An ‘adaptive challenge’ is defined as, ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. In today global context leaders are increasingly facing more and more adaptive challenges. In an adaptive challenge learning becomes a fundamental ingredient in working towards the solution. Because of the very nature of an adaptive challenge, learning is a requirement in defining the exact problem being encountered. Given that it is something that has not previously been encountered, learning is needed to define the actual problem being experienced. The second stage of an adaptive challenge – that of finding a solution also relies on new learning. Because the problem is new, the solution will require new learning.
This makes learning the key to adaptability. Organisations (and leaders) who are not learning do not have the key ingredient that it takes to become truly adaptive. Author and management guru, Peter Senge writes a great deal about the importance of the ‘learning organisation’ and when one understands this in the context of adaptability, it is easy to see just how important learning is to being futurefit.
Don’t assume that because your organization has multiple learning programmes that you are a ‘learning organisation’. Learning starts at the ‘top’ and if you and your executive team aren’t learning (both formally and informally) then the chances are that in spite of the ‘learning activity’ elsewhere in the organization, real learning is not really taking place. More often than not executive learning is more about ‘unlearning’ or ‘relearning’ than it is about learning. Constantly asking yourself – as individuals, as well as a team, what it is that you need to learn, unlearn and relearn is a good start.
Here are 10 pointers along the ‘learning journey’ for your consideration:
1. Learning is first and foremost an attitude.
You have to ‘want to learn’ in order to learn. The willingness to learn from both the good and the bad is essentially locked into having the right attitude.
2. Learning is everywhere.
It is never the lack of teachers that inhibits our learning, but rather it is the inability to see the teachers that surround us. This is some Buddhist wisdom that is applicable to everyone. This means that those ‘invisible’ people we trend not to ‘see’, might be the source of our greatest learning.
3. Learning is built on great questions.
It is said that the mind works best in the presence of a question. What then are the questions you should be asking and to whom? Finding great questions to ask and then asking them consistently forms the bedrock of a good learning habit and practice.
4. Learning is ongoing.
One should never stop learning. Sounds obvious but it isn’t. I have met many leaders and educators who have stopped learning. Instead they rely on experience to get them through. An easy test to verify this is to look for the presence of questions: no questions being asked – no learning taking place. So, graduation is the start, not the end. This might not be what you want to hear!
5. Real learning requires stickiness.
It is said that wisdom is knowledge applied. Learning needs to be applied for it to be useful. This in turn serves as a helpful filter as to what information we absorb. Of course we don’t always know what we will and won’t use, but real learning emerges when we have the chance to act on the knowledge gained.
6. Learning takes on various forms – find those that work for you.
Apprenticeship and formal study were for many years the main channels to learning. Of course all that has now changed with the explosion of social technologies that are transforming the learning landscape. The way you learn best is most likely not the way your parents learn best. They more so than you, need to keep this in mind! No doubt you’ll remind them of this point if you haven’t already!
7. Learning should be fun.
An accepted practice in learning is to ensure the participant has fun doing so – even to the point where he / she is unaware of the ‘learning agenda’. This is what Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor in his epic ‘The Last lecture’ called a, ‘head fake’. Google ‘The Last lecture’ and watch it!
8. Learning usually involves disequilibrium.
It would be nice if it weren’t so but the richest learning usually involves the deepest pain. So, be prepared for that and when it happens (the pain) know that therein sits an invitation to learning. Reread point 1 and get hold of Randy’s book or watch the video (point 7).
9. Difference invites learning.
Look for diversity (it is all around) and then use the opportunity to learn from such difference. This is what makes travel and being out of our comfort zone such a great context for learning. How different is your context? How could you embrace even greater difference in your immediate context in order to stimulate learning? Go to China! No really, go to China – it is the future!
10. Learning is personal.
What we learn and how we learn is personal. You need to find out what works best for you and then build on that source, methodology and habit. The reality is that we don’t always know what we don’t know and so this brings us full circle (point 1). A great question to ask others in this space is, ‘how do you know what you know?’ You might well get some interesting answers to that question!
Smart leaders ensure that they, together with their team, are ‘learner leaders’.
Smart leaders pay attention to what needs to be learnt, unlearnt and relearn and this orientation forms part of their DNA when it comes to their leadership mindset and practice.
A good place to start your learning, unlearning and relearning is to sign up to our online Future Fit Leadership series. You can do so by clicking here.