Some experiences provide more learning than others


In our series on cultivating learning and development in yourself and others, we examined how we learn from experiences last week. If you missed it, you will find it here.

The next natural question to explore is: Then do we learn equally well from any type of experience?

Obviously not. Taking the bus to work each day is normally not a great learning experience, nor is doing the weekend shopping with the family, unless of course there is a challenge involved.

When something becomes challenging, we have a great opportunity to learn. And often we quickly solve the challenge and then pat ourselves on the back: “Well done, you are making progress.” Or we pat our associates on the back and tell them: “Well done! Nice job. I see you are learning a thing or two.” The learning that takes place here we sometimes also refer to as external. We are learning something about how the world outside ourselves actually works. This learning is often also context specific. Under these circumstances, this is what one needs to do. But when the circumstances change, as they have a tendency to do, then that learning is not always so useful.

So quite frankly these are not the challenges that maximise our learning. True learning begins when we hit serious resistance. Things are not working out the way we hoped. Maybe we are even experiencing serious setbacks and even failures. These situations provide some really interesting learning because of our lack of success.

These are the situation where we learn about ourselves more than anything else. And the learning does not arise for the external event but from how we choose to respond to whatever is going on.

This is where we learn:

  • To resist the temptation to blame others for the situation
  • We see how stepping back from the situation helps us gain perspective and as a result, we learn how we are possibly contributing to the mess that is being created.
  • How to develop resilience in moving beyond the unpleasantness or pain of the experience and commit ourselves to do something about our personal limitations
  • In short, this is where we learn how to grow.

Challenges that start out as failures and setbacks thus provide som of the richest learning environments that we can possibly encounter. Most of us get this on a personal level. “Makes sense. I screwed up on that assignment but I learnt a lot.”

But do we apply the same tolerance and understanding attitude toward the members of our team who screw up from time to time? Do we see that as a valuable part of their learning process or do we see them as a problem?

Maybe our learning should start there…

BestThis blog post is the third in a series of blog posts where Mike is exploring: Why is it important to develop not just yourself but also the people around you?

Building capacity is at the heart of the Service Profit Chain. If you are not familiar with the intricacies of the Service Profit chain, we have a special treat for you:

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Converting knowledge to wisdom


“What use is it to have a bellyful of meat if one can not digest it? If it cannot transform us, if it cannot improve us and fortify us?”

Wrote Michel de Montaigne back in the 16th century in one of his many rants against a French school system that “requires you to just parrot back everything you are told”.

So how do we actually convert knowledge into leadership wisdom?

The key word here is experience, experience not as in breathtaking customer experience, but learning from experience.

Because we all agree that we learn from our experiences, or do we?

If you have ever made the same mistake twice, you will have to agree that we do not consistently learn from our experiences.

When then do you learn from your experiences?

Elementary my dear Watson: Whenever you take the time to reflect on your experiences, you make deeper learning possible.

Reflection can be a personal reflection, or it can tackle the form of a team reflection.

Our reflection can be a surface reflection:

  • What happened?
  • Which actions were taken?
  • What were the consequences that we observed?

Or we can choose to do a deep reflection:

  • What did I learn about myself through this experience?
  • What are we learning about how this team functions and handles conflict through this experience?
  • What broader issue can we see arising from this experience?

Surface reflection helps us understand past actions and behaviours. Deep reflection helps us examine underlying beliefs and assumptions.

Both are important. But even more important is to start developing a practice of reflection. Make a habit of having a regular end of day/week or month reflection session with your team. Develop a personal particle of reflection. The best way to do that is to start a journal and spend just 10-15 minutes a day nothing dow your answers to:

  • What has been my focus today?
  • What have I observed?
  • What am I learning?
  • What will I focus on tomorrow?

Now your are on track to convert knowledge into wisdom.

BestThis blog post is the second in a series of blog posts where Mike is exploring: Why is it important to develop not just yourself but also the people around you?

Building capacity is at the heart of the Service Profit Chain. If you are not familiar with the intricacies of the Service Profit chain, we have a special treat for you:

For this month only, you can download Mike’s book Best! No need to be cheap if … for FREE using this coupon JLXW8P9QSE. It is only available for the first 50 people so first come first serve.

Download the book here!

Who gets the last chef?

Who gets the last chef?

That was the title of my presentation for a group of managers last week. The title was inspired by a number of conversations that I have been having with clients during 2016. (You can substitute ‘Chef’ for the type of critical position that is part of your current reality.)

Reflecting on those conversations, I realised that there has been a common thread through most of them.

They have all been concerned with:

  • The lack of bench strength on their management teams
  • The scarcity of new talent

On a day to day basis, this is not so obvious, and therefore it’s not a high priority; but it hits them every time a key team member needs to be replaced. First, they realise that there is no obvious no.2 who has been groomed for the job. Secondly, when they start the search, they quickly understand that there is not a lot of talents available out there.

Problem is that once they realise this, it’s a bit late to do much about it other than pray…

And honestly, are they going to get the cream of the crop in that situation? Probably not. Most likely, they will get what is left over. It’s like purchasing a second hand car. You are essential taking over someone else’s problem.


Because the smartest of your colleagues out there have understood the problem a long time ago and have been working strategically with their HR development.

They don’t start thinking about who is going to replace the head chef on the day that he resigns.

They have a strategy to be the preferred employer in their area and an important part of that is a proactive strategy for succession planning. That means that when they recruit or promote someone to the position of, say sous-chef, they ask themselves does this person have the potential to become a chef one day, or is this just a good cook who just might make it as a half decent sous-chef? If that is the case, we have created a problem with a time release.

Part of being a preferred employer is being recognised as an organisation where employees can learn, develop and grow. And in order for that to happen, someone needs to take charge of developing, coaching and mentoring.

If you are a manager, that someone is you.

But this is an actually quite challenge for most managers. In fact, it is one of six key challenges that managers have in common across borders, hierarchies and professions, according to research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership.

Developing, coaching and mentoring team members also happens to be one more of the leadership attributes that our current series on defining management and leaderships is about.

So let’s start off by understanding how do people actually learn and develop in the job situation?

According to a much quoted piece of research also by the Center for Creative Leadership*, lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:

  • 70% from challenging assignments
  • 20% from developmental relationships
  • 10% from coursework and training

The authors of the research explain it like this:

Development generally begins with a realisation of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience. The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences – working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback and working around good and bad examples of the need; and 10% from courses and reading.

We can support learning and development through courses and training sessions, absolutely, but at the end of the day, it can only be support for what is actually going on in the day to day job situation. That is where the real learning takes place; which is why the immediate manager plays such a key role in the development of team members.

In the coming blog posts, we are going to explore this crucial leadership competence and what you need to do in practical terms.

*Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger. p. iv. ISBN 0-9655712-1-1.

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This post is one of a series where we are exploring the notion of leadership and how this is different from management. Our starting point is the Service Profit Chain and the understating that the management part of our job will only take us so far. If we really want to create an organisation that is capable of delivering outstanding customer experiences, we need to develop an organisation that delivers outstanding employee experiences – and that requires leadership. You can check out other articles of the series below:

  1. Are you an inspiring leader to work for?
  2. What does it require to be an inspirational leader?
  3. The something for something system is at the heart of the uninspiring workplace.
  4. How is team management different from team leadership and why should I worry?
  5. Teams are organic systems, and therefore, by definition unstable.
  6. How you can help you team manage their states
  7. Do you understand the stages that your team goes through?
  8. What the h… went wrong?

What is the gap between your capability and your desired results?

Capability Result gap

The research is pretty clear – personal growth and development are key factors in creating engagement on the job.

If we are lucky, we have a job situation where continuous learning and development is built into the culture. But in my experience, this is definitely not always the case.

So if no one else is looking out for your growth and development then maybe you should take it into your own hands – if not you, who else?

In order for us to develop and grow as human beings – and managers – some forms of learning probably need to take place.

But what does it mean to learn?

One definition that I like is this one:

“To learn is to increase your capacity to accomplish the results that you desire.”

Think about that for a moment.

What does it take for us to learn then?

For learning actually to happen, there must be a gap between your current capability and the results that you desire.

This makes it all a bit trickier. Because that means that in order for learning to actually take place, you will need to:

  • have an awareness of the the gap
  • be willing to declare your incompetence (at least to yourself)
  • commit to learning

So your first step here is to start the search for appropriate gaps between current capability and desired performance.

There are several ways to start thinking about this. But let’s start with the very big picture – and draw a 2×2 matrix.

On one axis, we have you as an individual versus the organisation; On the other, we have the internal vs the external perspective.


This then gives us four large areas to choose from:

1) My internal drive, attitudes and motivation. How I choose to see and understand the world – This will, to a very large extent, determine how the world responds to me.

2) How I relate and connect to people around me – Strong interpersonal dynamic is a key to succeeding in any kind of managerial role.

3) My knowledge of an ability to shape the culture that I am part of – Culture eats strategy for breakfast remember.

4) My understating of an ability to influence the myriad of external stakeholders , customers, supplier, partners etc.

So take a moment now to reflect.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your achievements in each of these four overall areas? Where do you see a gap between your current capability and the results that you desire?

I leave you with these thoughts for now – next week, we will continue our exploration of how we can take responsibility for our own growth and development.


If you have the curiosity to take a deeper dive into the subject of how we produce engagement on our teams, you are welcome to download my ebook Understanding Engagement.

Enter your email below and download the ebook now!

In this brief e-book, we will look at how the lack of engagement is to a large extent a function of leadership. And that if we really want to change the engagement levels on our teams, we will need to make radical shift in how we understand the world of work. The shift is all about moving from a transactional mindset to a transformational mindset. We will look into what that means, how it can help you as a manager and why it is so important.

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What does it mean to be a entrepreneurial learner?

“This does not mean how to become an entrepreneur. This really means, how do you constantly look around you all the time for new ways, new resources to learn new things? That’s the sense of entrepreneur I’m talking about that now in the networked age almost gives us unlimited possibility.”

John Seely Brown at Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Francisco 2012

Thank you to Jane Hart for drawing my attention to this.

Read Jane Harts follow up post on this here

Goals : Hubris or doubt what works best?

A dash of honest doubt turns out to be not so bad after all.

The coaching gurus all seem to agree. To reach your goal you need to declare it and abracadabra you are already halfway there.

Well, it turns out that they could be wrong.

According to research performed by a group of American scientists last year and document by Daniel Pink there is a significant difference in performance between 2 groups performing the same task and where one group uses what the scientists called declarative self talk ( I can do it) and the other group uses interrogative self talk (Can I do it?).
The self questioning group performs a lot better than the self affirming group.

In Denmark we had an interesting example of this recently.
As the Danish handball team departed for the European Championships they self confidently declared that they were going for gold. They subsequently lost their first few games and in no way looked as if they were going to get anywhere near the finals. The fans at home of course were furious and the players and trainer were all accused of hubris. Subsequently the declarations from the trainer and players took a subtle shift from ”we can do it” to some serious self questioning around ”can we do it?” and ”what would it take to do it?” – and – abracadabra, they brought home the gold medals to everybody’s surprise – including their own I guess.

The research seems to indicate that people who ask questions somehow come from a more humble place and that in turn creates a space to come up with a deeper solution.

For those of us who have been working with action learning for years that does not come as a big surprise….