In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products, but above all, to reinvent yourself again and again,” wrote Yuval Harari, the 46 year old philosopher and [big picture] historian.
Despite the unprecedented rates of change we are experiencing, ‘learning how to learn’ is rarely taught in schools, yet learning is the ultimate management skill.
If you start your 50-year working career now, it is estimated by some pundits that by 2070 the pace of life will be 32 times faster than it is now. So how do we possibly keep pace? It helps to look at models of learning, some variants applied in Silicon Valley, and some that have been with us for centuries.
In the 1950s, John Boyd, a US Air Force colonel developed a learning feedback model, known as the OODA loop after his experiences with jet fighter planes ‘dog fighting’ in the Korean War. It has since gone on to become a popular decision-making framework, both in the military and in business.
Boyd realised that while the more powerful Russian MIG 15 was expected to win against its rivals, like the US made F86, it often lost. Why? His research showed that the F86 had a hydraulic flight stick, while the MIG had a manual one. In the absence of hydraulics, the MIG pilot required more physical effort, and would eventually tire, growing just a little more fatigued.
In essence, the American pilot was able to respond faster, leading to Boyd’s Law, speed of iteration, beats the quality of iteration.
OODA stands for Observe - the other aircraft; Orient - assessing the situation; Decide - what to do; and, Act.
Boyd intended OODA not as a linear cycle, but more a process with multiple feedback mechanisms. For instance, observation isn’t just single step, it is a developing awareness based on constantly changing circumstances, and imperfect information.
Orientation never ceases, but rather constantly evolves as it takes in new data.
Does this ring a bell?
Does this OODA learning model sound familiar? It’s there in a similar approach in the fields of, say, psychology, artificial intelligence and business. Really, it is an abbreviated version of the scientific method that has been with us for centuries.
Observe; use inductive logic to form a hypothesis about what is happening, and experiment, and feed the results back. In systems theory 101, any system that does not have a feedback loop, eventually malfunctions.
OODA model is remarkably similar to the lean start-up — build, measure, learn model in business used by Silicon Valley, and just about every smart start-up venture.
Learning is incorporated and changes made by the end of the day — as opposed to six months from now — or never.
Nothing new under the sun. This thinking is not new, for example the French 18th Century philosopher Denis Diderot expressed it this way: “There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.”
Success leaves clues. So how does one spot a manager, or company, that learns? In observing, they see something new, in what they may have seen 100 times.
“To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour, A robin redbreast in a cage, Puts all heaven in a rage. A dove-house filled with doves and pigeons, Shudders hell through all its regions” was how the poet and painter William Blake expressed it.
Managers that are learners see not what they want to see, but what is there.
Those who learn generally respond quickly; they will get back to you just about immediately, as opposed to feedback that just somehow ‘falls through the cracks’.
As a result, the velocity of organisational learning is fast. Medium is the message, response times are the message in learning.
So, why is it that we hesitate to adapt, to incorporate our learning quickly? Might be that we fear getting it wrong, that we will appear stupid, and will have failed, yet the path to succeed goes through the thorny prickly fields of failure.
Albert Einstein referred to compounding, as in compound interest, as one of the wonders of the world. Same applies in learning, some learning of skills and knowledge, just compounds on itself, over the years, and just keeps growing.
“If you are investing in your education and you are learning, you should do that as early as you possibly can, because then it will have time to compound over the longest period. And that the things you do learn and invest in should be knowledge that is cumulative, so that the knowledge builds on itself. So, instead of learning something that might become obsolete tomorrow, like some particular type of software [that no one even uses two years later], choose things that will make you smarter in 10 or 20 years,” said investor Warren Buffet.
YouTube is a treasure trove of world-class learning and books and learning materials are there in abundance.
Forget the much quoted business gurus and the tech giants, some of the best teachers may be right in front of you.
The woman selling potatoes can teach one lesson about diligence and the jua kali mechanic about resourcefulness and creativity.
Part of the paradox to learning faster, to have that ability to reinvent, is to have the knack for slowing down at times.
At some point, one has to just be still, quiet the mind, and focus on seeing just one leaf on a tree.
When all is said and done, what often stops us learning is the ‘been there, done that’ know-it-all mindset.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” said Earl Weaver.