Fast Learners For Fast Companies: Bob Guns

Deciphering Verbal Cues: Mary Demetria Davis

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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January

26, 2000. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide: Learning on the Job

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Fast Learners For Fast Companies: Bob Guns

An organization that focuses on creating fast-learning

employees is the only kind of business that can stay competitive in

today’s market, says Bob Guns of Probe Consulting of Summit

(908-522-9202). "The increasing pace of change, competition, and

globalization is driving our organizations to a point that if they

don’t learn faster they’re not going to survive," says Guns, a

consultant for companies like Merck, Duracell, and Allied Signal.

"The primary way to competitive advantage is to learn faster than

the competition."

But learning is much more than the regurgitation of information, as

we’re often taught in school, says Guns. "Learning in the work

place is for me a process of figuring out what works or what works

better," he says. "It’s different than school learning which

focuses on acquisition, not the figuring out processes. Figuring out

processes have to do with stimulating creativity, new ideas, and


that have to do with problem-solving, making decisions, planning,

and implementation."

Guns talks about "The Faster Learning Organization: The Key to

Sustainable Competitive Advantage," on Tuesday, February 1, at

8 a.m. at Pitney Hardin Kipp & Szuch, 200 Campus Drive in Florham

Park. Call 609-419-4444. Cost: $30.

Guns earned a bachelors in education at the University of British

Columbia, Class of 1965, and completed his PhD at the University of

Oregon. After several years consulting, he wrote a book called


Faster Learning Organization," based on research he conducted

on companies’ attitude towards learning in the workplace.

What he discovered, much to his amazement and disappointment, is that

many employees are not open to new ideas in business. "Either

they feel that they know it all, or they’re afraid to learn because

they associate learning with a lot of bad experiences in their


he says. "It’s really quite depressing because you think that

adults would be reasonably open to learning. I was startled with the

results. It doesn’t reflect well on our corporations."

In "The Faster Learning Organization" Guns describes two


types of operations: a performance-based organization, and


organization. "Performance-based organizations focus on a bottom

line for this particular quarter and give little credence to


he says. "Learning-based organizations make an investment in


and focus on the longer-term, larger picture."

Performance-based organizations are doomed to fail eventually, says

Guns, because to stand the test of time a business must be able to

face change and stimulate leadership. To do that, businesses must

make their employees life-long learners. "You want to make it

easy for people to learn" so you integrate it into the day-to-day

operation, he says. "At the end of a project people should get

together and ask what did we learn from this?"

Other keys to a faster-learning organization, says Guns:

Challenge leaders and have them challenge staff. Good

leaders stretch their employees without backing down, says Guns.

Provide the necessary support and tools to help your


learn, psychologically, financially, academically, and socially.

Accelerate learning in key areas where the company is

growing, or in the direction it is moving.

Establish entrepreneurial teams that can spin-off ideas

from the parent business.

Hire faster learners.

How do you spot fast learners? That’s something we still don’t

know, says Guns, who has embarked upon research with Technology New

Jersey to answer that question. Gun guesses that curiosity is a trait

of the fast learner. "That would be manifested by people asking

questions, asking good questions, and listening attentively,"

he says. He also thinks people who network a lot may be faster


because, he says, "when people build expert and influenced


that they can draw from they keep their learning at the leading


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Deciphering Verbal Cues: Mary Demetria Davis

Communication styles are often an impediment to learning

in an organization, but because the way we communicate is so personal,

and somewhat intangible, these problems are often ignored. A boss,

for example, may find he or she is constantly unable to communicate

to an employee an idea or need; colleagues may find they’re never

quite on the same page, and managers may find that they just can’t

motivate a particular person.

Different communication styles usually indicate different approaches

to learning, and sometimes recognizing these differences is essential

to completing a project, or getting a point across, says Mary


Davis, a consultant and practitioner of neuro-linguistic


the science of how people communicate. With Ed Andriessen,


consultant, Davis cofounded the Princeton Center for Neuro-Linguistic

Programming, an institute that teaches people how to employ different

communication styles to forge better relationships, in business and


Davis will be giving a free introduction to Neuro-Linguistic


on Monday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrenceville Library. The

Princeton Center for NLP begins sessions on February 19. Call


"NLP works well because it expedites the process of communicating

effectively," says Davis, who spent 20 years as a crisis


consultant for the U.S. Postal Service, and has a BS in business


from SUNY New Paltz, Class of 1963. "You learn to pick up certain

language patterns. Some people may be visual — why do some people

need post-its? With NLP you become more sensitive to other people’s

patterns, so if you’re talking to someone you can step out of your

own way and listen effectively. You can then identify ways to build

that communication to build rapport and speak the other person’s


"When we look at language we can see how people motivate or


themselves," says Davis. A proactive person, for example, prefers

to dive into projects, whereas a reactive person prefers to weigh

all the options carefully. The problem arises when two such people

are forced to work together. A proactive person may be demoralized

by the reactive person’s cautiousness. "If I’m proactive and


reactive, and you say `Mary, I want you to analyze this,’ you’re going

to lose me," says Davis. Likewise, some people like lots of


and to act entrepreneurial, while others are glued to a process.


you have somebody who likes to work independently and you put them

in a cooperative state, that particular person is going to start to

shut down," says Davis.

The next time a communication problem arises with a colleague or


Davis suggests doing the following:

Rather than asking why, ask how. In other words, don’t

focus on why a problem is occurring, but focus on how you can


the goal. The "why" question is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"If you’re focusing on a problem, it’s only going to bring up

a problem," says Davis.

Use the word "might" when asking people to


a new solution, i.e. "You might think about doing it this


Says Davis: "It takes away people’s defenses."

There is room in an organization for every kind of learner,

says Davis, but managers and coworkers need to know how to energize

people, how to speak their language. "As a boss you have to think

about making it all cohesive," says Davis. "By changing just

one or two words you can communicate more effectively."

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