Practice drives progress, making change a doing sport. Colin Sloman suggests an approach to learning that involves more than just knowing, but also understanding, reflecting, and practicing to bring about lasting change. 

In my December blog post about the coming of age of HR , I discussed how HR practices, like all business programs, should be tested and validated. Luckily, evidence-based decision-making is at the heart of what we do at Cognician. Our approach to activating behavior change is based on an extensive body of behavioral science research, built-up over the past 30 years which is constantly subject to real-life validation and testing in our client engagements. The underlying tenet of our work is that information alone doesn’t activate behavior change. To bring about lasting change in teams and organizations, change management processes need a behavior change approach that’s driven by action, reinforced by reflection, and backed up by data.


Martin Luther, the 16th-century monk and theologian, once wrote that "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." Business, and consulting in particular, is full of advocates of this approach. Let’s face it, there’s no lack of PowerPoint slides, instruction manuals, newsletters and the like in the world, and while there is clearly a place for such broadcast communications, it is important to recognize that knowing is not the same as understanding. That is the message of a fantastic video that I recently came across here. Created by American engineer, Destin Sandlin, the seven-minute clip explores his attempts to ride a backward-steering bicycle. Everyone who looked at the backwards bike knew how to ride a regular bike and, therefore, decided they knew how to ride this one. Except that they couldn’t. No one could ride it without hours and hours of practice.  For Destin, on and off it took him eight months to master. And although his five-year-old son managed it in a little over two weeks due to his greater "neural plasticity", the point of the video is the idea of learning by doing. It didn’t matter that Destin was trying his hardest, others thought he was faking it because they ‘knew’ it was possible. There was no real understanding or depth to the knowledge. So sorry, Martin, but words and knowledge alone are insufficient. It seems that Confucius had it right all along when he said "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." In other words, change is a doing sport.


While learning by doing is a straightforward idea,  it’s actually not quite so easy to put it into practice since it’s a complex process that differs for everyone. To really understand how new ways of doing things will work, you need to practice. But this is not something you can truly learn by reading slides or instruction manuals. You need feedback. Feedback from peers and your environment. Insight from observers. Ideas from talking things through. And possibly most importantly, feedback from your own thoughts and reflection. What you really need is feedback from learning, and this goes to the heart of our change activation approach at Cognician.


Regardless of what your change objective is focused on, for example, culture and leadership behaviors, new technology adoption, new skills and capabilities, new business models and organization designs, or new products and services, our quests or challenges give teams things to do and things to think about. They activate behavior change through action, follow-through, reflection, and social engagement. These scalable, data-driven digital experiences empower teams to drive measurable change at pace across geographically dispersed groups, one mind at a time. And importantly, the experiences are personalized since everyone’s learning style is different. Maybe your preferred input style is watching rather than reading. Perhaps you need more time for reflection to cement your learning. Or maybe you are the sort of person who needs to figure things out from scratch.


Either way, at Cognician, we have you covered! We are constantly seeking to learn through experimentation and developing compelling business cases to support our work. We construct tests to demonstrate the most effective way to achieve activation with our clients, using A/B (and C) testing as part of our standard practice. For example, we may construct a Cognician Quest with two branches, using our Activation and Commitment indices to evaluate outcomes and look for the best result. We can design experiments comparing the Cognician platform with the "old" or current ways of engagement (workshop, eLearning, etc.), and measure the results. And lastly, we can construct three-way tests, Cognician Platform (A), Traditional Method (B), and Hybrid combining both (C).


In the 1970s, David Kolb and Ron Fry developed their "Experiential Learning Model" which proposed that learning something new involves:

(1) having a concrete experience, followed by

(2) observation of and reflection on that experience, which leads to

(3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions), which are then

(4) used to test a hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

Kolb and Fry thus viewed learning as an integrated process, with each stage supporting and feeding into the next. And while it is possible to enter the cycle at any stage and follow through the sequence, their view is that effective learning can only occur when a learner progresses through a complete cycle of all four stages. In other words, learning is an active process, and learners need to be in control of the goal, the decision-making, and the reason for the learning. Not just taking a course or reading a book. They need active experimentation – or learning by doing – and that’s why change is a doing, not a talking sport. If you’re still not convinced, I know a man with a bike you can borrow!


For more information, check out to learn more about how we can help.

  Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. (1975) Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. in C. Cooper (ed.), Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.