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Learning to Learn

If you would say to the typical collision-shop owner or technician, “You can have anything you want to improve shop productivity”, what do you suppose the most common answer would be? Chances are, it would focus on some new technological advance in equipment or tools.

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How many of you, on the other hand, would have replied that the
key to success in this business is the ability to learn as we
go and to cope with constant change?

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Take a recent "Peanuts" cartoon: Lucy wants to plant
a garden, so she hands her brother a shovel.

"What’s this?" her brother asks.

"A shovel, start digging," Lucy orders, as she walks
away.

"I don’t know how to use a shovel," yells her brother.
"What do I know about shoveling? I’m just a kid. All I do
is watch TV. What if it goes off? I could get killed! How do you
start it?"

When Lucy comes back later with seeds to plant the garden, she
finds that the ground isn’t dug up. She looks for her brother
and finds him in front of the television.

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"What are you doing?" she asks.

"Sooner or later," he says, "there has to be a
program about how to use a shovel."

The sad fact is, this cartoon mirrors what’s happening in our
modern-day society. We, as a country, are rapidly losing our ability
to do physical work. (The exception to this trend seems to be
professional athletics, where multi-million-dollar contracts are
common.) We’re also losing our ability to problem solve and think
for ourselves. Most importantly, we seem to be losing the patience
it takes to develop mental toughness and self-discipline, which
are so important in the learning-to-learn concept.

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People, Not Things

Building things, repairing things and doing things for ourselves
without farming them out to a specialist and without using the
latest electronic gadgetry are the values this country was founded
upon.

As you think about "all this stuff," you may realize
how people learn and their willingness to learn are the key elements
in keeping up with the OEMs. Remember, people make the machines
and control the processes that produce today’s sophisticated vehicles
and it’s people who must repair damaged vehicles.

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How important is the human element? Let’s find out. Suppose an
experienced, well-trained technician repairs a damaged vehicle
with today’s best equipment and tools. Now suppose an inexperienced
technician using the same equipment and tools repairs the same
vehicle. Which technician will finish first?

Now take two identically damaged vehicles. Let the experienced
technician use an older straightening and mechanical measuring
system, and let the inexperienced technician use the new bench/rack
and computerized measuring system. Who do you suppose will finish
first? The experienced technician. Why? Because experience is
the product or result of years of learning to learn.

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Learning to Learn

What is learning to learn? When does it start? How long does it
take? What should people learn to better prepare themselves for
a career in collision repair?

Robert M. Smith, professor of adult education at Northern Illinois
University, says, "Learning how to learn involves possessing
or acquiring the knowledge and skill to learn effectively in whatever
learning situation one encounters."

Learning to learn starts as soon as a baby is born – the baby
soon figures out that crying will cause some type of response
from "Mom." Parents continue to shape the child’s attitudes
and behaviors well into early adulthood, and to some degree, how
well parents do their job will determine how well the child does
in life.

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Daniel Goleman, author of "Emotional Intelligence,"
claims that emotional intelligence is a better predictor of success
in life than IQ. Emotional intelligence includes qualities such
as self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal, self-motivation,
empathy and social deftness.

If you think about this concept, it’s easy to see how learning
to learn is based on motivation and enthusiasm – things that are
within. Reading, communication and listening skills are also important.
How well you read and comprehend what you’ve read and the ability
to then put that new information to work in the real world is
what learning to learn is all about.

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One of the keys to learning to learn is figuring out who you are
as an individual and how you learn – perhaps a good way to do
this is by enrolling in a college-level general psychology course.

Take the time to figure out the difference between nature versus
nurture. Find out how people learn, and learn about things that
prevent people from learning.

Technological Traumas

New and emerging technologies are neither good or bad; it’s how
we react and interact with technology that ultimately decides
our fate. If we learn to use technology without becoming reliant
on it, technology will likely improve our daily lives; if we allow
ourselves to become weaker both mentally and skill-wise, then
technology is doing more harm than good.

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For example, the first thing many of us do when we have a problem
is look to technology to solve it; we have little appreciation
for the mental process that could help us solve the problem.

Also, consider the fact that sophisticated technology doesn’t
always help:

You’re driving along, when all of a sudden, your vehicle surges
and the engine dies. You try to restart the engine – it turns
over but won’t start. You go to the nearest garage and they push
you over; the vehicle now starts. The mechanic suggests a new
fuel filter, and you think, "Well, it’s been about 30,000
miles on the present one, so why not?"

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It’s a week later and the same thing happens: At one of the busiest
intersections at one of the busiest times of day, the engine dies.

Luckily, you’re right across the street from a new-car dealer,
the same as your vehicle. You have it towed over, but they can’t
find anything wrong. The guesstimate is a malfunctioning computer,
ignition coil, ignition module or electronic fuel pump. To start
changing parts, the bill would be well over $1,500.

Instead, you opt to have a friend change the ignition module and
ignition coil. Still, the same problem crops up several more times:
The engine dies, and after 10 to 15 minutes, it starts and runs
fine.

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When a refurbished computer is installed, the problem still persists
but occurs more often. Finally, the problem occurs so a technician
is able to diagnose a faulty pick-up coil on the distributor.

The moral of the story? While technology is great – when it works
– it can create frustration for both car owners and technicians.

The new computerized dimensioning systems are another prime example.
They’re great when they work, and they work well the majority
of the time. But, what happens when they stop working and you
have to wait 24 to 48 hours for repairs? And what good does it
do you if you have a mechanical measuring system, but no one knows
how to use it?

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Also, don’t forget that computerized dimensioning won’t teach
you how to make pulls – you still have to learn how to make the
proper hook ups and watch the metal move. This stuff takes years
of practice and a base of knowledge from which to work.

Mastering a Craft

The collision-repair business is considered a service industry,
but its roots are founded in metalworking – working with one’s
hands, as well as one’s mind.

How long does it take to become a craftsman? What’s the definition
of a craftsman? How do you know when you’ve reached that level?

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Ask yourself, "Where do most young people work today compared
to 20 or 25 years ago?" The answer is: Most young people
work in the fast-food industry or in the retail-sales industry,
and those jobs do very little for preparing them to repair modern
automobiles. Upon graduation, however, some of these young people
decide a career in collision repair sounds good.

Let’s go back to Goleman’s book, "Emotional Intelligence."
Goleman writes: "Studies of Olympic athletes, world-class
musicians and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is
the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training
routines. At the 1992 Olympics, 12-year-old members of the Chinese
diving team had put in as many total lifetime practice dives as
had members of the American team in their early 20s. The Chinese
divers started their training at the age of 4.

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"The best violin virtuosos of the 20th century began studying
their instrument at around age 5; international chess champions
started on the game at an average age of 7, while those who rose
only to national prominence started at 10. The top violin students
at the best music academy in Berlin, all in their early 20s, had
put in 10,000 total hours lifetime practice, while the second-tier
students averaged around 7,500."

The message is clear: Those who start earlier and put in more
practice time will be better.

One of the closest models of this early continuous learning is
little-league baseball and summer-league baseball. What chance
would a 24-year-old have if he tried out for any one of the pro-baseball
teams having never played baseball?

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It’s no different for collision repair. You can’t wait until you’re
21 years old to learn a craft, having never used tools, never
worked with metal, never built wood projects in high school or
never helped tune up the car on Saturday afternoon.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Learning is a continuous process. No matter how young you start
and no matter how long you’ve been at it, there’s still plenty
out there left to learn.

Learning to learn – and being willing to do so – ensures that
you grow and change along with this ever-changing industry.

Fred Kjeld is a contributing editor to BodyShop Business.

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