Knowledge of our own learning patterns and tendencies is some of the most empowering knowledge we can possess. The reason is simple: with it, we become aware of what we need to do to improve our ability to keep building new skills and knowledge, making ourselves more resilient in a changing world. Without it, we tend to become unconsciously stuck in the experiential learning cycle, where we severely limit our ability to adapt to change. This week, we’re going to look specifically at where we get stuck and why.
First, as I wrote about last week, I should reiterate that these patterns and tendencies are largely related to how well we have developed certain skills related to continuous learning—all of us have certain strengths and weaknesses with these skills, which often prevent us from moving through the cycle effectively. These strengths and weaknesses are a product of our personality as well as our educational and professional experience.
To help us organize these skills, we’ve grouped them into four categories, or the 4 AVID Learner Personas. Each of these personas represents a specific stage in the learning cycle and possesses a set of skills related to operating within that “mode” of engaging with the world as we create new skills and knowledge.
All of us have developed each persona to at least a basic level, but most of us have developed specialized skills in one or two of them. It’s important to recognize that these don’t represent fixed traits, but rather flexible skillsets and patterns of thinking and acting. Each is essentially valuable, and each can be developed for any of us—arguably, it is more important for us to develop all 4 than at any time in human history, due to a rapidly changing world and increasingly complex challenges.
Before introducing the 4 traps, let’s review the four AVID Learner Personas.
Which best describe your strengths? What about your weaknesses?
The Actionist is skilled at executing plans, managing time/projects/commitments, and making things happen. Those with a well-developed Actionist Persona are able to jump in and get their hands dirty (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), even if there is an element of risk, uncertainty or discomfort involved.
The Visionary is skilled at seeing the big picture, sensing tensions and problems, connecting to core values and imagining the future. Those with a well-developed Visionary Persona are able to observe themselves and others carefully and sense unrealized possibilities. They are good at asking thought provoking questions and challenging the way things are currently being done.
The Investigator is skilled at analyzing problems and making sense of information. Those with a well-developed Investigator Persona are able to identify cause-and-effect relationships, conduct research, and engage with theories and models to organize their thinking. They are also good at generating insights and hypotheses about why things are the way they are.
The Designer is skilled at making decisions, setting goals and designing experiments to test certain assumptions or hypotheses. Those with a well-developed Designer Persona are able to bridge the gap between theory and practice by creating clear action plans, visualizing and communicating their ideas, and laying out a process for moving forward.
The 4 Traps
We tend to get stuck in the experiential learning cycle in the transitions from one persona to the next.
It’s important to note that there are multiple cycles taking place in our lives for different challenges, such as specific skills we’re looking to develop or projects we’re working on. Depending on where we are in the overall process, we may be stuck in different traps for different challenges or tasks.
The important thing to reflect on for the moment is how these patterns show up for you in your life.
Which traps do you tend to get stuck in? In what types of situations do you get stuck there? Where are you stuck now and for what challenges?
The Plateau Trap
We often get stuck in Actionist mode after reaching a certain level of unconscious competence with a specific task. We call this the Plateau Trap because it is where we keep doing the same thing over and over again, without making any improvements in how we’re doing it.
Many of our daily actions are unconscious habits that may or may not lead to an optimal outcome. Sometimes an habituated way of doing something, which once served us well, is no longer optimal as a result of changing conditions.
Other times we just get accustomed to doing something haphazardly and mindlessly. As with all of these traps, getting stuck here is often the result of sticking with what we are comfortable with.
Breaking out of the Plateau Trap involves developing Visionary skills: zooming out and observing our own behavior, questioning what we’re doing, how and why we’re doing it, and sensing possibilities for alternatives.
When we lack Visionary skills, we are prone to getting stuck in the Plateau Trap—we’re not creating space to reflect on our experiences and shine a light on the tensions that our actions may be producing. In doing so, we fail to transition into imagining a better way.
The Dreaming Trap
We often get stuck in Visionary mode when we get hung up on problems and seduced by our visions of the future. Here we may be spending all of our energy and attention on the gap—or the difference between what is and what could be—and we fail to move forward to do anything about closing the gap. We get stuck in the comforts of dreaming about a better future.
Breaking out of the Dreaming Trap involves developing Investigator skills: examining the root causes of our problems, analyzing information, conducting research, connecting to existing practices or principles, and reflecting on our own understanding of the situation.
When we lack these Investigator skills, we may fail to make this transition into analyzing the gap between what is and what could be.
The Paralysis by Analysis Trap
We tend to get stuck in Investigator mode when we feel like we don’t have enough information to make a decision about what to do next. This often shows up with complex challenges where there is a certain degree of uncertainty involved.
We may keep telling ourselves that we need to read more books, take more courses, etc. before we can move forward. We may enjoy this kind of learning and are comfortable in this stage.
In situations where it would be best to move forward and take action, despite the uncertainty, and where we fail to do so, we are stuck in this pattern.
Breaking out of the Paralysis by Analysis Trap involves developing Designer skills: creating a plan of action based on the information you have.
For complex challenges with an element of uncertainty, no amount of analyzing existing data is likely to produce the insight needed for an optimal solution—data must be generated by designing and running experiments.
As the Designer, you are able to match the appropriate approach with the nature of the challenge at hand and either identify an existing solution, or create a plan for facilitating the development of an emergent solution (more on this in future posts).
When we lack Designer skills, we may fail to make this transition into deciding on a course of action and fall back into analyzing or dreaming where we are more comfortable.
The Hesitation Trap
We get stuck in Designer mode when we are good at making plans but fail to follow through and execute them. We know what we need to do, but we run into what Stephen Pressfield eloquently refers to as the Resistance.
We convince ourselves that it’s not the right moment, and we put off taking action.
Breaking out of the Hesitation Trap involves developing Actionist skills: building productive habits, managing time/projects/commitments, taking initiative, and overcoming the Resistance.
When we lack these Actionist skills, we often fail to follow through with our goals and we may fall back into a pattern of continuously creating new plans but failing to take action.
This pattern is often accompanied with strong feeling of self-doubt, though this doubt lifts as Actionist skills are developed and perspective on the learning cycle as a whole is cultivated.
The way forward
Take a couple of minutes to stop and reflect on how these patterns show up for you in your daily life.
If you had to choose one trap that represents where you tend to get stuck most often, which would it be?
Based on this insight, it’s very likely that you have some underdeveloped skills with a certain persona that are preventing you from moving through the learning cycle, and therefore holding you back from adapting and growing on your personal and/or professional path.
With this new knowledge, you can hone in on specific, high-leverage skills that will have a big impact on your life and career.
To be clear, this is where you should focus your attention for each trap:
Plateau Trap: focus on building Visionary skills (imagining)
Dreaming Trap: focus on building Investigator skills (analyzing)
Paralysis by Analysis Trap: focus on building Designer skills (deciding)
Procrastination Trap: focus on building Actionist skills (executing)
For more on the specific skills for each of the AVID Learner Personas, see this article here.
Stay tuned for more on these skills and personas, and how to make yourself and your team more resilient in a changing world by developing yourselves as AVID Learners.
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