Slow Down, Reflect and Learn . . .


Experience isn’t the best teacher, it is the only teacher.  ~Albert Schweitzer

This is one of my favourite and useful quotes.  I strongly believe, especially in the world running-into-wallof business consulting, that too many young consultants are giving advice based on “rented knowledge” (from a book or someone else’s work) and not “earned knowledge”.  And it is pretty easy for a client to tell the difference. Earned knowledge comes across with an equal dose of optimism and skepticism based on hard knocks, not hard MBA classes.  “Brick Wall University” gives the best lessons.

But while experience is the only teacher, not everyone is a good learner!

If wisdom were just based on experiences and the amount of life lived, then all old people would be smart.  And indeed there are a few elderly sages around helping others benefit from their experiences.  But there are also a lot of very dumb old people who have lived through many experiences, yet haven’t seemed to learn much of anything!

Experience is the only teacher, if you pay attention.

What I find amazing is that there are lots of people with years of experience who are still pretty dumb about life, and then some young people with much less experience who are “wise beyond their years”.  It all comes down to whether you pay attention and learn the lessons available from life’s experiences.

And for those who want to develop more wisdom and value from their life and business experiences, there is a very easy and effective formula.  We teach this in all our leadership development consulting assignments as well as make it the backbone of our “leadership coaching” processes.

The formula goes like this:

Experience learning

Taking time out to reflect and find the core principles contained in each experience is the fastest way to deeply learn the lessons from life’s experiences. Read a recent paper in the Harvard Business Review for some real evidence of just how productive reflection can be.  If you don’t have any quiet, reflective time in your day (or your life) then you will gain lots of experience “wrinkles” and scars, but not much wisdom.

Quiet!  It’s time to Reflect and Learn . . .

John R. Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.

John also writes thriller novels:



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, Personal Development, Self-improvement and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Slow Down, Reflect and Learn . . .

  1. angulam says:

    i concur – experience is the best teacher if we take the time to learn, great post…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s