April 12, 2006

News & Opinion: Prepared Mind World Tour #6 -- Learning

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 1:19 PM – Filed under: Leadership & Strategy

Remember the old song recorded by such diverse performers as the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbinson and Nazareth entitled "Love Hurts"? I bet each of us has experienced multiple instances when loving has, as the lyrics go, felt like a flame, has caused a lot of pain and even made us blue. Yet we keep going back for more! What's up with that?!
My hunch is that learning -- deep, serious learning -- is pretty much the same phenomenon. Yes, "Learning hurts." Why? None of us likes to have to change our minds and our hearts and set our actions on a different course, especially when we are surviving in our current mode. But that is what deep learning requires internal transformation resulting in external transformational behaviors. The fact that learning hurts is why, for instance, organizational and personal change are so hard change tells us we have to give up thinking, feeling, believing, doing something that was our reality. Is it any wonder that most companies and individuals tend to wait until there is some crisis or forced change to do deep learning rather than taking on the task of learning and changing and creating a new reality when the old one seemed to be "good enough?" After all, it got us to where we are now.
Prepared Mind leaders are not sadists seeking pain. However, they believe that the energy, sacrifice and pain invested in learning today will pay off in a broadened horizon, an extended life cycle, and new opportunities tomorrow. Like athletes that train and stretch and push themselves to and beyond a pain threshold that would make most of us throw in the towel, Prepared Mind leaders train and push themselves to engage in continuous learning so they can go the extra mile when the deepest kind of learning is required. Research I have done with turnaround companies reveals that, in each case, the top leaders were regarded as learners by those who worked for them. They modeled learning more things and learning different things and got their workforce to engage in deeper learning as well. What does this learning look like?
We have seen a myriad of continuous learning strategies practiced by individuals and companies that include: teaching a course, rotating positions, reading, professional organizations, formal courses. However, the area of deep learning that I see coming to the forefront across research and industry is the challenge of learning to be interdisciplinary. This requires not only knowing your own specialty deeply but learning, working with and applying theories, models and tools from other disciplines to complex problems that a single minded expertise alone cannot solve or even understand. For instance, we see biologists working with economists in drug discovery, supply chain experts working with sales for customer collaboration, marketers working with educators to do a more robust job of internalizing brands. The list continues to grow. These interdisciplinary undertakings will not only require a building up of new knowledge bases but also a challenge to identity for those who are known for their specialties. It will require learning new languages or new meanings for old words. It will require even learning new philosophies. This requires deep learning and this learning will not be easy. Will we be prepared to open up new areas of our minds to look at and solve important problems with more robust lenses?
[If you missed the first five Prepared Mind stops, here they are: Observing, Reasoning, Imagining, Challenging and Deciding]