Growing Up and Experiential Learning . . .

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
~ Chili Davis

If I really stretch my little grey cells and concentrate I can just remember what it was like being 13 years old.  It’s hazy, but some of the emotions of entering into my teenage years are still there – the anxiety of being a freshman in high school, playing sports in the Junior Varsity teams (not yet the big leagues), growing thoughts about college and beyond, yet at the same time still enjoying some of the irresponsibilities and freedoms of childhood.  Now I know why the book (and movies) Peter Pan is so popular with kids, I had entered my own version of Never Never Land.

Now that my daughter is 13 I get to relive all that again (Yeah, and Uggh), although through the eyes of a young lady this time and not a snotty little boy (me).

So, it is time to learn to drive and shoot a shotgun.  Growing up in the country I viewed these as essential life skills, akin to which fork to use with salad or fish and how to wash behind my ears.  Now that we are at our home in the South of France for a two-week school holiday, out in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains with nobody around, it’s a good time and place to practice.

We have an old Ford 4X4 pickup truck with a standard transmission (stick shift) on the floor.  Perfect for learning to drive and since Stephanie is very tall for her age, she can easily reach the pedals.  Reaching them is not the issue, it’s learning (and remembering) what all three pedals do.  (A reminder for those of us growing up in the automatic transmission world – clutch, brake, gas pedal).

So, my favourite way to teach someone to drive a stick shift is to begin with eyes closed.  I don’t mean driving the truck on the roads with eyes closed, but sitting in the truck and using the other senses (hearing and touch) to get an understanding of RPMs, what the gears sound like, how it feels to simultaneously lift one foot off the clutch while at the same time pressing gently on the gas pedal.  Too heavy on the gas pedal and the engine begins to whine and the truck seems to tighten up (easier to hear with your eyes closed).  Too quick on releasing the clutch and the you can feel the truck tremble and strain to get into its proper rhythm.

We spend about 20 minutes for several days in a row just getting a “feel” for the truck noises and   a smooth transition from neutral to first gear, back to neutral then into reverse.  We even let out the clutch and move a few feet forward and backward with eyes closed (hers, not me!).  I believe firmly that we all learn more deeply and with a greater level of understanding if we cut off some of the external stimuli and engage all the senses in the learning process.

This principle, what I call “experiential learning”, has been very useful in my business life as well in teaching consultants how to work with clients, how to facilitate senior team alignment workshops and how to guide business transformation projects. Too often consultants attack these assignments armed with lots of data and analyses and not enough empathy and understanding for the people issues.  Over the years we have developed tools and learning exercises to assist facilitators and consultants understand the “feelings and emotions of transformation”.

Stephanie has now graduated to actually driving up and down our drive and in the next few days we will venture out onto the country roads for more “experiential learning” (on both our parts – she as a new driver and me as a dad learning to let go!).

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
This entry was posted in consulting, Human Psychology, John R Childress, leadership, Life Skills, Organization Behavior, parenting, Personal Development, Psychology, Self-improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Growing Up and Experiential Learning . . .

  1. Frank Tempesta says:

    Driving up and down Tournou’s driveway is a lot more difficult than the roads!


  2. John,your post brought back so many memories…and not all wonderful. :). Thank you


  3. Pingback: More Growing Up . . . | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

  4. Pingback: A Different Kind of Holiday . . . | John R Childress . . . Rethinking

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