Close your eyes for a minute, assuming you are not jogging or walking down a busy street.  If you are, maybe stop, because this is the #1 question you need to answer to drastically improve your performance.  So stop, eyes closed.  I’m going to ask this question, and you need to immediately grab the answer which comes to your mind – don’t think about this, this is not a thinking question.  Ok, are you ready?

What is the most impactful lesson you’ve learned in your entire life to this day? Have you grabbed that thought, that response?

Great.  We are ready.  Let’s turbocharge your performance.

Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.

Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way.  Welcome to you, you’re in the right place.  If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.

The question I asked you, I call the Number One question.  I ask this question to people in big groups and one-on-one, people from Australia and countries all around the globe.

What is the most impactful lesson you’ve learned in your entire life to this day?

I’d like to paint a little mental picture for you, which will help explain how performance happens.  Performance comes from learning, and learning is a lot like salad.

Do you have a salad spinner at home? If you don’t, it’s a round bowl, which has a round basket inside it.  You put a lid on, which has a kind of mechanism built into it, usually a handle which you turn, and by turning the handle the basket inside turns.

When you have salad leaves which you’ve washed to make your dinner, you have wet salad.  Wet salad is not good, so you need dry salad leaves.  Put them in the salad spinner, and see what happens when you turn the handle.  Starting slowly, water starts to be dragged off the salad towards the side of the bowl.  This is most exciting, for kids and adults alike, if you have a transparent bowl.  You turn the handle faster, and the water comes off the leaves faster, hitting the sides of the bowl in ever-increasing amounts.

So you get the picture.  Wet salad, turns to dry salad, and water spins out in the process.

Performance, in whatever context you think of, spins out of a process like this, a cycle.  And at its most basic level, it involves doing something in life, which includes thinking, and then reflecting on the doing.  Act, reflect.  Act, reflect.  Round and round.  This is happening all the time in the life of every single human being, albeit in vastly different ways and contexts.  Acting, reflecting, and then acting again is learning.

Acting and reflecting is like the salad spinner.  If you are an attentive foodie, you will know that there are salad spinners, and then there are salad spinners.  And if you don’t have a salad spinner, you might know that you can try the same task by wrapping your wet salad in a dishcloth, holding the corners of it and spinning it around your head like an Olympic hammer thrower.

The water is performance – it’s the achievement of the objective, it’s the change you seek to make in the world.  The water in the bowl is the same thing as the dry salad because the water is in the bowl.  The salad, wet or dry, is at the centre of learning.  It might be rocket or lettuce or pak choi or whatever.  Wet salad to dry salad.  Spin the cycle, performance is positively ejected from a good learning cycle.  Now performance can be good, bad, or indifferent – performance is always ejected from the loop of acting and reflecting.  It’s true that most of the time, for most people, this is an inherently random, and unintentional outcome.  What if we were intentional about it, what happens to our performance then?

Back to our number one question.  There are really only two important words in there.  What is the most impactful lesson you’ve learned in your entire life to this day?  The two words are impactful and lesson.

Impactful, because this is performance in the positive sense – good performance, creating impact.  And lesson? Well, lessons are the heart of learning, a lesson is not a boring person standing in front of a group of people sitting in a room in straight lines of chairs and tables against their will.  No, a lesson is the story at the heart of learning.

Before I tell you my lesson, just pause again for a moment, you can do this with your eyes open now, and focus on the context of the lesson.  When did it happen? Where were you? Who was involved? What is the story?

I might be bending my own rules here, but I have two equally impactful lessons I want to share with you.

One is my mum, at an unspecific time, but very early in my life, sitting around the dinner table with my siblings, saying time and time again, “I know you are not hungry/don’t like this meal I cooked you.  It’s important that you eat your dinner, even things you don’t like, because one day, you might get something like this served up by your future mother in law, and you don’t want to be saying ‘no thank you, I don’t like this’ to her”.

The other one is my dad.  We are kneeling on the ground, either inside or immediately outside the small backyard shed in my childhood home.  Timber in front of us, cross-cut saw laying on the ground.  Pencil behind dads ear, and I have copied him.  The measure tape and carpenters square are in front of us.  “Measure twice, cut once”.  Literally and metaphorically very important.

Now, it would take an entire other podcasts to explain to you why these lessons are the most impactful for me in my life.  Lessons because they involve something happening, and my reflecting on it.  Act, reflect.  Act, reflect.  And impactful because this resulted in performance, it helped me be better.  But the impact of these for me, are for me.  One day I might share about them, but you might start to guess what these are all about.  But that’s not the focus of the Number One Lesson.

I have asked this question to hundreds and hundreds of people and learned that there are a couple of almost universal aspects to everyone’s #1 lesson.

The first near-universal feature of people’s #1 lesson is that it involves a rich experience.  You will have recalled some amazing minute details in great resolution, like what it felt like, specifically where you were, what you were wearing, the feeling of the carpet under your feet or the colour of the leaves outside, a remarkable amount of detail about the experience.  You were doing something.

You see, the learning with the greatest impact, which stays with us, which is both weighty and sticky, comes from life.  Something happening.  Action! This is in stark contrast with the unfortunate predominance, the almost misleading, one-eyed, God-like worshipping of learning which is done by transferring information to people.  I haven’t yet met someone whose #1 lesson came from what most people call ‘education’, or ‘school’, or ‘training’.  I’m sure they are out there, I just haven’t met any of them yet.

The first near-universal feature of our #1 life lessons, is that they involve specific life experience.

The second near-universal feature of our #1 life lessons, is the presence of others.  My mum and my dad were central to my lessons – if they aren’t there, there is no lesson.  Did your lesson have one or more people involved? I bet you there was.

But this kind of learning, which derives from social interaction, doesn’t need to be just one person, nor even an explicit lesson imparted by the other people like Yoda.  At one large event when I asked this question, I had the audience discuss their lesson with one person sitting next to them.  I jumped into the audience and found someone without a seat-mate to chat with.  This person described their #1 lesson in the context of playing basketball, learning a deeply impactful lesson about cheating, and the morals of sportsmanship.  This is an inherently social situation.

Why does this matter?

Well, I’m going to assume it does matter to you, so I’ll let you reflect on that, based on the learning experience in this podcast.  You’ll find why this matters, in your answers to these questions:
How do you conceptually think about learning, and performance in your individual career
How do you value and in turn invest in learning which comes from information, from being with other people, and from your own life experiences?
How would your team respond to this question?
If you asked the #1 question to the people in your business you seek to serve, but constrained them by asking “what’s the #1 most impactful lesson which has come from me and my team“, what would they say?
How similar or different are the things you do now, compared to 5, even ten years ago? Why are they different? Has your performance improved?
What’s been your shining moment, your biggest achievement your greatest performance – where did the learning come from, which enabled that to happen?
Who do you choose to spend time with, at least in part because of what you learn by being with them?
And this last one, is my favourite: who is actively choosing to spend time with you, because of who you are and the impactful lessons which come from being with you?
Get your salad spinner out.  Take a look at it, how it spins, and what’s spinning out of it.
I know this might be a fair bit to chew on, so I’ve created a little reflection download for you, with the questions I posed to you.  I don’t have the answers, you do.  So grab the download at, print it out, and invest some time in yourself to jot down the answers.  If you do this, I know something will jump out and smack you in the face, in a good way.

Learning together is better.  I am bringing together a small group of health and safety professionals to boost your performance and learn better.  This is professional development on steroids, boosted through social and experiential learning.  This is not a passive information transmission.  This is a program centered on coaching and group mastermind designed for people who are constructively uncomfortable with your status quo.  This is a group of people who want to see you succeed, and need you to help them succeed.  This will involve work, this will be uncomfortable, and this will deliver you results.  This is an investment which will deliver you impact, will deliver you results, far more than you have ever gotten from the two-day conference in the city costing thousands of dollars.  There is no shortage of information our there in the world – information will not give you performance.

We are getting into a salad spinner together, and making your work, your team, and your organisation better.  You can find out more, and apply for this program, at

Thanks so much for listening.  Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!

Here’s your FREE reflection worksheet from this episode.

And here’s your FREE download of the full transcript of this episode.

Feel free to share this with your team/colleagues!