The Four Ways People Respond to Learning Opportunities


Dale Carnegie recently surveyed 500 business leaders from 12 countries about where their organizations are focusing their innovation efforts. Among the top six areas of focus across all respondents was innovation related to the organization’s “culture of learning.”

In many ways, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Given the rapid pace of global change, organizations need to innovate how they develop their talent and enable it to adapt. But before we can innovate the culture around learning, we have to understand the four composite archetypes of a learning culture.

Let’s get to know them.

Concept of science. Bookshelf full of books in form of tree on a whiteboard.

  1. The Learning Denier: Robert works hard in his role as a leader, and he knows he’s good at his job. In fact, from his point of view, he was made for it. He’ll sometimes say, “You’re either cut out for this type of business or you’re not.”

    Robert has a fixed mindset about performance. He believes that basic qualities like intelligence and talent are hardwired into people. As a result, he doesn’t think that he can or will develop new skills and ways of thinking about his work. His learning focus is simply about remembering information, not about adapting or growing.

  2. The Learning Deflector: Lisa knows how to sell. She was promoted into a sales leadership position after many years of success as a salesperson. Her team respects her, and she fosters a collegial work environment. The company is doing well enough, so it’s all good for Lisa.

    Lisa believes that learning is very important, particularly when someone moves into a new role. She is always willing to read a new book, attend a conference or receive coaching (although she gets annoyed that it takes away from doing work). When she participates in learning, she’s typically gracious about it, points out that it validates what she’s already doing and says something like, “I’ve been to so many of these conferences over the years. They all pretty much say the same things.”

  3. The Learning Discusser: Vijay’s a CEO who loves a good discussion about what needs to change and what’s possible. People in his company admire his endless thirst for new ideas (although they are somewhat fatigued by it). He reads books and articles online, talks constantly with other business leaders, attends a CEO forum and invests in training for himself and his company.

    Vijay likes to say, “If you can pick up one good nugget, it was worth the investment.” And that’s what he does. He finds good nuggets and brings them up in management meetings. People write them down, some effort is made on them, and then they inevitably fade into the whirlwind of business as usual.

  4. The Learning Doer: Cynthia is a regional executive for a medical technology company. Her region scores high on employee engagement surveys and is perennially one of the top-performing regions in their company. She thinks about her work as a system made up of her values and her strategies, and she runs her system with confidence, while remaining humble and aware that it may need to evolve. She’s always testing her mindset and methods, experimenting with new approaches, listening to feedback and observing results.

    A voracious reader, Cynthia attends conferences, works with a coach and regularly blocks time to participate in training programs. When she realizes that her system should evolve, she promptly assimilates the learning and adjusts how she operates. She continues to monitor results and feedback and shares her insights with others.

Many people have characteristics from more than one of these, while others may lean more heavily toward Denier, Deflector, Discusser or Doer based on their current season of work. But as we look at the four distinct archetypes, the obvious question is: How do we create an environment that fosters Cynthia’s mindset?

If we want to innovate the learning culture to help lead us through the changes we’re all facing, the first step is to build organizations of Learning Doers.

Just imagine the difference it will make in your organization—or even within yourself.

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