A harrowing experience that made me realize that my success is not limited by what I know, and moreover, that I could overcome any challenge through my confidence, and willingness to communicate openly and learn.

Many decades ago, I was working for a small company in Belgium that was a pioneer in designing microcomputers using microprocessor chips. They hired me as a programmer, even though I had no knowledge of hardware design.

They were conducting workshops to teach traditional hardwired logic designers to use programmable microprocessors, which required an in-depth knowledge of hardware and programming. The person in charge of these programs had an accident and was unable to attend the workshop scheduled for the following week. Even though I had no hardware design knowledge, he asked me to take his place because no one else wanted to accept the challenge. He assured me that I had the communication and technical skills needed to conduct the workshop and gave me an intensive one-day briefing using his presentation slides. Before I could even catch my breath, I found myself on a train to Holland to conduct a workshop for experienced logic designers. I was sure they would eat me alive because sending a novice like me to teach them would seem like the blind trying to lead the not-so-blind.

While traveling, I remembered reading somewhere that the purpose of education was not to teach new things but to help people learn new things. So I thought I would tell them openly that they knew more about logic design than me while I knew more about programming than them, and ask if we could share our knowledge. I also remembered that anyone asking a difficult question must also know the answer. So if someone asked a question I could not answer, I could get the group to find the answer. Much to my amazement and relief, this simple strategy worked, and they were very happy with the outcome. I was then placed in charge of conducting such workshops all over Europe.

This harrowing experience was a turning point in my life. It made me realize that my success is not limited by what I know and that I could overcome any challenge through my confidence, and willingness to communicate openly and learn. As a result, I became a transformational trainer specializing in empowering people and helping them to learn, instead of teaching them new things.


First appeared in Lightmakers on March 22, 2016