Enlightenment isn’t about knowledge you learn, it’s about knowledge you turn into.~Deepak Chopra

In my opinion, learning is one of the indispensable bedrocks of our craft. I layer many concepts, tools, and techniques on top of this core element, but fostering learning—my own and my clients’—is at the heart of what I do.

Recently, though, I realized that I haven’t been paying enough attention to what I’ve “learned from learning.” This prompted me to go back and reexamine a variety of learning models that I’ve used over the years and ask myself to what extent I apply, by design and with forethought, the concepts or tenets from these frameworks. I didn’t merely ask, “Have the models influenced my thinking or impacted my actions?” but “Am I intentional and mindful about their application?” My answers varied from model to model—sometimes it was encouraging, but mostly it was sobering. After years of application, many of the models had seeped into my unconscious…they were definitely reflected in my work, but not because of any specific overt intention on my part.

You might say, “Don’t most professional change facilitators rely to some extent on their ‘unconscious competence?” Yes, we all implant certain concepts and models deep into our thought processes and gradually lose awareness of when, how, or to what extent we incorporate them into our actions and recommendations. There are many positive implications that result from this, yet, as we all know, any asset overdone can become a liability. Learning frameworks, used without conscious intent, can result in sloppy application, for example.

Any learning is a good thing, but we get more value when we are mindful about leveraging our knowledge. I’m not suggesting we stop drawing on our unconscious competence, but I think we should pause occasionally to remind ourselves of what has become more intuitive, rather than deliberate, in our practice.

This blog series is about some of the learning models I’ve become more attentive to after inventorying all the ones that influence my work (at least those I can remember). Because the full list of concepts and frameworks I’ve used and found valuable in the last 36 years is beyond the scope of this blog, some paring down was necessary. At first, I was tempted to address only the “big ones”—learning models that most likely all of us have benefited from (ones developed by the likes of BF Skinner, Abraham Maslow, Howard Gardner, Chris Argyris, Gregory Bateson, Peter Senge, etc.). I decided against this, however, because, although I can honor these pioneers by listing them, I have little new light to shed on their remarkable insights. Instead, I decided to focus on three less-familiar models that surfaced for me as I observed highly successful clients and consultants.

I encourage you to think about the learning-related concepts, approaches, and frameworks that have stood out in your work. Also, please consider sharing what you find with colleagues so they can benefit from knowing what you have learned about learning.

Model One: Learning Harvest Predisposition

Attitude really matters when it comes to learning. I’ve observed three learning outcomes among people who face dramatic change. Each reflects a different set of attitudes and emotions about the cost/benefit from transformational experience.

Recovery: Cost-Benefit Analysis = Negative
  Attitude = “This change was horrible to live through with little to no positive implications to show from it. If I could retract it I would, but I know it’s irreversible.”
  Emotions = Resigned, often bitter; blames others
Gain: Cost-Benefit Analysis = Worthwhile
  Attitude = “I gained a lot from the change, but it was terribly expensive. I’m glad it’s over, and I’m pleased at the outcome, but if I had a choice, I would not do this again.”
  Emotions = Gratified but often full of cynicism, anger, and resentment
Growth: Cost-Benefit Analysis = Positive
  Attitude = “Even though the price was more than I ever thought I would have to pay, I would never return to the way things were, and I would do it all again if I had the same choices.”
  Emotions = Grateful, optimistic, and forgiving

Model One- Learning Harvest Predisposition

Illustration by Luc Galoppin*
  • Recovery: The person involved sees the resources necessary to adapt to the new circumstances are inordinately high when compared with the value received from the ordeal. The individual would gladly undo the change if possible, because, from his or her standpoint, little payoff occurred in relation to the cost of the adaptation process. The person accepts the change as irreversible, but sees only a slim chance of succeeding well enough in the new environment to compensate for the difficulties experienced during the migration. For this reason, people in these kinds of situations often carry a great deal of bitterness, and they tend to blame others for what caused the change, what happened during the transition, and/or what transpires as a result of the shift.
  • Gain: The person involved believes the change was too expensive for the results received. However, with this kind of learning harvest, there is more of a return for the transition investment than with a recovery outcome. The physical, emotional, and intellectual energy it took to recalibrate was costly, but from the person’s standpoint, what resulted created enough value that it made the effort at least worthwhile. Although the individual reports a positive yield from the experience, the trouble and hardship he or she withstood left such an impression, that if there were now a choice to re-enter the same change situation, the individual would decline it.

People in these circumstances consider themselves fortunate to have profited from the discomfort and aggravation suffered, but overall wish the experience had never happened. They would still prefer for things to have stayed the way they were before the change. Because of this, even though people in these situations have achieved more because of the change than they otherwise would have, they often hold on to a great deal of cynicism, anger, and resentment long after the transition is complete.

  • Growth: This individual pays no less of a price for his or her change outcome than individuals who have “recovered” or “gained” from theirs, but this person believes the investment was more than worth the trouble and pain that was experienced. The cost-benefit ratio is viewed in an extremely positive light, and he or she would never wish to return to the pre-existing state before the change. Even though a very high price was paid for the rewards received, this person believes whatever was required to accomplish the transition was worth the investment. The physical, emotional, and intellectual invoice may have been much greater than this person ever thought possible before entering the transition process, but if offered the chance to do it all again, he or she would. Even knowing beforehand what the full price would be, he or she would not hesitate to pursue this change again.

People who grow from change typically carry little, if any, negative baggage from their difficult and costly ordeal. If injustices were done to them along the way, they forgive and/or move on with the rest of their lives. If they made mistakes, they don’t indulge in a lot of guilt or self-incrimination, because they believe they were making the best decision they could at the time. People who grow from their trials and tribulations tend to be more grateful than resentful about the price they paid to achieve what they ultimately accomplish. They often report that everything they have experienced in their life, both good and bad, was necessary for them to be prepared to achieve and embrace the rewards they eventually enjoyed.

This model has helped me recognize a person’s learning harvest predisposition as well as how to encourage him or her into a growth mindset instead of gain or recovery. Of course, some gain and recovery predispositions are too strong to overcome, but even in these instances, I have found it helpful to understand how people relate to their shifting circumstances when determining change-related  interventions.

Next: The Learning Paradox

* More about Luc here.