It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. How do you get there? A lot has been said regarding the ways we learn, motivate, and manage. I would like to inform you of crucial ideas for training, garnered from spending over twenty years in the field. In order to learn we must unshackle the mind; sometimes the biggest obstacle to learning is ourselves. I would also like to share some insights on how to manage employees, to allow them to reach their full potential, and discuss what the future holds for training and management, and the role technology will play in overcoming the challenges in employee development.
First, I want to give you a little example from my own life. In my spare time, ever since I was a kid, I have been flying airplanes. When the day is stressful I’ll pull into the hanger, hop in a plane, and leave the surface world behind. It’s incredibly freeing, but it didn’t happen overnight. From day one, I had someone guiding me–my father was a pilot and showed me the ropes. Learning here had a smooth progression; because my teacher was familiar, putting in the flight hours was natural. I remember my first solo flight; you would think that it would be scary, having to man the plane myself, but it wasn’t. My father was on the radio, but it felt like he was right next to me, because of all the previous times he had been. I was ready, it felt comfortable to move onto doing things myself here, flying alone. There’s something ritualistic about the pre-flight procedure; it’s clearly important to do, checking your instruments, but after many repetitions, it becomes second nature.
I would like to contrast this to a later experience. As a young man, I was quite passionate about flying, so I decided I would try to become a professional pilot. I signed up for college classes. Mind you, at this point, I had already been solo flying since I was sixteen. Well, I got into those classes, and a couple of weeks into it I was done. The way the subject was being taught to me squashed any of the desire that I had to learn. Empty formalism and the drudgery of rote sucked the motivation right out of the endeavor.
I mention this story because I think it’s illustrative of what happens in workplaces and classrooms everywhere. Either people are being motivated to learn, or the mode of training and learning is not working for them. First, let’s talk about the individual and the obstacles there, and then move on to what managers can do. We can all relate to feeling that we never should have given up piano lessons or stopped speaking French after high school, because now that we’re adults, our brains just aren’t wired to learn the way they used to be.
On the individual level, I’d like to impart to you a core concept that we developed at Achieve Today, the company that I help run, the idea of “limiting beliefs.” Limiting beliefs amount to all the negative statements that little voice of doubt says to you in your head: “You’re not good enough…you don’t have time for this…you’ll never be able to do this..give up now…it’s just too hard…it’s not worth it, etc.” Sociologist George Herbert Mead believed that people develop self-images through interactions with others. The self, the part of a person’s personality consisting of self-awareness, is a product of social experience. Ever wonder why it’s so easy for children to learn? Why can a 5-year old play drums like John Bonham, yet it is difficult for adults to do the same thing? It’s because we internalize what we think others will think of us, even when we are completely alone.
The “Child-like” Mind
Humans have been aware of this for quite some time. The mind that is free of limiting beliefs is the child-like mind, what Zen philosophers call “no-mind”. It has direct application to the work we do in adult education and is what we strive to unlock for people. The whole idea is that when we enter the state of ‘no mind’, we transcend every day and are void of psychological projects from the world. Using this state of mind, adults are able to recognize that they are more capable of learning than ever.
So, the reason we aren’t mastering a different language or learning to code after work is simple — our brains don’t quit on skill-building in adulthood — we just develop the belief that they do. It’s a contradiction that we face in adult learning; the fact that our brains are more capable than ever before, yet we develop limiting beliefs.
How can we overcome our own core limiting beliefs in the workplace? It starts with developing training that considers the personal barriers employees face, followed by the implementation of a curriculum built to inspire passion for learning. Below are a few tips to rethink skill-building programs.
4 Tips to Rethink Skill-building Programs
- Know Your Audience: Seek to understand the range of learning styles your employees have. In asking employees for input on how they learn and what they want to learn, we position the process on their terms and begin the easing of preconceived limitations they may have around learning.
- The Tech is There, Use It Wisely: Technology’s ability to unlock education is hard to doubt. Artificial intelligence software that learns about the employee’s tendencies and preferences is a huge development in adult education. Make sure to use the technology where it is needed, and balance it with human input to ground the experience in the company’s culture.
- Embrace Skill-Building as Company Culture: Employees should know that part of being a member of the team includes access to skill development. If education is integrated as a part of company culture, employees are more likely to be able to overcome their core limiting beliefs because they know their peers are behind them.
- Diversify Channels and Enable Flexibility: In implementing the curriculum, it’s important to have multiple channels for employees to use. This includes both in-person and virtual options, as well as a variety of paces and scheduling options. By diversifying channels and staying flexible, employees can integrate the process of learning as a habit in their lives.
The takeaway is that as soon as we recognize the doubts that exist in our own minds and in the minds of our employees, we can build a program that supports the learner in overcoming those barriers. That is, build the program around the vulnerabilities of adult learning, and watch barriers dissolve into facades. The options that technology provides allow for training programs to be custom to the learner’s experience and to their educational barriers. It’s important to note the role that technology will play in advancing the field of workplace training, as well as on the individual level.
My work has been centered around honing a learning platform devoted to achieving success through hybrid AI. We focus on AI as an assistant that doesn’t tire, one that can notice how you learn, and what individual strengths and weaknesses are, in order to particularize training to the person. The software learns about the user, while on-staff trainers inject hands-on input throughout the learning process. Our goal is to unlock potential in learning and workplace skill development by providing an experience that mitigates the barriers of learning in order to overcome limiting beliefs. These include curriculum specific to learning styles, a judgment-free environment, and a balance of human and technological input to maintain a diligent yet personalized learning experience.
With many companies trying to bridge the “digital divide” in remote work, and with many people stuck in their homes due to the pandemic, I believe hybrid learning through AI is a technological innovation that deserves our attention.
I have seen these methods prove themselves in my work with Achieve Today, and they ring true in the cockpit as well. My pursuit of mastery in aviation serves as a reminder that learning takes time, and that people are suited to learn any other skill so long as it’s on their terms.