Dancing on The Learning Edge

Dancing on The Learning Edge. 


The dance of renewal, the dance that made the world, was always danced here at the edge of things, on the brink, on the foggy coast.”  Ursula Le Guin (1989) 

-All Coaching, Team Coaching, Team Meetings, Conferences are most creative when they quickly travel to the ‘Learning Edge’ and discover how to be creative together at the place where are knowing no longer helps and new answers are required. 

I define the Learning Edge as the place where none of the team members has the answer, where neither the Team Leader or the Team Coach, have the answer, but everyone is clear that life and our stakeholders are requiring us to find and answer. 

What helps us travel quickly to this edge, rather than wasting time trading advice to each other’s problems and sharing pre-cooked thinking, are three processes: 

  1. Thinking outside-in: getting team members to discover who their works creates value for and what each of those stakeholders value about them, find difficult and need different going forward  
  2. Creating future back: Where does the team need to be in 3-5 years’ time in order to double its beneficial impact in the world and create greater value, with and for all its stakeholders, including the wider ecology we all share?  Visioning what success would look, sound and feel like, once we have achieved that. Then addressing the road-map to get there and what are the main barriers and blockages that need to be overcome. 
  3. Turning Problems into Challenges and Challenges into  Opportunities: now we have to reframe the barriers and blockages from being problems to being challenges and opportunities.  The great Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote 

“The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way becomes the way” 

One simple practice I have for doing this is when people say,’ but you cannot do x in our organization’, I simply respond with the one word: ‘yet’. 

  1. Entering the journey together with Open Mind; Open Heart and Oen Will: These are the three pre-requisites that Otto Scharmer recommends in the early stages of the U shaped journey of transformation. 

You can sense when you arrive at the learning edge, because it starts to feel scary – the excitement and anxiety increase and the road ahead is foggy and unclear.  Often at this stage teams can become desperate and turn to the team leader or team coach and imploring ask, “so what should we do?”  This has to be resisted, as otherwise the moment of discovery is quickly replaced by a moment of dependency.   

The next human reaction to resist the fresh challenge that is facing us, is to quickly search for past solutions that have worked before. Here it is essential to be reminded that “what got us to her, will not get us to there.”  New times and new challenges call for fresh new responses.  Here as team leader or team coach we have to quickly block off the easy exits, that will quickly become cul-de-sacs, and support the team in staying on the foggy cliff edge. 

Here we have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, discover what we have to unlearn to free up the space for new learning to emerge, and facilitate processes for generative dialogue, where we can cocreate an answer that was in nobody’s head before we came together.  A good example of such a process is what I have termed ‘Collective Build’ ( see Hawkins 2021: pp371-372 ) 

If you want to explore both your own learning edge and how to help others learn at the edge, then I am running two summer Advanced Retreats for experienced coaches, consultants and leaders in the beautiful setting of Barrow Castle just outside the historical small city of Bath, UK on June 28th -30th and September 6th-8th 2023. Fore more details visit https://www.renewalassociates.co.uk/events/advanced-retreats/