Stop, Smile, Look and Listen

Experience for some time has been the most leaned upon pillar in building knowledge, perfecting our performance and producing efficiency in our behavior.  Increasingly, Experience has captured the imagination of  professionals outside the domain of learning and development  and moving into the realm of marketing and business strategy to help business create  insights into human behavior that also further their brand’s  reputation.

In the brain, experiences are represented as pathways that form once all available input has been evaluated for contextual relevance and translated into a contextual cue  or signal that  facilitates behavior. Contextual cues are predictive and allow us to be more efficient in the processing of input and the triggering of our response.  Learning relies upon experience,which forms memory that’s specific to a given context, setting and/or situation. When we learn we allocate attention appropriate to the task.  For example,  each experience and distraction warrants attention in order to determine the relevant response. It does not mean each event gets the same.

We demonstrate efficiency when we  process only relevant sensory data as fast as possible.  What’s happening now, the current situation determines its relevancy.  Recent research by Joy Geng, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain presents evidence that the brain doesn’t always “ramp up” to deal with the situation at hand.  And that failure, or over-reliance on past experience may cause us to overlook subtle disruptions as they emerge in the environment  and miss the sources of insight necessary for innovation or respond differently to information as evident in higher performers and high performance cultures .

Stable environments, routine can deaden our receptivity to low level context signals though readily available,or more obviously staring us in the face. All this attention that social media has garnered originates in the power of technology to help people  widely share their experiences exacerbate the impact of missing the signals. Beyond email, the library of you tube videos, Flickr images or more finely honed synthesis that comprises Wikipedia  all exemplify opportunities to post human experience for anyone’s inquiring eyes and ears.

The challenge is to make the experience relevant  to cause us to create a new pathway, correspondingly adjust and shift our attitudes, beliefs, values and behavior.  As illustrated below, not all experiences are alike in terms of their impact on performance with automatic or everyday skills performing well below levels of those who are cognitively engaged.

Ericsson K.A., “The Influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice on the Development of Expert Performance” The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (2006)

Recognizing that performance correlates highly with experience, as the preceding chart illustrates, what can you do to optimize the learning opportunities from a given experience?

Using an exercise  I call  Framestretching © , can  simply test  the strength of experience has shape and predetermine your behavior.

Putting four words to work  does more than merely inspire and change our  intentions.  To become  conscious of the frame experiences impose, and more carefully evaluate for relevancy the context does cost you some efficiency but the payout is worth it.  If you devote a little time to engage in a simple exercise, and follow it with  reflection, you should be able to increase performance.  The four actions discussed below are designed to shift your point of view  and serve as an alternative vantage point from which to evaluate the information and situation.

These action steps build memory,  creating the input-output associations known as  experience which are the building blocks  underlying all our learning, knowledge accumulation and process efficiency.

Generating Value from informal learning

The value comes from exposing the foundations of experience accumulated  for the most part subconsciously, or  why our failed awareness of all we know or our inability to explain our sources can often undermine the weight of evidence before us.  The four  steps actively challenge what may be a very poorly constructed or incomplete chain of logic that reinforces a very tenuous set of beliefs or connections to personal and cultural values.  It is precisely this latter point that makes transformation or transition or change so darn difficult.

We have to unlearn the chain of associations that we don’t fully realize we’ve created.

Did you ever wonder why or how you came to know certain odd things?  Experience, or cumulative  associations of actions and results.  Increasingly, these associations driving  many businesses reasons to invest in organizational and culture change initiatives too.  Either way, focusing on the elements of experience allow your organization several benefits including:

  • Conscious understanding of  the effort  required to change behavior and why transformation for one, or many, people is a slow process.
  • Improve critical thinking by drawing awareness to the information in your midst and your assessment/evaluation process and criteria.
  • Recognize factors subconsciously impacting your decision-making.
  • Notice others responses and generate open inquiry into experience’s influence  in evaluating present contextual elements.

Transformation  is a slow process, and this four-step prescription will offer you new experience and hopefully some  rapid insights into processes that yield behavior change.  Whether you only spend one hour, or you have the luxury and intentional staying power to give it a shot for one whole day, the results will surprise you.  The four steps put you on the learning path to discover ever-present opportunities.  I urge you to take notes, to avoid overlooking opportunities because they failed to impress themselves in our consciousness.

Set up two columns on your note paper.  One side marked Observation and the other reflection or what meaning or awakened thoughts were produced as a result of the observation.

Read the explanation and then try it.  You may even want to re read the explanation again after your experience.  Either way let me know how it goes.

1. Stop

Pausing, allows your rational thought time to catch up with the stimuli that surround you.  The intention is to short-circuit your internal automatic response process.  Give your brain to kick in as opposed to letting instinct control our actions and behaviors.  This is especially true if you are in a stable environment.

2. Smile  

Jennifer Aniston’s smile illustrates the power a facial gesture has in communicating warmth, joy and happiness. Physically when we smile, the  emotionally pathways in our brain open and alter our receptivity to other sensory input.  This too will short-circuit the automatic hold of prior experience to dictate routine behavior.  Even if you are generally a happy person and find many things that make you smile, reminding yourself to smile for an extended period takes some extra consciousness.  The act of smiling also helps fuel in kind responses, making the entire “learning ”  experience more enjoyable, perhaps even memorable.  these supplemental impacts play a key role in our ability to sustain and later recall the experience.  The actions  cue others of your presence and notice your engagement.

3. Look

I don’t mean glance and review, I mean inspect every inch of detail in your surroundings.  Presently, that means noticing the dust on the top of the screen my house cleaner missed as well as the wear on the decal on my keyboard that has partially erased the letter E to resemble an L.  On the street,  I might be able to notice the details on my route, or the outfits and smiles of others I pass.  At the coffee shop, what engages the other patrons?       You get the idea.  Seek out more input to frame the context of your experience, more opportunities for associations between what is in your thoughts and the context in which they occurred to you.

4.  Listen

What are the sounds in your office, or outside of your window or door? Active listening while looking and smiling will significantly slow down if not stop all your automatic processing and in fact it may be difficult to attend to, or simultaneously  focus on both  sensory inputs while smiling.  Another clue is the fatigue that you will experience if you try to do this for a long period of time.

OK, that’s the four steps.

I urge you to grab some note paper and get started.  On the note page, divide your thoughts and actions.  use one side of the page to record  stimuli and context , as well as some of the responses.  Use the other side to prove or explain what occurred.

When you are through, take another color and mark the sections where your interpretation of the response included additional information not present in your recorded information.

The color will draw your attention to  places where you should begin digging, or sharpening your search for new opportunities.  With your attention and focus centered on these items, you can begin to expose  the various suppositions or connected inferences that may be biasing your decision-making or judgment.

Good luck, and don’t forget to share what you find!

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