Columbo: Are You A Quick, Life-Long Learner?

I’d rather be considered a quick, life-long learner like TV detective Columbo (played by Peter Falk) than smart. I recently caught A Port in Any Storm (1973) starring the talented Donald Pleasence as the affable, wine enthusiast murderer, Adrian Carsini.

When Columbo confronts Carsini at the end of the show, Carsini says:

“You are a quick learner, Lieutenant.”

Columbo replies, “Thank you. That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

I echo those sentiments.

Better to be a quick, life-long learner than a walking encyclopedia of less-relevant facts

Years ago I interviewed for the position of live-in crisis counselor for teens that had been removed from their homes. Part of the interview process, the part that haunted me for years, involved two things I’ve since learned to embrace: doing role plays and being filmed!

In the scenario I “starred” in, I played the role of the residential counselor, and another counselor played the role of a mouthy teenager. I was charged with giving the teenager feedback for a task he failed to complete.

Let me be honest: I had more experience in my life at that time being a mouthy teenager than correcting one. But correct him I did! I pulled out every trick in the book: guilt trip (“Do you think I want to get up and go to work every day?”), bribery (“I’ll give you a dollar if you…”), and even a powerless threat (“I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to…“). Yeah, I just kinda let that last one hang in the air, because what threat could I deliver in a role play? I considered spanking the adult who  played the role of the mouthy teen, but thought that might have raised a few eyebrows.

So anyway, I stunk up the place.

When I finished, Jerry, the man running the interview and the video camera, offered some feedback. He praised me for taking action with the “teenager” instead of ignoring his inappropriate behavior. Then he gave me some pointers on things I could do differently.

Then we ran the same scenario again. This time, I applied as much of Jerry’s feedback that I could remember. And by the end of the day, I had a new job and a new mentor.

Fast-forward 15 years. I’m sitting with Jerry in Houston, Texas, over coffee. I told him how that interview haunted me for years, and I joked with him that he should see a counselor himself if he was crazy enough to hire me given how I did on the interview.

What he said surprised me.

“You did a great job. We never had a concern about you,” Jerry told me.

“Really?” I asked, totally shocked. “Do you still have the tape? Because I think I may have threatened the kid’s life in the role play I did.”

Are You Coachable?

Then Jerry let me in on a little secret.

“Oh, that. Yeah, you were terrible.” But then he continued, “No one does well on the first role play. That first role play is just a baseline. The real test is what you did after I gave you feedback. You were coachable and hungry to learn. That’s what we all saw in the interview.”

Do You Keep Getting “Invited to the Party”?

A buddy of mine named Glen used to dismiss his corporate success by saying, “I ain’t the brightest candle on the cake. I’m just glad I keep getting invited to the party.”

Do you know why he kept getting promoted, kept “getting invited to the party”? It’s the same reason I got hired as a live-in crisis counselor. And it’s the same reason that Columbo solved every murder case that came his way.

Life-Long Learners Keep Going!

What you know today is finite; but what a life-long learner can know tomorrow is infinite.

I used to brag that I was a formidable Trivial Pursuit player. Now I strive to be called educable.

What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jill Steiner says:

    This is a good one. I subscribe to this myself but never had put it into words. Thanks for starting my day off right.

  2. Amy Espinal says:

    This is a great article. Thank you Scott very enlightening.

  3. Nichele Peck-Glaspie says:

    This is a great article and makes you reflect on work-life lessons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *