Monday, April 25, 2016

Coaching and Mentoring - What's the Difference?

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading about coaching and mentoring. The trigger for all this activity was #lrnchat on 07 April where the topic of discussion was coaching and mentoring. 

I always enjoy #lrnchat but this particular one was a great opportunity to understand different perspectives about coaching and mentoring and how folks in Learning and Development and HR across corporate, government, and non 
profit sectors interpret and utilize these techniques. Here are some thoughts from the #lrnchat community on the differences between coaching and mentoring: 

Coaching and mentoring are valuable to both the individual and the organization. These techniques can be used to enhance and improve personal and professional knowledge, skills, and performance. They are similar in some ways. But how are they different?

Based on some reading and reflection on the topic and after a few discussions with friends and colleagues, here's my take on the differences between coaching and mentoring. 
While the focus and expected result from these techniques is different, overlaps do exist and organizations may use a blend of coaching and mentoring to meet specific outcomes.  

How have you seen coaching and mentoring work differently? 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Interdependence in Learning

I recently participated in my first #pkmchat on Interdependence for Independent Learners. I would like to extend sincere thanks to Bruno Winck for inviting me as a guest and for giving me an opportunity to share my views on interdependence in learning. There was much to learn from the participants who were enthused about the topic and shared deep passion for learning.

It was Bruno who came to this topic during a #lrnchat early last year. He enjoyed my blog post on 'From Dependence to Interdependence: The Changing Role of Learning Consultants' and we had an interesting side conversation via comments on my post. 
In my post, I talked about how I see myself moving from a trainer to a learning consultant who is leading her learners from dependence to interdependence. The post was directed towards the changing roles and responsibilities of L&D but it also called upon the changing role of learners. More and more learners now need L&D consultants to act as the seed for learning conversations through which they can connect with information and knowledge, other learners, their peers, and experts in their personal learning network. In that sense, I see dependence, independence and interdependence as stages of learner maturity. My personal goal as a learning consultant is to help learners move along their maturity continuum and help them define and follow their path from dependence to interdependence. 

In #pkmchat, we pondered about questions, such as:
  • Is interdependence in learning just a prescription or is it a reality of the world we live in? 
  • Can a self-directed learner become independent, autonomous and interdependent? Why and How? 
  • Which parts of the learning process can benefits from Interdependence? 
  • What are the positive aspects of Interdependence? 
  • Could Interdependence be negative? Why, How? Is it factual, a side effect or just a preconception? 

Through the chat, I was able to share some of my thoughts and views about interdependence and I am using this post to capture some of what I shared:

All learning is interdependent.
I personally feel that all learning is interdependent and it is the reality of the world we live in. Since knowledge is limitless, we cannot depend on one thing or one person to get access to knowledge. We create knowledge within and outside, individually and collectively. Interdependence enables this co-creation. I constantly depend on myself, others and the environment (conditions) for my learning. Since learning involves developing new meanings or new relations with knowledge, process or people, it cannot be an independent activity. Interdependence is key for me and it is not just about people. Yes, interdependence is about engaging with each other, but it is also about engaging with the self through reflection and by interacting with the environment and the conditions of learning. 

Interdependence is about equality. 
I believe that each learner is a teacher. As we mature as learners and as teachers, we become more open to this idea of give and take and are willing to be more interdependent. Also, content complexity and interdependence are directly proportional. To learn complex content, I crave and need engagement with others. I believe others have something that I can learn from. Interdependence brings everyone to the same table. 

Self-directed learning is more about autonomy and less about independence.
The term, self-directed learning, has been understood in different ways and is sometimes implied as something we do alone.  But learning is not that kind of activity even when it is self-directed. The way I think of self-directed learning is along the ideas of autonomy more than independence. Self direction and interdependence may seem odd together, but we can't self monitor without depending on the environment for feedback. Although some self-directed learning activities and tasks may be solitary, the learning process itself is interdependent on knowledge items, personal learning networks, peers, mentors, etc. 

The more self-directed we are, the more interdependent we become.
As I was researching this topic on interdependence, I came across an interesting model for distance education that talks about the degree of academic and relational support to provide to learners who are dependent versus interdependent. As discussed in the Providing Academic and Relational Support (PARS) modelas interdependent learners we need more relational support from peers and less academic support. So, my theory is that the more self-directed we are, the more interdependent we become and therefore, we need less academic structure to learn.

As a learning consultant, I am looking to encourage interdependence not only in independent self-directed learners but I am also working towards building opportunities for interdependence in all types of learners. 

I often think about how I can create the right set of conditions in which learners make themselves interdependent. But the question that I am exploring now is if too much interdependence ultimately makes us socially dependent. Is there something like too much interdependence. Thoughts?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Learning to Fail Well

Each of us defines our own successes and failures in different ways. Also, not all failures are created equal. Some can be preventable especially when they happen in known circumstances and controlled environments. Others are designed to occur such as those that happen when working in the context of discovery and innovation. The bottom line is that we are all looking for success not failures. But when failures do happen along the way, we have to learn to make the most of them and use them to fuel success. 

I participate in a weekly (Thursday 5:30 PST) chat on twitter - #lrnchat. Our topic in the second week of February was 'Learning from failure.’ At the end of the chat, I realized that learning from failure is a deeply reflective activity but it is more than that. It is a process. However, both as individuals and in an organizational context, we don’t do very well with learning from failure. Why? 

Well, our first reaction after a failure is to quickly move on. We want to put it behind us and not deal with the negative emotions that breed from examining a failure. We want to protect our self/ego, avoid shame and punishment and maintain the status quo. Besides, we are not mentally ready for the process. Analyzing and investigating failure takes time, patience and skills. One has to accept before one can reflect and with each step, peel the layers of failure to learn. It is not an easy task. Another roadblock is that failures don’t sit well within the traditional 360 degree annual performance reviews since failures are typically considered to be a bad word. We find ourselves gripped inside a culture that does not openly discuss mistakes. At the end of the year, biases creep in and we tend to ignore data and believe what we want to believe without investigating as deeply as we should. 

Perhaps you have read about Bruce Schneier's classification of failing badly versus failing well. He talks about these concepts as applied to systems and network security and describes how a system reacts to failure. To generalize my understanding of the concept, failing badly is when there is a complete shutdown of the system with no recovery. Failing well is when the failure can be compartmentalized or contained and there are redundancies or options to recover and there are built-in systems that provide early warning signs. Perhaps, the same concept can be extended to personal and professional failures. 

So, what does it take for us fail well? 

- Know and accept that failure will happen at some point. Acknowledge that as a given and continue to put your energy and passion into things you like to do. 

Focus on learning and experimentation when trying anything new. Don’t live in the fear of failure. If you fail, celebrate that you tried something new. Then, adapt as you go along.

Keep your focus on the process not the outcome. That way, you can detach ego from the outcome and accept failure more easily. If you fail, remain grateful for the opportunity. 

Plan for failure as you plan for success. Look out for warning signs and identify failures early on. Learn to recognize small mistakes that can be corrected easily and prevent catastrophic failures.

All failures are not useful. Don’t make stupid mistakes. Don't make stupid mistakes twice.

Change your response to failure. Explore failures, don’t run away from them. When failures do happen, learn to pick yourself up and continue on. If you need motivation, picture a child learning to walk. Remember failure is temporary. 

Failure analysis is challenging and time-consuming and perhaps an emotional roller coaster. But it is worth it.

Innovations happen because someone somewhere learned from failure. Failure is the best training ground.

The mindset of embracing failure starts with me. It is 'I' and collectively 'all of us' who are the seeds that sprout the right organization culture that is open to learning from failure. Be a role model and don't be afraid to say I failed.

Finally, to fail successfully and learn from failure, share it with others. Be bold and talk about your defeats. Your failure is adding value to your life and enriching the lives of others who will get an opportunity to learn from it. 

As I was drafting this post, I came across a post by Dan Pontefract where he shared his experience of attending an event where three entrepreneurs told stories about their failures. 

It was interesting to observe our need for storytelling and how people devise their own platforms that make them feel safe and comfortable to share stories about things that didn’t quite work as expected. It is a refreshing mindset where failure is encouraged within the right context but more importantly, the discussion of failure is acknowledged and recognized by the community. In that sense, sharing stories about failure is rewarded not penalized.