How do we learn when it’s all so complex?

profileLearning by not getting stuck in a loop

Learning both in individuals and organisations is often undervalued and not fully acted upon because we don’t take the time to work through all the learning loops

Firstly lets look at the questions we ask ourselves.

Single-Loop Learning

Are we doing the right things? This is the single loop where we compare actions to results. Single-loop learning assumes that problems and their solutions are close to each other in time and space .  We are primarily considering our actions. The small changes that are made to specific practices or behaviors, based on what has or has not worked in the past. this is where we do things better without necessarily examining or challenging our own underlying beliefs and assumptions. The goal is about improvements and fixes that often take the form of procedures or rules.

Are we doing things right? (procedures or rules)

Double-Loop Learning

Double-loop learning leads to insights about why a solution works. In this form of learning, we are considering our actions and our assumptions. This is  where people become observers of themselves, asking, “What is going on here? What are the patterns?” We need this insight to understand the pattern. this level of learning will help us to change the way we make decisions and deepen understanding of our assumptions. Double-loop learning works with major changes, like redesigning an organisational structure.

Are we doing the right things? (insights and patterns).

Triple-Loop Learning

Triple-loop learning involves principles.  The learning goes beyond insight and patterns to context. The result creates a shift in understanding our context or point of view. We produce new commitments and ways of learning. This form of learning challenges us to understand how problems and solutions are related. It also challenges us to understand how our previous actions created the conditions that led to our current problems. The relationship between organisational structure and behavior is fundamentally changed because the organisation learns how to learn.  The results of this learning includes enhancing ways to comprehend and change our purpose, developing better understanding of how to respond to our environment, and deepening our comprehension of why we chose to do things we do.

How do we decide what is right? (principles).

Double and Triple-Loop Learning are essential

Organisations and lives are becoming ever more complex and with complexity comes indecision and reduced decision making.

When the levels of complexity in our work and the issues we are working with are high, it becomes more critical for us to be able to also use double- and triple-loop learning to:

  • succeed in new contexts,situations that we might not have experienced before
  • make learning an integral activity to our work and lives by reflecting more and
  • ultimately to achieve results that are appropriate to the context and principles.

Often solutions are adopted that are merely different forms of sticking plaster and as we all know the plaster some picks off.The future is becoming evermore unfamiliar and unpredictable. Solutions cannot be calculated in advance based on what has worked in the past. Emergent solutions have to worked out as situations unfold.(through exploration and realisation)

I have incorporated the single, double and triple loop learning approach to help clients and organisation gain the most from the coaching and mentoring programme and to ensure that we all avoid getting stuck in a loop.

Asking the right questions, helps to move people through the loops and gain deeper more fundamental forms of learning, its where coaching can create the space and opportunity for real changes to be undertaken. So if learning is the key, coaching is the hand that helps the key unlock insights and different thinking.


Leaders are like icebergs

October 2015 Newsletter

What’s going on in the innovative leader’s mind?
When thinking about an Innovative Leaders mind-set, what else is going on inside the leaders mind?
I started to wonder what might be the top five characteristics for leaders with an innovative mind set, so just for a moment I thought about being innovative and some themes emerged: stillness, daydreaming, sketching for the mind, lot of questions. So for me, being curious, bouncing back and being flexible and being my true self come to the fore.
So how would you rate yourself on having a innovative leaders mindset say on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very well? Rate yourself against some of these key indicators:
1. Curiosity the ability to explore without judgment and preconceived ideas
2. Encouragement the ability to nurture the new and small seed of an idea
3. Resilience the ability to keep going, viewing mistakes as learning
4. Flexibility the ability to be agile and adapt to the current and future demands
5. Honesty the ability to be authentic and true to yourself and others.
The Innovative Leaders mind-set – what’s at the corner of the page? What’s just within your memory but not fully formed?

Quality thinking
When thinking about this article I became drawn to a book Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind by Nancy Kline ISBN-13: 978-0706377453 on my bookshelf that seemed to be summarizing many of the areas that came to mind when pondering about an innovative leadership mind-set. In particular, many of the thinking principles, for example:
1. Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first. Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other
2. Thinking at its best is not just a cool act of celebration it is also a thing of the heart
3. A thinking environment is a set of ten conditions under which human beings can think for themselves with rigour and imagination, courage and grace
4. Listening of this calibre ignites the human mind
5. Between you and a wellspring of good ideas is a limiting assumption. This assumption can be removed with incisive questions
6. Incisive questions increase the functional intelligence of human beings.
Sounds like some reflective coaching is in order to help tease out what has not quite yet been discovered, so to quote Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

profileVision, Mission, Ambition and Role
So, if leadership is ‘the capability to express a vision, influence others to achieve results, encourage team cooperation, and be an example’, as Robert Dilts says, then an Innovative Leader’s mind-set encourages what’s not been tried, what else is possible, and so by reviewing your biggest success and pinpointing the smallest steps that created it you can develop a model for success.

Dilts refers to these factors as:
What do you want to create in the world through you but that is beyond you? What services, benefits and contributions do you want to make to your customers, society, the environment, etc.?
What is your unique contribution to making the vision happen?
What are the special resources, capabilities and actions that you will develop, mobilize and apply to reach the vision?
What type of status and performance do you want to achieve with respect to yourself and others (stakeholders, competitors,etc.)?
What type of individual (or organization) do you need to be in order to reach the status and level of performance you want to achieve?

We can consider the mind-set aspect of the Innovative Leader’s mind-set by looking into the latest research and thinking in Neuroscience. Neuroscience is concerned with improving understanding of the brain and how it works, how we process information and the reason we make some basic cognitive mistakes (limitations), why change is so hard and how to better manage change, why we react negatively in certain situations and how emotions can be better regulated.

The brain is actually never at rest but actively processing and internalizing existing knowledge (to make sense of the world). When you stop processing external information, quality internal processing can take place. For example, daydreaming, envisioning the future, retrieving memories, and gauging others’ perspectives.

Leaders are like icebergs (learning is what lies beneath the surface and much is hidden).
What we can see (above the surface):
traditions, symbols, artifacts, behaviours, customs, and symbols.
What we can’t see (below the water line):
perceptions, world views, attitudes, motives, values, beliefs, thoughts.

With the ever evolving nature of business, leadership and the work environment that we live in, the need to be more innovative and understand how we think and improve our own thinking processes are ever present.

I hope this article has intrigued you, made you think, want to know more So if this collection of thoughts and observations has sparked your interest get in touch and  share some insight and discover how to release innovation in you.



What’s the common problem that you encounter?

March 2015 newsletter plus a day

Unfortunately the most common problem I’ve encountered is one where people at various levels inside the organization have given up listening to each other. Instead of trying to really understand what the problem is, people’s reaction is either to ask ‘who did that’ or ‘why was that done’, neither of which actually solves the problem but just allows for someone to be blamed.

‘Problems’, ‘issues’ and ‘concerns’

It’s interesting, but nowadays we can’t even talk about a ‘problem’ for the problem is now renamed an ‘issue’ or a ‘concern’.  I like to think of problems in a slightly different way; that problems are a puzzle for us to solve.

This changes people’s minds about the problem, as a puzzle becomes something that we all want to get involved in and try to find the answer to. This not listening disease infiltrates and closes off parts of an organisation. It is very insidious and creeps up, even in the best of organisations; those which have great things like employee surveys, engagement practices, talent management, and a whole host of very complex and very well-meaning ways of trying to get their employees to exchange their views thoughts and feelings.
The trouble is that organisations talk about everything that is complex in the company’s mission, vision and where it should be in the future. These are all great things and needed, but what is not accepted and understood is that people go to work for a huge variety of reasons. These reasons need to be acknowledged and valued even though they may not be the same reasons as a senior manager or specialist. People have the right to have their own reasons and for those reasons to be respected.

It’s the age-old problem about listening, learning and putting things into practice. It may not be as sexy, as complex or as highbrow as we might like it to be, but it is a very fundamental issue (sorry, problem) and the undercurrent behind the difficulties when people experience feeling undervalued and ignored.

One great saying I came across the other day is that if you treat your people like donkeys it’s no wonder that they say neigh.

Another date for the creative and intuitive:
Thursday 18th June
The Artist & The Engineer: coaching using harmonised approaches
See your inner Artisteer!

Integration from the world of the arts and science.  Understand how these approaches converge and flow together.

To book, please send an email to  or and we will invoice you directly. You will be able to pay by BACS, cheque and Paypal.

I hope this newsletter has provoked some thought. For those who want to be provoked further, I am very happy to help you along the way.  Feel free to contact me on 01793 882058 or via