03/10/2014 01:10 EDT | Updated 05/09/2014 05:59 EDT

What I Learned This Week: A Great Lesson Lasts Forever

A great lesson lasts forever. Even when you forget it for a while. Unaffected by fads, by progress, by technology, by trends, by the march of time or the charge of the light brigade, Great Lessons are eternal.

There are few activities I love more than snowboarding, but due to a perfect storm of conflicts and unfavorable conditions -- weather, vacation availability, work and social commitments -- I haven't shredded a mountain in over a year; to be exact, the last time was on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

Yet when I finally strapped on my bindings Friday morning at the Alyeska Resort in Alaska, it was as if I never got off the hill.

It hasn't always been like that.

I've been boarding for 18 years, and despite hundreds of hours on the slopes all over the continent, one could generously label me a "Stalled Advanced Intermediate." For the past decade or so, I have plateaued; in essence, I am getting worse by not getting better.

Well, at least I was until a fateful day last January, when I took a lesson in Vail from the legendary instructor Chris "Sando" Sandoski (read this great story here). He shifted my stance, straightened my posture, changed my bindings, and taught me some radical downhill steering via hand placement, visualizing, as he put it, "a midget on the front of my board, a dwarf on the back, and your hand on each of their heads.""

I hadn't thought about Sando's lesson when I strapped in and stood up in the Alaska snow on Friday. I hadn't reviewed the copious notes I scribbled down last year. Frankly, given the craziness of the year that had passed, I had basically forgotten that I had even taken the lesson at all.

That is, until I took my first turn couple of turns, when my bad habits were immediately overtaken by Sando's adjustments, teachings and advice...and everything good came rushing back to me in droves.

Snow conditions were far from ideal on that, and on subsequent, days, but nonetheless, this year I felt better on the hill than ever before.

Such is the value of a Great Lesson.

And such is the learning of the week:


Even when you forget it for a while.

Frequent readers know that I am in the midst of teaching a marketing course at McGill University. Early on in the semester, I asked students what they had actually "learned" after three intense years of study.

The silence was deafening.

Prodded, a couple of students unveiled a platitude or two (i.e. "You are better than you think"), but the lifelong, life-changing, DNA-engrained lessons were notably absent.

And for good reason, I suppose. Lessons like these don't come easy.

When the question was reversed my way, I told my students that my own five years at McGill can be distilled into a nugget of wisdom that professor Graham Oliver taught me on my first week, but remains pertinent in just about everything I do today, namely:

"Nothing happens until something gets sold."

Your factories, production processes, marketing plans, supply chains, financial models and human resource policies are of little import if nobody is buying what you are trying to sell. Simple but immutable.

Two years earlier at Vanier College, the sage Don Tobin, a high-ranking exec who took his retirement by teaching marketing to recent high school grads, left me with this timeless jewel:

"People are never as smart as you think they are, or want them to be."

I can't tell you how often that has got me through disappointments, or saved me from overshooting my target.

Seven years of school, two Great Lessons.

This shows the rarity, and the extreme value, of a Great Lesson.

Unaffected by fads, by progress, by technology, by trends, by the march of time or the charge of the light brigade, Great Lessons are eternal. And as the Sando experience shows, they don't just come from school; they can happen anywhere.

Don't mistake disposable tips or haphazardly tossed off bons mots as Great Lessons. And don't squander the one, or the few, if you're lucky, that come your way.

Like an inheritance, Great Lessons are treasures meant to be cherished, and ultimately, passed along.

Treat yours accordingly.

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