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Learning In the Absence of Coaches

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Part of my firm’s DNA is to make work fun (again). From my years in higher education administration, I discovered the energizing effects learning has on how work gets done, and how well it’s done. Walk into a work environment that has a ton of energy. Look closely. Chances are it’s because the worker bees are creating a ton of value and continuously learning how to do so. They’re doing so with the help of each other. There’s a ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality.

As a result, in my view, there’s much to be gained by instrumenting how work gets in ways which provoke learning. B2B sales is a perfect example. My contention: the more sales people can learn whether or not what they’re doing matters (from each buyer’s perspective), the faster they’ll learn to create more value more often for every buyer. As sales people learn more, they’ll earn more.

In my view, this requires instrumenting sales work in ways which encourage learning with a child-like curiosity.

Clayton Christensen recently noted why some people are more innovative than others: they’ve retained their child-like curiosity about how things work and have a fearless drive to fix things that aren’t working. In my view, this requires sales people have a viewfinder that makes it clear how things are working (in the back-and-forth between sales efforts and buyer behaviors) and what things aren’t working at all.

Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ research shows that when given a chance children learn, quickly, topics they previously knew little, if anything, about (as he explains in his TED talk below). Based on his research, sales people also need a viewfinder that’s focused on things sales people care deeply about. Just like the children in Mitra’s studies, it’ll spark curiosity + provoke learning.

My bias: sales people (just like children) want to learn. When given equivalent ‘Hole in the Wall’ learning environments, sales people, too, will astonish the folks around them with how much more they learn and how fast they do so. Early results with sales people will attract similar reactions to those Mitra’s had: “too good to be true.”

What if it wasn’t?

FYI, I share Keith Rosen’s views on the importance of sales coaching as outlined in his recent webinar. It matters. Having said that, in my view the opportunities for coaching with impact grow immensely when sales people have already done much to tease out of themselves and their colleagues some of the basic improvements they’re more than capable of accomplishing on their own.

My thanks to Adam Burk for inspiring this post with his post on Learning in the Absence of Teachers.

This entry was posted in Change management, Craftsmanship, Curiosity, Fun, Return on Effort, Training and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Learning In the Absence of Coaches

  1. Don F Perkins says:


    Nicely put. To carry the analogy further, children are not only naturally curious, they are always looking for approval. Validation of their actions is a necessary part of the growth process. It's what enables them to reach further in all areas of life with confidence and assurance that they are engaged in meaningful behavior which has obvious and positive impact on others.

  2. Gary says:

    John, this is a wonderful post on human behavior and motivation. Fun brings out the child in everyone. Making the work environment game-like makes work fun, promotes a desire to learn, and eliminates the need to force-feed knowledge.

    BTW, we recently watched a four part series called “Faces” by BBC that I think you’ll enjoy. One segment studied the effects of employee smiling and laughing in the workplace.

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