Monday, March 30, 2015

Over 20 years of experience. Really?

When you work 20 years in an office, you don't have 20 years experience. You have 1 year of experience, repeated 20 times” 

Having recently updated my Linked-In profile, and approaching a scary age* birthday, I had to smile at Cultural Innovator Sami Ismail’s challenge at TEDx Roma recently.

Indeed, are we just doing the same thing over and over, or are we intentional and rigorous about learning from our experiences?

Unfortunately many companies do not have a real learning culture.  Most of us are expected to learn on the job and progress with minimal training, irregular performance reviews and the occasional 1:1 with our boss.

One of the most effective, simple and useful tools to maximise our learning, in my view, is from the Kolb (1984) experiential learning cycle. It forms the foundation of how we deliver programmes for our clients.  It works because it is at the core of how adults learn. The cycle is a continuous one of 4 phases:  
· Having the concrete experience e.g.: doing the job, undertaking the action

· Reflecting on what happened, what when well, what could have gone better etc

· Conceptualising/Theorising to understand what are the lessons learnt

· Applying the learning

We often have a phase we feel more at home in.  You may recognise your preferred learning style, from these Honey and Mumford (1982) descriptions:

·  Activist: doing and experiencing

·  Reflector: observing and reflecting

·  Theorist:  understanding underlying reasons, concepts, relationships

·  Pragmatist:  problem solving, testing

We are most effective when we are skilled in all 4 styles and engage all 4 phases of the learning cycle as appropriate.

A recent development in this field is Yeganeh and Kolb’s (2012) recognition of how mindfulness can enrich our learning in this process.

They recognised that we can over-routinize our learning styles, which means we can get stuck in particular ways of acting, reflecting, conceptualising and experimenting.  Mindfulness which is about being aware and attentive can help us be more intentional and expansive.  Drawing on their suggestions to break free from our routines and liberate our minds, we can as: 

·  Activists:  remind ourselves to come back to our breath;  focus on a new touch, sound, sight, smell so our mind re-sets and switches off autopilot

·  Reflectors  practice sitting with our thoughts and feelings rather than acting on them; practice acceptance rather than judgement

·  Theorists: challenge our assumptions;  consider other peoples’ perspectives; embrace shades of grey rather than black and white thinking

·  Pragmatists: practice novel questioning – shift the conversation by asking questions and generating possibilities; experiment with people and events in ways that we don’t normally do.

The more mindful we are about learning from our own experiences, the richer our transformation and that of our organisation.  And at the end, we are responsible for our own development.

An inspirational learner, my friend Alison Mowbray is committed to asking herself daily...”What can I do today better than I did yesterday?” 

It is a good question to ask, at any age.


“Scary age” any self respecting Sex and the City fan will know what I mean (from Season 4, episode 12 “ Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)

Honey, P & Mumford, A, (1982). The Manual of Learning Styles. Maidenhead, UK, Peter Honey Publications

Kolb, D. (1984), Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Ismail, S. (2015),“The problem with experience for entrepreneurs” presentation to TEDx Roma, Rome, 21 March 2015

Mowbray, A. (2013), Gold Medal Flapjack Silver Medal Life: the autobiography of an unlikely Olympian, Matador (UK). 

Yeganeh, B. & Kolb, D. (2009), “Mindfulness and Experiential Learning, OD Practitioner, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp.13-18

Image: own

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