When it comes to learning, "if we can recognize processes that we need to follow and behaviors that get in the way of those processes, then we can start to improve how we learn" -- personally, professionally and organizationally -- a University of North Carolina business professor recently told Army leaders on Fort Bragg, N.C.
Bradley R. Staats, a professor of operations at the Kenan-Flagler Business at Chapel Hill, N.C., spoke Aug. 14 with more than 75 U.S. Army Soldiers and Army civilian employees during a presentation entitled "Never Stop Learning: Stay Relevant, Reinvent Yourself and Thrive." He outlined behavioral science insights to create a dynamic learning environment.
The leader-development presentation to U.S. Army Forces Command staff was hosted by the FORSCOM G-1 personnel team. Staats is well known to many in the audience who have attended the FORSCOM Supervisor Engagement Course at Chapel Hill's business school, where he presents the class "Effective Decision Making" as part of the week-long course.
"When it comes to learning, it turns out we're bad," Staats explained. "Our behaviors and our instincts often take us in one direction, when we need to go in a very different direction. How can we become dynamic learners so that we succeed as we move forward?" he asked the Army audience. We're living in a learning economy today, he said, where the focus is on our ability to learn new things and adapt quickly.
During the Fort Bragg presentation, Staats shared three behavior-focused ideas for individuals and organizations to develop and grow as effective learners while overcoming bad learning habits. The steps include:
• Valuing Failure
• Asking Questions
• Learning to be true to yourself by playing to your strengths
To help encourage leaders and organizations to better appreciate failure, Staats suggested organizations "destigmatize failure, teach a growth mindset and emphasize the process. When you do fail, don't let the learning opportunity escape," he said. The U.S. Army offers similar advice with its focus on the lessons-learned process following military operations and major events.
Staats emphasized the value of asking questions as part of dynamic learning and offered three suggestions: block out time for thinking, appreciating the value of being able to say "I don't know," and listen actively.
A month earlier, Staats wrote a Wall Street Journal piece entitled "Don't Just Dive Into Action: Stop To Think First," where he concluded "fight the urge to act for its own sake and recognize that when the going gets tough, the tough take time to stop and think."
Lastly, Staats discussed the importance of self awareness and feedback to help identify valuable learning strengths. He outlined four concepts to do this: "Releasing the individual; applying a "reflected best" self-exercise; carefully looking at your weaknesses; and avoiding over confidence." "By focusing on your strengths and addressing critical weaknesses -- you'll improve your ability to learn," he writes in "Never Stop Learning."
Many of these ideas also are part of his "Effective Decision Making" presentation during the FORSCOM Supervisor Engagement Course, where he asks students to focus more carefully on what is the problem they are trying to solve and to ask the right questions while listening more carefully to the answers. Staats advocates "encouraging a diversity of opinions, going to different sources to collect needed data, and to question the assumptions behind decisions.
Staats outlined his three dynamic learning steps while also providing examples from his 15 years of academic and business experience, behavioral science insights, as well as organizational case studies and business examples gathered over his career as an associate professor and consultant. His recent book, "Never Stop Learning," outlines eight steps for lifelong learning.
He started his presentation by pausing to recognize the military group. "Thank you for your service and for what you do for our country," Staats said.