Executive Coaching Connections, LLC

Our knowledge is in constant flux.

-Samuel Arbesman


With the amount of information available to us within a few keystrokes, it may seem that staying current should be getting easier—and this is partly true.

The challenge lies in knowing when you need to look for information, and being willing to do so.

Facts are changing more quickly than ever before, according to Samuel Arbesman, author of the 2012 HBR article Be Forewarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying. While some facts are likely to remain the same throughout our lifetimes (the number of continents, for example), we need to pay particular attention to mesofacts – facts that can change over the course of years or decades. These are facts we often think we know, but may have changed without us being aware.

One way to embrace changing facts is to be a nimble learner – someone who learns quickly, is open to the new and unfamiliar, and embraces all experiences as learning opportunities. According to Korn Ferry, nimble learning is part of a broader set of competencies related to being flexible and adaptable and correlates with high performance across all regions of the world. You might be interested to know that Google considers learning ability its top hiring competency across all roles.

Here are 3 simple and cost-effective ideas to help organizations, teams, and leaders enhance nimble learning.

  1. Use a 50:50 approach. “In studies of problem-solving sessions, solutions outweigh questions eight to one,” according to Michael M. Lombardo in FYI: For Your Improvement, but our first solutions are not typically our best. To encourage nimble learning and ensure you’re considering all relevant facts, it’s helpful to strive for balance. Lombardo suggests, “Set[ing] aside the first 50% of the time for questions and problem definition and the last 50% of the time for solutions.” As you think about your organization, how much time are you spending on problem definition? Are you asking the right questions? Are you double-checking key assumptions (using the most up-to-date facts)?

  2. Assign a fact checker. Many teams regularly ask members to play different roles (timekeeper, devil’s advocate, etc.) as a way to enhance team effectiveness. One way to integrate nimble learning, is to add a role called fact checker. This role helps the team ensure it’s working with the most current facts, especially related to key assumptions. To experiment with this approach, share Arbesman’s article with your team to introduce the idea. Discuss ways your team can embrace changing facts and nimble learning, together.

  3. Look back to look forward. “The best way to become a nimble learner is to take the time to consider what you have learned from an experience and then apply that learning to future situations,” according to Lombardo. You can do this on your own, by pausing, reflecting, and keeping a learning journal. Or, you can do this with others, by conducting an after-action review and asking questions that look back and look forward: What did we do well? What didn’t work so well? What did we learn? What facts were missing from our process? What facts should we consider next time? What do we want to carry forward to help us face future challenges successfully?

To improve performance and help your organization prepare for what’s next, enhance your nimble learning.

For more leadership and learning insights, follow ECC on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you could use some help creating a learning culture, ECC can help. Give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.