A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

In our recent post, If you’re happy and you know it, you’re unusual, we were ‘surprised’ at the different types of data that CEOs felt they received in adequate – or not so adequate – quantities. Given that understanding is something that we tend to arrive at through first knowing (notwithstanding research into the power of unconscious thinking), the findings made for relatively alarming reading.

The areas in which CEOs felt most informed were also those that are typically the easiest to quantity – Labour Costs being first and foremost amongst them. We appreciate that a knowledge and understanding of the bottom line is an essential, but we also can’t help but think that an understanding of the (human) resources that both drive and enable it is important too.

And so we find ourselves looking at another set of figures – from the Bersin & Associate report, Key Findings : Becoming a High-Impact Learning Organization, 2012. Bersin’s conclusion is that High Impact Learning Organisations (HILOs) know their audiences – ie their internal audiences. Under a heading What You Don’t Know About Your Learners Can Hurt You, they show responses on a scale from 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent)  in terms of degree of knowledge about a range of aspects. Our eyes were particularly drawn to some entries, which we’ve highlighted below:














Resume/CV Material






Current knowledge/skill/competency…






Current work conditions/
environmental constraints






Career Interests






The descent of figures in the right-hand column made interesting reading compared with the findings of our own UK Learning Transfer Survey 2013, where ensuring and selecting by alignment of personal and organisational development objectives and the impact of the workplace environment on learning transfer and application were identified not only as key practices in ensuring successful and lasting learning transfer, but also as practices that are practised rather more rarely than might be desirable. (You can request a copy of the Report online.)

I wanted to see another row in Bersin’s figures, showing knowledge about another key attribute. I searched the document for it, but saw it referred to only as an attribute of an organisation, not of its audience – which was not perhaps surprising, but was disappointing. The words I was looking for? Learning agility.

Of the 66 proven learning transfer measures in the 2013 UK Learning Transfer Survey, selection of learners by learning agility was the fourth least used. Although its use had increased by 50% since the 2010 Survey, it remained clearly the least used factor in learner selection. Eagerness to improve still appears to be clearly preferred over any proven ability to do so from exposure to learning opportunities, despite clear evidence that ability and alignment are far better markers of an ability to deliver on ‘potential’ than ambition.

As Korn Ferry Institute has written on the topic:

In study after study, it’s been proven that a leader’s success depends on their interest in seeking out new, diverse, and challenging experiences; drawing numerous and varied lessons from those experiences; and integrating and applying those lessons and principles to their next challenge. In other words – being Learning Agile.

In contrast, the behaviors that trip up executives and get them in trouble, sometimes even derailing previously successful careers is the tendency to focus on doing more of the same, relying too much on past experiences, and defaulting to their favorite solutions. At the extreme, derailed executives appear to quit learning new things altogether and, if anything, just add ammunition to support what they already know. As a result, they don’t make transitions to new different jobs effectively or adapt quickly to the unfamiliar. They tend to rely on what got them to where they are, ironically becoming victimized by their past successes.”

If we are to be optimistic – and how else are we ultimately to improve things? – let’s hope that more organisations will not only deploy learning agility in their L&D practises, but keep themselves informed about the learning agility of those who are currently waiting to be selected. After all, tomorrow ultimately belongs to those that will follow us.

Link to original post

Leave a Reply