David Kolb: Experiential Learning

As with so much else in psychology these days, the long cherished idea of learning styles is coming under deep scrutiny. The empirical basis for the idea was always weak, and now new experiments are finding null or statistically weak results.

Yet the ready association that many trainers and educators have between David Kolb’s name and the idea of learning styles is an over-simplification of his deeper thinking. David Kolb gives us a valuable model that should be better known among practising managers, who see part of their role as being about developing the capabilities of their teams.

David Kolb

David Kolb

Short Biography

David Kolb was born in 1939 and went to the private Knox college to study psychology. After receiving his BA in 1961, he went to Harvard, where he completed his MA in Social Psychology in 1964, followed by a PhD in 1967.

He took a teaching position at MIT as Assistant Professor of Organizational Psychology and Management, and left there (as Associate Professor) ten years later, to take up a chair in Organizational Behaviour at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

In 1981, Kolb and his wife, Alice, co-founded Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS) to commercialise Kolb’s thinking on experiential learning and, in particular, his learning styles inventory.

Experiential Learning

At the heart of Kolb’s thinking about learning is his simplified model of Experiential Learning, which he co-developed with Roger Fry. This is fully documented across numerous highly-cited papers, and his major academic book, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development.

Kolb and Fry sought to synthesise the work of many earlier thinkers and researchers into how experience leads to learning. Kolb has said that he was particularly influenced by Dewey, Piaget, and Lewin. Their model of learning is most easily summarised as a cycle, although they were at pains to point out that this is just a simplificatiion. Because things are different on every iteration, Kolb prefers the metaphor of a spiral. Nonetheless, we will follow the commoner and easier to read metaphor in the illustration below.

Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle

Experiential Learning Cycle

The principal critique of this model is one Kolb is fully aware of. It oversimplifies a complex and  more messy learning process that involves other faculties, like memory, and can proceed via different routes from this cycle.

This is a fair critique. The strength of the model, however, is that it provides a helpful framework for developing workplace learning opportunities. It is very much the basis of Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT approach to instructional design.

Learning Styles

Kolb went on to argue that we are not all equally able or motivated in the four abilities of cultivating experience, reflecting on it, generalising it, and applying our insights. Indeed, he went on to suggest that we tend to develop an orientation towards one pole of each of the two dimensions:

  • Experience – Abstraction (or Feeling and Thinking, in Jungian language, which Kolb seems to like)
  • Applying – Reflecting (or Doing/Sensing and Reflecting/Intuiting in Jungian language)

This leads to four learning styles:

Kolb Learning Styles

Kolb Learning Styles

I think the empirical evidence for this is based mostly on testing of the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory and I am not competent to assess its strength. However, it does seem clear that we all have two things: preferences and adaptability. You may find some colleagues have one or another learning style preference, but you will also find that we can all adapt and use multiple styles.

This is as it must be. Learning is a whole brain activity, and if, as James Zull suggests, different learning styles call upon different brain regions, then surely the best learning takes place when all are fully integrated.

The Experiential Learning Cycle & Regions of the Cerebral Cortex

The Experiential Learning Cycle & Regions of the Cerebral Cortex

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Whitney Johnson: Disrupt Yourself

Whitney Johnson has changed her career direction several times. And each time she has become, arguably, more successful. That’s her point. If we can disrupt our comfortable career habits – and do it right – we can see ever greater success.

Johnson was named as one of 2015’s Thinkers50 top 50 management thinkers for her insights into how to achieve this. As a friend and co-worker of Clayton Christensen, whose academic work focuses on disrutive innovation in corporations, she has chosen to adopt and adapt his language.

Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson

Short Biography

Whitney Johnson was born in Spain, in 1961, and grew up in California. She studied Music at Brigham Young University, also visiting Uruguay for two years, as a Mormon missionary. After graduation, she and her husband moved to New York, so he could pursue a PhD, and Whitney Johnson got a job as a secretary in a Wall Street firm.

There, she recognised that to progress and start to match the salary levels of the traders across the office, she’d need to gain business skills, which she did. By 1996, she was working as an equity analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, moving to Merrill Lynch in 2000. She was enormously successful, and specialised in Latin American stocks.

In 2006, following a meeting with Christensen at church, they co-founded investment company Rose Park Advisors. Johnson was responsible for fund formation, capital raising, and the development of the Fund’s investment strategy. She served as Rose Park’s President from 2007 to 2012. They used Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation to invest in early stage companies.

Whitney Johnson’s First Book: Dare, Dream, Do

While she was running Rose Park, Johnson wrote her first book, Dare, Dream, Do. This of course triggered another career disruption for her. This book is about how women can build a happy life by pursuing their passions.

Her current work life is a portfolio of non-executive roles on company advisory boards, coaching, podcasting, speaking and writing. In 2015, she articulated her story and her lessons, wrapped up in the disruption metaphor in her best-selling book, Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.

Disrupt Yourself

In the modern world of work, Johnson observes that we are staying in job roles for ever shorter times. In addition, to make a radical change in our career prospects, we need to do something radically different.

Her prescription has seven components.

1.  Take the Right Risks

Johnson makes a helpful distinction between what she calls Competitive Risk and Market Risk.

  • Competitive Risk is when we take on established players in a secure market that is lucrative, and which we understand. Johnson observes this is the risk most of us take on, yet is not likely to yield the best returns. Instead, we should put more focus on taking…
  • Market Risk. This is where we play in a new space. It involves finding new opportunities, and building new capabilities. However, the competitive risk is small, because few will be addressing this market. The new market you take on needs to give you the scope to meet a need better or more cheaply.

However, Johnson also says that if your market feels scary and lonely, then you are probably in the right place. Hmm. Maybe you are, or maybe you are just somewhere scary and lonely. You need to do your research!

2. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths

What are your strengths, and which ones can you match to the market needs you have identified? Johnson refers readers to Strengths Finder 2.0, and also adds some helpful questions. These will support you in gaining a little insight into your strengths. For example:

  • What skills have helped you survive so far?
  • What makes you feel strong?
  • When do you feel at your best; invigorated, inquisitive, successful?
  • What made you different as a child?
  • What are your hard-won skills?

3-5. After this, the other five components are:

  1. Embrace Constraint
  2. Battle Entitlements
  3. Step back to Grow
  4. Give Failure its Due
  5. Let your Strategy Emerge from Discovery

Whitney Johnson in her Own Words

 

You might like the Career Transition Pocketbook

 

Philip Kotler: Modern Marketing

Philip Kotler is often viewed as the ‘father of modern marketing’. His contribution to the field is enormous. I’d characterise his principal innovation as bringing the analytical approach of a mathematical economist to what was a woolly and vague social science.

Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler

Short Biography

Philip Kotler was born in Chicago in 1931 and received his MA in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1953, studying with three Nobel Laureates. He then took a PhD in economics at MIT, before realising that economics was the wrong subject for him. He held post-doctoral positions at Harvard (in maths) and the University of Chicago (in behavioural science) before accepting an academic post at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. There, he chose to teach marketing and by 1962 was Professor of International Marketing.

In 1967, he became the Johnson & Son Professor of International Marketing, a post he still holds today. Also in that year, he published a major work on marketing. Frustrated with the lack of intellectual rigour and analysis of all marketing textbooks then available, Kotler brought his mathematical training to bear on the evidence base of the marketing curriculum.

In Marketing Management, he created a best-selling textbook, that is by far the dominant choice of business schools throughout the world. Now in its 15th edition, Kotler typically revises it thoroughly every three years. He argues that yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems – marketing changes too fast for an edition to remain any longer. It’s good for sales, I guess, but in the case of marketing, I suspect it is more than justified.

Since then, Kotler has authored well over 50 books, and has garnered more academic and business awards and honours than you can shake a stick at. He even appears on a postage stamp (Indonesian, 2006, 1,000 Rupiah – around US$0.07 – for the philatelists).

Spat between Kotler and Levitt

In the 1980s, Kotler had a public spat with his contemporary marketing guru, Theodore Levitt. As we discuss in our article about Levitt, Levitt believed that corporations should standardise their products globally, and build global brand messages and marketing campaigns. Kotler, on the other hand, recognised the value of this but argued that corporations must not ignore cultural and other local differences. He advocates a mixture of global and local marketing that has become known as ‘glocal’. McDonald’s is an example; it produces local dishes in addition to core offerings, and even suppresses those products where they conflict with local values (such as beef products in Hindu countries).

Four Big Ideas that Philip Kotler gave us

The measure of a new idea is how deeply and how widely it becomes ingrained. Four of Kotler’s ideas now seem self-evidently true to a wide swathe of managers, within and outside of marketing functions. This was not always the case, and Kotler was instrumental in developing each, and putting them before generations of graduate business school students.

Marketing is a Core Business Function

There was a time when marketing was seen as a peripheral activity. Or maybe it was an adjunct to the sales function. If it were the latter, then clearly, it could only be an activity for commercial organisations. But it’s not, and therefore all manner of non-commercial organisations, like governmental tiers, voluntary and charitable bodies, and public services, need to engage in marketing. Without marketing, we now recognise, we cannot put our ideas and offerings in front of the people we created them for. Without marketing, there is no point!

Focus on Your Customer’s Needs

Create the products and services your customers need and want. Marketing is less about lining up sales for what you make, and more about figuring out what your customers will buy, and then letting them know about it, when you have something that matches.

Marketing as a Process of Exchange and Communication

Marketing is about building an overlap of values between your brand, and your clients. It is a social process that starts with a dialogue, where marketers create the conditions to hear from their potential buyers. It seems to me that this perspective has its roots in the time Kotler spent as a post-doc in behavioural science. It does for marketing what Daniel Kahneman did for economics: it places the quirky irrationality of humans at the centre of a discipline which was, before then, considered in theoretical and abstract terms.

Five Product Levels

Kotler introduced in, Marketing Management, the idea that there are five levels at which an organisation can offer its products or services.

  1. The core benefit that the customers need
  2. The generic product or service that the organisation has created
  3. The product or service that the customers expect
  4. A product or service that has additional benefits packaged in
  5. A product or service that meets the full potential to satisfy its customers

Conclusion on Philip Kotler

Studying marketing without reading Kotler would be like studying English literature without reading Shakespeare. His ideas are foundational. But his rigorous discipline of constantly updating his principal textbook also means that his ideas will always be of the moment.

Some Videos of Philip Kotler, speaking about his idea

Philip Kotler: Marketing Strategy

Kotler’s Mantra: CCDVTP

 

Philip Kotler on the top trends in marketing

 

Want more on marketing?

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King Camp Gillette: Disposable Goods

The terms ‘Utopian Socialist’ and ‘Captain of Industry’ are rarely applied to the same person. But they are both sound descriptions of King Camp Gillette. Yet the revolution Gillette arguably led at the sharp edge (!) is not taking us towards a utopia. Far from it. The inevitable consequence of his successful business strategy is a world of depleting resources and growing land-fill.

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

Short Biography

King Camp Gillette was born in Wisconsin, in 1855. His father was a patent agent, inventor and entrepreneur, who encouraged Gillette and his brothers to tinker and make things too.

The family moved to Chicago and then, after losing pretty much everything in the Great Fire of 1871, to New York. There, Gillette started his business career as a travelling salesman. After a series of jobs, he ended up at the Crown Cork and Seal Company. There, his boss, the company’s founder, recognised Gillette’s ambition to build a business of his own. His advice was:

‘Invent something people use and throw away.’

The Disposable Razor Blade

We all know how that bit of the story ended. The safety razor was already becoming popular in the United States, but still needed to be sharpened frequently. Gillette wondered if he could produce a blade cheaply enough for men to use it until it was dull, and then throw it away and use a new one.

It turns out, he couldn’t at first. So he sold his blades at below cost price, until he could get the manufacturing volumes high enough for the cost price to drop. Gillette had also invented the handle, and his second great innovation was to stop trying to make money on the razor itself. Instead, he gave it away, as a means to tie users into his blades.

So:

  • Disposable products that people need to replace regularly
  • Loss-leading accessories that tie users into the consumable items

Built-in Obsolescence, and a Product Eco-system

Today we’d call these ‘built-in obsolescence, and a product eco-system’. But the formula was phenomenally strong. So strong, in fact, that it was widely emulated – especially once Gillette’s patents expired.

Gillette also initiated the third pillar of the modern shaving business. He was constantly introducing minor innovations and improvements to keep ahead of his competitors – double edged blades, and then tin bladed razors.

Contemporary Corporate Strategy

In a market dominated by a few big players (Gillette among them), the demand is necessarily pretty static (the male population – particularly in affluent nations is not growing, and neither are we growing second heads). In the BCG Matrix, these are ‘cash cows’ – highly profitable lines with minimal growth prospects. All a company can do is defend against its rivals and try to steal some market share. So the strategy of constant incremental improvement remains to this day.

As, obviously, does the Gillette brand. Gillette himself resigned from the business in 1931, due to ill health, but it has retained his name to this day. It is now owned by Proctor and Gamble as one of over 20 global consumer brands. But that’s another business strategy entirely.

Utopian Socialist

Gillette lost a lot of his millions to the Wall Street Crash, but maybe he was okay with that. He wrote a number of books that set out a Utopian ideal for a world of no competition, no wars, and benign monopolistic corporations providing employment and welfare. That’s a dream that still lives on at one end of the political spectrum. Perhaps it’s sad that creating this utopia is not what Gillette is remembered for. Instead, we remember him for the disposable razor blade. Oh well, now I’ve finished this article, I’d better go and have a shave.

Julia Galef: Scout Mindset

What the world needs now, more than anything else, is a greater degree of rationality. And Julia Galef is on a mission to help us get there.

Julia Galef

Julia Galef

Short Biography

Julia Galef was born in 1983, in Maryland. She studied statistics at Columbia University, graduating in 2005. Initially, Galef continued an academic career, starting an economics PhD course. However, it was not for her, and she moved to New York and began working as a freelance journalist.

There, she joined the New York Skeptics and, with philosopher Massimo Pigliucci started the podcast, Rationally Speaking, in 2010. In 2015, Pigliucci dropped out and Galef continues as the sole host.

In 2011, Galef moved to California to join a group of friends who had secured funding to start the Center for Applied Rationality. It began its work in 2012 and predominantly provides training in how to think more rationally. She is currently its president.

Hang on, Galef is a Public Intellectual…
What has that to do with Management?

Everything.

Management needs to be more rational. It isn’t that there is no place for intuition. It is, however, because intuition only serves us well in situations where we have deep experience.

And in a rapidly changing world where technology, commercial opportunities, and social policy are evolving at a phenomenal rate, none of your really crucial decisions can possibly be based on deep experience. Nobody has that.

So rational thinking is your best strategy for sound decision-making. And that means eliminating bias and exercising the techniques of good judgment.

Soldiers and Scouts: Galef’s Brilliant Metaphor

Galef has a great metaphor for understanding two mindsets, or ways of approaching reality. These mindsets manifest most clearly when we get into discussions or arguments in which we disagree with the other person’s analysis.

Soldier Mindset

A soldier needs to fight to survive. They are therefore trained to be defensive and combative. And by the nature of fighting forces, they are tribal too. The Soldier Mindset is therefore one of feeling safest when we are certain, and fighting against an opponent to protect ourselves. This may be defensive or offensive in nature, but there is value in being right and defending our position – even if it means attacking the other person.

Galef doesn’t say it, but I will. How familiar is this in modern western political discourse?

Scout Mindset

Scouts on the other hand are not tasked to fight, but to gather information. Facts, data and evidence are valuable to a scout, as is objective assessment of what they learn. Consequently, scouts are open to re-evaluate their evaluation, based on new information. The Scout Mindset is one of curiosity and a desire to cut through bias and prejudice to get at the truth. There is value for a scout in testing long-held assumptions and beliefs, so for them, there is no sense of losing face if they need to change their opinion.

Mindset, not Intelligence

This is not about intelligence, any more than Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets are about intelligence. It is about how we address the complexities of the real world.

If what you value is the certainty of a simple analysis, and don’t want to let a few rogue facts spoil a good story, then you have a Soldier Mindset. And those facts will, eventually, spoil your story.

If, on the other hand, you recognise that the world is complex and the decisions you make are neither straightforward nor familiar, then you may feel you need to interrogate the data fully, listen to different perspectives, and draw careful but provisional conclusions. These will stand until conflicting evidence forces you to re-evaluate.

That is the Scout Mindset, and it sounds like the basis of grown up management to me.

Julia Galef at TED

Here is Galef speaking about the Soldier and Scout Mindsets at TED, in 2016.

Timothy Gallwey: Inner Game

What better way to start a new year than with a management thinker who showed us how to perform better in all walks of life: Timothy Gallwey, founder of the Inner Game.

A Happy New Year to all of our readers.

Timothy Gallwey is best known for his Inner Game books about tennis and golf. They transformed the approach of a million weekend sports enthusiasts. But these were no limp self-help manuals. They were equally lauded by sports performers at the pinnacle of their sports internationally. And they remain so today.

And it was not just sports people who found power in Gallwey’s advice. Quickly, business seized his ideas and called on Gallwey to show them how to play the inner game of work. In so doing, Gallwey became the progenitor of business coaching, and therefore of executive coaching and its domestic relative, life coaching.

Timothy Gallwey

Timothy Gallwey

Short Biography

Timothy Gallwey was born in 1938,in San Francisco. He attended Harvard Business School, majoring in English Literature. But his academic work sat alongside his tennis playing and in 1968, he was captain of the Harvard tennis team.

His direction remained academic until 1971, when he took a sabbatical, during which he acted as a tennis coach. It was on the court that he started to realise how impoverished were the traditional approaches he was using. Telling the sports person what to do would distract them from all else. And it would introduce new anxieties to their play.

Gallwey started experimenting with new ways improve tennis performance. Instead of telling a player to watch the ball, he asked them to vocalise sounds at the moments when the ball struck the ground or the racket. Of course, this required them to watch the ball too. Later, he shifted his instruction to noticing where the ball landed,or where it struck the racket face. Gradually, Gallwey developed the principles he still teaches, as do many coaches the world over*.

During the early 1970s, Gallwey also learned meditation, which he suggests improved his game and influenced his thinking. That thinking came together in what was to become a million selling book, The Inner Game of Tennis (1974). It remains a best seller today. This was followed by Inner Skiing (1977), The Inner Game of Golf (1981), and The Inner Game of Music (1986).

But it was not to be long before weekend tennis players and golfers in the upper ranks of business started to wonder if Gallwey’s coaching principles could apply to the workplace. By the late 1970s, he was a much in demand speaker and through the 1980s, he spent more time advising business on using inner game principles to boost management performance.

Also in the 1980s, Inner Game coaching was in full flow in the UK. There, Inner Game sports coaches like Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore started to see the wider application of the principles too. They articulated what is perhaps the best known management coaching model, the GROW model, and took their sports experience into business* too.

It was not until 1999 that Gallwey relieved business people of the need to read about tennis or golf, to gain business performance insights. The Inner Game of Work took inner game principles and all Gallwey had learned from his consulting experience, and consolidated it into a marvellous book.

The Principles of the Inner Game

At its heart, the ideas of the Inner Game are simple. I shall present what I consider to be the core:

  • One big idea
  • One important conclusion
  • One simple solution

Gallwey’s Big Idea

Gallwey’s big idea is this. When we are focused on achieving something that is important to us, there is a constant dialogue in our head. And, motivated by self doubt and fear of failure, one part of our mind provides a constant and undermining commentary. It issues instructions and deals out rebukes. It warns and it threatens. It praises (rarely) and chastises us for our failings.

Who is this part of us addressing? It’s the part of us that would otherwise get on and perform. Gallwey calls these to selves,

  • Self 1: which is logical, critical, fearful and dogmatic
  • Self 2: which is instinctive and contains your know-how

If this all sounds familiar, compare it to today’s psychological concept of System 1 and System 2,   popularised so powerfully by Daniel Kahneman in his wonderful book, Thinking: Fast and Slow.

Gallwey’s Important Conclusion

If you have an instinctive self that is capable of doing stuff and figuring out how to do it well, then why do we take so long to learn and become excellent. Gallwey says that Self 1 gets in the way. Its constant directions, critiques and berating interfere with our performance. Gal;wey characterises this in a simple formulation:

Performance  =  Potential  –  Interference

Consequently, the Inner Game is all about removing that interference from Self 1, and allowing our performance to rise to the level of our potential.

Gallwey’s Simple Solution

Gallwey’s solution is simple and (I can say from experience) highly effective. If we can focus you awareness on what is happening, that focus will still Self 1’s voice long enough for Self 2 to gain insights into how to modify our behaviour.

Gallwey calls non-judgmental observation and the role of a coach is not to tell you what to do, but to direct your attention. This directed focus allows Self 2 to learn, and Self 1 to think it is occupied with the noticing.

Gallwey’s insight is to transform coaching to a process that centres on awareness raising. The skill of a coach is first, to direct attention to the most pertinent events, and second to reinforce Self 2 in its quest to act on what you learn.

Gallwey’s Legacy

The R of the GROW Model is Reality. Giving you enough time to fully understand what is going on is the single most valuable role of a coach. And when you have articulated your Options, a good coach will cycle back to Reality, to help you test those options out. Gallwey does not use the GROW model explicitly. It isn’t his model. But it grew from his thinking.

And, while we are on Gallwey’s legacy, let’s cycle back to his experience of the early 1970s – he learned to meditate. And I am convinced that this impacted on his practice by placing awareness at the centre of his approach to coaching.

Let’s just remember what the flavour of the year was two or three years ago, in the world of personal development: mindfulness. Emerging from meditative practices, what is mindfulness all about? Focused awareness.

Timothy Gallwey in his own Words

Here is a 12 minute interview with Timothy Gallwey, filmed in 2012


 

* Including me. I was privileged to be taught coaching by Sir John Whitmore and David Hemmery and to have attended a masterclass and an informal dinner with Timothy Gallwey.

If you are interested in Coaching, we recommend…

Highlights of the Year

This year, we have seen so many great management thinkers and doers (50), that it is hard to pick the best.

But do so I must, and the list will need to be unapologetically personal. Not the best then…

Just my favourites.

And there are plenty more to come in the New Year too.
Including our Management Doubles: pairs of thinkers who did some their best work together, as a pair.

But, in the meantime…

Happy New Year to all of our readers

Giants of Commerce

Mighty Thinkers

Super Psychologists (and similar)

Management Leaders