“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage,” said Jack Welch, capturing the key component of successful organizations. Yet while most companies are proud to display themselves as pinnacles of learning, few actually accomplish this feat.
Every organization views themselves as a learning organization. Yet while most of these companies perform a lot of training, few offer a lot of learning.
And this is the difference between a competitive advantage and a productivity burden.
Enough with the Presentations Already
“If learners think it looks bad, you may have lost a good percentage of the battle in getting them to pay attention.” – Patti Shank
I sat through two hours of training the other day. Two hours of a seemingly never-ending slideshow presentation. Two hours of a presenter reading words straight from the slides. I guess he thought the audience didn’t know how to read.
It would be difficult to dream up a bigger waste of time.
We all complain about these presentations. Few people enjoy them. Or learn anything except not to accept these appointments again in the future.
Yet we stay committed to this method. We keep promoting lecture-based training as the way to develop knowledge. Even though most of us recognize the downsides of this path.
If we want to improve our athletic performance, we get out and practice. If we want to get in better shape, we improve our diet and exercise. No one has ever accomplished these feats without actual hands-on activities. And no one learns new skills unless they’re interested in growing in that area.
Albert Einstein once wrote, in a letter of advice to his young son, that the key to learning was to do “something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.” And in the words of Winston Churchill,
“Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or could not learn.”
So why don’t we apply this same thinking to helping people improve at their jobs?
Why Do We Do Training Anyway?
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay,” – Henry Ford
If you ask most companies for the purpose of their training programs, they’ll tell you it’s to increase technical capabilities.
And then if you ask them why that’s important, they’ll assume it’s obvious. More competent employees are more effective employees. What else is there to know?
But people don’t become excited about memorizing new facts. People become engaged when they can learn new skills that empower their decision-making.
Which is what leads to organizational growth and effectiveness – increasing our ability to delegate decision-making to employees.
As employees are empowered to make more decisions, they become more engaged in their work. And they’re more willing to take initiative. All of which leads to greater growth.
Or in the words of the great Bruce Lee wrote,
“Learning is discovering, uncovering what is there in us. When we discover, we are uncovering our own ability, our own eyes, in order to find our potential, to see what is going on, to discover how we can enlarge our lives, to find means at our disposal that will let us cope with a difficult situation.”
We just need to move from soul-sucking slideshow presentations to a practice that will actually be beneficial.
Prioritize Learning Over Training
“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator
When most people think of training, they see it as a passive activity. Others train us. We are trained.
Learning, on the other hand, is active. We learn. It’s something we do.
Consider the areas you’re most knowledgeable. They’re likely areas where you’ve developed that knowledge through practice. Things you’ve done repeatedly to the point that they became second nature.
Recent studies showed that while watching online tutorials increased people’s confidence in their ability to perform a skill, it had little impact on their actual abilities. People didn’t improve their skills until they combined the online videos with actual practice.
Training is important, but it’s only the start. Or in the words of Anton Chekhov,
“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
Make Learning an Everyday Practice
“Everything is practice.” – Pele
Have you ever heard anyone say that they don’t have time for training because they’re so busy? Or know people who try to prioritize their time from 9-11pm for self-improvement? Why are we choosing to use these scraps of time to invest in such a critical area? Why do we continue to insist on dissociating learning from our jobs – seeing it as one more responsibility to pile atop an already full plate?
What if we looked at our jobs as offering hundreds of opportunities to learn each day? Instead of an obstacle, our work then becomes an opportunity. And once you start looking for these opportunities, you’ll see them. Opportunities to improve writing, speaking, and decision-making. Chances to learn a new process, understand a new system, or how to better influence others to accomplish tasks.
Once you stop seeing your time at work as a chore, and start looking at it as an opportunity to grow, learning becomes a part of your daily life. And the process, as well as the product, becomes an opportunity for growth. As Ray Dalio wrote in Principles,
“The things are just the bait. Chasing after them forces us to evolve, and it is the evolution and not the rewards themselves that matters to us and to those around us.”
Build a Learning Organization Today
“Learning is definitely not mere imitation or the ability to accumulate and conform to fixed knowledge. Learning is a constant process of discovery and never a concluding one.” – Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee: Artist of Life
If we’re looking to lead learning organizations, relying on periodic training programs is unlikely to get us there. If we’re looking to build initiative and empowerment, lectures are unlikely to suffice.
Instead, let’s focus on where we can gain that competitive advantage. What decisions, if pushed down to employees, would make your company more effective? And what do they need to know in order to make those decisions?
Seek out those opportunities to grow every day. Understand the areas that people need to grow and make that part of their job. Let daily learning become the expectation. Because with daily learning comes daily growth. And when employees are growing, they’re committed to making a real difference.
Or at the very least, maybe we can just stop giving those boring lectures.