In this competitive business world, what really gives one organization an advantage over the other? According to Arie de Geus, a business theorist, it is the ability of individuals to learn faster than their competitors. It involves three practices:

  • Overcoming the bias against doing new things
  • Scanning the horizon for growth opportunities
  • Acquiring a wide range of skills/ capabilities

Building on this understanding, Erika Anderson, author of Growing Great Employees, Being Strategic, has identified three powerful qualities that we can use to develop the above learning advantage.

  1. Aspiration. This is the desire to achieve, to gain, to grow. The key to learning is to know how to raise our aspiration levels.

    To explore if you have the learning edge, think of a time when something new was introduced in your organization. A software, a team restructuring exercise or a revamped business identity. What was your response? Were you excited? Or did you think the old ways were better? Often, when confronted with new learning, our tendency is to focus on the negative.

    The learning edge lies in focusing on the positive – what we’ll gain – and envisioning a successful future. Researchers have found that shifting our focus from challenges to benefits, is a good way to increase our aspiration. Particularly when we need to perform initially confusing or unappealing tasks.

  1. Self-awareness. This is all about managing our self-talk. What do we believe about ourselves? How do we talk to ourselves when we receive constructive feedback? When it comes to learning, our assessments of ourselves – what we know and don’t know – can be inaccurate.

    In a study conducted by Cornell psychologist David Dunning, 94% of college professors reported that they were doing “above average work.” However, almost half were wrong. Their skewed perception diminished any appetite for development. Only 6% of respondents saw themselves as having a lot to learn about being an effective teacher.

    How do you fix this? Accept that your perspective is often biased, and seek greater objectivity. This allows you to be much more open to hearing and acting on others’ opinions. Question your self-talk by asking, ‘Is this true?’. You might find new answers.

  1. Learning includes making mistakes and correcting them. The truth is: many of us are uncomfortable with mistakes. There is fear of appearing incapable. However, researcher Albert Bandura found that when people are encouraged to expect mistakes and learn from them early in the process of acquiring new skills, the result is “heightened interest, persistence, and better performance.” The vulnerability which comes with being open, aware and willing, is called the beginner state of mind.

As much as learning is an individual process, organizations have the responsibility to facilitate a learning environment. It is a combination of an organization’s learning culture and an employee’s willingness to learn, that creates a business advantage. Stay tuned to know more about facilitating organizational learning.

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