Frictionless Learning

What gets in the way of learning?

Posted Jul 11, 2019

ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Source: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Why do so many of us find or believe that learning is difficult?

Do we resist change?

Do we fear conflict with existing beliefs?

Are we insecure about believing in our own sense of worth?

Do we believe that learning is “work,” i.e., requires effort?

Consider how differently we feel when we are having fun. Why is having fun so easy? When is it easy to have fun?

Would you describe that experience as “frictionless”?

For most of us, we expect to spend little effort to have fun. We simply respond easily to external stimuli, like movies, TV, performances of all kinds, including sporting events, or just meeting interesting people or enjoying good food and drink.

Inner-directed people, e.g., artists, musicians, dancers, athletes, etc., delight in their efforts, celebrate the sense of delight in their bodies, minds, and spirits when they exercise their creativity. Why can’t all of us also enjoy that kind of pleasure?

All of us get discouraged when we are not able to produce the results that we fantasize. We are not able to appreciate our sense of being in the present, in enjoying who we are and what we are actually doing, in celebrating being alive. Instead, we self-criticize, self-censor, and we evaluate ourselves as we imagine others evaluate us, finding us lacking in skill and talent. Where is our sense of gratitude? How did we learn these conflicting beliefs and patterns of behavior?

Friction is an example/metaphor for conflict. What can lead to conflicts in our minds? The following come to mind:

  • Expectations
  • Inhibitions
  • Constraints
  • Requirements
  • Distractions
  • Fear

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University describes the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with a growth mindset welcome new experiences and treat each one as a valuable opportunity to learn. They are eager to learn, even when outcomes are disappointing, i.e., what most people call “failures.” Professor Dweck encourages students to develop skills that support a growth mindset, especially in today’s world characterized by uncertainty and volatility.

For aspiring entrepreneurs, their mindset is often the most critical characteristic that separates success from failure. They must demonstrate resilience, adaptability, flexibility of thinking, and most of all, a positive attitude toward themselves and others.

They are driven to be problem-solvers, and the first “problem” is typically in their own heads. They must address a fundamental paradox in their personality. While they must have unshakeable confidence and strength of character, they must, at the same time, maintain an open-minded, growth mindset. They seek to learn from everyone they meet, and they especially welcome negative feedback, as those are opportunities to learn something new, to have their assumptions challenged. They won’t agree with everything they hear, but they do pay attention to all the data points they can collect. They are looking for patterns, ways to interpret what they are learning, that may or may not be consistent with their previous understanding. They have an insatiable curiosity to learn more.

Importantly, they are not motivated to seek paths that seem “easy” or frictionless. As problem-solvers, they expect conflict, misunderstandings, confusion, lack of knowledge, weak assumptions, etc. All of those conditions contribute to friction in getting to a desired outcome!

Conventional wisdom emphasizes that entrepreneurs must focus on their objectives and do whatever it takes to achieve them. Sometimes that is interpreted as accepting a high level of risk. However, at the same time, a focus on removing obstacles, eliminating whatever is unnecessary, is an approach to mitigate the risk of uncertainty. This is also a way to conserve energy and apply effort more effectively.

Here’s a simple example of how this idea works for entrepreneurs preparing to pitch their business opportunity to potential investors. This situation is typically anticipated with feelings of dread and insecurity. Every kind of self-doubt can appear. Will the investors like the project? How will they respond to me as a presenter? Will my delivery be effective? Will I remember all the important things I want to convey?

While experts and trainers in the field insist that repeated rehearsals are just as important for presenters as for actors, they do not recommend memorizing every word—unless you want to give an acting performance. Instead, use different methods, such as visualizing a path in a garden or walking around a room, to identify and associate key points with a sequence of familiar objects. Matt Abrams, a lecturer at Stanford University has written about this.

The idea is to focus on the flow of the logic and the key concepts, thus minimizing the effort needed to maintain details that are contributing friction to both the learning and the delivery processes. Take away friction, so more energy is available for positive expression.

Less friction, greater effectiveness, more fun.