Remember your toughest classes? They weren’t always fun, but you sure learned the most. Life’s that way. You have to work hard in the gym to get in shape. You have to work hard outside of your normal day to become expert in an area.
I mention this because we often forget it. People in companies get cool titles and have big teams with budgets, so they start thinking they know more than they do. Meanwhile, the world is changing. Eventually, what we think is outdated….maybe even wrong. All because we weren’t going to the mental gym or empowering our teams to do the same.
In business, there are no easy A’s. And when you are learning a new discipline, like social media, that will transform how we do business internally and externally, it’s critical to your success to learn how to learn again.
Not surprisingly, few companies have true learning cultures. Here are a few ways companies inadvertently diminish learning power.
#1 – Formal Committees – when’s the last time you learned something valuable in a committee? It’s a great place to form norms, but not a place where people feel free to admit what they don’t know and explore new ideas. Don’t defend them. You know you check your emails and daydream….
#2 – The Antibodies – you all know I think antibodies are the biggest drawback for companies. These folks are so nice and articulate, but they want to hang on to yesterday’s model because it worked. They want to play it safe. They are not as intellectually curious as they often think they are. They enforce the current norm and rarely look at how to reinvent an approach.
#3 – Closed Learning Systems – we’ll just teach ourselves inside the company, right? We don’t have time for training. We’re busy doing what worked yesterday, remember? This is a closed learning system. It’s often one where folks don’t have access to the web at work….or where there is no real commitment to training….and learning.
Ok, enough of that. We can all remember examples of how companies don’t learn well. Here are seven ways to unlock the learning of yourself and your team.
#1 – Fill Your Mind with Insights – take a minute to identify those folks who are sharing their key learning’s and build your own reading list. Follow 5-10 bloggers who regularly explore new ideas, often in different ways. For example, I like to listen to Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang, but will then check out Joi Ito or Techmeme. If you read the NYT or WSJ every day, ask yourself which blogs you read everyday.
#2 – Make it Easy to Access Real-Time Updates – utilize technology, such as widgets and netvibes.com, to bring competitive insights right to your laptop, in real-time. Make it so you simply turn on your computer and the real-time info is there for you to see. Make it as easy as it can be.
#3 – Set Up and Unleash an Innovation Team – enable a team in your company to explore the future….everyday…and listen to them. Make it multi-function. Celebrate its existence. With a decent batting average, you’ll start innovating more than you ever have. Don’t overcomplicate it with rules and procedures and governance policies. That’s the old school in you. Let your hair down and let the ideas percolate.
#4 – Experts are Your Friends – ask people you think are expert to speak with your company on a regular basis. Make sure they know it is ok and expected that they are critical, not reassuring. Do it regularly. Challenge them.
#5 – Go Outside Your Comfort Zone to Learn – take one language you don’t speak and try to track what is going on. For example, follow China Daily and see how your company or brand is being discussed…..or how it is not. Wake yourself up to the fact that more than one language or country exists. Struggle. Figure it out. Do it again.
#6 – Seek out Best Practices – I happen to be affiliated with the Social Media Business Council, which shares best practices every day among nearly 70 of the world’s top brands. Doesn’t get much better than this. Best practices are not the ones inside your company. That’s a subset. Get the real thing and compare and contrast.
#7 – Participate and Share Your Own Views – the ultimate way to learn is to participate and share your own views. It helps you figure out if you are really learning or simply just “talking”. Present, blog, speak inside your company. Find what works for you and let your thoughts be known.
And have fun. If you do this, in a year or two, you will realize you are so far ahead of your peers, it’s not even funny. They also know they need to get to the mental gym on a regular basis…….but only a handful of folks are disciplined enough to really make it happen. Be one of them. We need your insights and your voice.
All the best, Bob