I saw this tweet a few days ago and it sparked my curiosity. My thoughts began to wonder about my own ability to learn. I’m in a new role at a brand new organization and there is an overwhelming amount of information to learn and put into action quickly! Each day I learn a ton, but also realize how much more there is to know. At times it feels like I’m moving as fast as I can, but am still falling behind. What is my ability to learn? How can I improve it? Is there an internet quiz I can take for this? 🤓
I love learning, I’m open to trying new things, but what is my actual ability to learn? Like most people my perception is that I’m above average, but don’t we all think we are a little above average? My mom used to read and listen to the Prairie Home Companion stories from Garrison Keillor and he always said this:
Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
— Garrison Keillor
How would we measure ability to learn? Should we? Is it an innate skill or something that can be taught? Can the ability to learn be learned? How can we look for this in individuals seeking leadership positions? What research is there about one’s ability to learn? So many new questions…
For almost a decade I’ve been learning as much as I can about leadership and working to develop school leaders. Ideas abound on this topic and there are unlimited books and resources available. The hard part is actually building better leaders. With the amount of information out there on leadership, we should all be experts! I agree with Dan’s tweet that your ability to learn represents your leadership potential, so how can I apply that in my work?
Investigating this notion I found this article, “Improve Your Ability to Learn” from HBR in 2015. The researchers found 4 qualities of learning agile individuals and one derailer. Here is the section from the article that describes them:
- Innovating: This involves questioning the status quo and challenging long-held assumptions with the goal of discovering new and unique ways of doing things. Innovating requires new experiences, which provide perspective and a bigger knowledge base. Learning-agile individuals generate new ideas through their ability to view issues from multiple angles.
- Performing: Learning from experience occurs most often when overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. But in order to learn from such challenges, the individual must remain present and engaged, handle the stress brought on by ambiguity and adapt quickly in order to perform. This requires observation and listening skills, and the ability to process data quickly. Learning-agile people pick up new skills quickly and perform them better than less agile colleagues.
- Reflecting: Having new experiences does not guarantee that you will learn from them. Learning-agile people look for feedback and eagerly process information to better understand their own assumptions and behavior. As a result they are insightful about themselves, others and problems. In fact, in prior studies, Green Peak Partners discovered that strong self-awareness was the single highest predictor of success across C-suite roles.
- Risking: Learning-agile people are pioneers – they venture into unknown territory and put themselves “out there” to try new things. They take “progressive risk” – not thrill-seeking, but risk that leads to opportunity. They volunteer for jobs and roles where success is not guaranteed, where failure is a possibility. They stretch themselves outside their comfort zones in a continuous cycle of learning and confidence-building that ultimately leads to success.
The learning-agility “derailer” is:
- Defending: Being open to experience is fundamental to learning. Individuals who remain closed or defensive when challenged or given critical feedback tend to be low in learning agility. By contrast, high learning-agile individuals seek feedback, process it and adapt based on their newfound understanding of themselves, situations and problems.
In school we measure student learning of content, but with how quickly the world is changing, we must teach our students to be adept learners. What if we measured learning skills instead of content? What would that look like? What kinds of activities would we see in the classroom?
Clearly this idea sparked way more questions than answers for me, but I’m inspired to dig deeper. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and how to increase learning abilities for yourself and others.
Never stop learning!