If we already know how to do something, it appears that there’s nothing to learn. We are already expert, and in most organisations an Expert is a great thing to be. But if we want people to learn, then those people have to accept that there are things they don’t yet know.
That’s relatively easy when it’s abstract - ‘oh yes, there’s always more to learn’ - but a lot trickier if what they don’t yet know is important stuff that would make them better at their job. That’s because it’s tantamount to admitting that they are not at the top of their game. And that is tough to do in a competitive arena where weakness is frowned upon or turned to your disadvantage.
If you want people to be curious, then ‘not-knowing’ has to be OK. How can that be encouraged in an instant-answer-now and an expertise-valued environment?
One answer is to promote coaching as a way of developing talent. It’s fine for the top sports stars and teams, so it should be welcome in most organisations. Valuing coaching means you are saying that it is OK to do such things as ask for help and to take time to reflect. It leads on to appreciating the value of experiments, releasing your organisation from the pressure for everything to succeed instantly. New growth follows further adaptation based on feedback. That’s a large part of a learning culture.
Along with the coaching, the leaders of an organisation need to support the value of learning in their communications, institutionalise it in their systems and demonstrate it themselves.
And finally there must be ways in which individual learning grows into organisational learning. Individual learning can be guided by individual passion, by what people care about. Organisations are different. They are interested in better standards, shared sets of understandings and skills, that scale up from the perhaps more disparate range of individual interests and discoveries.
Organisational learning happens when individual learning gets shared at a collective level, through mechanisms such as new practices – like coaching - getting adopted, recognised, reflected upon and institutionalised.