Every day’s a learning day, how does collaboration fit in?

Posted on: April 10th, 2017 by Clear Thinking Team No Comments

I’m very happy with the premise that every day can be a learning day, very happy. But does the learning happen accidentally or deliberately and what are the conditions that I put in place for myself to make sure that every day truly is a learning day? And where does collaboration fit in?

I feel the need to start by being clear what I mean by learning.

There’s intellectual learning; the cerebral, academic and scholarly stuff. I see and hear the images and words. I make connections between them and what I already know. I assimilate the information, making sense of it so that at some point I can draw from it and apply it when I need it.

And there’s insightful learning; the perceptive, the intuitive, the flash of inspiration that seem to come from nowhere. This is the space in between the images and the words. This doesn’t require my determined attention. In fact this requires the exact opposite.

It’s like listening to music, it washes over me, I slosh about in it, and then suddenly…

…something new and fresh occurs to me, and I can’t pin it on anything that is cerebral, or academic or scholarly.

And then there’s a dictionary definition…..

“The acquisition of knowledge or skills through, study, experience or being taught.”

“Experience” is the word I’ve naturally latched onto here. An encounter. A happening. An incident. I can learn so much through my moment to moment experience; that’s what makes every day a learning day for me.

Having wrestled with learning and defined it in a way that makes sense for me, I can add another dimension by introducing more people to the equation. If collaboration is to be part of learning every day, I’ve noticed at least five conditions that I create to make this work for me.

Number One. I have to be properly present.

I have to put my attention on the moment itself and the people I’m with. If my attention is elsewhere then the experience is diluted and the relationships with my fellow collaborationists is weakened. This is a tricky balancing act because I know I’m going to spend some time ‘in my own head’,  cogitating about the experience. Then I have to nimbly and swiftly shift the focus of my attention to the other people so I can listen to them, encourage them, and learn from them!

Number Two. We don’t learn from our experiences, we learn by reflecting on our experiences.

John Dewey said that. It was one of the first things I discovered as an aspiring coach, many moons ago. What I know now is that reflection is a deliberate act that can be supercharged by getting others involved in the reflection process. Other people ask me better questions than I ask myself, they can be curious on my behalf and help me wring all the learning out of the encounter, the happening or the incident. Reflecting this way helps me to spot the opportunities for learning that I might otherwise have missed.

Number Three. Learning with others lets me calibrate.

It brings new, sometimes healthier perspectives on situations. Our experience of life is unique. Moment to moment we are simultaneously perceiving and creating our experience of life. And it’s incredibly valuable to have someone else stomp around in that experience with me and share their unique perspective on it.

It’s like going to the cinema, and as a family of four I know that each of us will have a very different experience of the same film. The inevitable ‘debrief’ that happens after the film reveals all manner of differences and discrepancies that illustrates how each of us put our attention on something different and create an individual experience of the film.

Number Four. Working out loud makes my thoughts look and sound different.

It’s similar to point 3 but different in as much as when we say what we’re thinking, out loud, it gives it different properties somehow. No longer is it a mush of scrambled words and pictures in my head, it’s now a coherent sentence that is open to the scrutiny of others. It seems different out loud than it does in my own head, and I can learn from the reaction I get from my fellow collaborationists, and the thoughts and insights it stimulates in them.

Number Five. Talking about our experiences strengthens our connection to other people.

I start to notice the commonality between my experiences and the next person, and feel solidarity. I can find inspiration in the differences too, and widen my perspective. There was a time when I thought that I needed to surround myself with a very specific set of people to do this.

Now I know that all I have to do is inherently value the skills, knowledge and experience of the other people in the room, whoever they are. I trust that they have wisdom to share, no matter who they are, what their life is like. My focus is more on teasing the wisdom out of them, rather than assuming they know nothing. Not being put off by the fact that they know something I don’t know, in fact, being excited and curious to discover exactly what it is that they know and I don’t! That requires me to be a little bit vulnerable, to let go of my need to be right and dial down my ego.

Summing it up for me looks like this……

A blog post by Bev Holden


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