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Learning: the never-ending story

Wednesday, August 31, 2022 9:27 PM | Hallie Knox

Learning and knowing are overlapping postures. Overlapping, rather than either separate or identical. We can't know unless we learn. We can't learn without at least some awareness that we do not know. 

But here is the difference: learning implies an ongoing desire to know while knowing does not necessarily mean a continuing desire to learn.

If someone's basic posture is knowing, they interact with the world through their desire to hoard, teach, sell, or perhaps keep their knowledge a secret. A person becomes too busy talking or feeling smug to stop, look, listen, and learn.

If the basic posture is learning, however, a person interacts with the world through their desire to listen, study, reflect, purchase, gather, and synthesize. They are moving more deliberately and openly and cannot help but learn.

Can you feel this difference?

For many of us in Process Consulting, our journey of moving into the world and trying to influence it based on our expertise gave way to this conscious development of a deliberate, restrained, and non-anxious presence. We hold space with a Client while we listen to a problem or opportunity together. We determine what help looks like and co-design a process to address it. We then have the opportunity to learn together. 

The knowing approach can be a way to convey technical, fixed knowledge, yet it cannot adequately address adaptive changes because it resists ongoing discovery. It's too busy talking to listen and observe. Taking the learning approach, however, people notice things they would otherwise miss. They ask, What do we have here? Observing unexpected things is where differentiations come from that become new to the world products, innovative service offerings, and on rare occasions, a solution that makes an enormous problem disappear. We don't get to the new by knowing but through our openness to learn. 

The simplest expression of the twelve core competencies of Process Consulting is via the three categories of listening, helping, and learning. They are often identified in this order because of how they build into each other, just like nesting dolls do. Deep listening invites the Client to join in and begin listening to itself. The Process Consultant and the Client are now joined together in rendering and carrying out what help looks like. Along the way, everyone learns. It is a sticky learning that can be offered to those who come after us, rather than proprietary learning, where we prevent others from knowing unless it can be sold because we think this knowledge belongs to us. 

For this once, however, let's reverse the order. A partnership of learning with the intention of the world's flourishing can only happen because there is a communal effort to help figure it out.

And the trust needed to figure it out jointly is possible because of the trusted relationships that grow from the time invested in listening to one another.

P.S. Here is yet one more way to consider these categories of competencies:

  • Learning builds a common future while knowing only celebrates the individual's past.
  • Helping brings widespread communal accomplishment while performing seeks the momentary spotlight. 
  • Listening invites many voices while telling seeks many ears.

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