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The Power of Rediscovery

This article was first published in the Australia/New Zealand ‘Training and Development’ magazine, in December 2019.

Few of us realise how smart we already are.
As babies, we learnt to walk and talk. We did this naturally. We figured out balance, coordination, communication and relationships with very little formal teaching. Those that love us marvelled at this intelligence, we were cheered on and celebrated for the smart little beings that we were.
At some stage in our development, adults inserted themselves into the process and suddenly our learning was handed over to teachers who claimed to know more than we did. The intelligence that had been developing quite naturally was now no longer to be trusted, it seemed.
It’s a bizarre concept to see written in print.
Thankfully, we are living in an age of technology that can provide fascinating answers to what the brain (or soul??) already knows – we are wise creatures. We are wired for positive development and we can learn and do extraordinary things with our powerful brains. Few of us are using our brains to capacity and most of us can act decisively to increase our brain’s ability to process, retain and apply learning. This is the heart of neuroplasticity – we are carrying around a phenomenal piece of equipment!
Rediscovery is the word I have used here to describe a process of reconnecting to something we already know. Recently I had an experience of rediscovery…
I was driving to meet a woman who lives on the coast in Raglan, New Zealand. To get there, I had to cross a small mountain range that separates my part of the region from hers. On the descent, I suddenly became aware of the many sharp corners I was having to negotiate in my car. From the depths of my memory, a voice came through “look ahead to the farthest edge of the corner where the road is appearing. Look there and you will corner smoothly, you don’t need to worry about the wheel, just look to the edge of the corner and you’ll end up where you want to be”
It was the voice of my driving instructor, many years distant!
Over the years I had completely forgotten his advice and returned to watching the road just in front of the car and turning the wheel like Scott McLaughlin.
In that moment, I reconnected to old knowledge. I looked farther ahead, relaxed and forgot about the corners. I ended up where I wanted to be – and I got a pretty fascinating insight along with it!
Renowned coach and international best-selling author Michael Neill has a lovely way of saying it,
“But in the same way that the GPS in our car lets us know when there’s something for us to do but stays silent the rest of the time, our innate intelligence is there when we need it but can be disconcertingly quiet when there’s nothing for it to say. That in turn can lead us to doubt its existence, or at the very least its reliability. But if you reflect back through your life, you’ll start to notice all sorts of examples of that real-time responsive intelligence in action.”[1]
When a learning experience reconnects us to knowledge that we already hold, the effects can be powerful and long-lasting. But what does it mean for those of us working in training and development?

Gallileo is credited with the quote “we cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves”

Ok if that’s true Galileo, it kind of sounds like a dead-end for those of us working hard to give this sector a good name! If we can’t teach anyone anything…if people have to make their own discoveries…how do we stay relevant in today’s world?
Should we re-title ourselves as Learning Discovery Buddies? It’s hardly a shiny sales pitch is it? Imagine researching to find the perfect supplier for a new course you need to deliver in your organisation, only to hear: ‘No, I don’t have a year-long, skills-based programme and I actually only need to see you once. Let me help you remember what you have forgotten you know!’
I understand why L&D teams might screw their noses up at this kind of offering – and why trainers would rarely murmur it on their website or brochure. It doesn’t sound like a solid business strategy and it’s hard to polish up, but it’s got a truth to it that many can appreciate at an intuitive level.
People actually know a lot. And they usually know how to learn what they want to understand better.
Hmmm, still feels like a dead-end! It’s definitely not a traditional learning pathway. Many training offerings are continuing to position the trainer as an expert and the classroom as a place where knowledge and skill is poured into the mouths of willing students who leave slightly smarter than before. We’ve all experienced a training day like that. It doesn’t feel that good. Maybe we’ve had to deliver training in that way too – it’s not fun for the facilitator either!
Whether you’re a trainer at the front of the room or a manager who just adores imparting advice to everyone with the faintest whiff of a problem – we have probably all been guilty of hijacking the process that connects people to what they already know.
So without throwing out what you’re already doing well, here are four ideas for organisations seeking to support people to rediscover their own knowledge.

1. Open all learning events with a recap of prior knowledge
This is not rocket science and it’s such a classic opening activity that it can be overlooked for its power. When done well, time spent discussing what the group in front of you already know can be the best ten minutes you’ll invest in a session plan.

  • Avoids relitigating irrelevant content and saves time.
  • Starts with a feeling of confidence and groundedness in the topic.
  • Opens the mind and primes the learning environment.

2. Discover who is in the room
In New Zealand, we like to know one another well and discover connections. It can be eye-opening to dig a little deeper beyond prior knowledge and find out what skills people hold, where they have worked and what levels of experience they are bringing to the table.

  • Strengths-based cultures celebrate what existing people can already do, they do not immediately look to outsource knowledge or skill.
  • This is empowering and builds an environment where accomplishment is visible – and used by the organisation for purpose and productivity.
  • Supercharge this by asking people what they know and then asking WHAT THEY WANT TO KNOW NEXT. You will be amazed at the power of this double-whammy question pair.

3. Credit where credit is due
Celebrate your experts! Profile the people who hold discrete and rare sets of knowledge in your organisation. Support them to share their expertise and help them learn how to do this with coaching and facilitation training if needed.

  • Keep knowledge and learning at the surface where everyone can access it by encouraging sharing between people.
  •  Reward and recognise the impact of knowledge-sharing on your business bottom line. This will help to avoid it being buried again.
  • Use your systems and platforms to curate learning and knowledge effectively.

4. Acknowledge coaching and abandon fixing
A great coach is able to tease out prior knowledge like a horse whisperer. Coaches know that the solution that will stick has to come from the person with the problem.

  • Make coaching a skill set your leaders can do in their sleep.
  • Coaches know that they are most effective as companions on someone else’s journey, not saviours on white horses.
  • Rediscovery does not require someone else to do the work – it’s a personal path to walk and if support is needed, it should be offered lightly and with encouragement not a shortcut!

Organisations can be agile and smart in ways that leverage the knowledge already out there amongst the people. We all carry innate wisdom. People are wise. What a gift it is to show them exactly that truth!

[1] https://www.michaelneill.org/cfts1151/

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