Growing Through Challenge

In a recent TED Talk by Tim Harford  about how frustrating situations often make us come up with the most creative solutions, Harford cites a series of examples and experiments where people had been faced with tasks of varying difficulty.

In one study, two groups of students received the same set of exercises with one small difference: While one group’s sheet was written in an easy-to-read font, the other’s had a much more difficult font.

Although faced with an additional challenge and thus taking longer to complete the task, the second group scored much higher than the first. Let me rephrase that because these students were under more difficult circumstances as they had been forced to really engage their minds and think harder, and therefore ended up with better results.

Harford also tells of examples where professional musicians have (by way of bad luck) had to perform with broken instruments and avoid certain notes, but actually ended up creating masterpieces that were very different from the rest of their work.

Beyond the comfort zone

These examples got me thinking of how we design Learning & Development and daily tasks. I’m not suggesting we start building hidden challenges into our company processes, since most of us probably aren’t short for daily problems as it is. But the way in which we deal with these problems could be examined more closely.

Might there be a more efficient or sustainable way to deal with problems xyz? Sometimes it’s good to step outside of our comfort zone and question the dangerous ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ mind set.

Otherwise we risk our teams going with the approach they’ve always used and, quite frankly, getting bored at some stage. And as we know, ‘unchallenging work’ is one of the top reasons why good employees end up leaving an organisation.

In terms of learning and development, moving people outside their comfort zone could also foster innovation. When strangers from different backgrounds put their heads together, it might be awkward at first, but it could also prove very rewarding.

Human collaboration unlocks learning potential

Communicating with colleagues or customers internationally can sometimes take staff outside their comfort zone. Language, culture and differing time zones also factor in the communication mix. However, good communication skills are critical to the success of organisations aiming to gain a competitive advantage in today’s global workplace.

In order to achieve a successful management strategy with a high return on investment, organisations need to act in accordance with the current circumstances and predictions. This includes the right financial investment, increased awareness of market shifts and enhanced adaptability to change, such as embracing mobile and cloud-based technology.

But as with any new strategy, it only makes sense if it is communicated well and backed by management. Your employees need to know exactly why this strategy is being adopted and how it will help them in their daily work.

Finding and presenting examples of other companies that have successfully embraced this strategy is also helpful. This isn’t a costly and complex change that will take months to implement. It’s a more subtle mind set change that needs to be addressed and could get you some amazing results, if done right and supported on all levels.

A famous quote goes, “What if you invest in your employees and they leave?” “Well what if you don’t, and they stay?” Whatever happens, those of us who think ahead and encourage our teams to continue learning and growing will ultimately be the ones to attract retain a productive and motivated workforce.

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