Be One Step Ahead, Grow Your Future Performance.

“There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure all your life.”

John W. Gardner, (October 8, 1912–February 16, 2002) was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. In 1955 he became president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Be One Step Ahead Grow Your Future Performance 2014-05-13

Image by Edwin Lee

Often, people get promoted into leadership roles because of their past performance in technical roles. However, such promotions and career progressions are related to successes in the past. And as time progresses, they begin to avoid tasks that they have no knowledge of, or find themselves putting on a brave facade. Chris Argyris (“father” of the learning theory) argues that our past successes may actually inhibit our learning capacity, since our defensive attitudes and mechanisms grow stronger the more successful we are.

How then can we secure our future successes? What impacts our ability to continue learning and responding to changes in our industry or within our organization?

Jim Collins (author of “Good to Great”) has an interesting story about attitudes towards learning. After a 45-minute interview, the television producer asked Collins if he had anything else to add. “No, but I have a question to ask,” replied Collins. The producer, who had conducted scores of interviews through his career, was surprised at Collins’ response. He had never had an interviewee ask him questions! Collins turned the interview into his own learning opportunity.

Having an attitude of learning is critical for our continuous performance progress and knowledge growth. So, how can we foster a learning attitude?

1. Set explicit learning goals. Do you know setting learning goals is more effective for changing behavior than setting performance goals? Look at your to-do list. How many items are related to “getting things done” (performance/ accomplishment items) versus on learning objectives? How many of your annual goals will lead you to discover something new and/or expand your skills?

2. Define specific deadlines or intermediate targets. How long would it take to learn what you want to learn? “Easy” knowledge to acquire may take weeks or a couple of months. A complex behavior or attitude may take years. In the latter case, set intermediate targets to be achieved in nine-month intervals (phases or blocks of time) to make and track your progress.

3. Develop learning mechanisms. Think about learning tools that will help you learn. For instance, would a log book to jot down new knowledge help you? Or, maybe document your experiences in a journal or diary? How about learning together with a friend? Peer accountability is also a good coping mechanism to keep you on track with your goals.

4. Schedule time for learning. If you don’t define and set aside time to learn, you’ll probably dedicate 100% of your day to performance activities. Schedule specific periods of time (e.g., time of day/night, or part of the week) when you can think and reflect, at least until a “learning attitude” becomes automatic to you.

5. Tolerate errors. Learning involves taking risks. And, taking risks involves errors and mistakes. Do not be daunted by the mistakes you make. Learn from them. To minimize risks, think of what could go wrong, and consider (at least) two mitigation. Also, inform your peers and leader of your learning plan so they will not be surprised, and can even offer support for alternative solutions.

Remember, no error is worse than being stagnant or becoming outdated. Learn, for better performance.

Water, for Thought:
(by Edwin Lee)
Imagine a water tank half-full, with an inlet (opening for filling) and an outlet tap (where water flows out for use):

Water For Thought 2014-05-13

Image by Edwin Lee

Scenario #1. Fresh water neither flows in nor out of the tank. Subsequently, the water inside stagnates and turns bad.

Scenario #2. Water is drawn out but no fresh water flows in to replenish. So, the tank eventually runs dry.

Scenario #3. Water is constantly pumped in, but no water is allowed out the tap. So, the tank overflows inefficiently from the inlet.

Scenario #4. Last, the tank is constantly replenished and water is drawn from the tap often. The result is a steady flow of fresh water.

Our mind (‘water tank’) enables us to gather or put to use knowledge (‘water’).

Scenario #1 is analogous to our refused learning of new ideas or better approaches to the tasks. We become outdated.

Scenario #2 depicts us running out of knowledge or approaches due to overuse of limited past experiences.

Scenario #3 shows head-knowledge overload without avenue to experiment.

Let’s keep our mind in Scenario #4 as a source of fresh ideas and strong performance.

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Renata Figueiredo

Renata Figueiredo

Renata leads the People Management practice within Integration Consulting. She has 14 years of experience in management consulting in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, change management, organizational design and organizational development. Renata holds a Master degree in Learning and Organizational Change from the Northwestern University, a specialization degree in Advanced Human Resources Management from the University of Michigan, and a degree in Business Administration from the University of Sao Paulo.

Connect With Renata:
@LinkedIn: br.linkedin.com/pub/renata-figueiredo/8/789/525
Renata Figueiredo

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