Social learning is a key theme of mine because imitation is how we learn as a species. Social learning is best explained by Albert Bandura, recognized as the most eminent psychologist of the modern era.
“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” —Albert Bandura
Making our organizations open to social learning fosters innovation. Nobody works in a vacuum and we all build upon past ideas and achievements. Open structures that distribute authority can lead to more transparent knowledge sharing which promotes social learning. This open sharing can foster more diverse perspectives which can fuel active experimentation. Innovation emerges from this constant flow of ideas and experiments.
Social learning is not a ‘nice-to-have’. It is not something bolted on to formal education or training programs. Social learning is how humans have evolved in order to survive and thrive. Social learning is a major factor in what makes humans unique. Many organizational practices — separate departments, chain of command, job descriptions, individual performance measurement, focus on task at hand — all block social learning. Without social learning, there will be no innovation. So don’t appoint a head of innovation. Remove barriers to social learning and let people do what we have evolved to do best — learn from each other.
“How are we to learn from each other? How are we to acquire novel information? How are we to work together to establish the truth of our environment if we don’t affirmatively foster and support this rather wonderful innate quality that we have to teach and learn from each other. We are innately a friendly species, but we need environments which allow us to optimally express our inclination to be friendly. We don’t want, for example, environments in which we’re pitted against each other, where we have leaders that are kind of saying, these people are responsible for your problems. We want environments which say, we can be united in our common humanity. And analogously, we want environments which are supportive and conducive to teaching and learning. We want environments — we want to create environments in which we maximize the flow and the spread of information.” —Nicholas Christakis — video