Learning requires us to listen.


I’ve had some interesting conversations in the last couple of days with people from the charity and healthcare sector. High on their agenda is learning, knowledge exchange and engagement.

Evaluating the impact of the work of a large organisation seems at best to be evidence gathering after the ship has sailed, it’s a post event process. This is further slowed down because evidence is buried in people’s email folders, in scattered paper files and in the minutes of meetings!

Those poor folk who have the task of gathering and sharing learning across an organisation face an up-hill task, the painstaking gathering of learning that is filtered into papers, reports and other dust collecting documents.

We relate proof to paper and because we’re super busy we want bite sized executive summaries, bullet points and percentages. We want the slick presentation of quick facts, the bulk of the evidence can exist somewhere else, gathering dust.

Many of the people I spoke to are endlessly looking for and creating new processes to gather learning from colleagues, services users and partners. I was reminded of an article on The Long and the Short online magazine published by NESTA – Fantastically titled, Bureau of reinvention ‘The unimprovable paperclip’. It simply tells the story of the invention of the paperclip. It’s hard to imagine an improvement to the task of gathering paper together but we still do try and mostly fall short of surpassing the humble paperclip that simply does the task, efficiently and cost effectively.

And so it is with learning. We were born with eye lids and not ear flaps for a reason. Hearing has been central to our survival; it has been how we have learned in all cultures at all times in our history. As children we hone our ability to learn through listening, to evaluate tone and timbre so we can understand what is important. And if you want to get your point across, if you want to explain how you feel, we do it face to face so we can tell our story and be listened to.

If I gather a board of directors in a room and they hear people telling the story of their experiences it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t listen. All the distractions are stripped away; we become people listening to people. It’s intense, insightful and instantly rememberable.

If you want to learn, first you need to listen.