Monday, July 7, 2014

Learning the Lessons of Experience at the Individual and Organizational Level

Continuing the Twitter-based Professional Discussion (#CCLKOW ) between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London, we will be discussing how individuals and organizations learn from the lessons of experience. If you are interested in participating tweet your response using #CCLKOW (View previous Twitter chats here: )

Learning from experience is the primary medium in which adults learn and develop professional competence. In his 1984 theory on Experiential Learning  David Kolb wrote  Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience and Ideas are not fixed immutable elements of thought but are formed and re-formed through experience.

How do we learn from experience?  Learning and growth results from constantly reorganizing and reconstructing ideas, and connecting them to the activity currently being engaged in. Kolb's experiential learning cycle demonstrates this through the  four processes of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation displayed in the diagram of Kolbs Experiential Learning Cycle below.


One of my favorite books on experiential learning is the book "Lessons of Experience” by Morgan McCall. 
He writes It's one thing to make a list of lessons , quite another to master them. These lessons are not delivered with spellbinding clarity; they must be dug out of complex, confusing, ambiguous situations. Even when they are delivered up, they are tough to incorporate."

Carl Von Clausewitz wrote about  learning from experience in "On War " writing "The knowledge needed by a senior commander is distinguished by the fact that it can only be attained by a special talent, through the medium of reflection, study, and thought: an intellectual instinct which extracts the essence from the  phenomena of life, as a bee sucks honey from a flower."

With the war in Iraq now recent history and our current fight in Afghanistan about to end ,the expert war fighting knowledge  developed from all levels of war resides in the minds of the leaders who fought it. To learn everything we can from these wars it is critical that we reflect on our experiences in order to prepare for the future. Studying war through reflection and discussion hones our judgment and decision making skills. It makes sense to study the recent experiences of our military in combat as well as the historical ones.

The last twelve years has demonstrated that the environments we are fighting in are complex, ambiguous, dynamic and dangerous and the future environment looks to be the same.

That leads to the questions for this weeks discussion:

 How do we as leaders learn from our past experiences in war and prepare for the next set of experiences?

What  are the types of experiences we have to create in order to teach the lessons of experience to the next generation of leaders?

If knowledge is created from our experiences how do we make it available for others to use? What systems and processes are in place?

 Respond on Twtter using  #CCLKOW

Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.


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