What to learn when you are at the top of your game?

As a leadership trainer, I often heard the question: “what should our senior leaders still learn?”. To me that always sounded like an odd question. I personally don’t think we ever stop learning. I think where the pendulum swings come from is that the type of learning to master a skill may be different to the type of learning to tweak or hone a skill.

It makes total sense as a novice to take courses and learn by trail and error. When you reach the point where you are considered a master learning by trial and error is still effective, but may also come with losing reputation or other perceived negative threats. In many cases it is also about finding out your blind spots or weaker spots and exploring how they affect your overall performance. The concept of 360 degree feedback works well to find your blind spots and weaker points. The energy going into mastering a skill is more pro-active and you are more in control of it, whereas the energy that goes into fine-tuning or tweaking is a lot more subtle. Both can be equally profound and impactful on performance.

If I explain it in game thinking terms, the positive feeling of making it through a particularly hard level tends to be a lot higher than the feeling fo achieving 3 stars on a level after several attempts. In fact a lot of people would never go back to complete al levels up to three stars. Some do, but not everyone will. It is in fact the same in learning and hence the odd question we started with.

If you find you have exhausted all the topics there are to learn in your field, it is time to find related or even unrelated fields to stimulate your growth. I find I never run out of things to learn about especially with the rapid advance of technology and new things emerging all of the time. However, I have had clients in my executive coaching practise wondering what to improve next, when they felt they had reached what they were aiming for in a particular area of their development. Another great way to find learning opportunities is to ask your team, your superiors and peers what you should improve upon.

In gamification we tend to focus on crafting a path to mastery, whether that is through levels or specific status achievement or other. In some of our designs we build in boss fights, where the most senior skilled person, can be challenged by people in a knowledge tournament, which can equate in them losing their top status. This kind of game definitely is not always welcomed by some senior leaders especially in the soft skill arena, however in science and IT we often find people more up for this type of game play. I don’t know whether that is confidence or whether the fields are more black and white or whether it simply attracts a different kind of person. To earn our three stars of completion in a learning environment, may mean having to go over material and related knowledge tests more than once, which is rather rare to find in most learning related gamification.

Stimulation towards reaching new levels, tends to be triggered by the awareness of a missing trick. Setting learning up to give this insight early on, will open up the attention people pay to the topic. To turn up the volume once again is adding in relevancy to their situation right now and how it may impact their work or role in the organisation. Highly conceptualised topics like leadership and performance often don’t dare to go down to questioning competency, in my coaching work that often came out. I asked people to self-assess their skills level and then look for the areas where fine-tuning could benefit them. Nobody started at 0, but it was very rare people gave themselves 10/10, which in different culture may vary, but in Europe that is generally the way. Allowing for self-reflection and assessment I believe is a place where learning can add more value and gamification can provide the trajectory to nudge your people to go there.


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