Let’s Get Naked!

Strip away the layers and get back to learning basics.

Many people take learning for granted. Those of us responsible for helping others to acquire and apply new skills recognize the relevance for effective learning solutions. The issue for many Learning practitioners is getting too immersed in our efforts that it impedes our judgment about what real “learning” is.

For millions of years, the human instinct has been to acquire, segregate, assimilate, and apply knowledge. This is how our species survives, thrives, and evolves. Fundamentally, learning is instinctual, but too many practitioners try to force a method to ensure learning sticks.

Stop fighting the natural learning process! It’s time to return to our “learning” roots and not overthink our efforts. It’s time to get metaphorically “naked” to learning. And the best approach is to think back to your early childhood. No one tells children to learn; funnily, they just learn. Nothing interferes with this process. Observing how children discover and apply knowledge leads to these four “naked” learning approaches:

1. Shed preconceptions. Typically, children accept new concepts fearlessly. They don’t possess years of preconceived notions based upon past learning experiences. Whether positive or negative, these experiences subconsciously (and subtly) skew expectations. A past positive experience may not meet expectations, whereas a negative one leads to avoidance.

Be conscious of your preconceptions and biases. This sounds simple, but it’s harder than you think. Don’t believe us? Then think when you said to someone, “I will be unbiased” or “Allow me to be a devil’s advocate.” It’s likely you subconsciously influenced your feedback or decision with past experiences.

While it is impossible to shed all preconceptions, recognize and be consciously aware what may influence you. Try this: Reflect on an event you recently challenged or supported. Ask yourself, “What were the reasons I took this position and why?” While hindsight is 20/20, you now become conscious of the influences and will recognize their impact in the future.

2. Take a risk. Most of us attempt to avoid risks, and there is nothing wrong with that…or is there? Children face risk constantly, quickly discovering what works and what harms them. While this frightens adults, a child will learn and most probably attempt the task again but differently. Taking risks is counterintuitive for us. Learning, however, is a risk that demonstrates your ability to discover something beyond what you know.

We experience environments in constant and rapid change, so, naturally, we seek stability (safety). This isn’t necessarily what we should do. Taking risks benefits the learning process either by discovering something beneficial or learning what not to do next time.

3. Be vulnerable. Within corporate environments, being vulnerable is a sign of weakness. Our evolution hardwired us to hide vulnerabilities, protecting us from prey and ensuring survival.

But the only way to become stronger is to go against our primal instincts and expose our vulnerabilities. As such, practitioners must discover learners’ vulnerabilities and provide appropriate learning to make them stronger. Create environments that encourage openness without repercussions and reward those who improve themselves.

4. Fail! Ask yourself: What was your most impactful learning moment? It probably came after a moment of failure. Most successful people admit to failing many times before achieving success. You must do the same.

Many business leaders live by the adage, “Failure is not an option.” This statement intends to instill confidence and determination, but it also creates fear and apprehension. This is because people don’t want to purposefully disappoint, especially when it comes to proving themselves in front of peers and supervisors.

Organizations fostering creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship recognize that failure is necessary. Successful leaders build cultures around failure, but only when there is a supporting learning environment. Even if your leadership doesn’t accept failure, employees expect you to engender a safe environment in which to experiment, practice, and hone their newfound skills.

Return to your learning roots and build a “naked” learning environment. You will witness participants losing their inhibitions and more openly accepting and applying new skills and knowledge.

Ajay M. Pangarkar, CTDP, CPA, CMA, and Teresa Kirkwood, CTDP, are founders of CentralKnowledge. com and LearningSourceonline. com. They are employee performance management experts and threetime authors, most recently publishing “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley, 2009). Help them start a “Workplace Revolution” at blog. centralknowledge.com or contact ajayp@centralknowledge.com.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.