I see what you did there is one of my favorite expressions. I’m not sure where it came from or how it got into my vocabulary (I suspect Chris Brogan), but it encapsulates nearly everything I believe in as a student of marketing, martial arts, and life. You see, most of the lessons I’ve had to learn or teach myself over the years were not explicit lessons. Sure, a whole bunch during childhood came on handy worksheets and structured exams. They had right answers and wrong answers. You knew when the lesson was done because the worksheet was at an end. Once I left school, however, the worksheets, term papers, and grades stopped. The lessons didn’t.

Still frame from Everybody Needs a Ninja

My teacher’s teacher, Stephen K. Hayes, often says that he is never NOT teaching. Everything is a lesson, from how you’re supposed to set up a dojo kamiza (point of focus) to how you’re supposed to walk, both literally and figuratively. Not everything will be handed to us or spoon-fed as students; in fact, some of the most important lessons are not even hinted at.

Life is full of lessons. Life is always teaching, whether or not we’re paying attention.

I see what you did there is an explicit acknowledgement and compliment I give to someone when I see a lesson that has been presented to me, whether they meant to give it or not. I see what you did there is a mental trick I use on myself as a way of reminding myself to constantly look for lessons. When someone pulls a nice social media marketing trick, I love to say I see what you did there – and I add it to my mental catalog of lessons. When someone repositions a mob as an off tank in a Warcraft raid, I love to say I see what you did there – and I add it to my mental catalog of lessons.

There are two lessons here for you. First, look for similar acknowledgements from other people. Everyone has a different way of subtly pointing out something especially clever. Learn the language of the people you respect and when you see their version of I see what you did there, you know you’re looking at something especially powerful that you need to copy, learn, or adapt. One of my teachers is fond of grinning and saying, “Noticed that, did you?” and when I hear that, I know I’ve found something worth investigating more. Another jokes and kids when he says, “Isn’t that lovely, June?” and most people laugh it off. I’m scribbling notes madly. What do your teachers say, and do you pay enough attention to catch it?

Second, look for opportunities in your own life to say I see what you did there to people. In doing so, you’ll train your mind to look for all of the lessons and all of the teachers that life presents, not just the ones you’ve hired or followed. Look for a chance to say I see what you did there every day, and you’ll find more opportunities to learn than you could ever pay for.


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