Get Out and Learn

March 26, 2008

in research, Scenarios & Futures, Storytelling, Strategic Foresight

Yesterday I wrote a post over at the Supernova ConversationHub. Later after speaking with Dina (we plan learning journeys) I was left with a couple of stories about learning experiences I have had while growing up, and reflections.

At school, many many years ago I remember being taken to a General Motors plant (to see cars made), a bottling plant (Coke), and a bread factory (Wonderbread YUCK). In all of these I learned something about how ‘this goes into that’ and what comes out. I also knew I didn’t want to be on the line. While at University I did a project studying different ethnic groups within a large washing machine factory. We learned a lot more about the people in this case. I also spent time in the law courts and decided that wasn’t where I’d like to spend my time.

Later I took my team (we ran a large vertically integrated chicken processing operation) to a Toyota plant. This plant was an assembly plant and they had the highest quality ratings in the world at the time. We were looking at their quality management and yet it was the people that really impressed. It was hearing their stories and watching how they worked that enabled us to go back and make changes. As a team we learned so much in one day that we repeated it and extended the idea.

One of the things I like about the web is the ease and the ability to take your own learning journey. For me it’s the same thing with a new gadget or service. Try it out. What can I learn from it. HOWEVER, this is not the same as seeing, questioning, observing actually what people do and their stories.

There is nothing quite like exposure to the unexpected. Often we need a guide. It may just be my curiosity that makes me want to embrace things that are new and at the edge. However, if you are a company I think it pays to push some learning journeys from time to time. People don’t breakout. Learning Journey is sometimes the equivalent of a forced time out.

It may seem irrelevant to send someone to another country, to send them to a conference that isn’t right on topic, or empower them to visit companies that don’t make or provide anything remotely similar to yours. Yet take a group and get them to really think about what they can learn, and how they can do what they do better and you rethink things.

That is very likely to be where your next million dollar idea comes from. In my experience almost any group can prosper by being taken into situations and environments they are not familiar with. They can see their own problems and issues through a new lens. Believe me, on the ground, with real people and living situations it’s much more powerful than the “case study”. It will help you to develop and transform.

The real key is “context”, rapid assimilation, and attitudes. Next time you are thinking of commissioning a global research project and letting others outside your organization go and look, research etc, consider what the impact would be if you went yourselves. You will almost certainly still need the researcher and the guide. Still you will be able to leverage what you learn in unexpected ways.

Maybe the real meaning of this post is… I need to get out and learn something new today… I feel that hankering coming on.

  • Jon Husband

    There have been books written about thie notion you express here (I forget the titles of the ones I have run across), and of course this is the main idea behind the “earning journey” some consultants have popularized.

    I believe you have told me that you have structured and led such learning journeys, in the past with clients, no ?

    The concept will never become jaded, I don’t think. We use phrases like “think outside the box”, all have the sense of being “re-created” when going on vacation or “playing” outside our usual structures.

    The French even have a word (one of their words for “vacation”) that speaks nicely to the concept .. “se depayser” which in literal translation means “to de-country yourself”, or in more colloquial terms “take yourself out of your usual daily context and structures”.

    Go see the world, young man .. you will neverbe the same, nor will the people, ideas and activities with which you engage.

  • Jon Husband

    “earning journey”

    Nice typo, Jon 😉 .. fits so well with the “some consultants have popularized”, no ?

    S/B “learning journey”

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