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Learning from mistakes

"The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." - John Powell The articles so far were talking about experiences that posed a change, challenge, a positive stroke.  B ut the truth is we all learn not just by what went right but also by what went wrong. If we meet someone who has not committed any mistake, then he is a liar or he is a lifeless stone that is lying on the curb doing nothing. When we try and do something is when we commit mistakes. First of all, I want to differentiate among mistakes, errors and mishaps.   All of these 'harm' a person directly or indirectly. Learning is about analysing what led to the harm and how to minimize it. In physical sciences, error is due to limitations of the measuring instrument, or   computational accuracy, something that can not be avoided in the given circumstances. You can only try to minimize it.   The tennis player gets a fraction of second to decide how he wants to return the ball. Based on the si
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Learning from boss

Ever since childhood, we want imitate the elders we adore. It could be a parent, teacher or sibling. That imitation provides an opportunity to learn. As we enter work life, we encounter seniors who are closely associated with our work. While imitating them, we develop technical skills as well as skills about how to interact with people, how to report progress, and how to get work done in the organizational context. There maybe significant mentors/coaches/influencers, but the ‘boss’ has a distinct role to play. Here when I mean boss, it may be boss or 'super boss' i.e. someone further up in the hierarchy. During my research, I observed that a significant number of leaders quoted events where the boss initiated or influenced the development of the leader. And in the case of SME leaders, it was observed that SME owners miss out this channel of learning as they don’t have such a boss. In this research, I also observed the role of external seniors such as a 'consultant' or &

Learning through movement

In the last article I pondered over challenging experiences that tickle learning. The research 'Lessons of Experience' [1] highlighted 'relocation' or movement as one experience that often-triggered learning. As a child I remember learning a small verse in Marathi which translates as, “If you travel to a new country, if you become friends with the learned or if you move around in intellectual gatherings, you become witty". Movement is natural to us. Birds and animals migrate. Some communities migrate seasonally to cope with harsh situations, like the shepherds of Maharashtra migrating towards the Sahayadris  at the onset of summer. (We used to often cross such herds while commuting a few years back. But I have not seen one in the recent past). That movement is to cope with the harsh external environment. But the advantage of movement is felt even otherwise. Almost every community, every religion has the concept of “pilgrimage”. I have personally met people who wal

Challenging experiences

In the study “How Indian Leaders Learn” [1] where I had an opportunity to participate and explore, quite a few leaders shared events that were of the nature of 'going through a challenging assignment'. In the study, leaders talked about various assignments where they learnt important lessons that helped them grow as a business leader. Typical examples of such assignments were a 'change of role' i.e. being nominated at a leadership position for the first time, a 'fix it' situation – getting into a seriously troublesome situation and bringing it back to order,  an 'assignment which had many adverse conditions', 'green field' assignments i.e. assignments where you are starting from scratch. Naturally, the lessons learnt would be different based on the situation, but some themes are common. So in this article I am exploring these themes, my impressions about the themes and what could block learning in such cases. One pertinent thing that I observe

Learning experiences

In the articles so far, I discussed the learning process. Taking it forward in the coming set of articles, let me share some thoughts on specific situations that could provide opportunities to learn. The backdrop to this is a research project that I was involved in Tata Management Training Center – ‘Lessons of Experience’ , the data that I gathered about competency development of SME leaders as part of my PhD research, and also the information that I capture while interacting with participants who attend my workshops. The idea behind the upcoming articles is to explore the opportunities of learning, and the process of learning in these situations.  This set of articles will include learning through challenging assignments, learning through movement, the boss as a facilitator, learning through mistakes, triggering self-realization, learning through structured interventions, learning Business leadership, learning from family, learning about relationships, and more. But before I plun

Why people don’t learn through experimentation?

  Welcome to the next article in the series ‘Why don’t people learn?’ We have reached the fourth step in the learning cycle. We may learn a theory from books, or we may have formed a theory based on experience. Now, we need to consider using it in real-life situations. If I have formed a theory about traffic signals, such as the one mentioned in my last article, how can I use it? I can consider changing my route, or the speed, or the travel time, or the vehicle. I can consider utilizing the time that I spend at a red light to do some useful work (such as catching up on the news!). Actually, implementing any such decision will start a new learning cycle of experience, observation, generalization etc. I have dealt with these three steps in my earlier articles. This leaves us to wonder why people don’t experiment and why they don’t learn from it. Application of any theory requires the presence of a problem, knowing the theory, applying the theory in a different situation and then actual

Why can’t people analyze and generalize?

Welcome back! So far, in this series of articles, I pondered over people going through experience and observing. But if you observe a lot of data, it is not necessarily going to lead to learning. In actuality, it depends on what do you want to do with that data, with that knowledge. When we see a pattern in the data, we can generalize and form our theory. On my way to work, I observe that the days on which I get stopped at the first traffic signal, I often get stopped at most of the following traffic signals. So, I arrive at various conclusions: most probably, the signals are badly synchronized, or this route has too many short lanes and it is not possible to catch the next green signal, and so on. All of us have some ability to discover such trends and analyze the data to arrive at conclusions. This can be called as ‘Cognitive Ability’. Although natural cognitive ability will differ from person to person, most of us have adequate ability to survive normal work-life demands. Even the