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Learning + Innovation = Renewable Energy

Increasingly, with the squeeze on lengthy training programmes – due to cost and time away – the doubts about the ‘stickiness’ of intense classroom or offsite programmes of learning amplify. More and more learning is being delivered in a blended way; multiple channels are being used for learning; just in time learning and bite-size learning are flourishing. It’s all about the 70 in the 70:20:10 model.

One aspect that appears to be gaining particular momentum, exposure and power is active learning – learning not JUST through ‘doing’ but as part of an overall innovation programme.

Now innovation is an oft used noun around work:

  • Disruptive innovation – to prove how unconventional and ahead of change you are
  • Incremental innovation – to prove how you are using accumulated marginal gains to garner success
  • A culture of innovation – which describes your belief in constantly adapting.

Yet we see more of what Thomas Wedells-Wedellsborg calls “innovation as usual”.

Those organisations which are succeeding and are recognised as market leaders, often have a ‘DNA’ of innovation and encourage active experimentation.

So if innovation is ‘usual’ and it’s all part of our roles in whatever job title we have, shouldn’t learning & development programmes be all about innovation?

In many respects yes – yet clearly there are exceptions. Mastering a technical or clinical skill – such as psychiatry or animal husbandry – may still require rigorous instructional learning and application. So we know it is isn’t just about innovation.

Looking at some innovation traits is an interesting place to start:

Discovery Experimentation Testing
Researching Adaptation Review
Analysis Inclusivity Random thinking
Aspiration Literal/later thinking Divergence/convergence

They all sound like the things we experience in learning and during innovation cycles. So is innovation explicitly part of learning? Again I would argue yes. Is learning part of innovation? Yes again!

My view is the two are distinct but related. Connected and not exclusive.

What I have seen recently in case studies and in dialogue with learning professionals is the coming together of a coherent learning experience using an innovation process/method.

Companies in need of innovation for services, products and ways of working are deliberately using learning programmes to create, test and deliver innovations. And to me that is utterly marvellous news.

What better way to test your abilities to lead, inspire, imagine, plan, decide, execute, evaluate than a real-life not re-constructed or fabricated situation?

All the classroom or virtual constructions in the world surely cannot replace the feeling of real impact to be had, through work which is a benefit to both your organisation’s future success and probably your career.

Learning to play poker through reading a book or receiving coaching will help, but actually having real ‘chips in the game’ surely tests the acquired skills and builds new lines through the experience of meaningful value, commensurate with real-world participation?

Yes, innovation programmes and learning programmes are fusing – and this coming together gives us other critical factors that some of our development activities lack. Energy, team dynamics, and the Dan Pink triage of mastery, autonomy and purpose to name but a few.

The feeling of trust is also not to be under estimated. That the organisation trusts ‘inexperienced’ and emerging talent to work up key processes, products and services is an indicator along the lines of “we believe in you“. And in my experience, there’s nothing more liberating, stimulating and comforting than the belief factor.

There are times when we feel frustratingly incompetent. When we lack belief in ourselves through inexperience. When we are forced to learn because of a deficiency of some kind. These feelings could be providing critical cognitive blockages, limitations or hindrance.

Being allowed to experiment, fail fast and learn, to use our existing ingenuity and be given new knowledge to develop our skills, and instantly apply new behaviours – there’s an excitement to that which ‘training’ simply cannot deliver.

So this learning through innovation agenda is one I am delighted to see. I’m occasionally in the privileged position of judging nominations for awards and those who make it to shortlists and win invariably are steeped in innovative thinking.

Those who win in the game of work-based development will – I believe – be the ones who have mastered this blend of learning and innovation.

Is it Atomic innovation? Or Nuclear learning? No need to put a silly handle on it. I think it’s more a perfect learning fusion

Perry Timms PicPerry Timms is the Founder & Director of PTHR (People & Transformational HR Ltd). He’s also the CIPD’s Social Media & Engagement Adviser and a Visiting Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University Business School. He’s a great social networker, and you’ll find him most often on Twitter @PerryTimms