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The real learning doesn’t come from struggling with your mind and body. It comes from being willing to get back up when you feel stupid and broken.


The transition from free standing to wheelchair came quickly. I spent most of 90 days refusing to admit it was true. My first adventures navigating the world in a chair brought insight. I’m learning a lot about me. I’m learning a lot about the world. I’m learning a lot about technology. I’m learning a lot about HR.

Let’s get something straight at the outset. I have not experienced the end of the world. It hurts. The work I do is better for the insight I’m getting.

The two vets I met in manual wheelchairs couldn’t help sneering at my wimpiness. I have both legs. While it hurts more than a kidney stone, I can walk 50 yards. These guys were giggling about how close you they could get to the slot machines. I’ll never get their Popeye arms pushing the buttons on my scooter.

My work is the acquisition and dissemination of insight. I ask tough, sometimes offbeat questions and wrestle with their answers. When there aren’t enough questions lying around, I make them up.

I hate formulas, frameworks, methodologies and other Pablum. The truth is not smooth, predictable, sweet or comfortable. Learning does not emerge from safety. Great ideas are not conceived in armchairs.

Great design solutions come from solving impossible problems. Insight comes from scratching the coal face of experience. Wisdom is never, ever a best practice.

So, time in a wheelchair is a blessing for me. It takes me out of my operational definitions of normal. It makes people look at me differently. I screws with all of my magic tricks (It’s hard to be a big towering male from the seat of an electric scooter.)

In our world, we are being knocked out of the normal ways of doing things. Disruption, that technical force that turns things upside down, is sneaking into everything. Reasonable voices are saying, “The robots are already here. They’re taking your job.”

Faced with irrelevance, from infirmity or displacement, what exactly do you do?

Step one involves whimpering. If you’re lucky enough to be physically infirm, you get good drugs. If you’re industrially displaced you get whiskey and Heisenberg. My take is that you should whimper as long as you can stand to live in your skin. Sadly, a lot of people stop right there.

When you’re done whining, and maybe you’re never all the way done, it’s time to discover the limits. I asked a doctor how to do that last week. He said, “You find your limits by exceeding them.” I was not filled with the milk of human kindness as I considered that. Go til you’ve gone too far. Then don’t do that. Then do it again.

If you get even a little handle on this limitations thing, you can work with it.

The real learning doesn’t come from struggling with your mind and body. It comes from being willing to get back up when you feel stupid and broken. Forward progress is an inside game when you’re discovering new limits.

Being a big successful grown-up provides lots of insulation from looking and feeling childish. Industrial and physical disruption cut right through that stuff. As your attempts to maintain security crumble, hope might emerge.

Eventually, you become teachable or you die. It might be slow atrophy. But the choice is one or the other.

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