Learning to learn; it’s a journey

Learning to learn: The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. This was once said by Arie de Geus in a 1997 Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Living Company.”

Fast changing world

We all seem to agree that constant and faster change characterises our today’s world. Therefore, the crucial life-sustaining competency is learning how to win at learning. Hence, many organisations would like to be learning organisations. But how to develop a thriving learning culture?

We wrote about this before in our article “The things you see in a high-impact learning organisation.” We summarised it in four E’s: Education, Experience, Environment and Exposure.

There are five drivers to these four E’s of learning to learn:

  1. Define what to learn
  2. Learning is a journey that never ends
  3. Questions are more important than answers
  4. Learn from – smart – mistakes
  5. Think about the important, do not focus on the urgent

1. Define what to learn

Learning and intellectual resources need to be guided towards the right goals. This can be done in different ways. The Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever focuses on understanding customers. Because their research shows that customer centricity, not operational efficiency, is a firm’s main source of competitive advantage.

Richard Branson prefers to focus on his co-workers when learning to learn. Because if you treat your co-workers well, they will treat the customer well, is his conviction.

Lifelong learning

2. Learning is a journey that never ends

Learning is often treated as a seasonal occupation that is brushed aside for operational matters. But change continues, so no organisation can afford to stop learning. Instilling learning as a habit starts with the individual. Today, we micro-learn all the time from various sources. But these insights are soon lost in the routine of everyday life. Only spaced learning, with a pattern of regular repetition, helps us not to forget what we’ve learned and apply it.

3. Questions are more important than answers

What can bring an organisation down is the questions it failed to ask. An example is General Motors, whose market share and profitability declined year after year. While they obsessed over their cost disadvantages versus Toyota, they lost touch with their customers. A decline in their customer satisfaction was the root cause of the decline. But they did not ask the questions to explore this.

A leader today should act as the Chief Learning Officer. He should set the example in asking good questions to drive organisational learning. These questions should invite exploration and dialogue. Also, learning leaders should show an honest interest in the answers. Organisations should be aware of the “gotcha” kind of questions. These are designed to expose ignorance or incompetence, shut down discussion, and produce fear and evasiveness, not learning.

Learning mistakes

4. Learn from – smart – mistakes

Smart mistakes exist. Dumb mistakes as well. Dumb mistakes are repeating your own or others’ mistakes, betting more than the organisation can afford to lose, and acting without a strong-enough case. These are unacceptable.
Smart mistakes are mistakes of which the value of the learning is greater than the cost of the mistake.

This approach shifts the culture from blaming to learning, and forces the organisation to define, measure, and act on what has been learned. This is the way science advances. Scientific experimentation produces progress based on the strict premise that if we bury or deny a failure, we cannot learn from it.

5. Think about the important, do not focus on the urgent

In the words of futurist Paul Saffo, “Our dilemma is the growing gap between the volume of information and our ability to make sense of it.” Our problems accumulate at a rapid pace. How can we make creative decisions in such an intense environment? When we have been hammering away at a problem, the secret is to not go on hammering; it is to withdraw and change our mental state. Having said that, there is no substitute for hard work, but a breakthrough tends to come when a different set of stimuli opens your mind.

Learning to learn in practice


DuoTrainin has been designed with these drivers in mind. DuoTrainin is question-based and quickly identifies what you don’t know. Each question answered contributes to your study profile. So in essence, also your wrong answers have value as they also determine your personalised content. You start learning early in the process, instead of getting confirmation of what you already knew.
The seamless experience across devices make it easy to blend DuoTrainin with your daily routine, for any period of time. Because it blends with any daily routine, it will follow you in your daily routine, even when you change it. It is a fun and social way of learning that is slightly addictive.

Why not try DuoTrainin now for free?

See also:
The reality of learning today: minutes per week

Adapted from source

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