Yesterday my friend Barun Moitra made a very important remark to my post about Ackoff’s spectrum of learning, learning it’s not about gathering data but about understanding information. I agreed completely but I felt that my answer was too short.
Because the spectrum of learning comprises a lot more than understanding, and so does learning. Imagine for instance that you acquire new information, discerning it from raw data. Ok, but that’s not enough. You must relate it to yourself, to both sides of your brain (isn’t it great that different Earth hemispheres’ cultures have happened to excel in different sides of the brain?) You must internalise it, relate it to yourself, feel it, make it go through your lenses, your experiences, the way you are… in short, make it yours.
That’s why we don’t learn when learning at a frantic pace. Because learning and frantic paces are contradictory. There’s no way you’re going to learn without reflecting. You will acquire some information, true albeit probably less than what you think you’re acquiring. You will acquire some abilities too, practise your analytical capabilities, but there’s more to learning than that.
And that’s not the way to learn management either. Choose your own way: if your MBA is making you work relentlessly, you’re not learning enough; if your everyday experience is not letting you reflect, you’re also missing an important learning experience.
Remember Mintzberg’s definition of manager in his 1971 analysis? One of the key sentences was: managers work at an unrelenting pace. Well, let them learn, let them set aside from the road, give them time to reflect, give them time to interiorise from their experience, and their practical learning will thrive.
You can do that in a big group, in a smaller group (although I tend to think that smaller and democratical groups are dangerous because they try to find things in common while they should be trying to diverge) or even on your own. (I’m doing it thanks to this blog, and I feel I’m learning). It can even involve facilitators (yes, I said facilitators, not teachers, usually there’s some centuries of management knowledge in a class or among this blog’s readers, while the teacher will have decades at most, if any)
And reflecting for a manager also means relief, some time off that frantic pace. A chance to build those personal insights. A chance to find that idea that eluded us. Managers should have the time for that, but also provide the time for their subordinates to do so. Managers are, in turn, facilitators of their managed ones.
And remember, there’s no better case than direct first-hand experience!
And that’s quite a change from Mintzberg’s vision 35 years ago: charismatic leaders are no longer wanted, coaches are. But the socratic method stays the same: asking questions. We already knew that 2.400 years ago!
But remember, learning means change. If you gather data, information, reflect, get knowledge… something must come out of it to make sense. This is the moment when we come to wisdom. We change. We become wiser thus we act different. Then it all makes sense.
There must be a change. You must be able to do things differently. It can be listening more to people or in a different way, it can be being more cooperative or more executive, but if nothing happens to you, if you go on business as usual, then it’s been a waste of time.
And revealed and shared learning creates trust, fellowship, friendship. Even here, on-line. It doesn’t really matter if we share positive or negative experiences, you can learn from both, but, inadvertently, you also change the way you relate to others.