We need Heroes to Reinvent Learning, Working and Innovation

Passionate people who are in the groove with their talents learn 24/7. Their continuous search for new and useful information is driven by their desire to create and perform. The moment they succeed, they are rewarded by a release of dopamine. This is the moment we could call ‘in the flow’.

Because of this intrinsic motivation, they become ‘addicted to themselves’ and they can shape their own future. Learning becomes part of them. Their brain turns into a ‘learning machine’ that keeps on breathing information in and out by gathering and sharing.

What’s Our Challenge?

This evolution also brings a ‘few’ challenges. When someone is in the flow, competence development happens very fast. As people become more competent, they also become ‘more specialised’.  This also means that they need more challenging work or projects. To achieve this, they force themselves into a process of ‘gamification’. Always searching for more difficult things to do, more learning experiences to gain new competences, new successes, new dopamine and then … the next level.

Another ‘disadvantage’ is that people very rapidly outgrow their learning or working environment. Because of the increasing difference in competence level with their colleagues, passionate people often miss the right ‘sparring partners’. They feel less and less understood. In sports, they would start playing at a ‘higher game level’, where they would have to play based on their growing strengths. In a new league, they find the necessary challenge again. It’s an environment, where they can be pushed to a higher level and respect each other for that. Peers give each other, as it were, a reason to exist. We need to apply the same principles to learning and development.

There is nothing worse than impeding people in their natural desire for growth. By not allowing them to advance quickly enough, you create all types of undesired consequences such as frustration, conflict, stress, arguments, burnout, settling for less and so on. We must realise that life gives us a ‘window of opportunity’ to learn and work in the groove with our talents. At a certain age this window closes, because certain talents fade away.

Where Do We Fail?

My main point is that education and too many companies fail to find, develop, and deploy what is available in people. The mission of most organisations is not exciting and inspiring enough to challenge people to become addicted to their talents. Organisations have become ‘just a workplace’ for copies with a diploma. They have killed our potential as ‘originals’.

The question we must dare to ask ourselves is: “How is it possible that after hundreds of interventions, education and organisations just haven’t managed to grow and deploy people to be in the groove with their strengths?”.

What’s the Answer?

The answer is as simple as it is confrontational. The interventions were not thoughtful enough, not courageous enough and certainly not sustainable enough.

The big difference between implementing sustainable and unsustainable solutions is the ability to apply “system thinking”. When you are passionate and talented, you look at the whole picture. You are like a determined detective. You are always looking for the root causes as to why something is not working.

System Thinking

Let me take you back to the early nineties for a moment. After a career as a software designer and pioneer in ‘Open Learning’, I am sitting at the table with my colleagues from Human Resources Management for the first time as a Training Manager. A problem had been raised by the production director; Workers were queuing at the punch clock fifteen minutes early to ‘tap out’ just in time.

The ‘system thinker’ in me awakened. I found it an interesting challenge to figure out what was going on. How does that happen? What is the cause? etc. As I was analysing the issue at hand, my HRM colleagues – who had much more experience and authority – put forward a brilliant solution. “Let’s hang a message on the bulletin boards that this is not allowed.” I am not going to describe here the feelings that ran through my body at that time….

During my career as a training manager and Corporate Learning Officer, I learned that the above type of ‘solution-oriented’ thinking is not the exception but the rule. I can give dozens of examples where ‘short-sighted’ thinking wins.

Often, either people are not able to do ‘system thinking’ or they have a deadly fear of seeking and finding what the root causes may be. This applies to both internal and external providers in the field of organisational development too. They have become short-sighted and don’t point to the right solutions because they are afraid or don’t want to lose their income. There is too much “conflict avoidance” in education and industry to tell people with authority: ‘You are wrong or are lacking the right passion and talents to make it right’.

My classic examples of this are ‘thinking in terms of diplomas’, ‘self-managing teams’ and the recent flare-up of ‘happiness at work’. All these paradigms give me the same feeling as in the early nineties. We’re not daring to think and to act.

And meanwhile, there’s non-engagement, no ‘real’ learning and a fear of disruptive innovation inside our education institutions and workplaces, until organisations die without knowing why.

We need Heroes in Education and Organisations to reinvent learning, boost passion and talent-based working and go for disruptive innovation. We need to fight our fears within. Do system thinking and become fearless. Are you ready to become one of these heroes? Are you ready to participate?

Written by Jef Staes for OEB21. Make sure to participate in the panel session facilitated by Jef: “Switching Education and Work from Talent Killers to Talent Enablers” on Friday Dec 3 at 14:30.

Jef Staes’ upcoming online awakening programme “Red” still has a few seats available for OEB participants. The only requirement: having a passion for reinventing the way we learn and work. More info can be found at: www.jefstaes.com/red.

One Response

  1. Christian Vanhuffel

    I was a priveleged observer of Jef Staes advocating open learning and shaping (distant) learning innovation initiatives in the Belgian ICT sector federation in the nineties. Up to this moment I followed his carreer and the fantastic way in which he himself implemented his evolving but so straightforward vision on work and continious learning. The column above is a short read, but spells out the essence of the necessary vision and leadership in todays work and learning challenges in an ever more tight labour market.
    Thanks Jef for all the good work over so many years and lots of succes with “Red”.
    Christian Vanhuffel, former general manager of Agoria, the belgian technology federation.


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