching, and feedback. I went to Dog Grooming School for a day. I learnt so much from an experienced professional. It was the feedback in the moment that was key. And then came more practice.

Georgie the dog of Michelle Parry-Slater

Cutting dogs’ hair is not a hobby I do every day and I have found over time the knowledge and feedback from the ‘injection education’ of my day at school slips further away. Without regular feedback or someone to ask in the moment, I’m back to the limits of my knowledge and not getting better. So, I tinker and dabble, and my dogs vaguely look like spaniels (even though one is actually a wire-haired dachshund). Most of all I enjoy spending time with them in my little home hair salon, and I send them to the professionals every now and then.

Reflection and motivation

Whatever it is you choose as a hobby, there is good reflection in the way Daniel Pink describes our motivation in his book Drive (and a fabulous RSA Animate video). When we are so motivated, or intrinsically motivated with doing something we enjoy, we do it for free. Hobbies are jobs, they are work, even hard work. And yet we choose to spend our most precious commodity, time, on doing them. Why would anyone do that?

Pink nails it, of course, when he explains our motivation to have a hobby comes from the satisfaction of the ‘work’. We willingly practise and we get better. We feel a sense of achievement. We get our happy hormones from such activities. Our hobby doesn’t feel like work at all.

I’ve been imagining, what if all our actual work felt so motivational? Imagine colleagues all willingly learning and practising their paid work with the sole purpose of getting better at it. Imagine feeling so motivated you would even work for free – let’s not go that far! But I do think it would be utterly wonderful for everyone to have a job that intrinsically motivates them that much.

Motivating workplace learners

As learning and development professionals we have such a large part to play in workforce motivation. We can influence intrinsic motivation with the learning opportunities we offer. We can support a learning culture which reminds everyone that all things are learning activities because as human beings we never stop learning.

Are we mindful of what and when people need to step up to the next level of learning? Are we offering appropriate knowledge transfer opportunities, feedback loops, or opportunities to learn? Is our eLearning offer as exciting as hang gliding? Is our social learning as effective as a sports coaching? Is our leadership programme as fulfilling a blend as all the ways there are to learn to play chess?

Imagine a learning offer so motivating people would willingly do it for free in their own time – then create that for learners to do whilst paid at work (because that is ethically correct). As the old saying goes, if you love your job, you never work a day in your life. Learning is the work – and there is still a long way to go for me and my dog grooming. How about for you?

Michelle Parry-Slater

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