Updated: Mar 14, 2020

It seems like the most obvious thing in the world that in order to learn how to do something you have to do it. There are times when you have the luxury of having a mentor or being shown "the proper way" to do something, and then there are times when you are on your own to figure it out. Sometimes just going for it can lead to disaster (think Fyre Festival), sometimes not making a plan for success can lead nowhere.

After all, this can be true:

However, when you are in a learning environment (as opposed to a high-stakes business venture) it's a safe space to try and fail. When my family moved back to Central Oregon years ago I decided to take up cross-country skiing. I had done it a few times as a kid and enjoyed it then. It turns out it's not like riding a bike. I fell A LOT the first few times I went, I still fall a lot when I am on bad snow or a steeper incline than I'm used to. It's a definite case of learning what to do through learning what not to do. Since skiing is dependent on the snow - both whether or not we have it and what type of snow it is, there are natural variations in the kind of skiing I can do on any given day, my practice is always spaced since I can only make it to the mountain occasionally, and I have to embrace difficulties - or quit.

What about when learning is in a business setting and stakes are higher? As a consultant, I often start in the messy middle. The truth is I have to get started before I know what the goal is, or how to go about reaching it. I learn a lot just by spending time with a team, usually in a 1 or 2 day offsite. It's NEVER wasted time, but it's also not singularly focused. My #Linkedin profile says:

I help teams build trust, engage well in conflict, show appreciation, and give real-time feedback, all in service of building a healthy organizational culture.

That is an accurate summary of part of what I do, but I help teams acheive that in a huge variety of ways. When is it the right learning environment to just jump in and learn through the process of learning? And when is it better to have a plan and structure in place? I think it is goal, organization, and time-dependant. And sometimes, its a combination of the two (structure and just starting) that is the right fit.

So, what is a practical (albeit small) way to make learning more difficult & stickier? Don't spoon-feed and over-outline information to a team you are working with - just get started. I am about to facilitate a training on "communicating with difficult patients" - before we launch into the protocol portion of the training we will spend a few hours hearing from the team. We will give them an opportunity to share what strategies they think are best and would work. Even if they come up with silly ideas (they won't - because they are a smart, thoughtful bunch) they will have processed the solution without having "the answer". The #scienceoflearning has found that struggling with a problem makes for stronger learning. The "having a plan" portion of the title of this post refers to what comes next. For new learning to last and make a meaningful impact I will be following up with the team I am training in a variety of ways to be sure the training isn't a flash in the pan.

Additional Resources + Content:

Info about keynote speakers fees found here:

More info about why desirable difficulty is good for learning found here:

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