Learning from experience

Dec 10 2003 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Here’s a situation: A group of employees attend a great training session and they’re motivated to make changes in the workplace. But within two weeks, the motivation is gone, and things revert to the way they were.

How about a CEO who reads a book that inspires him to make changes throughout the organization, and then gets his entire leadership team to read it, too. But six months later, nothing has changed.


The problem is not that people don’t know what needs to be done. The problem is they fail to follow through. The root of this problem is simple: People (and organizations) don’t follow through because they don’t learn from their experiences. In fact, some go so far as to say that many don’t know how to learn from their experiences.

This type of learning is not something we’re taught in school. This learning requires initiative and persistence. It requires questioning the assumptions that underlie our thinking methods that have lead to the existence of our current problems. And, compounding our dilemma, this type of thinking is rarely rewarded even when it is put into place. Hence, people (and organizations) too often stay stuck.

Certain behavioral styles (such as the DISC “D,” or “Driver” style) are good at seeing what changes need to take place. But the blind spot of these styles is often lack of detailed follow through. Hence, strong Driver-types are good at starting projects, but not always good at finishing them to adequate completion.

Other styles are good at seeing and doing what needs to be done to see change through to its logical end, but they’re so uncomfortable with confrontation that they won’t rock the boat.

From the bird’s eye view, it’s plain that learning from experience must truly be a team effort with persistence. Working with managers in many organizations, I have no doubt that most managers know what needs to be done. They can tell me without equivocation that if “X” were different, production and effectiveness would increase. The following are some ways these managers could get “X” accomplished, if only they weren’t afraid of rocking the boat:

1. Talk with your supervisor. Everyone has a supervisor. Have your position mapped out on paper with the situation, the problem, and the solution clearly spelled out. DO NOT WING IT. Talk is too cheap today and besides, if things are outlined on paper they seem to carry more weight.

2. If your supervisor will not act on your suggestions, check other avenues. It may be that another supervisor with equal authority may see your solution, and be able to initiate change from a different angle.

3. It may be that you have to go over your supervisor’s head to the next level, but only do this after you’ve exhausted your options with your direct supervisor.

4. Whatever you do, make sure your proposal is outlined to completion, and also considers possible extenuating circumstances. It should show how the change you’re proposing will be tracked for success.

Remember, those that want to improve must risk cultural suicide by openly questioning the mindsets that have lead to accepting the level of performance that currently exists. This means that those who want to learn from their experiences must stand up for principles and withstand the macho attitudes that too often ridicule an introspective approach.

But I say that if doing what needs to be done means rocking the boat, then go ahead and start rocking. Just make sure you’re solidly based in correct principles before you start.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. He’s also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence