Being honest: Learning or just watching?

Well you’ll be pleased to hear that I have conducted the first interview for my Delphi study. I was very appreciative as well that the participant gave me some useful feedback. I have my second one next week and again the participant has kindly agreed to talk to me afterwards about the interview process. Then the week after I have a third interview with a neuroscientist who responded to my invitation. As a Course Director at Oxford put it: “If they are interested in the topic Deni they will agree to participate”. It was said in a very matter of fact way, which made me think that we are rarely like that in the world of business. Their sub text was, ‘let go of trying to persuade them to participate and concentrate on making it interesting to them’. Maybe we should do more of that in business: How much effort do we put into persuading rather than attracting – push rather than pull. Deep down we know that the latter is more effective and yet we continue with the former far too much.

Now I am sourcing the equipment for transcribing the recording as my DProf colleagues are united in the advice that doing it yourself is really valuable in helping you appreciate what was said. Which leads me nicely into the ‘A Brain for business: a brain for life’ book I mentioned last time. O’Mara has pulled together an overview of many neuroscience concepts and texts in a useful way. It also means that if you haven’t previously read much on the topic then he brings it altogether for you, citing the most pertinent aspects. I was reassured to see that he is referencing many of the books and papers that I have read. His referencing is excellent so if you want to read more you can.

I’ve got to chapter 8 on Performance and Expertise and I felt it was worth sharing. I think I have written about this before but feel the need to reiterate the message. From O’Mara’s book, the ‘Making it stick’ book (which he also references) and other papers on learning, there are some strong themes coming out:

  • Learning is not about reading and reciting. To strengthen the synaptic pathways and embed the learning, it needs to be retrieved and used and consolidated.


  • It needs practice, especially if you are changing something. We appear to mean something quite distinct when we mention ‘learning’ and yet the brain learns all the time – it practices all the time. Then we seem to think that a 30-minute online presentation means we have ‘learned something’.


  • Sleeping on it really helps.


  • Little and often works best especially when the learning is mixed up rather than completed in logical order. At first this seems counterintuitive but it makes you work harder at retrieving the information from your memory and that helps you learn better. Of course, I am assuming that long term understanding and application are your goal rather than ticking a box to say you have watched an online presentation.

Yesterday I found it useful to position the change my coachee was attempting to make akin to learning to drive. In many ways it is very applicable to many things we attempt to learn through training courses. Also most of us would agree you are unlikely to pass your driving test if we employed the same learning strategy we take with management development training.

I also think that this style of learning might suit Millennials better and to be fair, having watched two boys grow up, I think they have been saying for a long time that the way we learn at school is out dated. Self-teaching through finding out stuff on the internet and using forums etc seems to be much more prevalent.

The other thing about driving is that it has a go/ no-go point so there is a real consequence to how much effort you do or don’t put in. This is the same with undergraduates. It has always intrigued me how undergraduates are pretty much self-directed in their learning and development at University. Then at work they soon fall into the passive ‘do it for me’ style of development where others organise development and maybe some of it is taken in and used. I reckon it is about consequences again – no effort, no degree. Maybe we should think more about creating that in work and, as managers, save ourselves a lot of effort and frustration. I suppose the hard part is letting go of those consequences too as we might end up having to recruit again or have difficult conversations.

I think the doctorate certainly falls into the ‘you sort it’ category. Not just from my experiences but also from others’ experience as well. I had a ‘ah-ha’ moment about 3 weeks ago when my supervisor made a chance comment. She said “we’ll make a researcher of you yet”. Lots of pennies dropping – so that is what this is about; it is about being trained to be a researcher and not really about the research I am doing. Now all this other stuff makes more sense. To become a seasoned, credible researcher you need to be able to review other literature and synthesis what it is and isn’t saying; you need to understand the context in which your research sits – what knowledge is appropriate; you need to understand what specific question you are answering and have rigour that your method delivers that; and that you are being ethical and robust in what you do. All the thesis chapters now make sense rather than being annoying side avenues. It would have been helpful to have ‘got this’ two years ago but I suppose ‘better late than never’ comes to mind. So, once you have the Dprof then the real focus on research opens up – because you’ve demonstrated that your research is likely to be trustworthy as you know how to do it.