Learning mind-set? Me? Of course!

brain“Do you have a continuous learning mind-set?”

“Yes, I’m always looking to learn more, me.”

Well, I thought so to, then something happened that makes me not so sure.

Newbies are from Another Planet

The company I am currently working with will have lots of people retire in the next few years. They are massively beefing up their graduate programme to compensate – almost every team seems to have a graduate attached. What I’ve noticed is that when these graduates come across something they don’t know, their response is dead straight: “I don’t know that. Tell me about that.” Sounds kind of banal. Yet, the outcome is that they out-learn anybody else. Now I’ve spotted this pattern, the difference between this group and the people I normally see is so immense it takes my breath away. Really. It’s massive. I can’t stop thinking about it.

The people I normally see in large companies, usually view new learning with suspicion. I know they don’t say this out loud of course but they feel it anyway. Learning leads to change and change is in their experience usually painful and involves failure and loss. They have invested a lot to get where they are and don’t want to loose it. They don’t see it as a major part of their role to learn new things – that’s for the new guys. Not knowing about your job makes you look incompetent. The job is to deliver stuff. In any case the system does not really support learning – nobody gets their bonus just because they learnt a lot.

On the other hand, the graduates know they are here to learn. It’s OK not to know. It’s OK to spend time on finding out. There is nothing to loose by learning.

Do I have a Learning Disability?

Consider this: experienced people have what might be termed a learning disability. How they relate to their wealth of experience hinders them from learning.

Zen Buddhism provides a suggestion about how to overcome this disability.  A “Beginners Mind” is dropping expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. Something to practice – one doesn’t get good at adopting a beginners mind overnight.

So far, so good. Then it hit me. The way I look at all these people and think “Poor saps, they don’t even know they have a learning disability, let alone what to do about it.” Perhaps somebody else is looking at me and thinking the same? I can’t see what is holding me back from learning – if I did, I’d be addressing it! So, what’s my disability?

Thinking further

Couple of things you could join me in thinking about further…

  • Peter Senge, of Fifth Discipline fame, has some interesting suggestions for common learning disabilities in an organisation. They will make you smile, as you will recognise them all in other people. The challenge you may share with me is to find them in yourself.
  • Consider what systems/policies/procedures are in place in your context to prevent people, even if they wanted to, from learning effectively. It might not all be you after all, it might be the system you exist within that creates the learning disability! What would need to change to fix this?

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