Tag Archives: Learning

Did you know…

8 Jun

Most days I get to eat dinner with my three young children, two attend school, one not yet. The frequent conversation, like many homes, is how was school today? What did you do? What did you learn? The answer of course is I don’t know. But, every so often, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a “Daddy, did you know…” sneaks out to reassure us that there is life and growth there. This is what someone says when they have discovered something. When they are engaged and learning. When they are connecting. When they are opening up and sharing. Something that wasn’t expected was found.

Why the need to share? Why is it such a surprise to learn?

All things flow from creation to stasis. This entropy or decay is the norm for most of us, most of the time. Significant energy is consumed by maintenance to keep things within control. Maintenance and compliance with control mechanisms drains our energy and requires no creativity. When we don’t use it, we lose it – or at least forget how to access it.

When things go as we expect them to, we are more or less on autopilot. We spend energy. Things don’t go wrong. We’re not disrupted or surprised. To make our days more engaging, more energizing and more memorable, it would seem that two things need to happen:

1. more new and different things need to happen – more sparks of creative genesis

2. we must be more observant of the positive effects of continuing to exert energy towards things that are not new.

What progress has been made? What level of performance has been achieved or surpassed? What benefits have been realized from the efforts expended?

It must be a combination of both. Becoming addicted to the thrill of something new and different, but failing to follow through on anything to develop breadth and mastery is not a formula for success. Neither is mechanistic routinization driving everything to a checklist task. Engaging our creativity to learn and make change combined with continued development with feedback as we progress towards mastery is the ideal.

Are your days aptly disrupted with surprise and wonder? Do your continued efforts leave you reflecting on the importance and significance of continuing to strive? Try the approach above to gain some energy and satisfaction.

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The Environment Always Wins

4 Jun
“The group to which an individual belongs is the ground for his perceptions, his feelings, and his actions.”

An area that we (you, me, and our groups and organizations) have the greatest gap between what we know and what we do is our understanding of the effects of environment on our behavior and results and how we account for it. We apply a bias so consistently it’s called THE fundamental attribution error. Things that go well, I likely give too much credit to myself and factors within me, while things that do not, I find factors that are outside of me (“not me”) to blame. You do to. It serves our interests and some theories of motivation suggest it protects our most fundamental needs.

From 2004 – 2009, I had the privilege of ministering at the Oakland County Jail Boot Camp on most Thursday evenings. Men, and some women, with remaining sentences of one year could earn a sentence reduction to 8-weeks if they could complete the intensive and challenging program. While in the program, the trainees were subjected to challenges that forced them to adapt to a military-like physical and social regimen. For example, they had to immediately refrain from using pronouns (not easy). It was a very rewarding experience to be involved in the lives of these trainees as they committed to healthier self-disciplines. However, after attending my first graduation ceremony, it became clear that when the trainees graduated, they were met at the ceremony by a social system that knew them as they were and had not changed with them. When we would visit the men and hear about how they were earning their GED’s and gaining skills to secure employment upon completion of the program, they would share how they looked forward to a new life after the program and how they weren’t sure they could make it in the program. I would quickly share that having seen many groups of men come and go, we worry more about their well-being after the program. We tried to ready them for the culture shock they and their loved ones would experience when they were reunited. Most found it difficult to follow through on the changes they planned for their lives. Those that were successful returned to a social system that supported their changes or they changed the social system they lived within.

Is this so different from what we experience in industry?

Main Idea: To learn and change, we need to do more to ensure the environments where we will perform (do what we’re attempting to do differently) support the new behavior. Before assuming the cause of a problem lies in individuals’ knowledge, skill, capability or motivation, we need to look beyond the individual to the environment they will act within. As we as individuals plan to make improvements in our own lives, we must look beyond our individual ability and motivation and ensure we support the changes we want for ourselves in our environment, social systems, and the structured ways we do things that form our habits.

There are many fascinating and counter-intuitive studies around this topic. Below are several I’m happy to share.

In the summer of 2009, I was blessed to attend a week-long program with Edgar Schein at the Cape Cod Institute where he lectured following the release of his book Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help. Dr. Schein presented extensively on “the coercive nature of the social order and the deep impact of culture.” All relationships are governed by the cultural rules of interaction and for change (learning) to occur, these rules have to be suspended to enable safe passage from here to there.

Seth Godin provided creative reference to the culture rules of interaction Dr. Schein describes (Social Economics, Social Theater and Situation Propriety) in his blog Extending the Narrative.

The socialite walks into the ski shop and buys a $3000 ski jacket she’ll wear once. Why? Not because she’ll stay warmer in it more than a different jacket, but because that’s what someone like her does. It’s part of her story. In fact,it’s easier for her to buy the jacket than it is to change her story.

Recent studies published by the NeuroLeadership Institute and it’s affiliates are providing evidence of how the brain functions that illustrate just how social the human brain is. From Your Brain on Facebook by David Rock

Here’s how social the brain is: the brain network that is always on in the background is a region involved in thinking about yourself and other people. This network is so ubiquitous it has been labeled the “default network.” When not doing anything else, the brain’s favorite pastime is to think about people. We actually turn this region down when we do any active processing, such as doing math. One study showed that inactivity for just two seconds switched the default network back on.

Many studies have emerged in the last few years about the importance of human social interactions to our well-being. We know that social rewards light up the brain’s reward circuits more than non-social rewards, and that social threats, such as feeling lonely or ostracized, light up the threat center more than non-social threats. We’ve even seen that social pain, like being left out of an activity, lights up the same regions as physical pain. And that taking Tylenol can reduce social pain more than a placebo.

Just recently we learned that where you are in the pecking order of a group of people taking an IQ test has an impact on your own IQ score. We even know that positive social habits are more important for health than diet and exercise. (Surprisingly, moderate drinking is likely to have you live longer than being a non-drinker, probably due to the social benefits.)

A recent Freakonomics Radio Podcast Episode titled The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It? shares an engaging account of a study that illustrates how the supremacy of social acceptance is not just for the weak. A study was conducted to understand the effect of scientific literacy on decision making around controversial topics. Common thinking would suggest that the more “rational” scientific types would be less impacted by their social systems, right?

Key points from studies presented:

  • numeracy …should help you to better understand information. And that kind of comprehension is a basic building block for good decisions across a variety of domains. …should also help you process the information more systematically and help you to get to better decisions that are more in line with the facts.
  • however, studies referenced show people who are highly numerate and highly scientifically literate, they seem to actually rely on preexisting beliefs, on these sort of underlying cultural cognitions (how public sentiment about issues is shaped by cultural values) they have about how the world should be structured more than people who are less scientifically literate, or less numerate.
  • So, the more education a culture gets, the more likely we are to have intense polarization at least among the educated classes. High scientific literacy and numeracy were not correlated with a greater fear of climate change. Instead, the more you knew, the more likely you were to hold an extreme view in one direction or the other — that is, to be either very, very worried about the risks of climate change or to be almost not worried at all. In this case, more knowledge led to … more extremism!
  • Why on earth would that be? Our individual beliefs on hot-button issues like this have less to do with what we know than with who we know.
  • While my activities as a consumer, my activities as a voter, they’re just not consequential enough to count. But my views on climate change will have an impact on me in my life. If I go out of the studio here over to campus at Yale, and I start telling people that climate change is a hoax – these are colleagues of mine, the people in my community—that’s going to have an impact on me; they’re going to form a certain kind of view of me because of the significance of climate change in our society, probably a negative one. Now, if I live, I don’t know, in Sarah Palin’s Alaska, or something, and I take the position that climate change is real, and I start saying that, I could have the same problem. My life won’t go as well. 
  • People who are science literate are even better at figuring that out, even better at finding information that’s going to help them form, maintain a view that’s consistent with the one that’s dominant within their cultural group.  
  • it’s actually more important that I align my life with that belief not because of anything I can do, but because it helps me fit in better in my circle, there’s more currency to my belief there. 
  • We like to think that we make up our minds about important issues based on our rational, unbiased assessment of the available facts. But the evidence assembled shows that our beliefs, even about something as scientifically oriented as climate change, are driven by a psychological need to fit in. And so we create strategies for doing this.

Finally, something applied for us practitioners. The model below (Gilbert’s Model) segments the performance factors into three different areas: Information, Means, and Motivation; and two levels: what the organization can provide (Data, Methods & Processes, and Incentives) and what the employee brings to the job (Knowledge, Capability, and Willingness to Work).

If given the options 1 – 6 below for areas to place emphasis to improve your learning and performance as an individual, where do you think your organization should invest? What choice would have the greatest leverage to improve outcomes?

In my experience using this tool when working with leadership teams, about 2/3 of responses prioritize acting on the organizational level (#1 – 3) to improve performance. Research shows that the greatest leverage — the best return of improved outcomes for the least effort—is produced when an organization ensures employees have good data, effective work methods and processes, and fitting incentives. These items also tend to be under the direct control of the organization and lowest cost to change. In contrast, less leverage for driving improvement and greater cost go with change focused on what the person brings to the work situation.

In presenting field theory, Kurt Lewin wrote “all behavior change results from learning – norm reeducation – at the group level.” Change requires action at the group level and should be a participative and collaborative process. If you’re a leader, what change are you making personally to support the changes you want in your organization? If you’re a consultant, what are you doing to ensure environmental support for change following your interventions?

Five Questions to Reflect

12 Feb

Build reflection into your processes to increase learning and improvement. Use these simple questions to facilitate an actionable planning session:

What is my (our) role and purpose?

What am I (are we) doing well that should continue or even do more of?

What am I (are we) doing that requires improvement?

What should I (we) start doing?

What should I (we) stop doing?

Expected results:

  • everyone learns something
  • innovative ideas are developed as people play off each others contribution (aka Catchball)
  • plans are better aligned
  • the team is more engaged in and committed to the plans that are made (and question the leaders’ awareness of what’s really going on much less)

Some Practical tips, should you try it:

  1. The goal is learning – the tone should be set by the leader. Prime the group with an idea of your own for each of the questions. Express your value for the activity and the good you expect to come from it. Praise some things that others are doing well, point out something under your own control you recognize needs improvement, an opportunity you’d like to see the group capitalize on, etc. Some of the leaders I’ve helped thought it was best to leave the team to work on the exercise and then return after 90 – 120 minutes to discuss their ideas.
  2. As a facilitator, I find it works well to project a document for recording notes and summarizing key points for each question. The participants reading the idea seems to stimulate more questions, clarification and conversation as they see the ideas summarized.
  3. End the session with a recap and summary of the key points and any agreements made. I have found it effective to ask members of the team to lead this.

More broadly, discussions with the word “review” in the title (also, debriefs) should honor this same reflective intent. The idea – there are lessons here that should guide our future plans and actions. Don’t limit your conversation to only the misses and opportunities. Ask, why are we experiencing the success we are having and how do we make sure it continues?

Learning = Change

24 Nov

It isn’t obvious that learning and change are synonymous; learning = change is apparent to very few. Helping more leaders and their staff to realize this paradigm will yield great benefit. We will be more agile, effective and competitive. Most of the people I interact with pursue learning activity without a clear outcome in mind. Similarly, when changes are made, how the change impacts stakeholders in a legitimate cause and effect sort of way (i.e., what will people need to start / stop / do differently as a result of this change) is an afterthought. Worse is that the necessary investment of time and resources to learn to perform in a new state are underestimated, resisted, and short-cuts are attempted.

Three useful lines of questioning that have served me well in helping people begin to plan personal and group-level change are:

1. What will you (we, they) know, do and / or value different if this (intervention) is a huge success? By when? Why are these changes and timing important?

2. When we’re meeting six months from now and you’re explaining how elated you are with the outcomes of the work we’ve done together and the changes that have been made, what will be different? Why are these changes and timing important?

3. Who will need to change? What will they change from and to? What is our interest in making this change? How will making this change benefit them (from their perspective)? Why would they resist making the change desired?

We’re creatures of habit but we are motivated to serve our own interests. Until it is clear in the mind of an individual what to change, it’s unlikely we will deviate from our norms. We’re much more likely to work to maintain stasis. With defined outcomes and interests for change defined, we can involve stakeholders, build an impact map and allow learning and transition as needed to realize our desired future state.

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