February 22, 2018

Separating learning and evaluating

Mid sized audienceLearning something isn’t the same as accepting it, necessarily. We don’t have to commit to agreeing with something before, or even as, we learn it. And often we can’t evaluate some new piece of knowledge or a new skill properly until we have thoroughly understood it—tried it out even.

Sometimes we can only learn by doing. Some knowledge can only be gained through experience.

It’s a good idea, therefore, to defer judgement until the learning has taken place—until we have the whole picture.

Being sceptical every step along the way isn’t an effective learning strategy because it slows down the process.

It’s wise—and quicker—to be open-minded. And to experiment.

The value of validation

TeamOf course, it’s good to make up our own mind about whether something we’re doing is right or not. Nevertheless, a bit of external validation is still very welcome.

We can seek it out ourselves, for our own needs.

But what about other people—those we have reason to assist in their learning?

If we’re supporting someone develop new leadership behaviours, for example, and they seem to be making some progress in that some of their people are stepping up and taking on appropriate leadership responsibilities as well, it can be extraordinarily reinforcing to prompt other people seeing these positive developments to say so.

In a workshop setting, one answer is simply to invite other participants to comment. Out in the field, a little more deliberate action is needed—perhaps asking them to take the trouble to have a word.

From our perspective then, as the orchestrator of all this, perhaps as a facilitator, or maybe just a friend…

Worth thinking about how to prompt people who could say something helpful.

Don’t leave it to chance.

Do you fight your influences?

Group in discussion at a computerThat might seem a strange question, but think about it: Do you resist the learning which comes from your influences?

Actually, I think, most of us do.

Because influence means change, and change means discomfort for our ego, we tend to push back on ideas that contribute to our learning, particularly the more profound ones.

In fact…

The more powerful (and important and valuable) the influence, the more likely we are to resist it, at least at first.

Patience, therefore, is something we usually require in the people who influence us.

But perhaps we can learn to be more open. Perhaps we can learn to notice when we are resisting an influence. Perhaps we don’t need to fight it.

How about you? How open are you to the people who influence you?

Changing what you know

Woman reflecting… as opposed to what you know about.

It’s one thing to know about something, quite another to know a subject and be able to deploy it in life. Unless you can do (or be) something, you don’t know it, not really. There’s a world of a difference between knowing your purpose and knowing about purpose, for example.

This comes up with books—a great change resource if used properly…

Sometimes people ask me to post a summary of a book I’ve read for them to access, as if that’ll achieve the same effect. And sometimes, I’m offered summaries by other people.

It would be handy if you could radically cut the time invested and still get the same result, and change by just as much.

You can’t…

You can know about something from a summary, but you can’t truly know it.

The best books take you on a journey of learning. You’re changed by the process of reading from cover to cover. Your unconscious mind accepts new patterns. As a result, you live what you’ve learned, and achieve the corresponding results.

Changing what you know about isn’t the same as changing what you know.

A summary most likely won’t change what you know. Skip the reading and you skip the change.

What do you know about and what do you really know? And how do you tell the difference?

(I think a clue is one’s a head thing and the other’s a whole body experience.)

So where are they in their learning?

Group of professional peopleIt’s a funny thing…

Socially, it seems to be expected that we behave as if everyone knows what they need to know; that they are not learning anything further; that they are complete.

And yet…

We’re learning all the time: How to deal with new situations, new challenges, and new resources.

So where on their journey of learning is the person you’re dealing with?

Worth setting your expectations, picking your words, and choosing your actions accordingly, rather than by reference to where you’re at.

…at least if you hope for progress, that is.

Your innovation – A small step or a big leap?

Person on a rocky mountain with a large dropOccasionally you learn something truly new and advance the field in some way. It feels like a tiny step to you—one you hardly think worthy of the name.

And yet…

For the rest of us, getting to that new layer you’ve added on top on an existing body of knowledge is a real jump.


Because we need to catch up with the ground-work before we can get to the innovative step.

Be patient with us please, and help us find a way up. Show us where to place our feet.

What if they were doing their best?

Three people in a meetingWhat would your response be then?

We often feel other people have let us down in some way, or maybe they’ve let others down, or even themselves. We feel they could have done better.

Maybe they could.

Or maybe, actually, they couldn’t…

Maybe, in fact, they were doing the best they could at the time. Or at least, we’ll make more progress if we assume they were doing their best despite how it might seem.

The thing is…

We really don’t know what else is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know what else they’re having to take into consideration.

The NLP discipline has this as an expectation—in fact, it’s stronger than that—a requirement that practitioners act as if “people make the best decisions available to them at the time”.

Over the years, partly through my own mistakes of course, I’ve learned just how much mileage there is in this principle—just how different things are when it’s recognized.

We’ll get a better outcome if we cut other people (and ourselves) a little slack and accept they were doing their best. Sure, we might well seek to shape things for the future, but that’s different. Also, we might need to decide whether “their best” is acceptable relative to commitments that have been made e.g. to an employer. Again, that’s different.

People truly are doing the best they can at the time. It’s a characteristic of living systems. Putting it another way, given everything they had to consider including their own and others’ interests, they didn’t know how to do any better, because if they did, they would have done it. They need something they don’t yet have. Perhaps we can help them learn whatever it is they need to learn for the future.

Try a little forgiveness in the present. There’s more chance of influencing the future than the past, and more still if we accept people are doing their best at the time. And that goes for you too. When we apply the principle to ourselves, more often than not the world around us gains when we stop beating ourselves up about past mistakes.

I’ve decided to make available the notes (6 pages) from a talk on leadership I gave recently. These include specific insights into how to get organisations to learn and change and increase their performance. You can get a copy here…


Too comfortable?

Executives listening to a presentationTo what extent should leaders expect to feel uncomfortable—a little of the time, a lot of the time, or somewhere in the middle?

Sometimes people in leadership positions comment that such and such made them uncomfortable. Something they experienced didn’t fit with their unconsciously held map of the world. They know this because they had an emotional reaction to what happened—their “stomach turned” so to speak, even if only a little.

But here’s the thing…

As leaders, should we welcome such experiences as broadening our map of the world? Do they show us we might have missed something or have something new to learn?

If we’re venturing into the unknown—and surely as leaders, that’s our job at least some of the time—then a bit of discomfort is to be expected, even welcomed as a sign we’re making progress. Going first is often uncomfortable.

Comfort might be a sign of danger rather than a sign of safety.

How uncomfortable is comfortable for you (or, how comfortable is uncomfortable)?

A simple story of ego

Leisure centreThe lady behind the reception desk said “I’m sorry, but the pool closes at six o’clock on a Monday”

She must have made a mistake…

“Are you sure? The website says it’s open.”

She confirms the pool is definitely closed.

I’m for blaming something, so I say…

“I think the website must be wrong.”

The receptionist astutely says she doesn’t know anything about the website, avoiding meeting me on that field. I recognise reality (but not responsibility) and leave.

Of course, I’ve just got it wrong. The website is perfectly correct.

Such are the consequences of ego—in this case, mine. A little example highlighting a problem we all face—learning blocked by ego—our own and other people’s.

Where’s yours letting you down? And what changes when you reign it in a little?

The head or the heart, where do you start?

Three people in a meeting, two shaking handsProgress on anything challenging typically needs a balance of head and heart perspectives; some emotional intelligence alongside the logic and rationale of the numbers and the processes. Neither on their own will be sufficient.

But where to start? Where to meet the other people involved?

With the head stuff, or the heart stuff?

With professional and business people brought up to “use their heads,” it often seems to make sense to meet them in that left-brain place that is so familiar, and then lead them to an emotional perspective once a level of trust is established.

With other individuals, less conditioned to be “professional”, beginning right from the heart might well work better. Or maybe that’s better in every case.

Does it depend on the context? The same individual in different circumstances might respond differently.

Perhaps the key is to connect with the person, one way or another, starting where they’re most comfortable, and then lead them to the other.

What do you think? Where do you begin—in your head or in your heart? It makes a difference.