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To Be a Better Leader, Learn How to Learn

The Shortcut? Join a Study Group. (We Mean It.)

"The Power of Pull"

Here’s the problem: More than ever before, change is the rule, not the exception, in business. Globalization means more competition. The technology that makes you better than your competition today is obsolete tomorrow. Any knowledge you already possess is depreciating at an accelerating rate. How do you cope with the instability of it all?

Here’s the solution: You need to become a learner, and the current era demands that you develop learning strategies for keeping yourself in the game. Merely reading a good book or two won’t cut it — because reading won’t really put you in touch with the latest, real-world experiences and tools you could be privy to. So what’s it take to become a 21st-century learner?

It’s all about with whom — rather than how — you learn. In 1986, Harvard’s then-president, Derek Bok, wanted to know if there was a way to predict whether a particular student would succeed or fail in college. What was different about kids who kicked ass as undergrads? The subsequent large-scale study revealed the single best predictor of college success — which turned out to have nothing to do with any metric we associate with collegiate achievement, then or now.

It wasn’t GPA or SAT scores or a number of any kind. It was a student’s ability to either create or join a study group. Students who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.

A study group is akin to a customized DIY social innovation: It uses a self-created infrastructure of relationships to produce and retain knowledge that, importantly, does so not in the static, dry way of, say, a textbook, but in an interactive, experiential, personal, ever-evolving-and-adapting format — one that is exclusive to conversation and the relationships from whence it’s created. Study groups predicted college success because, in other words, it’s the variable that most clearly indicated someone had learned the most powerful and effective way to learn.

But forget college. What kind of study group do you have?


For an extended discussion of why social learning has become so critical to business performance, check out the book, The Power of Pull, by business thinker/consultant John Hagel and John Seely Brown, Xerox’s former chief scientist.

Unlike any other time, we each have nearly infinite access to the information and people—the “flow” in Hagel and Brown’s language—that can help us thrive amid the change around us. Social learning is one of the mechanisms they advocate using to tap this flow. Get a helpful summary of the book’s main ideas from the encyclopedic blog, The Learning Generalist.

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To Be a Better Leader, Learn How to Learn

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