Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. — William Pollard
The survival of most businesses comes down to innovation and connection with customers. Most companies hire smart people and then expect them to bring the results they desire.
How do we encourage innovative thinking?
Chris Argyris, author of “Teaching Smart People to Learn,” points out that smart people are the problem. Smart people don’t learn. They deflect accountability and blame. Smart people haven’t failed. They haven’t had the opportunity to experience the reflection and introspection that comes with failure. So how do smart people change? Through a culture of learning.
The challenge is that smart people keep everything around them in a stable state that agrees with their world view. They have built a belief system that doesn’t allow for new ideas. They’re smart, they have gone to the best schools, and they know business better than anyone – that’s the problem. Smart people need to consider new ideas and get feedback from their intended audiences. They need to start with a beginners mindset.
Over a 10 year period we tested for the ability to learn in environments from college classrooms to corporations. We tested the effectiveness of learning in a traditional setting compared to learning in small groups.
During the test, we observed a person’s ability to take in new information and apply new skills. Did the order of the presentation make a difference? Did it matter if there was a time frame? What were the factors that contributed to learning success?
The instructors used many techniques including standard lecture and testing, accelerated teaching methods, and problem based training.
The accelerated methods included short learning sprints focussed on identifying problems, prototyping and testing. The sprints lasted between 5 minutes and 15 minutes.
Our participants started with a connecting phase, where learners expressed what they knew about the training topic and what they wanted to learn. They also connected with each other to ensure a comfortable environment for learning.
We then shared the material and concepts, so learners received information in multiple ways, through hearing, seeing, discussing, writing, participating, and teaching the material to others.
The learners actively practiced the new skills.
They summarized what they had learned, evaluated the course, and celebrated their new skills. Finally, the learners made action plans for how they will use their new skills in the future.
We found that when learners were actively engaged in problem solving they better retained and applied their new skills. In a group environment, learners were more receptive to ideas that challenged their existing beliefs and more open to change when they felt like they were contributing to a greater whole.
When the training environment was flipped and they were asked to solve a problem without an instructor providing the method, they found their own ways to come up with the best possible solutions. We found that diverse groups were more likely to come up with the most interesting possible solutions.
After many rounds of testing, we found that inclusion was crucial to establishing the right environment for creating lasting ideas, change, and innovation.
We recommend that individuals start to identify how they might be contributing to the problem. How might they be stopping the flow of new ideas? Smart people are uncomfortable when their ideas are challenged. We need to create an environment where ideas can be passed around, added to, subtracted from, and improved upon based on group think and evidence inspired research. We need to be inclusive in the formation of our teams. We need to provide the right tools to allow learning to happen.
Companies need to start supporting the things that people want to learn, even if it is unrelated to their goals as a business. We found that once people started to problem solve together, they were addicted. This culture of learning translates to a better work environment where workers can apply their new skills to your business and customer problems.