There are two very different ways to learn. Learning a language provides a great example of these two ways. Learning a language in the classroom through text and blackboard learning is called declarative learning. This learning happens through the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Declarative learning lends itself to explicit, conscious recollection. This type of learning involves a weak set of patterns, that is, I can explain it to you, but from a place of explicit understanding rather than implicit experience. I can explain the theory but not the experience. In French, for example, I may know what a croissant is, but I have never ordered one in an authentic French bakery with my sense of smell piqued by the freshly cooked dough, my sense of hearing immersed in French chatter and my sense of sight aroused by the cornucopia of delicacies that surround me.
When you travel to a country and speak the language in that environment, you learn by experience. Learning by experience is called procedural learning. In procedural learning, acquisition and memory are demonstrated through task performance. We experience by doing. This learning happens through the part of the brain called the basal ganglia, responsible for habit formation and repeat task formation. This type of learning involves a strong set of patterns, where, I can explain to you by drawing on implicit experiences. As I practice any skill, my learning patterns become increasingly ingrained, like the grooves in a vinyl record. The procedural system makes new learnings so implicit that eventually, I don’t even notice I am performing a task. Imagine that for a culture of Innovation?
You can see where I am going with this.
Drill is Not Kill, Drill is Skill
“Drill is not Kill, but actually Drill is Skill” – Dr Barbara Oakley, Innovation Show 269
In education, the phrase ‘drill and kill’ means that by drilling the student with new knowledge, you will kill their motivation to learn. However, learning expert and guest on the Innovation Show, Barbara Oakley ensures us drill leads to skill rather than kill. For the reasons we touched on already, drilling learning through practice ensures the learned information becomes habitual. Drilling information is essential whether it be education, sports or safety procedures, but it is also imperative for organisational change initiatives.
Culture change can only succeed when both declarative and procedural ways of diffusing the desired culture occur in unison.
Declarative learning occurs in organisations when leadership engages in storytelling the strategy throughout the organisation. This happens when the organisation’s mission, vision and values are expressed on a regular basis. This happens when the organisation is clear on vision but flexible on how to get there. Why flexible on how to get there you might wonder? In a world of rapid change, the business landscape is shapeshifting on a regular basis, so we must recalibrate our roadmap on an equally regular basis. This is where the procedural system informs the declarative one.
If the declarative system forms a vision, it requires a procedural system to execute that system. In our language example above, the rubber hits the road only when you do the groundwork. You need to get away from the post-it notes and start experimenting. It is only through “the doing” that a culture of innovation can take root and become so implicit that it becomes an organisational habit.
A Ripple Not a Splash
Organisations often like to announce transformation programmes with town hall meetings (virtual or otherwise). The CEO stands up and reads a speech and everyone has coffee and pastries. Everyone returns to their task, pumped up and enthusiastic, which lasts for maybe a few weeks. This is what I call a corporate splash. It causes ripples, but the ripples eventually stop.
The alternative is a corporate ripple. This still involves the splash that causes the ripple, but the intent is different. A corporate ripple begins by preparing the water, aligning the direction of the ripples, paving their way. Once the preparation work is complete, then comes the splash that ignites the ripple. The ripple must be sustained through regular agitation, through action. With a powerful splash and a sustained ripple, that ripple can become a crashing wave.
Mapping this to learning, the splash is declarative learning, this is the vision, the story, the declaring. The ripple is harder to maintain, this is procedural learning, this takes time, effort and consistent oversight. Most importantly, it takes action, experimentation, even if this begins with the smallest experiment, we need to move from declarative to procedural.
Only then can we expect to see genuine change.
THANKS FOR READING
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