The art of business agility

Learn, shake, learn

“Everything you possess can be taken away from you except the things you learn. If you have the brains and are able to learn, go and do it.” When I was at the age of 20 and struggling whether I should start another study or would start finding a job, this was what my father said to me. At that time, I did not realize how important learning would become. Not only for me but for each and every one of us.  I never thought that the way we learn, the way we think about learning and how we support or enable learning has such a profound impact on our development. 

In this blog we will talk about our roots of learning and why our learning system is shaking on its foundations, the necessity to reset our brains and the importance of changing the way we think and behave. Although there is no one-size-fits-all recipe to learning, as every individual is unique, there are elements that can help you to create a learning organization and create a growth mindset.  


Shaking structures

Something strange is happening for years now. Around 1900, the black worldview of F.W. Taylor  spread out like a virus, through our whole system and influenced the way we behave, collaborate and learn. Already in our earliest childhood we experience hierarchy. Children are curious and ask questions, but in our busy lives, adults do not always have the time to pay attention to it at that specific moment. Think about how often you have said: “Please, not now, this is not the right moment.” It is not a reaction you’ve done on purpose. It is a reaction generated by your unconscious brain. 

When children are 4 years old, we place them in a set system. The system of school, with fully packed classrooms and a standardized test culture. If you perform under or above the average line, than you don’t fit the program. There is hardly any time for differentiation. Somewhere between the age of 18 and 25 we step into the world of workers and experience a new hierarchical system.  A system in which failures are not accepted, orders are given and blaming and shaming is part of our performance. Everyone is born with a certain agility and curiosity, but along the way a lot of people stopped to take initiative or interest. 

All of a sudden it seems the earth is shaking. Companies introduce ‘agile’ models and put the whole system upside down again. From one day to the next, people in those organizations are asked to self-organize, step out of their comfort zone and do something totally different then they are used to do for ages.


The in-between zone

New generations learn new things, but for what reason? Jobs that will probably have changed or become obsolete in the next 10-15 years. The World Economic Forum predicted that before 2024, 27% of our jobs will have changed and that 46% of us need re- or upskilling. Out of our day-to-day eco-system arise new technologies and innovations at an incredible speed. How do they facilitate the way we work? Climate issues and new viruses influence our daily lives and we are not able to oversee the consequences yet. Next to that we are in a transition from the industrial and digital revolution, to a wellbeing economy. New generations strive for growth and meaning in live. We are on a journey to the future of work, but we are far from there yet. We are somewhere in the in-between zone.


Create new neural highways

To stay relevant and being able to develop to the future, we need to change the way we work together and the way we learn and think. It is not enough to only re- and upskill ourselves and get some new certifications. There is an urgent need to change the way we behave. We need to unlearn behavioural patterns which worked with the old system and need to reset our brains. Gerjanne Dirksen uses in her book ‘Brein didactiek’ (2014) the metaphor of the goat path and highways. Imaging you walk through a field with high blades of grass. When you look back you see a small path. It’s like a goat path which can easely be faded by the wind. But, when you walk this path over and over again it becomes a highway. A busy route full of experiences, behavior, biases, skills. Every new learning starts again with a goat path, a new motorway entrance or exit. So, the more experiences you gain, the more extensive the route network in your brains become.


‘Lazy’ brain

Our brain is a bit ‘lazy’ or better energie efficient. It loves to automate. Things you do often or that are important are automatically stored in our unconscious brain. Think of driving a car, for example. Mostly we drive automatically. You do not have to actively think about everything while driving. Your brain builds on existing experiences, knowledge and thinking patterns. The advantage of that is that it costs you less energy. Kahneman (2011) calls it our system 1. It is fast, unconscious and intuitive. The downside is that once the highway is built and automated, it’s twisted and difficult to learn any other way. Learning new experiences and skills, experiment a new goat path and building new highways, costs a lot of conscious attention and energy. Before you know it, you’re back on the old route. A tough journey for everyone, because no one knows exactly how it works and what to learn first. A personal journey as well, as everyone learns in their own way.


A life full of learning

Learning is no longer only doing an MBA kind of study or do some extra certification trainings. Following a leadership program does not make you an inspiring leader. When change is announced something strange happens in our old brains. Like in the past, when a bear crosses our path, we either freeze, fly or fight. The first question we ask: “What’s in it for me?” Although training and workshops help to explain changing functions, roles, models or processes, our brains need to experience and repeat a new situation or behaviour to fully learn and adapt. Some elements that are important in this context and can help you to create a learning organization yourself:

1. Create awareness and involve people 

Knowing the why to change, big or small, is always the most important when creating awareness and a desire to know more. Learning starts when you create a new organisation, department or team together. Most of the time, employees know very well which customers insights are relevant and which are not. As leaders you set the direction. Together you decide what to work on and what to learn next.

2. Re- and upskilling in guilds

Organize the development of expertise in guilds. In this way people learn from each other and decide which skills are necessary to learn in order to stay relevant. A chatbot can i.e. be part of the Customer Journey. If giving customers a WOW experience is part of your culture, the chatbot has to understand what that means. People with the right skills are necessary to let the bot communicate to customers in such a way. 

3. Mentor and shadow

As our brain learns by experience, create a cycle of iterations that help design a learning on the job culture. Let people shadow each other. A new product owner learns from a more mature product owner. If you’ve just started a new way of working, try to find a shadowing partner outside your company.

4. Build communities

As everything is new, there are no best practices to share and you have to discover what actually works. That differs for every organization, department, team and individual. Therefore, it is important to share your learnings throughout the company and/or learn from others in the field. Internal or external communities are proven methodologies that can help you create such a learning culture.


5. Make learning more fun

Working remotely from home, staring at your screen is not the most motivating learning workplace you might think. However, if you dare to meet and learn differently you will be able to create an exiting learning experience. First of al focus and pay attention for a short time to one topic. Secondly, make learning interactive and visible. For example, work and discuss in small groups and use interactive canvas boards and mindmaps maps to visualize. Last but not least, take time for movement. For instance, integrate mindfulness exercises, yoga or take a walk together with peers or individually. Discuss a topic or walk in silence. Be a dopamine dealer and make learning fun.

A learning organization or better a learning economy thrives by a culture of experimenting. Learn from the things you did not achieve yet. Improve the way you work together and experience the flow and fun. Is it time to shake the system and enable a meaningful learning culture within your organization? Do you want to create a different way of thinking in your organization but don’t know where to start? Contact me.


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