In my last post I reflected on whether people actually use data to make decisions. I also spoke about direct personal experience as a form of data. Experience informs most decisions, but not always in a consistent way. We tend to dismiss experiences that refute our hypotheses, and remember experiences that reinforce them. This means that we miss out on learning opportunities. One way to change this is make our hypotheses more explicit, and then to test them intentionally through our actions. We can then adjust our hypotheses, and our subsequent actions, based on what we learn. This kind of intentional feedback loop is extremely effective, both for individuals and for organizations.
A very tactical and personal example: I was feeling completely overwhelmed by meetings, booked from 8 to 5 every day, plus behind in my email, and projects in my team were often slower than planned. My belief was that there was little I could do to change this situation. However, after doing some reflection on my current state, comparing that to where I wanted to be, and possible contributing factors, I developed a hypothesis that if I created more time and space for people to talk to me when they needed to without having to schedule a meeting, the throughput of my team would increase and the demands for my time would decrease. I ran an experiment, and it seemed to work. Meeting time went down, time for issues to be addressed went down, and email volume from my team decreased. What I learned is that I actually do have some control over my time, at least within my sphere of control, and that new insight has changed how I experience my role.
For those of you who are familiar with Lean management, you may recognize the Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA, also known as Plan-Do-Check-Adjust) cycle – a classic quality improvement technique, and a great example of an intentional feedback loop for learning. I see the application of this kind of intentional learning approach in everything from individual-level professional development and growth (see chapter on Leaping in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big) to the application of Lean principles in software development companies (see The Lean Startup by Eric Ries).
It is an incredibly powerful approach. And requires you to pause, reflect, be clear about what you are trying to achieve, and even more importantly, what you are trying to learn.
I want to offer my since gratitude to Karl Hoover, who worked with me as a Lean coach over the past 1 ½ years to support me in learning how to learn by doing.