Change and learning

Monday 28 September 2020

The period that we have just lived through and continue to live through reminds us to what extent change is inherent in human nature and, more generally, is one of the essential characteristics of living things. Doesn’t an old proverb say: “You never bathe twice in the same water”.
From a study and theorizing point of view, change management can be considered a fairly recent discipline, and that is my responsibility. I will distinguish two main lines of research:
  • Individual change and collective change, mainly in the business environment.
  • It is important to fully understand the mechanisms of change on an individual basis before approaching change management at the collective level.
With regard to change in the business environment, which is not the subject of this article, John P. Kotter can be considered as one of the references. His most famous books, which I encourage you to read, are: Leading change (1996), Ice pack alert (2008) and Driving change (2015).
In the field of individual change, the school of Palo Alto and the MRI in the 1960s (Mental Research Institute, also located in Palo Alto) are benchmarks. Their contributions, since enriched by neuroscience on the functioning of the brain, are considerable and still relevant.
For MRI researchers, several notions are essential in individual change, including the two below:
  • The notion of change is inseparable from that of learning
  • There is no change without an emotional process
In this article, I will only develop the first: The notion of change is inseparable from that of learning, because this aspect is too often neglected in the support of change in business.
Neurosciences have shown it, our brain is a great lazy who only seeks to economize, which results in the fact that when faced with a new problem, it will first seek to respond diagrams that he knows, before possibly considering other ways of proceeding. The functioning of the brain is governed by 5 major laws:
The law of similarity: the brain will seek to group elements with common characteristics: e.g. in the drawing below, your brain will very quickly differentiate the Xs from the Us, and you will it will take very little time to say the number of X’s or U’s
The law of proximity: Our brain will link close elements together (eg the constellations in the sky: the Big Dipper, the W of Cassiopeia).
The law of closure: the brain has a natural tendency to consider closed forms.
Question: how many triangles are there in the drawing below?
Note the importance of the wording of the question: “How many triangles are there?” » and not « how many triangles do you see? »
The answer is: No triangle or infinity. A triangle is defined by three sides. Either the sides are black and there are no triangles, or the sides are white and there are then an infinity of triangles.
The law of meaning: the brain proceeds by analogy(s) with elements it knows and has in stock.
The law of influence or context: If a group of data does not make sense, it is that of its context and its environment that will prevail.
The series of numbers: 2, 89, 41, 17 may not mean anything to you at first sight.
Now if I tell you that there is a logical connection between these 4 numbers, you will spend a little time and will eventually find that they are all prime numbers
To these 5 laws, I will add the fact that the brain does not know how to visually apprehend 2 things at the same time. What do you see in the image below? : an elderly couple, a haircut, a guitarist with a Mexican hat and a woman snapping her fingers with her arms at head level, a young woman leaving a room.
It is impossible for us to say: I see all of this simultaneously.
From all of the above, we see that the brain proceeds according to pre-established patterns, which are unique to each of us. Two people placed in the same environment will not select and memorize the same elements:
  • Difference in perception depending on whether one is visual, auditory, kinesthetic, …;
  • Influence of our values: family, belonging group, cultural;
  • Forms, knowledge already recorded in our brain and therefore known to it;

It follows that, faced with the same change, two people will react differently. For some people, the change will simply consist of new learning, while for others it will be necessary to deconstruct one or more meta-programs (in other words to unlearn) before they can learn something new.< /div>

As examples:
  • You don’t start a Formula 1 in the same way as an ordinary car. So we will have to learn new sensations, patterns although both are cars.
  • Sales are a way to earn money. It would be more correct to say to spend less.

So, when you want to initiate a change in a collective environment, it is a question of making the most precise diagnosis possible on what will be necessary to do, in terms of learning with each of the people concerned:< /div>

  • Be it just learning: acquiring new knowledge.
  • Either start by unlearning to be able to learn new ones.
To conclude:
  • The notion of change is intrinsically linked to that of learning.
  • We are all different, and therefore the support for change must be individualized to take into account this learning / unlearning dimension.

About the author

Stéphanie PLESSIS

Professional coach, consultant, speaker and trainer

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