If we want to create learning organizations, increase engagement, and build strong cultures in our schools, communities, and workplaces, we have to start with effective communication and build from there.
Communication is about the exchange of ideas and information. It requires not only distribution but also the effective consumption and understanding by a receiver. It is the (at least two-way) connection of people and content (including nonverbal content).
Learning is about bridging what I know with new concepts and experiences beyond my current understanding and purview. It moves the basic connection of people and content toward personal understanding and ownership of concepts. It is the interaction of information, ability, and a sense of possibility.
Engagement is a qualifier of the space in-between: the space between people, the space between people and concepts, the space between people and institutions. It is the application and re-formation of learning to one’s context that becomes regenerative. It is where learning forms identity.
So, when we talk about communication, learning, and engagement, we must consider and understand:
1. The perceptual space between people:
2. The space between people and the concepts of:
3. The space between people and institutions:
Communication, learning, and engagement live interdependently.
And yet, we too often invest in them as independent variables. We invest in communications technologies or processes without ever evaluating our learning environment or the state of engagement in which that communication effort will live (or die).
We emphasize and address learning by bringing in consultants and content experts without understanding where our communication failures or basic lack of engagement created learning challenges for us in the first place.
Most of us have struggled with the disengagement of others in some form and concocted engagement strategies to address it without ever considering a possible fundamental communication breakdown, or assessing if our assumptions about previous collective learning are actually valid.
As we work to strengthen our schools, our institutions, and our workplaces, we need to accept that it is complicated. Single-variable agendas or interventions will deliver single-variable results (if we are lucky).
But, starting with effective communication can set the stage for learning, engagement, and success no matter how complicated the task.
Just over a year in a startup has largely reinforced my “approach to things,” but the anniversary has also prompted me to reflect and put some thoughts into words here.
The learning process, the creative process, is iterative. Life is iterative. It requires putting out incomplete ideas, incomplete selves, testing hypotheses, and accepting that they are just that: incomplete, hypotheses. It requires honest critique without judgment. It requires growing into the possibility of what’s next rather than stagnating in what is or was.
So, to remain learners, creators, and innovators means that we can’t judge an iteration as if it were a final conclusion. We don’t judge the seedling for not being a flower. We don’t judge the child for not being an adult. Instead, we cultivate and observe and adapt as change happens and as we identify new needs and strategies for development.
Similarly, when creating a new product, offering a new service, or even just sharing a new idea, we need to understand each iteration as a point in a process, in progress, rather than a singular point for finite evaluation. When we look at yesterday’s work through the eyes and knowledge of today, it can seem woefully inadequate. (It’s the old hindsight is 20-20 thing.) That’s because we have learned. But, judging rather than iterating on this moment would be like saying the first step on a ladder is a failure because it doesn’t get us to the top.
So, the successful startup requires that we suspend judgment for the sake of learning and iteration. Supporting this, in turn, requires the hunger of a team, the motivation of the individual, the constructive critique of a confidante, the patience of a parent, the grace of a friend, and the creativity of, well, a startup. (Is it a wonder why so many fail!?)
Whether in software or in our own personal development, version 2.0 is typically better than version 1.0, and presumably 3.0 will be better yet. That’s the point – continuous possibility for learning and improvement. Just as version 3.0 would not be there without previous iterations, so our current selves wouldn’t be here without our previous iterations.
At the end of the day, as a startup or an individual, we only fail when we stop iterating. And, we typically only stop iterating when 1. we stop learning, 2. we fear failure, 3. we don’t care anymore.
So, our products and ideas and selves should always be incomplete. That’s really the point, isn’t it?