Jon talks to Laura Overton, the former CEO of Towards Maturity, about her latest research into thinking habits, the importance of curiosity and most crucially, understanding our learning selves.
Laura Overton: …for me, the idea of being an explorer means that I am just incredibly curious about what makes learning work for individuals, teams, organizations, in the workplace.
That, to me has been the underpinning, curiosity, and I just can’t help but act on that curiosity. So it was my very first job in learning and development, and I saw some technology in a small room under the stairs – back in the mid 80s – and I was like, why aren’t we using it more? How can we use it better, and that exploration of wanting to make the most of an opportunity kick started then.
And then I spent 15 years or so in the career of EdTech, and when it was 2000, the last major disruption, we had to stop being in the classroom, post 9/11, and we rushed into digital, and some got it incredibly right and some got it incredibly wrong, and the explorer in me kicked in yet again – what is it that we’re doing? And that obviously led to the research work we’ve done.
So in the last two years the explorer in me has been thinking, what is making learning work right now? I guess the great thing is that now I can draw on experience. I can draw on evidence and data, which is so part of my DNA now. And that just allows me to question and tackle issues, perhaps that haven’t been tackled before, or in different ways.
So for me, ‘learning explorer’ is about feeding on that curiosity that I have for driving change in the industry and looking for practical opportunities and ways of doing that.
The other work that I’ve been doing, I’ve been digging in deeper into big issues that are really facing us at the moment and having a great time. Loving it. The job of a learning explorer is the best fun to me, Jon.
Jon Kennard: That’s great to hear. And also, one of the previous strap lines of UNLEASH in fact I think was ‘stay curious’, or words to that effect. So it’s something that resonates with us, definitely. And it should do, with everyone. Talking about your recent work, you’ve been talking about thinking habits quite a lot. What have you discovered? Let’s take the obvious massive global event that’s happened, in the last two, three years, but what’s changed for people? What do you think you’ve observed about people’s behavior, post-pandemic, when it comes to thinking in the workplace?
LO: I think there’s a couple of different things there Jon; one is, what’s changed with the practice that I’ve been observing with learning and development professionals around the world? And, obviously, there’s been an increased desire to move into digital. There’s been an incredible pressure, and being overwhelmed.
But I don’t think that we’ve been prepared in the way that we could have been, I think the role of us as learning professionals isn’t to provide courses or even to drive performance but to ensure that others are equipped and ready not only for their job today, but for their job tomorrow. And I think what I’ve observed is that we haven’t necessarily been equipped and I’m ready to take that on board. But we’ve adapted incredibly well.
What was really interesting for me again, when we were exploring this; I was working with Shannon Tipton in the US, and Michelle Ockers in Australia doing a series of podcast interviews, right in the middle of the pandemic, and what really surfaced was no one knew what was going to happen. Right at that point, June/July time, no one knew where this was going to go. It was all about, how do we adapt.
What was really interesting in those interviews is those that were in control – as much as they could be – those that were ready, those that were prepared, those that were going with the flow, able to adapt and turn, it wasn’t necessarily [that] they were certain types of companies, but their attitude to change was completely different.
And so we went through all of those interviews, and I compared it with the high performing learning teams in my previous research work, and that’s where the idea of thinking habits really came about. When we look at our behaviors, as learning professionals, we do know what to do.
If we don’t, we should be listening in and reading more of UNLEASH. Because you talk about the practical things that we need to do, we need to be more aligned to business, we need to be more user-centric. It’s about experience, it’s learning and we know it, but we’re not doing it. And we’re often blaming the culture around us. So I was really intrigued by this. And so the work that I’ve been doing is really digging into what is our own ‘inner game’.
In tennis, they talk a lot about the inner game, and the tactics that a player uses to be successful on the courts. And I took great inspiration from [Australian tennis star] Ash Barty and the way that she was able to play on all of these different terrains and grounds and was able to win. She wasn’t the best tennis player, but the coaches really worked on her inner game, the game that she played with herself. And that really has drawn me into the whole idea of how our behavior is influenced by our thoughts, how are thoughts are influenced by our feelings, etc, and that cycle. So for me, what I really observed is that those that seemed to adapt better to rapid change, those learning and HR professionals have got different ways of thinking about themselves.
And I identified five. I looked at: the way that we think about our value; the way we think about our role; the way that we think about our relationship with others; the way we think about our response to time; and also the way we think about our response to change, risk, and innovation. And I identified a number of different continua and where we sit on these really influences the action we take. It influences what we read into data, it influences what we collect from data.
So these ‘thinking habits’ are something I’ve really been digging into a bit more. Because if we can recognize how we think about things, and we can recognize our own internal biases, then maybe, just maybe, we might be willing to try something new, try something different. So that, in the bigger picture, is why I’ve led to this point. The thinking habits for me have been a really interesting lens to look on my past research work as well.
For the full conversation – listen above…