Often we can only truly understand something once we see it from different perspectives.
My high school football years were a great example.
I spent years training to be a high school quarterback. I went to camps and constantly seemed to be working to better read defenses and make plays.
But alas, I ultimately found out that I simply wasn’t good enough. If I wanted to compete at the varsity level, I learned that it would have to be at a different position. So I made the transition to becoming a primarily defensive player, while making sure to remember the things I had learned on the other side of the ball.
As I spent more and more time trying to improve defensively, I kept coming back to my offensive experience to gain a competitive advantage. Unlike most people who play defensive back, I had played several positions on offense. I spent years playing quarterback, but I had also spent considerable time playing running back, tight end, and even wide receiver.
Simply put, I knew how to think like an offensive player. I knew the tricks that I liked to play when I was on that side of the ball, and I had a good grasp of the basic offensive of schemes that almost every high school offensive seemed to run.
And I used this knowledge to my advantage.
I learned to read the receivers’ body language pre-snap to predict where the ball might go because I knew what it was like to be in their shoes. Just like I was able to understand what the quarterback was seeing and what might make him throw the ball in a certain place.
Using my diverse experiences often allowed me to outthink the offense, and gave me the ability far outperform my natural athleticism.
As I was going through high school and college, I was surprised to see that a very similar scenario played out academically.
I had always been a good student, but it wasn’t until I started tutoring that I was able to take it to the next level.
As I struggled to explain concepts in a way that would resonate with the students I was tutoring, I was forced to not only understand these concepts at a deeper level, but to also learn to think like a teacher.
I had to develop example problems and pose questions in a way that I felt would best test my student’s knowledge of a given concept. And through this process, I started to learn the types of things that my teachers likely had going through their minds.
Much like on the football field, I used that knowledge to my advantage.
As I felt what it was like to challenge students and evaluate their understanding of a concept, I started to get a feel for the types of questions that my teachers were most likely to ask. I even got to the point where I was often able to predict the few “key” concepts that my professors would evaluate on an exam, and thus I could concentrate my studying efforts on those select topics.
This idea of learning from the opposite goes well beyond school life as well.
The examples are almost endless, but the one that has most resonated with me lately has been the lessons I’ve learned in my job over the past year.
I’ve always had a desire to learn to effectively negotiate. I used to think about how important it was to be able to make a deal, and I dreamed of the day that I could do it.
But my natural skill set was far removed from that of your traditional deal maker.
I’m by no means naturally gifted in my word choices, and I used to sweat merely thinking about asking for someone to offer me a better price on something. I don’t think I truly tried to negotiate the price of anything for the first 20 or so years of my life.
But as I’ve been exposed to the other side of the selling process, this has all drastically changed.
My role at work is technically Business Development. At the simplest level, my job is to sell the engineering services that my company provides.
As someone seeking to develop new business opportunities, much of my initial effort was spent trying to reach out to people who hadn’t previously heard of my company. So I often had to send a “cold” email to convince them to spend the time to meet with me to learn more about what my company could offer them.
When I started, I had thoughts of what might make an effective email. I developed a standard template that I used as a base, and I learned a few clever tricks and games to try to get a response.
But as I’ve developed into my role and have actually started to receive a significant flow of inward cold emails myself, I’ve learned just how wrong I was. The things that I used to think were clever when I started turned out to be the things that bugged me the most.
And the emails that I found myself naturally wanting to open and respond to?
Those were almost entirely designed in a completely different way than what I had been trying.
In short, I didn’t really learn how to send an effective cold email until I was able to experience what it was like to receive a cold email myself.
And I saw the same thing on the negotiation table.
Negotiation used to seem so stressful and complicated to me. It seemed like an elaborate dance that I could never hope to master.
But as I’ve gotten used to negotiating from the seller’s point of view, I’ve seen how much I was missing about the process.
I used to think that the seller had all the power in a negotiation, and that the buyer had to essentially take an offer as is, or leave it.
But that’s rarely actually the case.
As I’ve become more familiar with the negotiation process as a seller, I’ve learned how to take advantage of the things that are running through the seller’s head when I’m trying to make a purchase. I now often know when I have the upper hand in a discussion, and this has made negotiation so much more fun.
Just over the past few months, I’ve come to deals that I never could’ve imagined on car contract, flea market items, and more.
The overall idea here is that we can learn from approaching a given topic from a different perspective.
- If you want to be a better player, try your hand at coaching.
- If you want to improve in the classroom, do some teaching.
- If you want to be a better guard, learn how to play in the post.
- If you’re an engineer, try a finance role.
- If you always follow, try leading.
- If you typically lead, follow.
Think about where you might be able to use this idea to your advantage.
If you truly want to master an aspect of your life, see if you can experience it from the other side.