Conscious Performance - Path to Improvement  

On the Learning Circuit’s blog there’s a great discussion around the role of the learning professionals and the learning organization on a topic similar to work literacy. It asks:

  • Should workplace learning professionals be leading the charge around these new work literacies?
  • Shouldn’t they be starting with themselves and helping to develop it throughout the organizations?
  • And then shouldn’t the learning organization become a driver for the organization?
  • And like in the world of libraries don’t we need to market ourselves in this capacity?

The response posts and the subsequent discussions have been very interesting and recently there’s been discussion very much along the lines of Developing Work Literacies: Who’s the Target Audience? and Changing Knowledge Worker Attitudes. The question being raised in a comment by Ken Allan is one that I think hits on an important issue relative to willingness to adopt:

Learn new things or learn in new ways? In the 90’s we were told to work smart not hard. Back then we had to work in new ways to cope. Now we have to work hard AND work smart in order to cope. When it comes to learning in new ways I wonder what the aim is.

Are you saying that by learning new ways to learn you make learning easier or more relevant? Or is it just that learning is more important than what you learn?

Educators the world over tell that learning happens easiest when the means to it is invisible. One of the major barriers to learning, anything, is when you have to learn the means in order to learn the beans. Aren’t we just contributing to the technowhelm by buying in to all of this?

If you look at the two quotes from the Work Literacy Launch:

“The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st Century is to increase the productivity of the knowledge worker.” - Drucker

“Being adaptable in a flat world, knowing how to ‘learn how to learn,’ will be one of the most important assets any worker can have, because job churn will come faster, because innovation will happen faster.“ - Friedman

I subscribe to Friedman’s assertion that learning how to learn better/faster is the KEY differentiator for individuals in the 21st century. If you look at what knowledge workers do, it’s hard to distinguish work from learning (or maybe it’s learning is a by product of most knowledge work) but either way - if you want to achieve results - you need to be able to learn.

In order to do this, we have to get over the hurdle that for most of us our core knowledge work skills and learning skills we are unconscious. Think about search - do you consciously think about the type of search you are doing - or do you just go into Google and type and then start to ramble through results. Most people aren’t aware of different types of search. Another example is the simple act of note taking. Most knowledge workers know to take notes and know roughly when they will take notes. It’s often a split second and unconscious decision to bring the laptop/notepad to take notes heading into a meeting. Neither is conscious - and likely they’ve not thought through whether these are the right/best ways to do these things.

But with most performance, being unconscious is okay until you want/need to improve. In golf, you likely are not aware of how you swing until you need to improve the results. Then you have to become conscious so you can fix parts of the swing. And, it’s painful at first to be conscious of your swing and likely your results will not be so good while you are learning. Then it becomes unconscious again. So, Ken is right that ultimately we want this to be invisible - but along the way it needs to become visible.

Finally, to Ken’s argument around technowhelm - the fact that there are so many new technologies - the goal here is not really to help people to use technologies - and likely there are relatively few relevant new technologies for most knowledge workers. The focus is on methods. It’s new ways to learn and work. It’s becoming conscious.