An AGES-old learning technique to help you learn something new

An AGES-old learning technique to help you learn something new

As you might imagine I am often talking with my team and with clients about ways to design learning programs so they maximise results.

This week's discussions led me to discover a new framework which made perfect sense to me and which I am confident will help you as you go about building your own skills too.

The framework is developed by renowned neuroscientist, David Rock and is called AGES.

Here is how it works:

Attention: This one is I think obvious in the general sense, but for precise neurological reasons that I had not thought much about before.

When learning something new, we must not multi task, but rather pay attention to it. This way our hippocampus, the centre of our brain in charge of learning, knows what to focus on and we are more likely to retain what we learn.

Generation: We must take an active approach to our learning. By taking notes, doodling, asking questions and generally interacting with the material in front of us, we are creating a ‘web of memories' which radically increases the chance that our brains will remember what we were trying to learn.

I saw a stunning example of this during the week where an eight year old completed Barbara Oakley's Coursera Course that I have also completed, called Learning How To Learn.

It's excellent and this young fellow captures a couple of critical ideas rather well. Click here to watch his short video.

Emotion: If we enjoy what we are learning, or experience a strong emotional response (perhaps find something funny or even strongly disagreeable) we are more likely to remember it. The emotional response seems to alert the hippocampus that the idea is important and should be retained.

Spaced: We need to learn ideas in small pieces over time if we are to retain them. We have all completed thoroughly enjoyable whole-day workshops only to leave the ideas in the room along with the mint wrappers.

David Rock's research indicates that just like cramming at university, trying to learn everything at once is an ineffective way to get results.

Our experience with both Clarity First and our corporate programs supports this 100 percent. The results we started getting when we moved away from whole-day workshops were amazing.

I thought the Neurolinguistic Institute's article on the topic was rather good, so encourage you to read it and click through to some of the supporting research.

Have a great week,
Davina

PS – I am holding a free ‘Help and Learn' session on 25 August 2020. Click here to learn more.

This Tip was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas for more than 20 years.

She began this work when a Communication specialist at McKinsey & Company and has since helped experts of all kinds strengthen their communication skills. 

Why do most training programs fail?

Why do most training programs fail?

Learning new skills is an often pleasurable part of working.

Attending training courses is interesting, low in pressure, often fun and also quite social. Courses provide opportunities to network with others within our own companies or potentially others with similar interests outside our own company.

Unfortunately, precious little usually changes when we return to our desks after a day, or even a week away at a training program.

In fact, research conducted by training guru Robert Brinkerhoff demonstrates that if 90% of your company's efforts are in the delivery of training, 70% of the people will try new skills and fail.

However, if 50% of the effort is in the delivery, and 50% in the follow-up activities, then 85% will sustain the new behaviours.

This is why we developed the Clarity First Program as a month-by-month experience for experienced professionals wanting to turn their communication into a real asset.

We offer instruction and support over a time frame that niches with the participants availability and needs.

Here are a few things that we have seen work lately:

Help us understand the real problem that you need to solve

When working with a professional services firm recently, I was asked to help a small group improve the quality of the thinking in their client reports.

It quickly became apparent that the team was struggling with applying our clarity principles because they were using precedent documents rather than working from scratch.

Unless we either revamped the precedents or found an economic way for the team to work from scratch each time, the quality of their reports was not going to improve.

During Clarity First we make a point of using our live sessions to build relevant stories together, so participants can see our structured approach in action while also solving real, tangible issues.

Surprisingly often too, these cross discipline groups come up with breakthrough ideas for each other both in terms of the content of their messaging and the working approaches they can use in their own work.

Check in regularly to make sure the program delivers real impact  

This might include an email series offering participants regular challenges that can be discussed in working sessions, sharing success stories from other similar clients, or incorporating mini online learning modules to remind participants of core skills and concepts.

This feeds into the way we have designed Clarity First for individuals and also for corporate groups.

Rather than designing and delivering a ‘training event' we work with participants along their learning journey, for as long as that is helpful for them.

Change the way you think about your skill-building

Focus on regular, small opportunities to learn rather than participating in a ‘once and done' experience.

This way you can learn some ideas, put them into practice and benefit step by step along the way. 

The alternative that I have seen far too often is watching people have a great day at a workshop only to return to their desks to a tsunami of emails and other demands which quickly wipe the learning from their minds.

 

 

Keywords: leadership, leadership communication, learning and development

How to take the drudgery out of building a new skill

How to take the drudgery out of building a new skill

It is no secret that dopamine hits are seductive.

They trigger a very real and frankly delicious biological response that make us want more.

This is why Facebook introduced ‘likes’. This is why gamification of social media is a major focus of all platforms.

This is why success feels really really good.

Until recently, however, I had no idea how much this everyday hormone impacted my day to day work.

Why do I enjoy grasping new concepts? Why do I love finding new and different ways to help others grow as communicators? Why practising a new skill feel so boring?

It turns out that harnessing dopamine is hugely powerful in helping us persist so we go beyond knowing about something to doing that thing well.

Experience tells me I am not alone in this, so I wanted to share some simple and practical ideas that will help you master skills that matter to you.

Here are two suggestions to help you go from knowing to doing:

  1. Learn to ‘rig’ your own dopamine hits
  2. Magnify the ‘hits’ by setting milestone rewards

Learn to ‘rig’ your own dopamine hits

I have recently been refreshing my understanding of how people learn by completing an online course called Learning How To Learn by Dr Barbara Oakley and Dr Terrence Sejnowski of McMaster University & University of California San Diego.

One of the things that has stood out to me is the impact of our biochemistry on our willingness to go beyond just knowing about something to achieving mastery. Within that context, dopamine is the standout hormone for us to understand and harness. As recently as 1957 Swedish pharmacologist Dr Arvid Carlsson showed that dopamine controls our motivations.

Dopamine is triggered in many circumstances. It is triggered by ‘aha’ moments when an idea resonates with us and when a new idea ‘clicks’ together in our minds.

More importantly, it is triggered when we receive a reward or perceive that we will receive one in the future.

The excellent news about dopamine is that we can ‘rig it’ by setting ourselves future rewards.

All of a sudden, the seemingly simple idea of setting goals and breaking them into chunks not only helps us intellectually, it feels better.

Ticking off each chunk triggers a dopamine surge that we can influence with simple behavioural steps.

This is one of the reasons why we ask people to reflect on the way they are using ideas from the Clarity First Program and the successes they have achieved along the way.

We want to help rig those dopamine hits for you as you learn to communicate complex ideas clearly.

 

Magnify the ‘hits’ by setting milestone rewards

Until recently, I had never been big on rewarding myself for hitting milestones or achieving goals, believing that the achievement was enough in itself.

However, last year I took on a challenge to set some goals and on the advice of a coach chose a reward for a scary target.

If I hit a certain target, I would buy myself a special new handbag. (No, ladies: it wasn’t a Birkin. Not THAT special!)

In setting my goal and my reward, I very much enjoyed the process of choosing the one I would buy.

The interesting thing for me was that when I hit the target (and then shot past it by about 25%), I was tempted to not follow through with the reward.

I had enjoyed choosing the handbag and had achieved my goal: wasn’t that enough? Did I really need to spend part of that hard earned on a trivial gift for myself?

Well, yes. My coach was clear that I must follow through, so I did. And am I glad.

Every time I use it, I remember my success and am reminded of the importance of rewarding myself when I do succeed, which I have discovered is far less trivial than I had realised.

Now each time I use it I trigger a tiny dopamine hit as I remember the goal I reached.

So, a question for you: what goals do you want to set for yourself?

In the Clarity First Program we encourage people to celebrate their successes. I particularly loved hearing recently when one of our participants had been promoted to a new and challenging position in part because of his ability to communicate clearly.

 

Davina Stanley is Managing Director of Clarity Thought Partners, and founder of The Clarity First Program. She and her business partner Gerard Castles collaborated to write the The So What Strategy which offers a simple strategy for communicating clearly as well as the seven most commonly used storyline patterns in business.

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Learning to do a handstand as an adult is providing me with some interesting – and at times frustrating! – reminders about what it is like to learn something new.

I have been reminded that not all goals, and definitely not all practice is equal. Even when learning to do handstands.

Let me explain.

I recently set myself a goal which I did not achieve, which was to be able to do a 30-second handstand before a
certain big birthday.

Despite attending my gym regularly and doing exercises which appeared to be helpful, I have not yet done
a 30 second free-standing handstand.

Why not?

Firstly, you might ask: why bother at all? True.

But it seems like a fun if random party trick and lots of people at my gym can do mighty perfect handstands. So,
I’d like to do one too. (Just so you can see I am not totally crazy, click here to ‘how to’ videos … I am not alone!)

Besides: how hard can it be? I could do one as a kid and it looks easy enough for someone who is reasonably fit.

Given I am strong enough, at the beginning it didn’t seem that hard.

So, having decided that I’d like to do it, I didn’t break the task into chunks. Nor did I take it seriously enough
to set mini deadlines and measure my progress against them and trigger those dopamine hits that I mentioned in a recent post. 

I did make progress and am proud to report that I can consistently do a handstand if I take a bit of a walk up and a skip before hurling my feet skyward. I can also hold that position for a few seconds (especially if I know there is a soft mat for me to fall onto when I am ready).

This was an easy cop out, though.

After all, I could do a handstand of sorts for the first time in decades.

But … is it what I had set out to achieve?

Nope. And I knew I was kidding myself.

It wasn’t what I wanted and was becoming disillusioned. Why could ‘everyone else’ do this and not me? Am I not strong enough? Am I not flexible enough? Why can’t I do this thing that I could do as a kid?

I had persisted and practiced for a long time and not progressed as far as I would like.

It turns out that not all kinds of practice are equal. Repeating the same thing the wrong way in no way improved
my ability.

Given my gym instructor is both friendly and knowledgeable, I decided to actually ask him what to do and listen to his advice.  

The first thing, he assures me, is to stop trying to do the handstand as a whole. Focus on micro skills instead.

The next thing is to get my balance right. To balance the majority of my weight not on the heel of my hand as I was doing, but smack bang in the centre of the palm. This week I achieved this for the first time and boy, it felt good.

Not a full handstand but measurable, definite progress. And now that I know what it feels like, I will be able to do it again.

Not only that, one of my gym buddies commented on ‘the nice line’ I had created as I was upside down practicing my stance with my feet against a pole.

Thank you, dopamine.

My instructor tells that I also need to increase my shoulder, hip and hamstring flexibility so that I can elevate my legs smoothly and without curving my back. This will help me create and hold a line with much less effort. And that would probably happen faster if I spend less time at a keyboard. Of course he said that!

I have made progress here too (not with the keyboard part!) and will keep at it until he says I should try again.

My hope now is that this mix of purposeful practice based on guidance from someone who knows more than me, micro success and a tiny bit of positive feedback will keep me on track until I do succeed in getting my feet properly skyward.

So, crazy I might be, but I am now enjoying learning to do a handstand, and also learning more about learning.

What new learning challenges have you set yourself lately?

If building your professional communication skills is on the list, check out the Clarity First Program. We can help you turn your communication skills into a career-boosting asset.

Caveat – this picture is aspirational! It is not me!

 

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.

Root causes of poor communication have little to do with ‘communicating’

I have been coaching a Clarity First client through a particularly sensitive piece of communication this week, which has highlighted some insights that I thought might help you also.

This case highlights how delivering communication is the easy part, while the strategy and problem solving that drives the right messaging can be hugely challenging. 
​​Let me unpack the situation for you as well as our solution and story.

The situation was politically fraught

Clive is a consultant helping solve a range of productivity problems in a large organisation.  He is a gun problem solver and regularly called in to help leaders solve difficult problems.

This one was highly sensitive: he had a tough message to deliver just before performance evaluation and bonus time.

To add to that, his ‘client' was two people with conflicting agendas: a Chief of Staff who needed a team's performance to improve and the team manager who was the cause of the problem but who would need to be positively engaged in the solution.

And, of course, it all had to be sorted yesterday.

Ultimately, the message was that the team manager needed to lift his game so that the team could deliver critical work on time. 

The team needed greater clarity around resourcing, work allocation and priorities.

So, what to do? Here is how we tackled it.

The solution required a mix of skills

We used a mix of clarity, care and discipline to craft a proactive and constructive message that left nobody in doubt that improvement was needed. 

Clarity: We first got absolute clarity on the message that needed to be conveyed, even if we were not going to deliver it ‘straight up' and blunt. The ‘blunt' story was deductive and looked like this:

The team needs stronger leadership if it is to start delivering

  • The team isn't delivering because they have allowed themselves to be over run by un-prioritised and unstructured demands
  • However, the leader needs to step up so the team can take control of their priorities and their time
  • Therefore, we recommend helping the leader step up

Care: We thought carefully about the issues facing all players:

  • How to act with integrity as a consultant aiming to add real value?
  • How to respect the Chief of Staff's situation: she needed the team's performance to turn around pronto.
  • How to deliver a tough message in a way that maintains the relationship with the team lead so they are willing to step up?

Discipline: We held firm to storylining principles so we delivered a constructive recommendation that kept the team leader onside.

We:

  • Focused on what was happening rather than the person causing it (it was tempting to rant!)
  • Offered solutions rather than labouring problems
  • Made sure the story structure was tight so that our reasoning was compelling while also being kind.

The story required structure 

Here is what the story structure looked like after we finished:
Changing the operational approach will enable the team to manage conflicting demands and deliver on its priorities more easily

Three conflicting and chaotic work stream makes it very difficult for the team to deliver critical work on time

  • Open-ended demands from SMEs and the GM make both planning and execution difficult
  • Unstructured demands without upstream prioritisation makes prioritisation very challenging

However, changing the team's operational approach will give greater control

  • Clarifying upstream priorities before allocating work to the team will reduce distractions
  • Embedding a specialist in each major project will improve resourcing and focus
  • Coaching the team so they can better understand Agile ways of working will help the team plan and deliver

Therefore, we recommend changing operational approach

  • Embed a specialist in each major project
  • Segment responsibility: one deliverable, one owner
  • Rationalise governance participation
  • Coach the team on best Agile practices at key milestones of each project
  • Coordinate with Agile ways of working

 

Putting the ideas on the paper and having the conversation were the easy part.  Solving the people and business aspects of the issue was much harder!

To learn how to prepare clear and compelling communication using top-down structured thinking techniques such as these, check out our Clarity First Program.

PS In case you are not familiar with the term ‘Agile‘, it refers to a popular project management approach.

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.

The Feynman technique for learning

The Feynman technique for learning

How simple is this?

Richard Feynman was one of last century's great thinkers. I stumbled across two things of his that I thought might interest you.

Both things have to do with mastering skills and communicating, so you can imagine why they caught my interest. Here is a preview of each:

On learning something new, he says there are just four simple steps to take, which involves describing even the most complex things so that an eight year old could understand them. No jargon. No fluff. Just clear, simple terms no matter how complex the idea.

As someone who has been helping others learn for more than 30 years now – and who began teaching four year olds – you can imagine why this piece took my fancy. Click here to read more.

On types of knowledge, he says there are two: ‘Planck' knowledge and ‘chauffer' knowledge. These are essentially the difference between knowing something and knowing about something. This piece begins with a terrific story about a chauffer and a professor.

It's a quick read. Click here to do so. It's worth it.

To learn why I am so fascinated by learning sign up for my free Clarity First Base Program where I talk about ways to use ideas such as these when building communication skills.

Keywords: learning and development, richard feynman

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.

Ever wonder why some people grow and others don’t?

Ever wonder why some people grow and others don’t?

Have you ever wondered why some people grow more than others?

You would, I am sure, realise that I am not talking about physical height here, but rather why some people increase their ability over time while others seem to stagnate.

Thanks to the luxury of time afforded by two long plane flights, I read a wonderful book this week that shed some light on the subject. In Mindset, Dr Carol Dweck suggests that changing the way we think helps us fulfil our potential, in particular moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
These mindset descriptors give us a solid clue as to which is more helpful to our growth, so let me share my takeaways from her most readable work:

The main difference between having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset comes down to how we see ourselves

If we see ourselves as being born with certain abilities and that's all we will ever have (say, an IQ of 100 or a talent for tennis), then we assume we are ‘naturals'. Our abilities are innate and we are more likely to hide our failures or potentially blame others for them as any failure is a direct reflection on ‘us', not ‘our actions'. If, however, we see ourselves and others as being born with potential and have a willingness to see failures as learning opportunities (without denying how painful they might be), we have a chance of growing through them.

Everyone has a fluid mix of mindsets

Any combination is possible and the mix can change over time depending on what happens to us in life and how we respond to it. In our twenties, some of us have fixed mindsets with regard to relationships and growth mindsets about work and our health, for example. Equally, by the time we are forty, the balance may have shifted significantly – or not.

Everyone has the potential to grow (if we want to)

Dr Dweck shares numerous stories where adults and children alike change their mindset from fixed to growth to achieve great turnarounds. Children can turn from being seemingly ‘impossible' to highly engaged learners regardless of their age. Likewise adults can have late-stage awakenings that enable us to see life differently and adapt in our personal and professional lives. The key thing is to realise that any change must be consciously maintained lest old fixed habits return.

Teams that embrace a growth mindset are more likely to succeed

Dr Dweck discussed a number of corporate failures and turnarounds to make this point. Leaders such as Lee Iaococca of Chrysler fame and Al Dunlap of Sunbeam were exemplars of the fixed mindset. They believed they were superior to others and wanted the organisation's success to be about them. When the organisations started to fail they responded poorly as they saw any problems to be a direct attack on their own personal standing. In contrast, she described some major turnarounds such as IBM where leaders assumed they must take responsibility and learn with their teams to change the organisation's fortunes. These turnarounds were often slower than those engineered by charismatic leaders with a fixed mindset, but sustained after the leader left as the whole organisation had grown.

The journey toward having a growth mindset has four steps:

Embrace our fixed mindset. Given we all have some parts of a fixed mindset, we may as well accept the fact and get to know ourselves.

Become aware of our fixed mindset triggers. What are the things that set us off, make us criticise ourselves or others, hide from a challenge, refuse to accept feedback? Don't judge, just observe.

Give your fixed persona a name. Yes, really. I am still mulling on mine. Someone in the book called hers Gertrude which has a good ring to me. It feels bossy, exacting and critical which might work. I can imagine her sneaking up and making me jump as she reminds me that I should not try and conquer some new big challenge I am facing.

Take your fixed persona on a journey and educate it. Take charge of your bossy Gertrude and put her in her place bit by bit as you realise how she is taking control of your thoughts and stopping you reach your potential.

I loved the conversational style of the book and the simple practical steps that I could employ toward the end. Click here to go to a blog with some more detail about the book as well as access to Carol Dweck's TED Talk.

Talk soon,
Davina

Please note, this post contains Amazon affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This helps me cover the costs of delivering my free content to you.

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.

Do you scribble on books?

Do you scribble on books?

 

Do you scribble on books? 

When I went to school this was considered to be very bad form but as an adult I find it essential. 

Taking notes in the margins of books I want to learn from: underlining key phrases, turning over corners and generally making a mess of a book is a sign that I am loving it. 

I have even learned that there is a term for this kind of scribbling: ‘marginalia'

I have also learned that this kind of messy and manual note taking is essential for learning new things in all places, not just from books.

Research I read this week suggested that learning and mastering new concepts by taking long-form notes is a far superior way to learn. 

I thought you might be interested to know why.

The very fact that we cannot (usually) transcribe by hand what someone says to us in a lecture or a video means that we have to process the ideas between when they enter our ears and exit on our pen.

We have to sort, prioritise and synthesise the information while getting it down which has a statistically significant impact on our deep grasp of the concepts being introduced.

We end up writing down far fewer words than if we were typing but having far greater impact on our learning.

And if we want to absolutely master these concepts, we should convert the marginalia into a summary of notes in a journal. The act of summarising and re-recording will help us engage more deeply with the content, react and potentially create valuable new ideas for us.

Another piece of research even goes a step further to suggest that when reading books that teach us concepts (not just facts) we should read paper copies, not electronic.

So, there you have it. Going old-school matters when learning something new.

And if you come to one of my workshops, don't be surprised if I ask you to close your laptop 😉

 

 

Keywords: leadership communication, leadership skills, learning and development

 

PRESENTED BY DAVINA STANLEY

Davina has helped smart people all over the world clarify and communicate complex ideas for 20+ years.

She began this work when she joined McKinsey & Company as a communication specialist in Hong Kong where she helped others use the Minto Pyramid Principle. She continued helping others when living in New York, Tokyo and now back in Australia.

Her clients include experts across many disciplines across Australia, Asia Pacific, New Zealand, the UK and the US. She currently coaches a number of C-suite executives as well as many mid-level folk.