Orientation to Learning

…is finding the optimum balance between the uncertainty and doubt that prompt and energize learning and the unwavering determination to get it done at all cost; the opposites are at either extreme: fragility and dependence or rigid persistence.


This dimension is about being open to learning, new ideas and challenge and having the ‘inner strength’ to move confidently from purpose to performance by embracing learning and change, rather than either giving up and withdrawing or ‘toughing it out’ and getting mad with the world. It’s about knowing, deep down, that I can go on learning when things get tough. I know learning isn’t always easy and that struggling, even failing sometimes, is a natural part of it – so I’m open and ready for new ideas and ready to change my mind and my heart as I learn. I need to be like this to build my learning power.

People less open to learning may be fragile and dependent, on the one hand, more likely to give up easily and accept that they are not getting anywhere; or they might be ‘rigidly persistent’, on the other hand, determined to stay as they are, do things their way, tending to blame things they can’t control, less inclined to listen to others. Either way, they will be hindered from building their learning power.

Effective learners are open and ready to learn, even when the outcome and the way to proceed are uncertain, adapting to each context or challenge, somewhere between the two poles of ‘dependent fragility’ and ‘rigid persistence’. They are open to the inter- and intra-personal dynamics of learning power, which gives them greater access to the other dimensions, just as the other dimensions also help them to become more open to learning.

At the two poles: Dependently fragile learners may go to pieces if faced with confusion or uncertainty. They are risk averse, with less ability to persevere and are likely to seek and prefer less challenging situations. They are dependent upon other people and external structures for their learning and sense of self-esteem. Rigidly persistent learners are ‘closed’ to their learning environment and likely to be unavailable to learning relationships. They are less likely to build trust and listen to others, feeling safer ‘going their own way’.

  • Enjoys problem-based learning
  • Good at accepting and managing negative emotions, fears and frustrations related to learning
  • Willing to wrestle with difficult concepts and change the mindset when necessary for success
  • Confident in pursuing goals but willing to adapt and change

  • When you are really struggling to understand something, remind yourself that uncomfortable feelings are an important part of learning: all effective learners have them!
  • Just as your body needs exercise, so does your brain. Don’t give up when it starts to hurt: that’s when it’s getting fitter!
  • Instead of waiting till you’ve ‘sorted’ a problem before writing anything, try describing your uncertainties, doubts, confusions. Welcome them! They may turn out to be part of the answer.
  • Fear makes the thinking brain shut down. Being afraid of failure can cause it to happen. Adopt a new motto for your learning, like: ‘Give it a go!’ ‘Who dares, wins!’ ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway!’ “That which yields is not always weak.”
  • Practise taking calculated risks for work; talk them through first with someone sharing responsibility for your success. Listen well and then take responsibility. As your risks work out, your confidence in your own judgment will be strengthened
  • Set a ‘risk-taking’ objective in your PDP to get have support for it
  • Talk through your Key Result Areas with your manager in advance, so you are clear about the criteria by which your work will be judged. Assess your own work objectively against these criteria before it is judged by anyone else, so you become gradually less dependent on external judgments
  • Create your own ‘private’ assessment system, based on how well you have tried, risked, failed, adapted your strategies and tried again. Use it to reward yourself in small ways.
  • You’ve done all you can; the task still seems impossible? Put it down and do something different. Return to it when you are fresh

“If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.” ― Jeff Bezos