My guess is that learning is not at the heart of your agenda; although you are almost certainly doing more of it then you are aware of.

Leaning conjures up images of institutionalised schools, learning by rote, important but intrinsically meaningless exams to be passed, time wasted.  Hardly inspiring.

Learning is not something that is much talked about in our day-to-day business lives, it is not ‘the thing’, not cool, not sexy.

Learning is something we hand over to the HR department.

Or we call it ‘change’ in the hope that this will make it more strategic, more acceptable

How did that come about?

There are many issues here but three are key: ‘Fordism’, The Myth of the Gifted’ and Self doubt

In manufacturing Henry Ford created a breakthrough with the production line.  That philosophy has continued and grown to embrace Total Quality Management, Business Process Re-engineering and Six Sigma technologies.  All of which have made a contribution and have a place.  But the principles, appropriate to inanimate things, have been brought to bear on human beings.  Our education systems, our performance systems our talent management systems are built on a model of prescription, measurement and compliance.  Take the word ‘competencies’ for instance.  Who would want to be merely competent when greatness or self-expression is possible?

To quote Sir Ken Robinson, one of the leading educationalists “ Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we have strip-mined the earth: for a particular commodity.  And for the future it won’t service”

Then there is the ‘Myth of the Gifted’.  We have held a notion for some time that says that some people are intrinsically talented, genetically different to and better than the rest of us.

What would change if you found out that there was no such person, no one who was ‘gifted’, no one intrinsically better than you.  How would that change you view of learning?

The most recent evidence firmly points to new idea – genes do not dictate individual destiny.  We can influence what we become.  Studies of the apparently gifted reveal one consistent fact: they have put in ten thousand hours of practice over a period of ten years.  There’s caveat here; this does not mean that anyone can achieve anything – your genes, and many other factors, do play a part.

The truth about child prodigies is not that it was in the genes but that they were immersed in their discipline from a very early age.  Mozart was born into an environment where his father was a musician and teacher who had developed a unique instruction system, his older sister was being taught the piano while he was staggering around in nappies.  As soon as he could reach the piano stool he was learning and then trained by his father.  No prodigy here, merely 10,000 hours over ten years.

The implication for all of us, mere mortals that we are, is that we have more than enough potential to learn and to achieve most of our desires in life and work.  The only question is our willingness to pursue them.

The third point is about self-doubt.  A prevalent response to Fordism is compliance.  When you combine compliance with humility the toxic result is self-doubt.  Nothing interferes with our potential more than self-doubt:  It buries creativity, erodes confidence and undermines motivation.

In some professions, the performing arts and sports in particular, learning is at the heart of the agenda.  New routines are developed and added to the repertoire; new skills are developed to ensure that one stays ahead of the competition.  Federer has developed his game in the last couple of years, more power on the backhand and new skills added such as the drop shot.  He is not the same player who first came to prominence in 1998.  He has developed, he has learned.  Through this he has maintained a position at the top of the game – he is unfortunate that his two rivals have learned even more, more quickly.

Aristotle Onassis, one of the best business negotiators of all time, and his team practised meetings.

You might like to think about the core of your career as a craft and yourself as a craftsman.  In your craft what is it specifically that you are, or could be great at?  How might you develop that? Again, in your craft where’s the weakness?  What might you learn?

For those interested in coaching let me add this: the result of Coaching is Performance; the process is Learning.

For those who are managers and leaders of others: bring back learning – and as coaching is part of a manager’s role you can do that without changing anything – and two things will happen: performance will increase and enjoyment will increase.

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