Learning is Interactive, Not Consumptive

We have a new puppy. The kids named him Wallace, although he has immediately become “Wally”. Neighbors want to hold him, get a selfie with him. He is adorable. He also creates disasters everywhere around the house, chewing, shredding, drooling, peeing everywhere. He can be a wrecking ball.

He’s also learning more quickly than I expected. We have an older yellow lab named Penny who knows all the tricks of the house. She knows when mealtimes are, where to nap, where the walking trails are, and where the bathroom is (See Wally? It’s in the woods beyond the backyard, not in the living room).

Wally is picking up on all of this by following Penny’s lead. He’s not learning half as much from the humans. On walks, Wally follows right behind Penny and sniffs where she sniffs, stops where she stops.

Numerous studies demonstrate puppies (and chimps, and rabbits, and cats, and mice, …) all learn faster by imitating the behavior of older, more experienced members of their own kind. Here is a super cute video of an older dog teaching a puppy to walk down scary stairs:

The same is, of course, true in humans. Yet in the United States younger people don’t apprentice under masters nearly as much as they do in other countries around the world. Britain has been enjoying a renaissance of apprenticeships with their successful “Get In, Go Far” initiative.

Get In, Go Far matches younger aspiring learners with companies and opportunities to develop skills in their particular interest. And it’s not confined to skilled labor jobs like electrical or plumbing work. Get In, Go Far is matching younger people with apprenticeships in information technology, project management, marketing, computer science, teaching, and much more.

We conducted a leadership workshop recently with participants from around the world including Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, Poland, Philippines, Canada, and the United States. When the conversation turned to mentoring at work, everyone said they had strong mentorship and lots of opportunity to learn from masters at work. Everyone, except the participants from the United States. They said the philosophy at their US-based location was more “sink or swim” or “figure it out on your own.”

It’s time-consuming, and expensive to find, and keep, good talent. Retaining talented people requires constant care and respect for their development. Remember these two small truths about mentoring:

  • It’s not one to one. People in organizations can, and should, learn from many different people, in different settings, with different skills. You have your workout group, your monthly book group, your hiking friends, and your dinner club. You learn different things from all of those experiences. The same is true at work. Create variety. Diversify learning opportunities.
  • It’s a two-way interaction. Whatever your level of seniority, you have something to teach, something to share. Learning is an interactive process, not a consumptive process. You don’t get paired with a single master, like Obi-Wan, and metamorphose into a Jedi. You have an obligation to contribute. You’d be surprised what you know that others don’t understand yet.

Check out our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com