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Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Emrah Beşe Tümay Karaver Yonca Olgun Olga Shostak. Introduction. Most successful people are adept at solving problems, but they don’t know really how to learn Able to solve problems and overcome many organizational obstacles

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teaching smart people how to learn

Teaching Smart People How to Learn

Emrah Beşe

Tümay Karaver

Yonca Olgun

Olga Shostak


Most successful people are adept at solving problems, but they don’t know really how to learn

Able to solve problems and overcome many organizational obstacles

Unsuccessful to examine why there are obstacles and looking at the underneath dynamics of the problem

Lack of introspection

Lack of the ability to see their own part in the problem

Result: They are not able to learn from it

mistakes of companies
Mistakes of Companies

Definition of learning is wrong

Common assumption of getting people to learn is largely a matter of motivation

critical issue
Critical Issue

Defensive Behavior inhibits double loop learning

Defensive Reasoning: People focus the attention on what the other person or parties have done wrong

how professionals avoid learning
How Professionals Avoid Learning
  • 16 years study on management consultants
  • Managers- highly educated
  • High job satisfaction
  • Successful at learning on external factors
Self resistance to continuous improvement
  • Failure to confront self performance
  • Fear of inadequate performance
  • Tendency to react defensively
  • Blaming on the others for low performance
an example study
An Example Study

Performance evaluation meeting

  • Premier management consultant team
  • Largely satisfied client
  • Discussion for performance improvement
  • Encouragement for frankness, openness and challenging superiors
team m embers c omplaints
Team Members` Complaints

Blaming on client


Excessive workload

Limited time

  • Avoiding to look at self performance
  • Routine self defensive reasoning
  • Unproductive parallel conversations
  • Lack of contribution to improvement
how to overcome
How To Overcome?
  • Dynamics of defensive reasoning
  • Special causes
defensive reasoning dr t he doom loop
Defensive Reasoning (DR) &The Doom Loop

Defensive Reasoning and professionals’ behavior

Encourages individuals to keep private

“Espoused Theory” (Theory of action)

“Theory-in-use” (Real action)

four b asic v alues
Four BasicValues

To remain in unilateral control

To maximize “winning” and minimize “losing”

To suppress negative feelings

To be as “rational” as possible

the dynamics causes t o b ecome a s ubject o f dr
The Dynamics & Causes To BecomeASubjectof DR
  • Dynamics





  • Possible Consequences:
  • “Brittle” personalities
  • Low level of further performance
  • Psychologically devastating
  • Formidable predisposition againstlearning



Doom loop of despair with zoom into it

  • Poor experience of DR before the world of work
  • Lack of knowledge how to manage DR
  • “Mr./Mrs. Perfect” – self-pressure
  • High aspirations equal to High fear of failure
  • Performance Evaluation
Is Performance Evaluation AToolTo EncourageLearning orTo PushProfessionalsIntoThe DoomLoop?
  • Performance evaluation is a complex of criteria and standards that define the level of professionals’ performance
  • Subjective judgments
  • Unclear criteria for minimum performance
  • Antilearning


  • It can deter persons’ irresponsibility
  • “Espoused theory” is different from “theory-in-use”
  • Rules described and explained the professionals’ actions were denied by them
learning how to reason productively
Learning How To Reason Productively
  • Organizations can break out of this vicious cycle by
    • Using universal human tendencies

- strive to produce what is intended

- value acting competently

- associate self esteem with behaving consistently

and performing effectively

    • Companies can use these human tendencies to teach people how to reason in a new way
    • Reshape the behavior
learning how to reason productively1
Learning How To Reason Productively

Recognizing the reasoning people use

Identification of inconsistencies between ‘espoused’ and ‘actual’ theories of action

Confrontation of unconscious action

Learning how to identify defensive behavior and how these become a part of the organization’s problem

tough reasoning vs soft reasoning
“Tough Reasoning” vs. “Soft Reasoning”

“Tough Reasoning” - The way to go to reduce and overcome organizational defenses

Analytical and data-driven

Objective data

It can withstand all kind of critical questions

Human resources programs are no longer need to be based on “soft reasoning”

turn t his situation around
Turn This Situation Around

First Step: Top managers have to change their own theories in-use

Second step: They become aware of their defensive reasoning and its counterproductive consequences.

- Top to bottom change

Third step: Any educational experience designed to teach senior managers to reason productively has to be connected to real business problems.

- Productive reasoning not just in a training session

but in all their work relationships

case study
Case Study

A large organizational-development consulting company

CEO- the problems caused by the intense competition among various business functions represented by his four direct reports

Disagreement → Fight→Defensiveness→Cost

Describe a meeting he intended to have on a paper

- Divided the paper in half

- On the right hand side of the page: describe what he would say

and how subordinates reply

- On the left hand of the page: thoughts and feelings that are likely

to occur during the meeting but that he wouldn’t express.

case study c ont
Case Study-Cont.

CEO learnt several things about the way he acted with his management team

Counterproductive in the guise of “diplomatic”

CEO’s colleagues has also learned about their ineffective behavior.

-Examined their own behavior

-Unintentional cover ups

-Inaccurate attributions and evaluations they did notexpress

-Belief of having to hide important ideas and feeling

from the CEO in order not to upset anyone was



Issues that have never been addressed before have been willingly addressed.

- Payoff: Management teams work more openly and

effectively, become more flexible and can better adapt

to particular situations

When they are trained in new reasoning skills, the senior management have a big impact on the performance of the entire organization

- Even when other employees are still reasoningdefensively