tiistai 13. marraskuuta 2012

The power of negative learning

Rarely the announced goal of seminar day is to know less in the evening than in the beginning of that learning session. I believe many of us would be surprised if the keynote speaker would start a day by listing items which we will  find much more difficult  to grasp or act on, after the session has ended. Someone might ask that what on earth is this program all about, is the goal here to become wiser or dumber?

Certainly our sincere goal is to move from unknown to known, from unclarity to clarity, from incapability to capability. But what is the road that leads to knowledge? It may not be as straight or smooth journey from unknown to known than what seems to be the typical assumption. It may be bumpy road indeed.  In fact, when we are talking about real learning, some and often several bumps are guaranteed.

Hence it may be perfectly possible that at the evening of an excellent seminar day you know less than in the morning of that day. Similarly, it may make perfect sense that after the intensive meeting in your organization you know less than when people came together, or it is also very plausible that while working with some vitally important project in your organization you start to see how you know less and less. Sometimes the hope of smooth journey evaporates when ideas, dreams and plans are put into action.

These all are symptoms of negative learning*. The key idea in negative learning is that things may prove to be much more difficult than what we have ever thought or encountered. Hence it may happen that we are not moving from unknown to known but we start to see how world is even much more complex that what we have ever imagined. Also unclarity may not render itself into clarity but different and even conflicting views  just seem to remain and may even grow stronger. And it may happen that we are forced to see how high are the hurdles for us to overcome before we can proceed from our present capability to our hoped capability.

The key message here is that whenever we are talking, thinking and planning about real learning we must always remember that there are two sides in this equation. There is that positive side of learning to knowing more,  the world of increasing clarity and the life with new valuable capabilities. At the same time there is often the more complex side of everything, the side where we may even feel that we are moving backward, or we seem to loose the existing clarity or we have to admit that there is really a lot more to do before new capabilities are in our beneficial use.

 At the same time there is something positive in negative learning. The symptoms of negative learning seem to relate to real action and to real effort to become better. Symptoms of negative learning are avoidable if we stay in the thinking, planning, dreaming phase. However revolving in those phases seldom create real learning.

Real learning means a setting where the possibilities and challenges of the world are encountered. Real learning creates a basis for a change, something can be done better in this world. The better action is based on deeper understanding and clearer view of the elements which are elementary in any given situation. Real learning is the thing that real MBA program is all about.

Safe and most rewarding journey!


*I am thankful to professor Tapio Aittola for the concept of negative learning. At the same time this blog is my interpretation what that concept could mean in organizational life.