Learners shall inherit…

This talk and related article are nicely connected to the previous article What you practice grows stronger that I shared on My Zen Path last month.

While explaining Deliberate Practice Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson suggests that ‘the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain’.

Eduardo Briceño is a learner, leader, speaker and writer. He co-founded Mindset Works in 2007 with author of Mindset Dr. Carol Dweck, which helps people develop as motivated and effective learners through training and resources to foster growth mindset beliefs and behaviors. He is passionate about contributing to a more learning-oriented world. In this featured TEDx talk How to get better at the things you care about, he says –

What I’ve learned is that the most effective people and teams in any domain do something we can all emulate. They go through life deliberately alternating between two zones: the learning zone and the performance zone. The learning zone is when our goal is to improve. Then we do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them.

– Eduardo Briceño

The central idea Briceño emphasizes is of growth mindset, a healthy belief that we can continuously learn, master and improve. He narrates few interesting stories – one as old as Demosthenes and the other one more contemporary, Beyoncé and her crew. The screenshot below shows how he explains the learning zone and the performance zone with reference to Beyoncé shows worldwide.

Learning Zone and Performance Zone
Learning Zone and Performance Zone

Briceño explains how we could practice, overcome shortcomings and master our craft in the learning zone, and do something as best as we can in the performance zone. He further emphasizes that without spending considerable time to hone our skills, our performance deteriorates over the time.  This is how he puts it –

The reason many of us don’t improve much despite our hard work is that we tend to spend almost all of our time in the performance zone. This hinders our growth, and ironically, over the long term, also our performance.

– Eduardo Briceño

It is all the more important in the current scenario of knowledge based economy when many people would need to unlearn, learn and re-skill themselves to stay relevant in their respective industries. And when it comes to career transitions (forced or voluntary), it would mean a larger learning phase and associated challenges. Artificial Intelligence expert and teacher Andrew Ng has discussed it at length in his interview recently: Worry more about jobs than killer robots.

PC: Slideshare
PC: Slideshare

Briceño also suggests that it is important to consult domain experts and/or skilled coaches in the learning zone as activities designed, practiced for improvement are domain specific and great teachers and coaches know what those activities are and can also give us expert feedback. That’s why most top-rated sportspeople train under excellent coaches and keep getting better, performing better.

Interestingly, Briceño also acknowledges that despite essentially being learning spaces, schools do not usually foster environment that encourages making mistakes and learning from them. He further argues that as a society we should allow more safe learning zones in schools as well as in our workplaces. In his own words –

When all homework or student work has a number or a letter on it, and counts towards a final grade, rather than being used for practice, mistakes, feedback and revision, we send the message that school is a performance zone. The same is true in our workplaces.

In the companies I consult with, I often see flawless execution cultures which leaders foster to encourage great work. But that leads employees to stay within what they know and not try new things, so companies struggle to innovate and improve, and they fall behind.

– Eduardo Briceño

You can watch his intriguing talk here –

As some of us would recognize, Briceño’s feedback loops learning zone and performance zone are similar to Kolb‘s experiential learning cycle – Concrete Experience (CE), Reflective Observation (RO), Abstract Conceptualization (AC), Active Experimentation (AE). For those who are interested, here are few more useful pointers –

More Resources

  1. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – A wonderful book Dr. Carol Dweck based on her research as Stanford University. She explains Fixed & Growth mindsets in this book with plenty of examples and suggests how we can foster growth mindset. Highly recommended reading for anyone.
  2. Growth Mindset: Clearing up Some Common Confusions – A nice follow-up article from Eduardo Briceño himself.
  3. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle – A simple and insightful article from Simply Psychology that further explains learning styles as well. This is an interesting work that I’d like to discuss some day.

About the featured image:
The featured image used for this article is a screen-shot of the TED talk by Eduardo Briceño.