Learning is Adaptation

Our strategic challenge is always to be transparent with ourselves and our customers. What service do we deliver to help people resolve issues? How do we prepare them to move forward? What is the benefit our clients see? Why do they choose to build long-term relationships with us?

About two years ago, during a strategy session for the HSD Institute, we recognized a pattern we had been living into for many years. We realized that our training wasn’t simply training, and our consulting wasn’t simply consulting. In our shared reflections, we saw that our client engagements were sharing, informing, exploring, analyzing, challenging, supporting, and empathizing. When we called it “training,” we invited people to bring their own wicked problems as living case studies. When we called it “consulting,” we introduced new concepts and models to support decision making and action. Whenever we worked with clients we were both engaging with their authentic problems and helping them learn.

In conversations with key clients and each other, we saw the important pattern. We helped them adapt to specific, current challenges at the same time that they build the capacity to adapt to unknown challenges of the future. That is the power of Adaptive Action. And, we always practice Adaptive Action in the context of real, concrete, applications. Laboratory. So, we named our special kind of client engagement Adaptive Action Laboratories.

Success in management requires learning as fast as the world is changing.
Warren Bennis

As we have become more intentional and conscious of this hybrid service we deliver, we have begun to identify some principles that support us and our clients. These are still in process, so we would appreciate your reflections about how they match your own experience of learning and practice in your “real world.”

Principles that support us and our clients as we learn:

  • Learning is adaptation. Adaptation is learning. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, you either learn new ideas and behaviors, or you fail to survive. This principle is captured in this short video.
  • Once is (almost) never enough. Habits and assumptions are hard to change, especially if they are wrong. The change we call adaptation and learning does not happen all at one time. Instead, the new behavior must be practiced, repeated, re-learned, and re-enforced over time. The HSD Rules for Inquiry help us remember to keep learning.  
  • Community sets conditions for change.  Solo reflection is an important part of learning, but the tension that leads to change happens best in community. When you learn with others, you also learn from others. Their questions and insights multiply your own and help create a context where everyone moves forward together. This Live Virtual Workshop will help you understand the power of community.
  • It is about the question. People only learn when their own questions drive the teaching. You can help someone discover a question, but you cannot teach them something that they are not already curious about. The HSD Deep Learning Ecology explains why this is true and how to leverage questions into powerful learning and adaptation.    
  • We are playing an infinite game. The world continues to change. If you want to succeed—even to survive—you must change continually, too. There are no single scorecard, no final moments, no clear opponent, and no referee. You find these conditions in finite games like a fire drill or a football game. Instead, we live in an ever-changing pattern of challenge and opportunity. It calls forth your most creative self. Learn the rules of the Infinite Game here.

Warren Bennis knew it many years ago, and we continue to re-discover it every day. Learning is adaptation, and a community of partners set conditions that make it possible—and fun!

Mark your calendar to join us on August 2 (11:00 CDT) for our next Live Virtual Workshop: Get Ready: Learning for the Future. Bring your questions and engage with our community to play the Infinite Game of learning and adaptation.

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