Saturday, March 11, 2006

Continuing Case Study: Take a Good Look

Summary: For Those With No Time For Previous Posts

I held a workshop where students were asked to describe the body language of those listening to their pitches.

Instead of reporting observations about the things they saw, they drew conclusions about their meaning. After years of working in familiar work environments, participants navigated by assumption about what they saw in front of them.

Rather than considering what was possible in the moment they gave their pitch, they narrowed the options to what had happened before.

What Does This Mean for Innovation?

Taken to a logical conclusion, the implications are rather dangerous.

1. As discussed, at best assumptions about outcome will prevent new results. At worst, they lead to misunderstandings that can sink a deal.

2. Without an awareness of the reasons that one thinks as one does, how can anyone take responsibility for his or her strongest convictions? More to the point, how can one know why one acts as one does when operating in automatic pilot?

Smaller Issues First

Clearly, the latter point of the two is more complex than the first. For the sake of keeping this post brief, let's stick to the smallest sort of scenario and build outward in later discussions.

So -- how do we solve this problem of assuming we know the answer when faced with business situations that seem familiar?

The First Step: Stay Awake

Innovation depends on noticing what's happening now. If you want to expand your sphere of commercial influence, learn to identify meaning in unfamiliar situations. The first step is to identify the conventions in every new context -- and sometimes across contexts. Watch closely and listen until you have enough information.

Second Know the Differences: Training vs. Learning

To a certain extent, the results represent the difference between training and learning. After Step 1, make sure that no matter how much of the former you provide employees; make sure you're also encouraging the latter.

Don't Knock Training

On the one hand, the value of training is not to be underestimated. It offers skills to address particular, circumscribed challenges in short order.

Training usually takes place in a classroom -- outside the context in which the skills will be used. Therefore, it can be quickly completed than learning because many variables are excluded from the mix. The curriculum is isolated from any complications not connected to the skills in question. With this limited scope, training need only happen once to be effective, or over a short period. Training can then be revisited only for advanced or updated direction.

Above all, training runs employees through drills for a limited series of processes and emphasizes an answer. It saves time if you are presented repeatedly with exactly the same data in only one or two contexts.

How Learning Differs

Learning, on the other hand, is a long-term investment. The process demands that one thinks about questions in terms of their broadest as well as their shortest-term implications. Learning requires that students pay attention to the relationships among issues outside the classroom and those discussed inside.

What Else?

Learning requires conversation and feedback over time, as new variables appear, and each insight should raise more questions about other issues that are clearly connected - - or could be.

In other words, this process emphasizes strategies for independent learning, the ability to identify meaning, and with this meaning, to make new connections. The idea is to generate the habit of doing this without a teacher, across contexts, and among new variables.

More on these issues – and how they mesh with other disciplines for effective thinking -- in the next post.

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