Why don’t smart people learn from their mistakes

In an HBR article in 1991, Chris Ayrgis, described the basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.

Why is it so and what can we do about it?

The rest of this post is tanken directly from the “In Brief” section of the original article from HBR:

The Idea in Brief

Problem solving is an example of single-loop learning. You identify an error and apply a particular remedy to correct it. But genuine learning involves an extra step, in which you reflect on your assumptions and test the validity of your hypotheses. Achieving this double-loop learning is more than a matter of motivation—you have to reflect on the way you think.

Failure forces you to reflect on your assumptions and inferences. Which is why an organization’s smartest and most successful employees are often such poor learners: they haven’t had the opportunity for introspection that failure affords. So when they do fail—or merely underperform—they can be surprisingly defensive. Instead of critically examining their own behavior, they cast blame outward—on anyone or anything they can.

The Idea in Practice

People often profess to be open to critique and new learning, but their actions suggest a very different set of governing values or theories-in-use:

•   the desire to remain in unilateral control

•   the goal of maximizing “winning” while minimizing “losing”

•   the belief that negative feelings should be suppressed

•   the desire to appear as rational as possible.

Taken together, these values betray a profoundly defensive posture: a need to avoid embarrassment, threat, or feelings of vulnerability and incompetence. This closed-loop reasoning explains why the mere encouragement of open inquiry can be intimidating to some. And it’s especially relevant to the behavior of many of the most highly skilled and best-trained employees. Behind their high aspirations are an equally high fear of failure and a tendency to be ashamed when they don’t live up to their high standards. Consequently, they become brittle and despondent in situations in which they don’t excel immediately.

Fortunately, it is possible for individuals and organizations to develop more productive patterns of behavior. Two suggestions for how to make this happen:

1. Apply the same kind of “tough reasoning” you use to conduct strategic analysis. Collect the most objective data you can find. Make your inferences explicit and test them constantly. Submit your conclusions to the toughest tests of all: make sure they aren’t self-serving or impossible for others to verify.

2. Senior managers must model the desired changes first. When the leadership demonstrates its willingness to examine critically its own theories-in-use, changing them as indicated, everyone will find it easier to do the same.

Example: The CEO of an organizational-development firm created a case study to address real problems caused by the intense competition among his direct reports. In a paragraph, he described a meeting he intended to have with his subordinates. Then he wrote down what he planned to say, how he thought his subordinates would respond, as well any thoughts or feelings he thought he might have but not express for fear of derailing the conversation. Instead of actually holding the meeting, he analyzed the scenario he had developed with his direct reports. The result was an illuminating conversation in which the CEO and his subordinates were able to circumvent the closed-loop reasoning that had characterized so many prior discussions.

Hope it made you think – reason and act  differently.

Kevin

Children Learn What They Live

Could positive thinking have negative consequences for “those who need it the most”?

Browsing the news this morning, I found myself waking up when reading this article in The Economist. It made me realise some things that may have broken some of my fundamental values and beliefs… I really don’t know yet…

Say WHAT…?

Recent research, however, shows that for some people, optimistic thoughts can do more harm than good – to those some of those we traditionally think “need it the most”.

[…]

“I CAN pass this exam”, “I am a wonderful person and will find love again” and “I am capable and deserve that pay rise” are phrases that students, the broken-hearted and driven employees may repeat to themselves over and over again in the face of adversity. Self-help books through the ages, including Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 classic, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, have encouraged people with low self-esteem to make positive self-statements.

Since the 1960s psychologists have known that people are more accepting of ideas close to their own views and resistant to those that differ. With regard to self-perception, if a person who believes they are reasonably friendly is told that they are extremely gregarious, they will probably accept the idea. But if told they are socially aloof, the idea will most likely be met with resistance and doubt.

Wondering if the same tendencies could apply to making positive self-statements, Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo in Canada and her colleagues designed a series of experiments. They questioned a group of 68 men and women using long-accepted methods to measure self-esteem. The participants were then asked to spend four minutes writing down any thoughts and feelings that were on their minds. In the midst of this, half were randomly assigned to say to themselves “I am a lovable person” every time they heard a bell ring.

Immediately after the exercise, they were asked questions such as “What is the probability that a 30-year-old will be involved in a happy, loving romance?” to measure individual moods using a scoring system that ranged from a low of zero to a high of 35. Past studies have indicated that optimistic answers indicate happy moods.

As the researchers report in Psychological Science, those with high self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” scored an average of 31 on their mood assessment compared with an average of 25 by those who did not repeat the phrase. Among participants with low self-esteem, those making the statement scored a dismal average of 10 while those that did not managed a brighter average of 17.

Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it.

Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

[…]

…like always – there is no single cure for ALL

CONTEXT is KING!

Regards,
Kevin

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