LEARNING VERSUS PERFORMANCE
Another obstacle to a new learning culture is a characteristic of our organization: many leaders keep thinking that learning is different from performing. These two are seen as separate moments that cannot happen together and this reinforces the idea that learning cannot be delegated to someone and to somewhere that stays in the working environment. "Learning has to be relegated to a business school, to a training class ... everywhere but in the working environment, that is the reign of performances." This time I made use of an Austrian-American Nobel Prize Winner to show them they were wrong.
LEARNING IS THE ABILITY TO ACQUIRE NEW IDEAS FROM EXPERIENCE AND RETAIN THEM AS MEMORIES
Eric Kandel, neuropsychiatrist and Nobel Prize Winner in Physiology in 2000, professor at Columbia Univer sity, lightened me with this idea that learning happens from experience. So we said to our managers to stop considering learning as a cognitive process by itself, but make use of the experience to build something that really could last; stop thinking that people can learn in a theoretical way and then apply, but reverse it and make them learn out of the experience.
THE TALENT MYTH
There is a wonderful book I recommend you to read that is Bounce by M. Syed, who recalls several researches, and among them one by Anders Ericsson from Florida State University. Here Ericsson shows how talent does not matter. This is crucial in changing the mindset towards learning because it brings with it the idea that people can change. Everybody. On the other hand, people who think that human beings cannot change, so treat them like stones, represents the learning killer mindset. Of course this is a more comfortable mindset. According to this view, a manager should not care about development of his people and the most of the work would be reduced to a well done job interview when the best candidate is selected. And this well selected candidate stays the best forever. But this is just an illusion. Nurturing, making people grow, is key to success. Talent is a journey, not something that you possess.
ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE FROM 6.000 TO 10.000 HOURS OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE
Ericsson is also father to the concept of deliberate practice: what really matters in achieving excellence is the amount of deliberate practice.
And not so much in terms of hours but deliberate decision to practice. This relates again to the idea that we do not learn easily. Doing things mechanically does not imply any learning. This suggests to managers the idea that if they work like machines, without any intentional willing to learn by deliberate practice, they just waste time. They think they are learning, but they are not.
SOMETIMES WE NEED TO INTENTIONALLY FORGET (UNLEARN) TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW
In order to learn focus on the unlearn. Another important aspect is that human beings, in order to learn, really need to focus on unlearn. Deconstructing previous experiences, even successful ones, is necessary before learning new ways, new things, that can be in contrast with the "old" ones, otherwise one keeps doing the same things as before. Carl Weick did a lot of studies in the field of the unlearning. Among the populations he studied there were airplane pilots, fire police, so again people who risk life, and Weick showed how these people, even if under training but not exposed to the unlearning phase, were not able to learn new stuff.
Learning needs unlearning
FROM DEPENDENT LEARNING TO INDEPENDENT AND INTERDEPENDENT LEARNING
People need to be responsible for their own learning. The first time I presented this idea, after a few weeks I also sent to business and HR leaders an e-mail aimed at checking if they were still fixed to the dependent learning mindset or they were moving the first steps towards a change. Were they starting to perceive their learning in a different way?
At UniCredit we are now trying to build on the concept of how to learn how to learn. Instead of focusing on how to teach, or how to make people learn something, we are trying to develop a new approach that reinforces people in their way of learning, regardless the content. It is only by discovering our own way to learn that learning becomes much easier.