The power of getting it wrong

It was April 2013 when my son came to me and said;

"Did you know there is an i-phone 6 coming out Mum?"

"No! Really? When!? I can't believe it! What's different this time?"

"Aaaah, got you, April Fool!"

Safe to say, I got burned on April Fool's day. My son caught me out in a brilliant way which I'll remember for some time – and he should be a very nervous young man as I have a long memory!

Don't take this the wrong way but I'm very interested in 'burning' at the moment - not for any dark reason but just as an underused and underrated learning technique. Allow me to illustrate…

As the days become longer and brighter, you may notice two alternative types of fathers and toddlers in the park.

Type 1: The first father is looking on as their little person manages to ride their bike, with stabilisers (or training wheels) steadily in a straight line, with no hands and not using the pedals evenly.

Type 2: The second father is looking on as their little person propels themselves along, in a jerky zig-zag-sort-of-forward way, on their balance bike.

Which one may be looking on most proudly? It's my view that the second father should be most pleased with their child's progress; whilst the stabilisers the first toddler uses gives the impression of learning to ride, they simply give a false sense of security and no real learning is taking place. Take away the stabilisers and none of what they have learned can transfer to the new real life scenario. With every plod forward on the balance bike, however, the second toddler is sensing their situation and adjusting their actions as needed whilst still moving one leg at a time. They are motivated by a fear of falling, a fear the first toddler does not have. Pop a set of pedals underneath those feet and hey presto - turbo-boosted toddlers!

So from a learning theory perspective, getting something important wrong (especially if it could potentially hurt!) primes the brain and the body to take on learning opportunities. The burn or the fear of the burn provides the relevance and impetus to want to learn.

For a more adult example, I imagine you look back and cringe at those mistakes you made on those early job interviews. I bet you didn't make the same mistake twice; you learned what worked and what didn't. And the interesting part is that it likely didn't feel like heavy learning as it was wrapped up in something emotionally important and personally engaging.

At Brand Learning, a company that develops the customer-centred capabilities of our clients through learning, we are always careful not to 'over-support' participants in our learning events. Our objective is to support our clients like a balance bike versus a set of stabilisers. No real 'burning' necessary of course, but unless we create learning moments which are made sticky through personal visibility of one's own weaknesses, valuable performance opportunities and improvements will be missed. For example, you may think you understand the logic behind the structure of a brand positioning template - but when you're openly challenged to complete one in practice and find yourself stumbling to connect an insight to a benefit, it's then you'll feel the burn. It's then that you'll find yourself truly learning. The good news is that in today's agile environment, where more and more organisations are embracing a 'test and learn' culture, there are more opportunities than ever to support people as they learn on the job and get on that balance bike.

Sometimes a little discomfort can go a long way in creating possibilities for change – with the end result being turbo-boosted teams!

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Learning.

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