I know we’ve said it, but it is hard to talk about change in any sense without noting that we are facing a new paradigm of change: the paradigm of constant change, where each change generates new change. The competence of adapting to change has become paramount, not only for people, but also for organizations.
While we don’t know what is going to happen in the future, we do know that something is going to happen. And, I’d be willing to bet, it will be faster than we imagined.
So now, the question becomes, how can we adapt quickly and effectively to change? And the answer starts with you. Before changing a system, start with yourself. And once you adapt, lead by example and help others.
Learning as a Condition for Enabling Change
It doesn’t matter how I say it (feel free to pick your favorite):
- There is no real change without learning.
- Change implies learning.
- Learning comes from change.
- We learn when we change.
- Change forces us to learn.
The fact remains, change and learning always occur together. Think about the last significant change you experienced… what did you learn? Now think about something that you recently learned, how have you changed from that lesson?
You have probably noticed that learning doesn’t happen spontaneously and that it is not linear. For real learning to happen, there are certain conditions that must be met.
Conditions for Powerful Learning
Before I get into the conditions to learning, I want to point out what I would consider a “pre-condition” to learning. You must be aware that you are lacking knowledge, skills, and/or competence. Consider these 4 levels to learning.
Now that you are aware you need to learn something, it is important to define what learning actually is… learning is the process by which a person acquires skills to repeat and achieve an action effectively in the future. In this lies a very important clue to the first condition of learning: learning is a process. In order to get through that process, we must spend time on it. We need time to learn; we need to give ourselves time and actually use it.
Another condition for learning to take place is repetition. For learning to ‘stick’, we must repeat an action. How often we should repeat it depends on the depth of material, the skill required, etc. However, just repeating a lesson doesn’t guarantee true learning and long-term retention. For example, have you ever done something a lot, and then not done it for a while, and when you want to do it again, you couldn’t remember how you did it before?
Fun fact: This is actually a real thing with a formal term “synaptic pruning”. When our brains haven’t used a neural pathway in a while, it is assumed that the pathway is no longer useful, so it “prunes” it out to make room for other, more frequently used pathways.
Which is why learning also requires recurrence. Learning events must occur for us to be able to apply the new knowledge before it is “pruned”, assuming we want to use it effectively in the future.
Hence, effectiveness is another condition. We must be able to execute the actions correctly, otherwise we will just be learning how to do something wrong.
Finally, learning requires autonomy. We must be able to carry out a actions “alone”, without needing someone by our side or instructions on how to do it.
Example of Learning and Change
To illustrate with an example, last summer I decided that I wanted to learn to play volleyball. I’m not sure where I got the urge to do this since I have never liked volleyball; I suppose that living in a coastal city (Barcelona) for a few years has had an influence. The point is that I spent practically every weekend last summer at the beach sunbathing, drinking tea, and playing volleyball. To learn how to play, I had to first dedicate time to it: not only playing time, but also training time. A single weekend wasn’t enough for me to “learn”. I needed recurrence; I had to dedicate several weekends to training and playing, which allowed me to improve each time.
To learn how to serve, for example, I had to ask a friend to teach me and then practice and repeat. I can assure you that I repeated the serve A LOT before I managed to be effective in serving the ball. That is, until I managed to consistently get the ball over the net and land within the boundaries of the court. (I have also learned the rules 😉.) However, I became even more effective when I managed to serve the ball without my friend giving me direction on how to stand and where to place my hands. In other words, I become a successful volleyball server when I achieved autonomy.
Adapting to change might seem simple (especially in the context of playing volleyball), but it is not easy (no matter the context). This is because change and learning go hand in hand, and as human beings, we have certain obstacles to overcome if learning is going to be achievable.
Barriers to Learning
The inability to declare ignorance. “I don’t know.” Admitting your lack of knowledge or skill is the first step in making learning possible.
The inability to recognize blind spots. “I know everything.” Sometimes we think we know everything simply because we don’t know what we don’t know.
The impossibility of learning given who I am. “I’m not smart enough,” “This is too complex for me,” and “I can’t do that.” These are all examples of limiting beliefs we have about ourselves that prevent us from taking on the challenge of learning.
The need to learn quickly. “Sure, I’ll learn, but I need to learn quickly because I don’t have time.” As I mentioned earlier, learning is a process; it takes time. Time is scarce, but in the context of constant change, dedicating time to learning should be a priority.
Confusing “being informed” with “knowing how to do something.” “I took a leadership course, so I can lead.” This is the belief that by having information about something, we know how to do it.
Not giving authority to be taught. “I’ll learn, but I’ll do it my way.” We put up a barrier when we don’t grant authority and trust to the person who is instructing and guiding us through the learning process. This often happens when we think that the other person is not “up to snuff”.
And these are just a few! I could go on listing learning barriers, because there are so many more.
Are you ready to change?
The first critical thing to understand if you truly want to learn is your personal learning process. Make sure you consider all the conditions that are necessary to achieve true and powerful learning.
Also, think about the barriers you might put up when learning and how they are limiting you in being prepared to adapt to change. From there, think about what we have to change to learn and what we have to learn to be able to change. Then, you can continue a rewarding circle of learning and change.
I invite you to get started on your personal learning journey by downloading our Learning Toolkit. This Toolkit includes an assessment of your readiness and recommendations on how to move forward with your learning (and change).
I hope this helps bring some awareness to the power of learning for making change happen. Take learning a step further and Lay the Groundwork for Organizational Learning! Thank you,