The UPS Guy Lied to Me

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The UPS guy came to my house today. (This is what we in the business call a “grabber.” Notice how you’re already captivated. “Wow! The UPS guy! Right there at your own house! What happened next?!”) Well, today’s a nice summer day, I had the windows open, and I happened to be playing the piano when the UPS guy arrived. Nothing difficult, of course, because I’m not that good. It was just a nice little version of the Beatles’ Blackbird that I’d arranged for piano. As the UPS guy gave me my package, he said, “I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano.” I asked, “So what’s keeping you?” “I dunno,” he said. “Just never got around to it, I guess.” Wanna know what my guess is? The UPS guy was lying. He never wanted to learn to play the piano in the first place. Here’s what I mean.

How often have you heard somebody say, “I always wanted to learn how to…,” followed by something like:

  • play the piano
  • play the guitar
  • speak French
  • juggle
  • cook like a gourmet

These are intelligent (in many cases), grown people. Lessons for all these skills and more are readily available in most towns. There are books that will teach you how to do these things. You can find free lessons on the Internet. So what’s keeping these people from fulfilling their dream?

They don’t want to learn.

They don’t want to learn to play the piano. They just want to be able to play the piano. They don’t want to learn French. They just want to be able to speak French. They want to wake up one morning and simply have the skill. They don’t want to do the work, and learning something new takes work. I would argue that learning a rewarding new skill can be some of the most enjoyable work you’ll ever do, but for these people that’s beside the point.

There’s a semi-famous (and possibly apocryphal) story about a woman who went to a recital by the great pianist Paderewski. Afterwards she went up to the maestro and said, “I’d give my life to be able to play like that,” to which Paderewski replied, “Madam, I did.”

I’m not saying you need to give your life to learn a new skill. I certainly haven’t devoted my life to the piano, but then I don’t aspire to be as good as Paderewski. I’m happy just to be able to sit down and play at a party, at least until they tell me to stop, which is generally immediately.

So yes, you’ll have to put in some work to learn something new. But I want you to do it anyway, because you should constantly be learning new things. Even things that (seem to) have nothing to do with your career. That’s because every new skill you learn stretches you mentally (and sometimes physically), and a business leader should stretch. That’s how you stay ahead of the competition.

The Beatles were always striving to learn new things, as a group and individually. New recording techniques, certainly, but also things as diverse as transcendental meditation and auto racing. Each new skill added something new to their palette, something that they could (and did) draw from in their musical careers.

So, would learning the piano make my UPS guy a better delivery man? My guess is that he’ll never know.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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