The learning process, manifest
I know I keep saying that the biggest ‘deficit’ of our organisations is our ability to learn.
And I feel I need to clarify what I mean here. Because, on the one hand, financial services as an industry has always been keen to evolve and devise new ways of making money (adding value, making profit, take your pick, it’s usually both).
And, since the fintech wave hit, we have also gotten rather good at intentional learning.
Actually leveraging those innovation centres of ours to understand brand new things.
Actually using those scouting efforts of ours to observe and deduce.
It is a fallacy to say the industry isn’t learning.
In fact, the regulator is setting the pace of learning and banks are getting with the programme fast, often exhibiting higher degrees of agility when it comes to closing the gap of understanding than fintechs who, having arrived on the scene all shiny and new, underestimated how fast they would be not-so-new anymore. How soon they would find themselves in need of learning new things. Things new to the industry, new to the market or very old indeed but new to them.
And maybe there is a piece waiting to be written about how quickly a start-up stops being a start-up and how fast, how incredibly fast, it is plagued by all the problems it mocked the banks for being too stupid to avoid: organisational inertia, bureaucracy, naïve strategy while the world is on fire or a myopic focus on the next quarter in a way that hurts long-term growth.
All the problems and none of the cash reserves to help with the process of getting it wrong and trying again.
Irony is bitter, but no less real for it.
There’s a piece waiting to be written there for sure. But it’s not this piece.
This piece is about the other type of learning, that all sizes of financial services firms are bad at. The unintentional type of learning.
And what I mean is this:
The regulator and the incumbent banks have gotten very good at showing up to go to school. At sitting down to study. At getting engaged with new stuff and working it out.
Start-ups are also getting with the programme that their newness doesn’t stay new for long. It doesn’t shield them from the need to learn for long.
It’s a familiar journey.
But what happens when the lesson doesn’t turn up when you’re in the classroom? What happens when the learning opportunity shows itself when you are not in learning mode?
Do you pass it by?
My argument, when I say that we are not learning organisations, is largely looking at how we face into those situations. When something occurs that is a teachable moment in a context that is not curated to be a schoolhouse. What then?
We mostly shut it down and waste it, don’t we?
Because learning is tiring and embarrassing at times, because it entails admitting we don’t know or, God forbid, that we were wrong. And in a business-as-usual context that vulnerability is jarring and at odds with the way we work (come on guys, read my book already, it’s all in there).
We have spoken about the closet of shame before.
And we have spoken about magic mistakes before, so I won’t repeat myself. I will just say all those reasons and all those encouragements hold true.
And that’s important.
And I won’t repeat it, because there is something else I want to repeat. And yes, it is something I’ve said before (I am making sure you are paying attention, folks). And that is that I love being wrong, and you should too.
Being wrong proves to me that I thought about things.
And reached conclusions. Before I encountered situations.
That is the dictionary definition of prejudice, by the way: arriving at a view or opinion before encountering a situation.
In itself a key part of our cognitive processes. It is how understanding starts.
Prejudice becomes an issue when you hold on to your pre-judgment in the face of an opportunity for actual cognitive engagement with a situation and set of facts in front of you. Holding on to the thing you believed before you knew better now you have an opportunity to actually know better.
That’s what we tend to mean when we speak of prejudice and yet, temporally at least, the term misses that moment of choice. Prejudice becomes an issue the minute the situation occurs and you treat it like it didn’t.
And that’s the thing, right?
If I come into a situation thinking A is going to happen but instead B does, it’s evident that I was wrong coming in.
And isn’t it amazing to realise that you were wrong? To realise that you are capable of both critical thought before a situation and real-time learning during it?
Because the minute I realise I was wrong, I see the learning process manifest itself before my very eyes.
I thought A.
I know now that a whole host of things are true, so A is not right, B is. I was wrong and I have learned something. And I am no longer wrong.
We are bad at this, in our organisations.
We don’t want to lose face. We don’t want to concede a point. We don’t want to learn unless we are in a schoolroom.
So we go into conversations thinking whatever we think, and then rather than conversing… we start defending. But when you defend an idea as a default position, you use all your words and time and energy in this defence.
You use all your energy to debunk the opposition. You listen out for weakness in their argument, not the argument itself.
You use all your time protecting what you brought into the room and you are left with no time to reflect and, without reflection, you will have a hell of a hard time changing your mind about the thing you thought when you walked into the room.
And maybe you were wrong coming in and that’s fine.
But now you will be wrong coming out and there was that teachable moment for you and your organisation and you totally ignored it. And isn’t that a shame?
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.