Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Fri 27 Jul

Welcome to the latest in a series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programme, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Following the Innovation Day in July, Jeanne Meinholt, Head of Research at KnowledgeBrief (KB), interviewed Andy Wilkins (AW) from Cass Business School to discuss the importance of continuous learning.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address that your research tackles?

AW: The key business challenge is ensuring everyone has the survival skills for the new normal.

We all need to stay in balance between on the one hand the amount of change going on and our capabilities to cope, survive and thrive on the other. Sometimes, this balance has been referred to as being in the ‘flow’ or in the ‘zone’. Having our capabilities being in balance with the amount of change going on is a healthy place to be.

But many people and organisations seem to be dropping out of this balance – either because of the rate of change outside themselves and/or their organisation or because of the lack of development and growth in themselves and/or their organisation. The signs are frustration and increasing well-being issues that exist on the one hand and inertia to taking advantage of all the change and opportunities for many on the other hand.

One of the remedies is to up the ante on individuals and organisations capabilities to learn.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

AW: Reflect and think about the balance in yourself and your organisation between the amount of time, focus and energy that goes on the discipline and execution of efficiency and delivery in contrast to the time, focus and energy that goes on the discipline and execution of learning and growth in contrast.

Take a look in the mirror and really ask how good are you and your organisation at learning?

Get this balance on your agenda in your organisation and think through where your learning capabilities are now and where maybe they need to be for you personally and for everyone in your organisation (unless, of course, there is no change going on in your market in which case you do not need to bother). 

Ultimately Performance can be summarised as your potential minus your inhibitors: P = p – i. So, ask yourself, is one of your inhibitors that you have maybe let learning go a little?

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

AW: The people and organisations that survive and thrive in the long term are those that learn faster than the competition. In many global surveys, learning to learn is one of the top 3-5 capabilities. The others are typically, creativity, problem solving, collaboration/teamship, and real leadership (in stark contrast to management which is seen by many as by its use by date for the world that management was invented for).

But like innovation, learning competes for headspace and other resources. The management emphasis being on efficiency and getting things done.

Indeed, many executives believe that relentless execution, the efficient, timely, consistent production and delivery of goods or services, is the sure path to customer satisfaction and results. Managers who let up on execution even briefly, the assumption goes, do so at their peril. But flawless execution will not guarantee enduring success in the new-collar knowledge economy. Change and new knowledge in most fields makes it easy to fall behind.

Our research identifies a different approach to maintain balance that enables success over the long haul. A focus on getting things done, and done right, crowds out the experimentation, reflection and learning that is vital to sustainable success.

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

AW: The feedback from the executives showed that there is plenty of interest in this area of learning to learn and huge potential for growth.

Learning to learn has to start with individuals and getting into an effective frame of mind that we shared – the 3 Ps of positive, present, process - was mentioned many times in the feedback.

Also mentioned many times in the feedback were the wide range of processes that are available – some of which were shared briefly - such as the awesome power of critical friends and reflecting with single and double loop learning, the innovation and learning cycle, the learning to learn equation, and conversations that enable learning.

Ancora Imparo – yet I still learn – is one of the two core capabilities of Homo Sapiens and we still have a lot to learn.

With thanks to Andy Wilkins, Senior Honorary Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School.

Part of a series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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