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Experiential Learning

Jun 26, 2020Business Development, Coaching0 comments

In all business organizations, we seek maturity models for roles, skills, and methods that allow us to rank ourselves with our colleagues. Rather than using a belt style ranking system, which places everybody in a box, maturity demonstrates self-sufficiency, competence, and judgment.

Maturity models, however, are not what we are seeking. This is because maturity models come from the idea we need to place all the complexity of work into a complicated framework. As more knowledge and skills are obtained within fixed levels of an organization, new qualifications are developed for each role. It creates an environment where you can only be promoted if you know these certain things. Consider the belt system model; if a black belt in karate, who has never been in a fight, meets a cage fighter with no formal training, who wins? Who is more mature?

The issue is not the training, it is the training method. When a new employee is onboarded, or a new process or system is rolled out, the “expert in the room” lectures with a PowerPoint slide deck about how things should be done.  Now, consider the idea that the only way to understand complex systems is to actually interact with it. 

Dave Snowden, founder of Cognitive Edge, has developed seven principles to challenge everything about the common approach to training: 

Knowledge can only be volunteered; it cannot be conscripted.

Conscription is described as “the compulsory enrollment of persons especially for military service,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. This suggests trainers should not force new knowledge onto people. Oftentimes, there is information overload and the learners cannot absorb all the data being thrown at them in rapid-fire. However, knowledge can be shared between the mature supervisor and the employee facing a new task or complexity for the first time.

We only know what we know when we need to know it.

It is impossible to know everything. Everyone within a work environment has different experiences and education. This implies we can recall what we need to know in the moment, yet may not remember when it is not important. The reason for this is…

Everything is fragmented.

Our knowledge and our memories are stored in bits and pieces and need to be reconnected every time we search for them. Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, refers to this as “associative memory.” Associative memory is when we remember something associated with our current circumstance without consciously thinking about it. In other words, the idea or the solution just comes to us.

In the context of real need, few people withhold their knowledge.

People working in an organization are more likely to share their experience for the good of the organization. This means they are willing to help and teach. While a person may gain a rudimentary understanding in a training center, they will grow faster with the help of a guide. Think of the colonial era apprenticeship system, for example. 

Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success.

We all (hopefully) learn from our mistakes. Mistakes in business can be costly and mostly avoided when employees are guided by a mature mentor or leader. However, when someone is working on something, we need to tolerate their mistakes and help them learn from them; this helps them grow. It is important to realize that no one wants to fail as it is an extremely uncomfortable position to be in. However, growth happens when we are uncomfortable.

The way we know things is not the way we report the way we know things.

We have difficulty articulating our experiences. While it is easy to restate a commonly known fact or to share a process that we have repeated hundreds of times, experiences are different. When asked how a unique problem is solved, we are not able to fully retrace our steps unless we documented absolutely everything we had done. To wit, if we face an identical problem, we may need to experiment to solve it again.

We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down.

Humans are amazing. We can hold so much knowledge. Yet we are not able to pour out all our knowledge to others. Sometimes, it is difficult to articulate or we can not remember a detail in the moment. Often, time is an issue; and with all the knowledge we can share verbally, we will never be able to write it all down.

Instead of training people in a formal classroom setting, it is better for them to experiment and experience. This allows individuals to learn the skills they need now and grow into roles that require more maturity. It helps organizations put the right people, into the right places, at the right time. Let your people learn experientially and watch them thrive.


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