Seeking Discomfort

Encouraging Learners to Try Something Different

A good friend of mine owns a successful company here in southeast Michigan, and he told me he plans to spend part of his summer learning how to use a CNC milling machine. Why? Each year he picks something new to learn — something challenging and different from what he normally does. In previous years, this self-described geek has learned about drones, 3D printing, and other topics of his choosing. Why do successful people retain their curiosity and thirst for knowledge?

It’s Okay to be Uncomfortable

It can feel uncomfortable when you learn something new. If you’re really learning, your focus is keen as new information challenges your previous understanding of how things work. You need to be open to new possibilities and the potential for it to differ from your previously held beliefs. The latest book from Adam Grant, “Think Again,” encourages us to build the intellectual and emotional muscle we need to stay curious. On this point, he says: “…our beliefs get brittle long before our bones.” As a baby boomer whose bones are on the path to this end, I must say this resonates with me.

Learner Motivation

What can we do as learning leaders in our respective organizations to encourage curiosity and avoid the trend of ‘quiet quitting’? Granted, not everyone is as self-motivated as Mark Cuban, who reportedly reads three hours a day. Some organizations have formalized learning time in various ways. In my travels, I know of some that have set a specific target number of hours for learning each month or year. Others have carved out a specific day or half-day each week for self-directed projects. There’s also the path of seeding the topic in leadership development for each leader to actively discuss learning and development expectations with their team. Visibility is another great tool to use… make sure that learning data is shared regularly and praised by key leaders to support a culture where learning is expected.

Compelling Curriculum

While setting the culture is essential, there’s no better way to encourage learning in your organization than having good, solid learning opportunities defined for people. It’s worth taking stock of what’s offered to see, from a learner’s perspective, whether or not there are relevant, impactful ways for them to engage. A robust curriculum should include topics to help them perform their immediate work better and also things to expand their career horizons.

As most organizations compete with a smaller available labor pool, it’s worth taking a fresh look at what you are offering the workforce to make sure learners are encouraged to try something different.

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