Is your learning mantra just rhetoric? - Michelle Gibbings

There are hundreds of quotes and sayings about the importance and value of learning. We hear phrases like learning culture, fail fast, and learn your way ahead, as well as processes such as agile that are based on a learning mantra.

It can be easy to talk about the importance of learning, but are you really learning? Is your learning more than just good rhetoric?

Recently, Senator Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the United States Senate Banking Committee, in preparation for the grilling of Facebook executive David Marcus said: “Like a toddler who has gotten his hands on a book of matches, Facebook has burned down the house over and over and called every arson a learning experience.

He was arguing that the organisation and its executives were using the concept ‘we’re still learning’ as an excuse for poor behaviour, and that they had no real intent of changing their business practices.

Whether you agree with his assessment or not, it’s a timely reminder that there are plenty of examples where despite the rhetoric no real learning has taken place. The individual or organisation ‘fesses up’ to the issue, they acknowledge the mistake and even seek forgiveness, and yet their behaviour doesn’t change.

In fact, nothing changes.

So, what are the warning signs that you aren’t learning?

  • You keep doing the same things, and there is no change to your behaviour
  • You’ve stopped reflecting on what you could do differently next time
  • You hear the same feedback again and again…and again
  • You think you are the smartest person in the room, and you’ve stopped listening to the opinions of others

It can be hard to break old habits and practices, which means we are all vulnerable to this happening. We may even believe we want to change, but fail to do so, and that’s because real learning requires more than just a wish and a want!

To really learn it takes three key steps:

1. Assess the situation: understand what’s happened and why, and work through what learnings you want to take away for next time. As well, have regular reflective practices built into your daily routine

2. Accept the change: accept what you can change and what you can’t change, and step up and acknowledge your responsibility in making the learning real for you.  Then, work through ways to put the learning into practice

3. Adapt your behaviour: consciously build new habits and practices that instil the new learning; remembering that new habits take time and focus so build your habit loop as Charles Duhigg writes about in The Power of Habit. This includes having feedback loops and making sure you are assessing and measuring your progress

If you want to make steady and regular progress you need to look back so you can learn, and you need to learn so you can move forward.

As former United Kingdom Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, once said: “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’.

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