Is our ability to LEARN - declining in the digital age?

This week I learned something about learning.   It was sparked as I was leading teaching a refresher class to managers who I had taught the same content to twice before.  I found myself getting frustrated at their questions - on things I had already taught them.  After about an hour I suddenly realized that I was looking at teaching and learning in the wrong way…

I was viewing learning in the Internet mindset of “one and done.”  It’s a mindset - that all we need to do is to read the “sound bite” or “watch the video” and we know all that we need to do.  This is true when it comes to looking up a fact.  However, when it comes to learning something that is more than fact recitation - that has interactive dimensions the learning journey takes many more experiences. 

In the old days (did I really write that :)…learning was a journey from novice to apprentice to mastery.   At Procter & Gamble we learned how to write a clear and persuasive one page memo through hundreds of rewrites over dozens of memos.  

Interestingly, in our personal lives we don’t expect to take one golf, tennis or cooking lesson and become an expert.  However, in the world of business we have a black/white… know/don’t know mindset that with one exposure we should know everything. 

Quite simply - that’s not how learning happens.  

As I thought about this during the week - I reflected on my conversations with two pioneers who taught System Thinking back in 1980.  

Bill Conway, CEO of Nashua Corporation -  the first company outside of Japan to embrace Dr. Deming’s system mindset (the precursor to total quality, 6 sigma and Lean) told me that to teach system thinking you need to teach it at least three times.  He also committed 50% of his time to teaching (reinforcing) the new mindset with his managers.

My father, who worked at Nashua with Bill and Dr. Deming told me that he like most people attended Dr. Deming’s 4 day seminar 3 times before he felt like he really understood system thinking. 

Multiple learning experiences takes the student from intellectually knowing to deeply understanding the broader consequences and nuances. At it’s heart learning is about repetitions of the Deming PDSA Cycle of - PLAN - DO - STUDY - ACT.  Only in this case the PDSA is about the project of building your confidence and capability. 

When we teach Innovation Engineering on college campuses the students get rich repetition. 

Off campus we accomplish the same - when students complete to certification.   Certification has the necessary repetitions - Digital Classes (view content), Lab Class (gives first experience), Assignments to Completion (builds understanding and confidence) and most important of all - Hands on Application to work (builds true understanding.”

Of these… Ken Grier, Creative Director for The Macallan and Innovation Engineering Black Belt found the Hands on Application most important, “The forced rigor of actually doing it, practicing it, getting coaching feedback was 70% of my learning.”

If you assume that learning is 70% Hands on Application to Work and 15% is Assignments to Completion that leaves just 15% for the Digital and Lab Classes.  Sadly, a higher percentage of students than we would like - have the "internet" mindset of "One Class and Done".   My deeper learning this week is that I need to take responsibility for teaching again and again - even when they don't think they need it.  Frankly, how could they know that they don't fully understand. 

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Double Golds

Brain Brew Spirits

• Big City Bourbon

• Smoke Storm Bourbon

Innovation Engineering Success Story

A shout out to the Brain Brew Scientific Spirits Team - our tiny little start up company located in the Eureka! Ranch garage. 

18 Months ago the team invented a new Time Compression™ technology that accelerates the aging of whiskey.   It's being commercialized using the Innovation Engineering mindset and tools - with the help of the entire Eureka! Ranch staff.  10 months after founding we shipped our first two products. 

This past week - at the North American Bourbon and Whiskey Competition - we won two DOUBLE GOLD'S - taking 2 of the 8 awarded!   For an 18 month old start up to win like this is simply unheard of.  It’s like a Little League baseball team beating the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park (I was going to say Cincinnati Reds - but given how they’re playing….:).

After multiple celebratory toasts - the discussion this week moved to “what have we learned with these wins.”  Three things stuck out…

  1. Don’t be Normal:  The two products that won are Meaningfully Unique.  They are not “reasonable” - they push the edges.  They are far from "normal".
  2. Technology ROCKS:  The secret to our success is amazing technology. It would not be possible to craft the winning products using old world aging methods.  Interestingly, the news came to us while the team was hard at work doing research and development pushing new frontiers of whiskey aging technology.   The result was more patentable inventions - that will enable even more amazing whiskey products at even lower cost. 
  3. Fail FAST Fail CHEAP with QUANTITATIVE Research:  The winning products were developed with the aid of over 450 quantitative Rapid Tests with consumers.  R&D in isolation doesn’t work.  To really learn you MUST get feedback from customers regularly.  Even testing “bad” products helps us get smarter.  

If you want to taste the winners - stop by the Eureka! Ranch in Cincinnati.  The new product tastes will be available for purchase in select markets in September.