Rosalie Boulter, Paradigm Shifters Consulting Inc.
Experiential Learning – Just like kids!
When did we lose that thing that we had as kids? Remember how your parents tried to do something for you while you hopped from foot to foot, impatient until they gave it over? It was like “No, no. Let me let me do it. Let me do it.” You wanted control. You wanted to be able to figure it out – experience it! Now, we sit passively while somebody else tells us what and how they want us to be/do/act, and it can go one of two ways. We either become irritated, beaten down, annoyed, and checked out, or we start to long for somebody to just get on with it and tell us what to do because we are too busy, tired or fresh out of freshness.
Lecturing vs Experiential Learning
This is how a lot of on the job training and leadership training programs go as well. Somebody provides us with a bunch of information and instructions, telling us who we are supposed to be and how to get that way. Sure, it can be inter-active, but still….”Let me try!” It doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that it’s been known for years that figuring it out ourselves is a much better way of learning. Years and years of conditioning through school and through the workplace takes a lot of the experiential learning away.
What Does This Mean?
The older we get, the less accepting we are to get it wrong whereas kids don’t have any issue with that. They keep trying and are happy with what they achieve, because they never stopped using experiential learning. Many people, myself included, are appalled when they don’t like the quality of work they are producing, even when it isn’t their area of expertise or even something they’ve done before. They might discount it entirely and deem it not worthy and decide to never try that again. Yet, logically, how can we expect to be good at something if we’re just trying it for the first few times?
How Does this Show Up in the Organization?
One of the Leadership Development trends is to encourage leaders to bring a more coach-like way to their interactions. This approach supports a more open, find your own way and experimental environment, where experiential learning helps everyone thrive. As leaders are encouraged to help people come up with their own ideas, we are blasting open the paradigm shift to where the leader is no longer the one who has all the answers. Instead we see them as the one who has some really great questions.
Reasons We Can Struggle With This
I see people struggle on this for two reasons. One, they’ve been positively reinforced and recognized throughout their career for having the right answers. That’s what got them to the where they are – they had the right answers and they were rewarded for that from school days onwards. We are conditioned to want to provide solutions.
Secondly, and contradictorily, as leaders try this new approach and often struggle with it, at the same time they can be running into resistance from their staff. This happens when instead of eagerly embracing the fact that their managers are asking them to come up with ideas and find ways to solve the problems and encouraging them to do that to themselves, they are balking at it because they don’t feel they have the time either, and they just want somebody to tell them what to do as well. It is important to note that staff are required to shift their approach as well and mostly aren’t being advised, as they aren’t the ones who’ve been in a leadership training course telling them they should want this! (and/or how to do it…..)
It’s Hard To Change Work Culture
So we’re working against our experimental selves in a couple of different ways. This isn’t everybody in the system or in all circumstances for sure, yet more common than we’d like to admit. It takes time, effort and consistency to change the culture of right answers to one where people actually do feel like they make a difference they do feel like their opinions matter and are comfortable with a try it attitude. This entails letting people act upon their ideas and suggestions and learn from that. We learn from our successes. We learn from our mis-steps. Experiential learning allows us to do both!
Be Open To Trying
There are very few life-or-death situations where you can’t take a few moments or try a new approach.We have the time and space if we’d only slow down and breathe. There is the opportunity to try something different in order to see what happens, to see what the outcome yields. The results may surprise everybody… So let’s bring back that littlae e kid mentality of let me try let me do it let me let me let me! Let’s encourage that attitude. I sure could use having a dose of it myself, and I wonder about the relief of handing the whole tangle over to somebody else who really wants to try.
It’s Not Too Late Yet
Upon further reflection, I think we haven’t entirely lost our “Let me try”. Who out there has tried to put something complicated together without looking at the directions? Instructions as a last resort? Quite often we need to try stuff in order for the instructions to even begin to make sense. That’s when we say hello to experiential learning! So instead of accepting this when we’re putting something together from Ikea and we can blame the Allen key (personal note: hate the allen key) and lousy instructions for our ineptitude, how about we allow more of this in the workplace and make our training more experiential, applicable and relevant?
- You don’t have to hand it over entirely if you are a control freak or there could be unintended consequences. Adjust for these.
- Outline the issue/problem
- See who wants to try
- Give them any criteria, timeframe, instructions
- Ask them to come up with their ideas and a number of reasons it could work as well as the worst case scenario they can think of if it doesn’t. Ask them to get very creative about this last bit, as it could both open up other situations that need addressing. Identify what the worst could be if you say go ahead and try.
- Identifying the worst case also allows you to see how that can be mitigated. This way your idea has an even better chance.
- Let go! Try. Experiment.