Helping others have the “aha” moment

By Rick Duncan

You don’t have to hang around my friend Mac Lake very long to see it happen. He’ll hear someone share an insight, hit his forehead with the palm of his hand, and say, “Wow! That’s great! Did you all hear that? Would you say that again? I’m going to write this down. You guys should too!”

It’s that moment when breakthrough learning happens. It’s unscripted, but it’s powerful — like a bolt of lightning. A flash. A boom. And it leaves an unmistakable mark in the minds of everyone.

Call it an “aha” moment. Call it a flash of inspiration. The light bulb glows over the learners’ heads. The answer shows up. The new idea pops. A fresh perspective blooms. There’s a break in the clouds and the sun shines through. It’s when the Holy Spirit shows up and speaks out through His people.

The wise leader eagerly expects those breakthrough moments. He knows every learner has truths inside that the whole group needs to know. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5).

The cohort wrestles with a difficult concept. The problem simmers. The group struggles. And then the insight comes. Often it’s not even recognized or clearly articulated. That’s when the leader can shine: capturing the insight, encouraging the group member to restate it, and watching the others get it.

So, how can a leader better capture the magic? Five simple ways:

1. Pray for it to happen. Bottom line? Breakthrough learning moments are God moments. Ask the Lord to show up and help your cohort learn.

2. Set the stage. William Reinsmith, in “The Teaching Professor” newsletter, wrote: “A learning moment erupts in its own time and place, on its own terms. When the moment arrives, a space opens up and the class is stilled — an insight is shared, a quiet wonder descends. Not even the most outstanding teacher can summon a learning moment. The most we can do is fashion a context for them.” More breakthrough learning takes place when a leader is prepared, than when he is not.

3. Be on the alert. Listen actively. Be expectant. Reinsmith wrote that teachers must foster “a sense of ease; where a certain lightness, even playfulness reigns.” We must “stay open, keeping our minds nimble… Put succinctly, teachers … must learn to live on the balls of their feet, expecting the unexpected.” Breakthrough moments happen more often than we think, but sometimes the leader is unaware. She can be so focused on what’s supposed to happen next that she misses the moment. Be fully present.

4. Capture the moment. Take a time out. Honor the truth that’s been uncovered. Keep asking the group member to restate the idea in the form of a principle — a short, memorable statement. Make it tweetable. Ride the wave. Leverage the learning.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t limit recognizing breakthrough moments to ministry situations. Your spouse, your children, your friends, and your coworkers all have deep wisdom too. Develop the habit of identifying breakthrough learning moments all day, everywhere.

Often the most important learning that takes place is not what the leader had in mind. Be humble enough to be surprised! Make room for the Holy Spirit’s movement in the minds and through the lips of your group members. Notice when He shows up and celebrate His teaching.

Like my friend Mac Lake, strike your forehead with the palm of your hand and say, “That’s amazing! I’ve never heard anyone say it like that before! You just made my day! Somebody better tweet that!”

That’s when everybody’s heart beats just a little bit faster. That’s when the wonder descends. That’s when we feel the hair rise on the backs of our necks. That’s when breakthrough learning happens and living new begins all over again.

Reference: Reinsmith, W. (2003). Make the Most of the Learning Moment. The Teaching Professor, 17 (10), 1, 7.

Deep Practice Questions:

Which part of this article spoke to you the most? Why?

Who do you know (besides Mac Lake!) who is good at helping others experience the “aha” moment? Why are they good at it? What do they do that you could start doing?

Which of the five ways to capture the magic are you best at? Which do you need to leverage most? How will you put that to practice?

Outside your ministry context, where will you look for deep wisdom? Who will you catch saying something profound and tweetable? How will you let them know that you are learning from them?

Published December 11, 2017

Rick Duncan

Rick Duncan currently serves as the East Coast Trainer for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). As an appointed missionary by NAMB in 1986, Rick was Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) near Cleveland. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Rick earned All-SEC baseball honors three times as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and spent five years playing professional baseball. Before becoming a pastor, Rick served four years on staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick graduated from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves to encourage younger leaders to create environments that God can use to invite people to new life in Christ. After 42 years of marriage, Rick is still in love with his wife, Maryanne. He enjoys spending time with his three sons: Alan, Ryan, and Evan. He is the proud father-in-law of Joanna, Alan's bride, and the proud grandfather of Ethan (7) and Caleb (3).