It’s a simple fact of human existence that we learn every day.
I think it can be very helpful if we make everyday learning a more conscious effort. My to-learn list has helped to keep me focused. But now that I think about it, the list has helped me mostly in terms of some of my learning activities (books I choose to read, what I choose to write about, people I seek out, conferences I attend). I also need a concerted effort to solidify and apply what I’m learning. Appreciative inquiry offers a couple of interesting principles that can guide that effort. One principle says that we move in the direction of the questions we ask. Another observes that what we anticipate changes the way we experience our lives.
So here are a few activities I’m going to try:
> Start the day with a simple question… what do I intend to learn today?
I think it might be helpful to take a look at the appointments on my calendar and the tasks on my agenda and focus for just a moment on the learning opportunities they embody. I know I sometimes cross something off the list and regret that I didn’t take that opportunity to try something new, or pay attention to a particular aspect of the process so that I could learn from it.
> End the day with another simple question… what have I learned?
In my experience, this isn’t always a simple question. I often marvel how something just worked really well, or fret that something else just missed the mark, but surfacing the rights and wrongs isn’t always easy. Asking the question is easy, though. And appreciative inquiry research has shown that asking the question does move us in the right direction. In addition, there are plenty of obvious lessons to learn in a day and making note of them will help to ensure we take those lessons forward.
> Read more intentionally.
Before starting a book (or after reading the opening chapter that tells me what the book is about), write down one to three things that I hope to learn from reading it, along with noting the situations in which I hope to apply its lessons. I also want to do a better job of making a deliberate plan to take the learning forward once I’ve finished reading. Having been subjected to fairly long ruminations on some of my reading (via this blog), you might think I do that all the time. But I read far more than what I take the time to write about. And I’m ashamed to say that sometimes writing about it is as far a it gets… I’m sometimes so intent on opening the next book (so many books, so little time), that I’m not taking enough time to savor each one. My reading certainly becomes part of my background, but I wonder what would happen if I made it more a part of my foreground as well.
> Engage with others to talk about what I’m learning.
Oh, how I miss my doctoral cohort! In that world, talking about ideas, sharing interpretations, and pushing the envelope on applying deep thinking is all part of the process. In the business world, I’m sorry to say, practicality reigns and deep thinking is done in the background before one offers suggestions or makes a case for a new approach. Business leaders tend to want to cut to the chase (the five key points or action steps that come from the thought leaders) rather than enjoy the full journey. Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of people wrestle with ideas and bring their new-found clarity to the table in the business world… but we tend to engage at the level of discussing a plan for achieving a specific goal rather than at the level of sorting out what the ideas mean and how they might be applied even before we have a concrete situation in which to apply them. I really enjoy ruminating, and I enjoy hearing others talk about their ideas and experiences, but I don’t often take (or make) the opportunity to engage in learning conversations. I need to do more of that.
I need to recommit to living my department’s motto: “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” (Abigail Adams)
Note: I’ve adapted some of these ideas from an approach offered by Jacqueline Kelm in her book, The Joy of Appreciative Living. Finding more joy in life is also a noteworthy goal, and I recommend the book if you’re in need of a more joyful outlook on life (and aren’t we all?).