Thursday, April 30, 2009

The pinnacle of learning

I am passionate about leadership; consequently, I am passionate about learning. The best true leaders are life-long learners. With humility, they admit that there are limits to what they currently know and understand, so they are always open to new ideas and insights.

For me, learning is the development of experience, insights, knowledge, and understanding that eventually leads to a change in behavior. Unless and until we do something different, we just have not learned. I know some would take issue with this view, but I like it.

I think a lot of folks confuse the concepts of information, knowledge, and understanding. We often use these terms interchangeably when talking about learning, but they are very different and the differences are important.

Understanding is the pinnacle of learning. We are overwhelmed with information, develop some knowledge, but honestly truly understand relatively few things. We can quote list after list of "whats" and "how-to-dos", but the why remains elusive.

I think most folks want to know how things work. They are obsessed with how to get their employees to do things differently, and often by copying how other “excellent” companies deal with the issue they are interested in. But how is the wrong question.

If all we ever do is copy what others do, then the best we can ever hope to achieve is competitive parity. We will always be playing catch-up with the real leaders in our industry or field.

The right question is why? When we understand why things work the way they do and why our employees do the things they do at work, then and only then do we have the opportunity to create a unique future for ourselves and our employees. Then our competitors will be left looking at us asking “how are they doing that?”

Purse the “whys” at your work like a dog on a bone. Leverage that learning, and create the unique future you want and your employees deserve instead of copying someone else’s present reality.

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