It occurs to me – as I read Debbie Schachter’s recent essay about “internalizing the love of learning” – that perhaps one of the barriers to strategic learning is that very thing: some people just have not figured out that learning only happens when one wants to learn. And the desire doesn’t kick in when one thinks of learning as a chore or something to be “got through” as quickly (and usually as painlessly) as possible. For many people, the love of learning is not part of their personality, and when that’s the case, moving to strategic learning is not going to be easy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking a cynical approach here, but Schachter’s article (in the September 2010 issue of Information Outlook) makes a very important point for those of us involved in knowledge services. As we seek to converge information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning into the “practical side” of KM, for “putting KM to work” (as we like to characterize knowledge services), we begin with an assumption that might require a second look. We like to define strategic learning as any learning we undertake that helps us work better or smarter. Perhaps we are assuming that everyone approaches the idea of strategic learning from a positive, it’s-a-good-thing-to-do point of view.
But is that always the case? One of the great worries of consultants, change management specialists, and anybody else in the company who wants to get people to move from one way of doing something to another is what appears to be simply a lack of interest. Many people just can’t seem to get motivated to do something different, even if they’ve been told how much “better” it will be for them to take the new approach. How many new, very helpful, and really very easy-to-learn tools have been added to the corporate intranet and just languish there because no one is using them (except for one or two of us geeks who pushed to get them there)?
Is there some personality “get-motivated” gene that gets people interested in learning? Is it a cultural issue, whereby people who grew up in families where reading and learning is not the norm have to “get over” a particular cultural or sociological barrier before they can get interested in learning. Surely it isn’t just simple laziness, is it? Don’t we all find the energy and the motivation to learn the things we want to learn? If that’s the case, why do some people push back when it comes to learning or doing something different at work, even something that is established as a tool or technique that will make life in the workplace better (or perhaps just easier)?
I don’t know the answer, but I do know that moving people toward strategic learning is one of our challenges, and I like a couple of Schachter’s approaches to the problem. For one thing, she points out that we might – in the workplace – be forced to recognize that learning is “more or less essential” – as she puts it – and the times we live in simply might not leave us any choice.
Schachter puts another spin on the subject, too, one which I like and which I find myself using more often that I want to admit. Oftentimes my personal/professional idealism just doesn’t cut it with some of the people I’m trying to bring around, and I have to lean on the old “what’s-in-it-for-me” perspective. When people get the idea that what’s there can bring some personal benefit – when the “WIIFM” is clearly stated – the resistance seems to break down a little. Schachter makes a move in this direction too, by pointing out that “Acquiring knowledge and information on a constant basis can help you stay ahead of new technologies and business practices or even point you in a new career direction.”
Well said, Debbie. If the love of learning isn’t something that comes naturally, perhaps it’s best just to put it out there and let whatever it is that drives people motivate them to learning what they need to know. But fantasy idealist that I am, I still wish they would do it just because they love learning.