Describe your most significant or memorable learning experience. What special moments stand out from your formal schooling and on-the-job training?
Was it a warm spring day when your high school history teacher revealed the pivotal importance of the year 1066? Congratulations, your passion for the Norman invasion of England puts you in rarefied company.
Or maybe your geometry teacher blew your mind with Pythagoras’ theorem? Your life since has been guided by the simple majesty of the equation a2 + b2 = c2.
More likely you thought of a conversation with a teacher or peer who challenged and pushed you not to accept the simple answer or the status quo. Or perhaps it was a quiet moment lost in a book or listening to music when you stumbled upon a key that unlocked a whole new world to you.
I’d be willing to bet you didn’t think of a training session over coffee and bagels in a windowless corporate conference room or the relentless click-throughs of an e-learning module.
Real learning, whether in a kindergarten classroom or corporate conference room, is much more than the accumulation of facts, skills and competencies. Powerful learning experiences are transformative. We leave them changed forever for the better.
So why, when it comes to corporate learning, do we consistently settle for less? Don’t get me wrong. Skills and competencies are important. Just as educated students should know their history and geometry, your junior financial analysts should be able to work the formulas in an Excel spreadsheet, and your salespeople need in-depth market knowledge to be successful.
Knowledge matters, and so does intelligence. But the ability to not just survive but thrive comes from a mix of less quantifiable qualities like determination, persistence, curiosity, self awareness and optimism. The keys to success lie in our ability to make the most of difficult circumstances, understand our behaviors and moods and persist in the face of failure and disappointment.
In corporate learning, we make some attempt at teaching the soft skills of leadership and developing so-called emotional intelligence, but more often than not it’s an academic exercise. Our learners know the terms and can repeat the concepts, but they don’t practice them on the job.
This wouldn’t be so bad if our educational system was equipping future workers with these important character qualities. But according to one former Ivy League professor, our best schools are failing miserably.
In his book, “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,” Columbia University alumnus and former Yale professor William Deresiewicz makes the case that even the nation’s best and most well-funded universities are turning out a legion of high achievers with poor life skills.
Instead of critical thinkers, they are glorified order-takers. Instead of developing nimble creative minds, theirs are weighed down with information. That’s a problem in a volatile economy where change is endemic and agility and adaptability are crucial. Success depends on qualities of character as much as expertise, determination as much as intelligence.
It’s with that note of change and determination that I write this first column for Chief Learning Officer. While I’ve been behind the scenes for several years, I’m now taking over after the death of Norm Kamikow, our former editor-in-chief and president of this magazine’s parent company, MediaTec Publishing.
The success of this magazine is a testament to his intelligence as well as his character. Norm and his longtime business partner, John Taggart, saw the emergence of the role of CLO for what it was: a transformative moment in corporate learning and development. His determination to barrel through obstacles and perseverance in the face of setbacks serves as an inspiration. So did his curiosity and eagerness to explore the future of learning.
So there you have my answer to the opening question. Some of my most memorable learning experiences have been from working with Norm on this magazine. Now that he’s gone, it’s my hope that I can turn to you. I hope we can learn from one another and together continue the transformative role of learning for our people and organizations.