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Social learning is a human 1.0 trait — leverage it with your employees and customers

Last week I wrote for the Collaborative Innovation blog about the fact that perhaps you do not need a culture of innovation, since innovation has been an integral part of the culture of modern humans for thousands of years. This implies that you need to remove the barriers for innovation if you want to increase innovation within your company — not build new structures for it.

Another important Human 1.0 characteristic that most companies are not leveraging enough is social learning. Humans are the only species that are predominantly social learners. We learn by observing others. It is genetic and also part of our culture. Think of a baby that mimics adults before they can sit, walk,or talk — in fact they do it almost instantaneous after being born. That is the hardwired social learning system that humans have had for eons at work.

Where else could you leverage this innate human characteristic?

  1. With your customers
    We mimic what others do and adopt the decisions of our tribes as our own. Some call it herding. The key here is to make visible how others make buying decisions to similar people who have not yet made those buying decisions. Amazon does a great job at that — how many books or other Amazon items have you bought because their system told you, after you purchased an item, that “others who bought this item, also bought this?” It works — we tend to imitate others that are like us. How can you make the way others buy your products and services visible to prospects that are like them? Think about it. Traditional reference programs are a step in the right direction, but in this digital and interconnected world, there must be much better ways to do that.
  2. With your employees
    Many companies go through massive change management programs without ever leveraging the social learning for which we are hardwired. We mimic people who are successful — that is how we learn new things. So if your change management initiative is intended to produce certain new behaviors, make sure you reward and recognize those that are exhibiting that behavior, and make it easy for others to observe this behavior leads to success. Granted, in the real world it is much more complicated than that. For starters, behaviors are an externalization of shared beliefs and values — and so the right set of values and beliefs have to be in place for the proper behavior to show up in the first place. But once you have that — too few companies leverage the impact of the observability of success. Worse than that, many companies have a total dissonance between what they say and what they do — they may be encouraging a collaborative culture, while at the same time rewarding bullying management tactics by promoting the bullies. Guess what, this will inevitably lead to a bullying culture because we are social learners.

Do you have any other thoughts on this topic — write about it.

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