Don't just learn, do

I’ve been involved in learning and development for nearly 20 years. I love it but I’m still often dissatisfied with the impact we have.

And here’s a big reason why workplace training disappoints – 

We forget what we've learned if we don't USE it

Learning is like eating in this regard. If you’re eating at a buffet, and racing from one tasty morsel to the next, it’s entirely possible that you’ll fail to appreciate any of the new flavours you’re taking in. It takes time to savour something new. 

More problematically, if you’re eating for sustenance, just tasting isn’t enough. In fact, the whole point of eating for you is to turn the food into action – it takes time, and there’s a process to go through. You can’t expect the act of putting a morsel into your mouth to give you the benefit you’re looking for.

This is a big issue in learning & development

Research published in Harvard Business Review reveals the extent of the problem with learning that ends up being wasted.

We forget 75% of what we learn if we don’t begin using within 6 days. 

Yes, you read that right – 75%! In 6 days! Scared? You should be. You can be pretty certain this phenomenon is having a huge impact in your own work and your own workplace. You and your colleagues are routinely forgetting what you’ve learned. 

The HBR article points to a number of reasons why we’re so prone to having good ideas go in one ear and out the other. But they all come down to whether we actively internalise our learning, explore it and consider how it could shape what we do – and then make it real and practical by trying out some new ways of doing things. That’s when the learning has been useful, when we’re acting on it. And that’s when we really remember the ideas and are able to share them credibly with others. 

You might be thinking “well, yes, this all pretty obvious” – ask yourself these questions…

  • do you make action notes for yourself in a conference session? Or is it just about noting the sexy key phrases?
  • do you flick through a journal or a collection of TED talks with an action planner open? Or are great ideas mostly about titivating the tastebuds?
  • do you insist that learning and development you arrange for your work colleagues includes ideas AND action planning? Or are you guilty of wasting people’s time with mere entertainment?

Tips for turning ideas into action

If you’re feeling a bit low by now, that’s probably not a bad thing if, like most of us, you’ve fallen into the ‘learning without action’ trap. Let’s acknowledge it, and move on.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful:

Going to a conference? Listen with a notebook open. And talk in break times about what you're going to DO, not just what you've LEARNED.

Before reading that interesting article or clicking play on that video, ask how it could be useful to you. Then enjoy it with an action planner ready for the "so what".

Leaders - if you need to be at the top of your game, turning new ideas into action, get into the habit of discussing ideas you encounter with your coach. Be accountable for acting on learning. Don't have a coach? Get one!

Planning an away day or conference for work? Try cramming in fewer different ideas. Create intentional time for people to digest ideas and turn them into action plans.

... and please don't be offended

Robert speaking at conferenceLastly, if you’re speaking with me about contributing to your event or programme, please don’t be offended if I ask about how we’re going to ensure attendees can turn the ideas into action.

I know how attractive it is to pack the agenda with an amazing buffet of exciting ideas, cramming in as many different sessions as possible. Believe me, I’ve done it, many times. But just ask whether that’s achieving what you really hope – are you actually aiming just to titvate or to transform people? 

I love speaking at events, workshops and conferences. But my motive is to help people ACT differently. And, in all honesty, that’s way less likely if we cram in several 20 minute ideas. I’m much more interested to work with you on ways to create time for digestion of ideas and development of action plans. And it’s really exciting when we get to think about “what happens next” after the event.

So don’t hesitate to get in touch about your own event – and I look forward to chatting about how we can make it even more impactful. 

If you’re interested, here’s a list of topics I really love talking about (and helping people act on). 

And here’s an introduction to how I work with people as a coach.


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