The Confidence of Creative Learning Experiences

“Don’t be afraid to adapt new ingredients into your own techniques, and traditional ingredients into new recipes.”

Jose Garces is an Ecuadorian American chef, restaurant owner, and was selected as the sixth Iron Chef on 2009.

Confidence of Creative Learning Experiences

Image by Edwin Lee

In part two of our series on creating workplace learning opportunities, we elaborate practical ways to leverage each of the five pillars of the learning culture. These five pillars are: Environment, Experts as Coaches, Know-How, Pace of Flow, and Practice. Creatively combine our recommendations for your learning experience.


Learning Environment through Stretch Assignments

Like a rubber-band, stretch assignments expand our confidence, competence and creativity. Our know-how becomes elastic the more we stretch our knowledge, but stretch it too far or too fast and it could snap – with the same painful results! Research of more than 100 global respondents across industries informs us of the following characteristics for any stretch assignment:

1. Coaches and learners must be clear of their intended task outcome. Participating learners should have the opportunity to discuss the difficulty and relevancy of the task to their goals. Task assigners should coach to overcome the obstacles discussed.

2. Learners need/want less instructions as they gain topical knowledge. Hence task assigners may gradually lessen their guidance or coaching as the learner develops expertise over consecutive stretch assignments.

3. Assignments needn’t be active/running projects. Role playing or scenarios based on completed projects offer effective avenues to develop skills. Learners may hone their skills and compare their methods against previously achieved results.

4. Assignments can be collaborative. Learning teams can complete the tasks initiated by a more senior team at some logical juncture. In this continuous process, learners must think critically about how their senior counterparts’ decisions relate to their own choices.

5. Successive assignments should be more complex or difficult after the learner has satisfied existing learning goals.

6. Some companies use job rotations successfully as stretch assignments. Brian’s blog elaborates more on job rotations.


Experts as Coaches

The task of coaching has many facets. Here we focus on the heuristics that experts may use to shape effective learning experiences:

1. Work through the problem together. Dismissive delegation is not coaching. Motivate your learners to stay the course by regularly affirming them that you’re paying attention to their work and believe in their capabilities.

2. Avoid jumping in to “Save the Day”. The goal is to help a learner narrow competence gaps, not solve his problem. Coaches should direct the learner to valid information sources that can help form a quality resolution.

3. Give Constructive not Critical Feedback. Learning in the shadow of an expert may be intimidating. Supportively redirect the learner by acknowledging his effort and logic. Conversely, underlining every committed mistake or inaccuracy would likely demoralize the learner over time. Check this earlier blog for tips on giving constructive feedback.

4. Different doesn’t mean wrong. Learners may solve problems using different tools, or even engage the issues from different perspectives. Coaches must recognize this creativity – the learner is building an experience web of her own.


Know-How Now

Technologies, processes and methods change over time. Different standpoints and feedback from less senior staff members will enrich the learning experience. Armed with this prior knowledge, learners are better equipped to wrestle with the older and later information. Consider the following questions to initiate such conversations:

  • Why or perhaps Why-Not, helps us understand how approaches differ.
  • Why is it not solved already?
  • How has any parameter of the approach changed over time?
  • What if we can reduce this or increase that?
  • How do we know it’s effective?
  • How can we test the solution?
  • Where are the conflicting points between previous assumptions and new learning?


Pacing the Flow

The rule of thumb sets a maximum of four “big ideas” in any learning session. Additional information/ideas potentially blurs priorities and may be lost to what the learner needs NOW. Once the learning process gets going, have the learner set the agenda by discussing workplace obstacles and informational needs. This feedback ensures timeliness and relevancy.


Practice with A Safety Net to Allow “Safe Fail”

Learning sessions benefit from safe environments where errors don’t adversely affect actual deliverables. Such a practice can take place through:

1. Sample Problems. Applicable case studies, lessons-learned reports, even audits provide good resources for dialogues.

2. Discussion Panels. A diverse mix of high performers from different expertise levels can reveal situational cues and their decision making processes. Participants can then integrate the experiences of others into their own choices.

3. Project Pre-mortem (a twist on the post project reviews). Pre-mortem reviews occur before the event, on a pretext that failure has happened. The learning team is challenged to determine where, why, and how the failure occurred. This activity often identifies gaps in know-how and missteps before the activity begins.


Applying and combining these pillars takes a little forethought and planning. Nevertheless, these pillars enable leaders in any role to be effective curators of workplace learning!

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Edwin E. Lee
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