Learn Your Way In: Hunger to Get Better, Persist Through Experiences, and Watch Competencies Emerge

March 27, 2013

By: Robert E. Quinn

Originally posted on the LIFT Blog

I recently listened to a talk by Fred Keller, the CEO of Cascade Engineering, a company recognized for its positive approach to business. One of the unusual practices for which Cascade is known is  bringing in people who are on the welfare rolls and turning them into productive employees.

This idea originated in a casual conversation between Keller and another man, who agreed to champion the idea and work on it. They brought in 12 people who were on welfare. In a short time, however, they were all gone. There were many problems that made the idea impractical. The man was ready to give up on it.

But Fred Keller encouraged the man to reconsider. “We needed to discover how people on welfare feel and think,” he recalled. “We needed to understand them and their culture so we could support them effectively.” So the man kept trying. They ended up going into the literature, talking with the people, and working to understand the culture of poverty.  Over time, the company learned how to do what it did not know how to do.

All through Fred Keller’s talk, I heard two themes: an inherent hunger to become better and a sense of how to persist while learning from experience. It struck me that this is the very essence of what I wrote about in my book Building the Bridge While You Walk on It.

When we care passionately about an objective but do not know how to bring it about, we move forward into new territory and we learn as we act. We learn from experiences, particularly our failures, and new competencies emerge. When we do this as individuals or as an organization we develop competencies that distinguish us.

Question: In what area could you persist in learning your way in to new and unique competencies?