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Leading Learning

 This is the third in a leadership series .This series is looks how we implement

           Seeing the Wood for the Trees 

Horst Rittel coined the term Wicked Problems as he found traditional approaches to design and planning were not effective. It’s how we solve benign or simple problems.

  • Gather data
  • Analyze data
  • Formulate Solution
  • Implement Solution

This apparently reasonable approach starts faltering  when you:

1. Don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution.

You can’t search for information without having some sense of what a solution looks. Rittel said:

“One cannot first understand, then solve.”

And what ‘the Problem’ is depends on who you ask – different stakeholders have different views about what the problem is and what constitutes an acceptable solution.

2. Don’t have a nice neat ending.

If there is no defined ‘Problem’, there can’t be a definitive ‘Solution.’ So, you can’t solve the problem with the ‘correct’ solution. Herb Simon, called this ‘satisficing’ — stopping when you have a solution that is ‘good enough’

3. Don’t have right or wrong solutions.

Solutions are simply ‘better,’ ‘worse,’ ‘good enough,’ or ‘not good enough.’ How “good” they are will vary widely and depend on different stakeholder values and goals.

4. Can’t draw on past experience

There are so many factors and conditions that no two wicked problems are alike.

Here are a few examples of wicked problems:

  • Whether to route the highway through our city or around it?
  • What should our mission statement be?
  • What features should be in our new product?
  • How should we respond to a competitors new…fill in the blank?

The point is managing complex and wicked problems shifts the center of gravity toward peoples’ relationships and interactions. It shifts from relying on expertise and pride in accumulating knowledge to learning with and from fellow learners, honestly disclosing doubts and admitting ignorance.

I am thinking leaders who are listening will be saying: OK, I get, it but where do I start?

As I said last time, complexity and misalignment is best handled by those directly involved. So, leadership should be devolved to the lowest level. This means expectations you have of your leaders need to be clear, agreed and tracked. There are several alignment areas that senior people need to address with lower level leaders, which I will cover in later programs. But, I will start with a key competence that leaders need improve in their teams and activities.  It’s a bastion against the confusion that comes from poorly managed complexity

Leading Learning

Leaders have to shed their prejudices and bad experiences of learning at school, – like cramming or memorizing, and that learning by doing is good enough. Many leaders will have to unlearn, and then learn about Leading Learning. There are five criteria you should expect your leaders to evidence in their learning expectations: Are they …..

  • Planned?
  • Action-Focused?
  • Constructive?
  • Social?
  • Time-Bounded?

Using these criteria, leader expectations need to specify what they expect of their people and draw out what their people expect in return.

What do you see as the main areas for leaders to think about when it comes to leading learning?

Here are four things to reflect on about your organization. Ask yourself:

How do we really match-up when it comes to leading learning?

Learning team-based sense-making process.

1. Learning is team-based sense-making process.

  • What expectations do you have of your people to develop shared knowledge from similar situations?


  •  Shared situations builds shared sensing, which builds common frames of reference.
  •  Positive shared experiences strengthen organizational culture.
  •  Shared situations builds shared learning and reduces the exclusivity of individual experience
  • Can you find expectations that say it’s OK for people to express feelings of being puzzled or being misunderstood:


  • Such expressed feelings are often the tender shoots of learning and if subject to making people feel stupid will stunt learning before it has even got going.
  • Sharing puzzlement develops learner ownership because there’s “gas in their tank” to do something about it.
  • You don’t know how many others have the same feelings until they are expressed.
  • Getting people on the same page only happens when people’s feelings are transparent to others. It takes the guesswork of where people are coming from. It reduces assumptions about people’s intention, motivation and agenda

 2.  Learning is a socially negotiated

  • Leader expectations need to specify that making sense of problems and their solutions needs to be negotiated with the intention of reaching understanding, resolving differences and producing an agreed course of action.


  • What’s agreed is far more likely to stick
  • Stakeholder and team member interests of are more likely to be respected and served
  • Better alignment leads to growing trust and openness which leads to people being less guarded

3. Learning is multi-level  sense-making

  • Leaders, especially senior leaders, need to ensure that their expectations of learning are expressed to all levels both vertically and horizontally across the organization.  The belief that knowledge is only in one person’s head went out with the craftsman and his apprentice. Knowledge and reasoning need to be used for collective sense-making.


  • It’s the social process that bonds people together. As we engage with others we influence and are influenced by our working community their beliefs and values.
  • This type of participation is how we absorb and grow a healthy culture.
  • This is how we grow as individuals and develop rewarding relationships

It’s crucial that leaders understand that activity constrains and defines the learning that can occur, so the last point

 4. Learning is a product  of activities, systems and processes

Learning through Activities

The blend of people, their experiences, values and beliefs are not reducible to individual actions in complex situations. So, leader’s expectations need to shift from the individual to the team.


  • It’s not about you; it’s about us – “Leave your ego at the door!”
  • Information isn’t any good if it is not shared, in ways that others can understand
  • If you don’t interact with others your chances of building trust, respect and other relational glue is remote


If I am a leader or business owner listening to this today I might be saying that’s all very well but I have a business to run. What advice would you give them?

Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got! – Not!

1. Hire people who evidence lifelong learning – if people aren’t curious they are not for you.

2. Make sure you pay people for doing different things not just doing what we have always done – cos if you don’t you will get what you’ve always gotten.

3. Ensure you make sure all people know learning is a priority and it’s not something left to chance or the competition.


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