No time for Learning?

May 18, 2011 //

By John Esterle

May 19, 2011

How do you build in learning when there’s no time to learn?

Grantcraft asked its readers (primarily grantmakers) that question and over 1,400 people responded. Grantcraft has captured the major themes that emerged from this survey in a concise new paper they just put out. Here are their main recommendations:

1. Establish a culture of learning by building learning into routine processes.
2. Raise the profile of learning by noticing when it happens and naming it explicitly.
3. Cultivate personal habits of learning that work for you.
4. Try new activities – but choose wisely and keep things simple.

They also note that a supportive learning environment has four characteristics: psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas, and time for reflection. I applaud Grantcraft for raising up the importance of learning but I must say that part of me felt really saddened by the paper’s premise that there’s no time to learn for many grantmakers. If that’s the case, there’s something really wrong with that picture and I’m afraid their recommendations might only nibble at the edges of rectifying it.

As I read I also couldn’t help but wonder if we’re overloading multiple meanings on the word learning in a way that’s akin to what we sometimes do with leadership. These words become catch-all umbrellas that provide cover in sense for a lot of processes and characteristics. The paper quotes people who frequently mention how important it is to create time to reflect, to ask questions, to engage in different kinds of discussions and conversations, so what if we started using some of that language to explicitly describe the organizational cultures we want to create rather than learning?

How would we react to this paper be if it was titled, “How do you build in critical thinking when there’s no time to think?” Does that feel edgier? More challenging? What if we talked about thinking organizations rather than learning organizations? We could even talk about creating supportive critical thinking environments and use the same criteria as above: psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to ideas, and time for reflection.

In short, what if we started raising the importance of critical thinking within philanthropy? Because if we’re not creating the time to really think in and across our organizations (isn’t learning linked to thinking?) what are we doing? Where is all that time going? Like TWI’s tag line says, it’s time to think for a change.