Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Do We Learn?

By Pascal Dennis

Used to be, we believed talent was god-given. Mozart, Einstein, Wayne Gretzky and other brilliant talents were born, not made.

Turns out we were wrong. Talent is acquired by practicing in a certain way.  The latest psycho-neural research teaches us that we learn through:
  1. Deep practice -- slow, repetitive "stop & fix"
Turns out Aristotle was right 2300 years ago! We learn virtue by repetition.
Moreover, we learn best by stopping to fix problems that arise. (Sound familiar?)

    2.   Ignition -- signals in our environment telling us,
"You can do this! Nothing is impossible!"
Ignition is about connecting with purpose -- then becoming super-charged by a supportive environment

    3.   Sensei/mentorship

A good sensei is one who has mastered the "coaching kata" through diligent practice and reflection over many years.

Here are some good books:

If I may be self-serving, you might also find my latest book, The Remedy, worthwhile.

Here are a few of the implications:
  • We can turbo-charge learning -- there's a recipe to talent
  • Hiding problems makes learning impossible
  • Culture is indeed, as Lou Gerstner intuited, everything...
  • Organizations without senseis will get out-learned -- and ultimately, out-earned.
I'll let you noodle on others...


  1. Great insights Pascal.
    Slow, repetitive, experiential pratice uder the guidance of an experienced Sensei.
    This is quite the opposite of most Leaders who say hurridly "I'm busy, give me the 5 minute version"
    Do they really learn anything? More importantly, do their behaviors change?

  2. In every day life, learning is mostly born of necessity. We need to do something, so we learn how and put it to use immediately. In business, however, this thinking is sometimes lost. The direct tie in to specific activities or goals gives the student an opportunity to learn and apply. This solidifies the learning and makes it stick. Learning is like light... it can fill a room or burn through steel... it all depends on Focus.

  3. Denis raises a vital point -- learning has to be connected to Purpose. Random, unfocused learning (e.g. the perpetual graduate student syndrome) loses meaning.

    The leader's job is to help create meaning by defining, and relentlessly communicating, Purpose (the "Noble Goal").

    Motivation (for learning etc), I've learned, requires Purpose, control of time & work, and connection with other people.