You never know when you’ll need to understand basic physics

I am a strong believer in learning for the sake of it.

I can see the importance of identifying learning needs and honing in on specific knowledge, skills or behaviours and then constructing L&D solutions to help meet those needs, but there is also something about learning – both as a process, and for the end product of having acquired seemingly unnecessary knowledge or skills – that has value in itself.

This isn’t an argument in favour of organisations footing the bill for any old learning. I’m not advocating what I call willy-nilly L&D, where there is no thought process, just approval for anything just so long as it involves a training course.

I’m simply saying that need is not the only valid driver of learning within professional organisations.

There are three main reasons for this:

  • Learning, especially informal learning, is a great habit to get into anyway
  • The identification of need is sometimes quite difficult. Isolating and articulating a specific need can be hard work, but also can lead to an over-simplifaction which is unhelpful (and possibly misleading) in dealing with the real issue
  • Learning can be inspirational – new knowledge, new ideas, new information, can all spark new connections in the brain that lead to new insights and new thinking that can be transformational

This isn’t to devalue needs-based training, it is to add to it.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and sometimes just knowing stuff can be dead useful.

In order to illustrate my argument (and the real reason for this article) – I present the case of a Spanish bricklayer who would have done well from having a stronger understanding of basic physics.


It’s a letter to an insurance company explaining how he came to receive a series of horrific injuries on a building site in Pontevedra in the Galicia region of Spain.

(Here’s a link to the original radio show) – it’s in Spanish, but there’s a translation below.

I have been a bricklayer for 10 years.

When I had finished, there were about 250 kilos of bricks left over. Instead of loading them up to take down by hand, I decided to put them in a barrel and lower them with the help of a pulley which was attached to a beam in the roof of the sixth floor.

I went down to the ground floor, tied the barrel with a rope and, with the help of the pulley, winched it up to the sixth floor, tying the end of the rope to a column on the ground floor.

Then I went and loaded the bricks into the barrel. I came downstairs, untied the rope and held on hard so that the 250 kilos of bricks would go down smoothly (I indicate in item #1 of my police statement that my bodyweight is 80 kilos).

To my surprise my feet left the ground and began to rise rapidly, pulled upwards by the rope. Because of the shock, I lost my presence of mind and thoughtlessly stayed clinging to the rope while it climbed at high speed.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down at a rate roughly similar to that of my climb, and I could not avoid the collision. I think this is where I got the fractured skull.

I continued up until my fingers got caught in the roller, resulting in the arrest of my rise and also the multiple broken bones in the fingers and wrist. At this point I had regained my presence of mind and despite the pain, I continued to cling to the rope.

It was then that the barrel hit the ground and broke, spilling the bricks on the ground.

Without any bricks, the barrel weighed approximately 25 kilos, and being lighter I descended rapidly back down to the ground floor. Whilst passing the third floor I met the empty barrel coming up. It was in the clash that ensued where I received the fractures of the ankles and nose.

This clash happily slowed my fall, so that when I landed on the pile of bricks I only broke three vertebrae.

However, I am sorry to report that, when I was lying on the bricks in excruciating pain, unable to move, I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. Because the barrel weighed more than the rope, it declined rapidly and fell on my legs, breaking both tibiae.

I hope I have clarified the causes of my injuries.

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