Are you prepared today for the challenges and responsibilities you will face one year from now? (Maybe.) Two years? (Probably not.) Five? (Certainly not.) It is very unlikely you, today, have the knowledge and skills you will need to solve those future problems and lead others to solve the problems you face together. So how do you get from point “A” (your current level of skill mastery) to point “B” (your future level of skill mastery)? This is a question (actually a whole raft of questions) I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and unless you’ve “arrived,” you should be considering that, too. (No. You have not arrived. Neither have I.)
What is your approach to developing new skills? Once you’ve assessed your current inventory and level of skills and determined where it should be, what do you do?
Usually, we start by adding knowledge. This is a good beginning. We have to know something before we can do something. We must have information to consider, organize, and use to assess situations and experiences. Depending on the complexity of the task we may or may not be able to put that knowledge to work in a meaningful fashion. Some simple procedures can be learned quickly. Others required documented support and practice to master, which brings us to another element in developing mastery of skills…
In addition to knowledge, we often throw in a healthy dose of practice and experience to make sure that knowledge is transferred into meaningful action. Some practice takes place in a “lab” setting. This practice does not usually transfer well to the real world. Other practice does happen in the real world resulting in better skill transfer.
So far so good. Right? Take a liberal dose of information, mix with ample quantities of practice, and the result is mastery of new skills. Well … maybe, maybe not.
Have you noticed that the knowledge plus experience formula doesn’t seem to be enough? Seriously, look at the billions of dollars invested every year in the knowledge/experience training strategy. (Yes, billions when you consider formal education, corporate education, coaches, online classes, books, seminars, Webinars, etc., etc., etc.) Most of these programs deliver tremendous amounts of knowledge and some level of experience. Yes, they do produce some results, but most educators and trainers will tell you that only a minority of their students really have mastery when they finish the program.
Personally, I would peg that minority at about 10%. That’s not acceptable.
For both personal and professional reasons, over the past year, I’ve been looking into this issue of how people learn, grow, develop mastery of skills, and experience true transformation. The good news is that what we’ve learned about how the brain works in the past couple decades has opened up a new understanding of these topics.
However, looking into this issue of developing mastery of skills has also taught me that there are far more questions than there are answers. I would love to be able to take a learning problem (e.g. How do I develop more personal discipline in task management? How can I help my team collaborate more effectively? How do I help my direct reports develop better self-awareness?) and push it through a process to come out with a foolproof learning and development strategy. That’s not gonna’ happen. That shouldn’t be surprising, though. We’re discussing learning and growth, not carburetor repair.
While I am criticizing the over-simplified knowledge/experience training strategy, and I am also admitting we have more questions than answers today, that does not mean we know nothing that is helpful. On the contrary. The field of “learning science” has uncovered many lessons in the past several years. I’ll be sharing some of those in coming weeks.
For now, though, I want to challenge you to consider the issue of moving beyond the knowledge/experience training strategy. Let’s accept that dumping knowledge into people’s heads and giving them practice at using that knowledge does not really produce transformation. This does not effectively prepare people for future challenges.
What, then, do we need to do differently? Is it how we provide that knowledge? Or, the context of knowledge transfer? The experience of exploring the knowledge? Is it the types of experience? The timing or place of the experiences? …
Or is it something else altogether? Something about the learner? Something about the instructor? Or still something else?
As I said, we have lots of questions. I want to hear from you, though. Think back on your own experiences of transformational change. What made the difference for you and what does that teach us about how to help others grow?
I look forward to continued dialogue on this topic!
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo by Valley Library (Oregon State University). Available at Flickr.com.