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Deep Thoughts

Here’s a better way to craft any skill

I’ve always wondered why we as a society do this weird thing (imo) when it comes to helping people in our workplaces craft the skills they need to navigate their career and in many ways their life.

You see, most educational systems and their delivery methods do three things:

  1. Bore the hell out of people to the extent they’re turned off learning anything.
  2. Don’t share any lessons on how to navigate real life – when’s the last time you used pythagoras?
  3. Share too much theory that is outdated and thus obsolete to the modern world.

And, for whatever reason, many workplace learning teams decide to continue with this broken education approach within their own corporate learning model.

This is not the way!

In many ways, workplace learning teams already have an up-hill task once people enter the workforce. Most people’s experience of education has involved spending countless hours being lectured to in a 4 walled environment (also known as a classroom) and copious amounts of reading on theory. Some people love this whilst many don’t.

The challenge is already that people are programmed to think that they only learn when in a classroom or by a person who is given the title ‘Teacher’.

So, the concept of watching a 5 minute YouTube video to learn strategies on prioritising work or listening to a podcast on how to build mental resilience is of course a form of heresy to these people.

Yet, it’s not their fault. It’s the way they’ve been programmed by what they’ve experienced before. 

What if we try another way?

Ok, let me tell you a little story and share a few thoughts on how you can enable yourself and others to craft skills in a simpler way and create an environment so people can actually practice.

Two things I love to do in my personal time are throwing around kettlebells (iron cannonballs with horns – google it) and Muay Thai/Boxing.

I’ve been crafting my skills in both of these disciplines for years. Sometime with the help of in-person experiences and many times just by watching videos.

What I like about consistently crafting my skills in these disciplines is that it rolls the theory and practice into one.

Here’s an example – say I want to improve my jab in boxing. I can speak with an experienced professional to absorb the mechanics of the movement and assess my current level. I can do this via an in-person interaction or I can do this digitally through something like YouTube.

So, here I get to absorb theory on what it is I need to do and how to do it but it doesn’t stop here.

Now I’ve got the know-how, I need to apply it. 

And, I can do this by creating an immediate space of time post absorbing the knowledge to practice this movement. Now I get the opportunity to not just absorb theory but to immediately try it out for myself.

This is what’s missing in how we craft skills in the workplace – the application of doing and being able to practice this in a safe space.

I’ll be practicing my movement of the jab behind closed doors continuously, in fact, I’ve been doing just that for the last 13 years. I didn’t just absorb the theory of the technique and walk into the live environment of the ring to fight the next day.

That would be madness! Yet, it’s exactly what many workplaces ask their people to do everyday.

Most workplace learning teams provide platforms full of theory or classroom sessions where someone talks at you about what you should do. But, very few provide the safe spaces to actually practice these techniques –  this is where skill acquisition falls apart.

We expect people to attend a full day classroom course on let’s say feedback and then expect them to leave and be able to deliver feedback in the right way. Am I the only one that sees the madness here?

Sharing a bunch of theories and recommendations with someone doesn’t mean they actually know what to do.

It’s a disservice to people if they aren’t allowed the spaces to practice their new found skills. In a workplace context, deploying these types of skills in a live environment in the wrong way can be disastrous for all.

Now  you might say that we learn the most on the job by doing it day in and day out. With this I cannot disagree but we can do more to set people up for success in doing the right things and avoiding pitfalls.

What can we do?

Theory + Practice + Repeat

If you want your people to get better at any skill or behaviour, you need to embed the formula of theory + practice + repeat.

It’s as simple as that for me. 

Build experiences that allow people not only to absorb theory but to practice, to do the do and let them repeat this again and again. Create safe spaces for people to connect with others at different skill levels so they can practice and learn.

Yes some of this will happen in a live environment on the job. This is expected and will provide good lessons. Yet, you can help people do the right things sooner if they’re allowed to practice.

It’s no different to skill acquisition in different areas.

Just like my own examples of boxing and throwing kettlebells around. I don’t absorb theory and then walk out immediately to compete.

I learn, practice and repeat – over and over again. It’s not a sexy sounding process, I get that, but it’s one that leads to mastery over a lifetime.

This process is not exclusive to workplace learning either, it can be used in all walks of life.

As someone who works in the field of workplace learning, this is something I’ve seen so often. The programming we all receive from our educational system carries with us into our careers. So, of course we expect the same model and many workplace do deliver this same model to us but it doesn’t seem to quite work in the real world.

We have no exam to study for, no dissertation to write. Instead, we have real life situations to navigate, full of emotions and the need for adaptation. Being good at retaining knowledge that you don’t understand how to apply is no good in the real world.

So I invite you to think about the process of learning differently.

If you’re in workplace learning like me, how can you build an environment for people to absorb theory and practice immediately? What safe spaces can you create to allow practice?

This approach could be the game-changer in enabling people to not only craft skills but do the right things at the right time.

Even if you’re not in the field of workplace learning, this approach can work for you too. It’s probably going to be even easier as you’re in control of what you design.

Explore ways you can create your own learning moments that enable you to absorb what is useful, practice and repeat this over and over again.


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