How to promote the culture of ongoing adaptability and learning.
One of the common plagues that we face in workplace learning is the concept of “experience traps”. In general, the experience trap describes a situation in which people rely too much on their past experiences and fail to change or expand their ways of thinking in response to new situations. This tends to happen when employees are firmly rooted in their practices and are unable to adapt, frequently out of the conviction that what worked in the past would continue to work in the present. Professionals who get too comfortable with their current abilities and knowledge and stop looking for new learning opportunities may fall victim to the experience trap.
“Past performance is no guarantee of future returns!”
On the face of it, it may seem counter intuitive. Shouldn’t our experiences provide us with better insights that allow us to continue to develop?
Here are a few factors that contribute to the dreaded experience traps:
Habit Formation:When we repeat behaviors, our neural pathways in the brain are strengthened, forming habits. Essentially, a habit is formed when a neuron suggests doing something repeatedly. This process is facilitated by myelin, which acts as insulation in the nervous system, allowing for efficient neuron communication. The more an action is repeated, the more myelin is produced which then enhances communication and makes the habit more accessible to perform.
Reward Processing: Our brain constantly makes predictions about the rewards it expects to receive. When our past actions resulted in positive outcomes, dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released, reinforcing the neural circuits associated with those actions. This reinforces the behaviour associated with the stimulus. If a stimulus repeatedly results in a positive outcome, the brain learns to associate the stimulus itself with the reward, solidifying the behaviour. Additionally, the emotional response that a stimulus triggers also contributes to its rewarding nature. Stimuli that trigger positive emotions and pleasure are perceived as having a higher reward value.
Conservation of Cognitive Resources: Our brain, like any muscle, aims to be efficient and save energy, often relying on past actions to avoid extra cognitive effort in exploring new possibilities. If a task is deemed essential for survival or has significant consequences, the brain is more likely to allocate additional cognitive resources. In simpler terms, the brain directs attention and resources to tasks that stand out or are crucial for survival. Biological factors, circadian rhythms, and individual goals also influence how cognitive resources are distributed.
Navigating the Challenges and Embracing the Power of Learning to Break Free from Experience Traps
Believing in something new can be challenging as it requires a deliberate change in thinking and behaviour, which takes time. It involves developing new habits and being in a supportive environment that encourages critical thinking supported by evidence. Being patient and persistent is essential since belief systems do not change overnight.
When someone gets stuck in what’s known as the “Experience Trap,” it’s often because their belief system has become stagnant. They will rely too heavily on past experiences, thinking that it’s impossible to move beyond their current position. Simply telling this person to “just develop a Growth Mindset” or to do “Neuroplasticity-Enhancing Activities” may not be helpful. The essential ingredient in participating in these types of activities is the belief that one’s abilities and intelligence can be developed with effort, learning, and persistence.
When we break away from these practices, we engage in willpower which is a taxing endeavour for our brain. Since it is not a “natural” state we must be aware of it when we face experiences to ensure that we set ourselves up to learn from one of the most powerful teachers, experience itself.
Experience traps must be identified and mitigated, and this calls for a willingness to question presumptions, welcome change, and never stop learning from both accomplishments and mistakes. To stay out of these pitfalls, it’s critical for people and organizations to foster an environment of flexibility and reward adaptability.
“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” – Aldous Huxley
Alpha Development plays a pivotal role in helping organisations escape the “experience trap” by promoting a culture of ongoing learning and adaptability. Our strategy includes development programmes focused on current trends, facilitating mentorship and coaching for knowledge transfer, encouraging innovative thinking, and implementing regular feedback mechanisms. This holistic approach of ‘challenge, create and change’, ensures that employees are continuously challenged to update their skills and perspectives, fostering a workplace environment where reliance on past experiences is balanced with an openness to new ideas and methods.
Author: Shad Rogers
Shad Rogers is a seasoned development specialist with over two decades of experience at leading financial institutions globally, specializing in enhancing employee learning and achievement. His work focuses on collaborating with High Potentials, Managers, and Leaders, providing them with the necessary tools and strategies for success through well-designed programs and personalized coaching. Rogers leverages his extensive experience, research, and the latest academic insights to foster individual success in a rapidly changing business environment. Distinguished by his approach, he actively engages with participants to ensure the effective adoption and application of proven methods, setting him apart in a world overwhelmed with information.