Which goes first? The brain or the head?

Think about the last time you learned about something new—a recipe, a culture, a method for determining whether or not you’re Twitter Trash, etc.  Here’s the question: did you jump in headfirst or did you analyze the situation before you began?

Did you follow the recipe, or simply pull out the ingredient list and start chopping?  Did you buy a guidebook and a highlighter, or did you wander in the streets of your last vacation spot?

James Davis and Adelaide Davis, authors of the book Effective Training Strategies, outline seven training strategies commonly used by organizations to maximize learning.  My favorite? The holistic strategy.

Yes, I know that you immediately think about yoga, the herbal medicine section at Whole Foods, and hear Deepak Chopra’s sweet, sweet voice when you read the word “holistic,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

“Holistic,” in the world of education, is the term commonly used for experiential learning.  The strategy relies upon action, followed by constructive self-reflection, to achieve its learning objectives.  It is unique because it trades the classroom for a live situation, self analysis for traditional testing, and often lacks a clearly defined outcome.

As a teacher, I loved holistic learning—I called it “baptism by fire” and would revel in watching students thrown into a real life scenario, learning and transforming from their successes and mistakes.

But as a business person, it’s a little more complicated.  As a freelance writer, I rarely have the opportunity to go “headfirst” into an assignment with no prior research or knowledge on the topic—which would, I believe, make for really compelling journalism—because I must always first convince an editor that I am the right person for the assignment. The right person is rarely he or she who knows the least.

As a web designer, I couldn’t (without prior approval of the client) accept a project for which I don’t already have the skills.  Again, I must plan ahead—no matter how much I know that I learn more from the task than its planning.

So, if you’re the sort who said they like to ignore recipes as much as me, do you follow that same courageous, “build the furniture with no instructions” approach to your business?  Have you ever jumped into a professional puddle without knowing how deep it was?  How do you learn something new?