“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way” (Aristotle).
The world is flooded with information but starving for wisdom. The big question thought leaders and educators face today is not how to increase the amount of information but how to move from information to understanding and from understanding to wisdom. Understanding, not knowledge, separates an organization that survives from one that collapses. Wisdom separates an organization that thrives from one that merely survives.
There are two basic modes of engaging in the development process. In the first, one responds to information with series of reactions. In the second, one responds to a vision with action.
Information + Reaction
The false notion that learning is a passive activity of absorbing information has so permeated our professional culture that it seems like common sense. Information is first absorbed—or learned—and then it is put into practice on the job. What often happens, however, is that information serves to confirm pre-existing, erroneous beliefs about the world and about the self. The inconvenient information is discarded, and the rest merely reinforces the existing schema. Any information that truly does penetrate often induces guilt: “I knew I shouldn’t have done that!” Information is squandered rather than absorbed and used to elevate the mindset.
From Information to Vision
Information is external. Vision is internal. To translate information into a personal vision, an employee must engage, relate and play with concepts without distractions and without pressure—mimicking, as much as possible, the mind of a child. This process is as much about taking away as it is about adding.
This goal may seem unattainable in today’s workplace. But how often does somebody say, “I got this great idea in the shower this morning!” Why? The magic of showers is the absence of distraction. Showers are one of those rare times when we are separated completely—if only for a few minutes—from our phones, computers, tablets, TVs and talkative friends. If there is magic in the thoughts that come while we shower, it is because we’ve accidentally created an ideal setting for reflection and clear thinking. The development of vision can likewise be encouraged through periods of technology-free solitude, meditation, nature walks and exercise.
From Reaction to Action
Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Whether we want to or not, we live one moment at a time. We also live one action at a time—even if that action is simply to listen or be still. Learning and development can—and must—be distilled at each moment into a single distinct action. We cannot do more than one thing at a time, and we cannot do something tomorrow, today. The learning process must be approached as an activity. The goal is to be fully engaged.
No matter how complex the topic, we can develop engaged learning through simple habits and rituals:
Draw a picture. Creating a vision board can help immensely in the learning process. Translate the new skill or process into a diagram or graphic. Make sure that there are no words on the board. Show the board to teammates and see if they can guess what you have just learned.
Free write. Free-writing for only five minutes can help employees translate what they have learned into their own words. While writing, they develop a dialogue with themselves. In a sense, they are teaching themselves.
Repeat. As any athlete or musician knows, there is no way of getting around practice and repetition. Role-play, read and write over and over until the new skill no longer seems foreign. Through repetition, employees make what they have learned their own.
Pass it on. Creating teacher-student relationships among employees not only benefits the students but also benefits the teachers, who take on the role of leaders and accountability partners. Teaching and demonstrating in a comfortable setting builds confidence and pride.