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Productivity Within Complex Systems Takes Time

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Chances are that when you were a kid, you learned to ride a bike. It wasn’t easy, but after some time and perhaps a few scrapes and bruises you eventually figured it out. So why, as adults, do we expect to master complex business processes and systems quickly and without bumps along the way?

In fact, it may be instructive to talk about all of the ways you cannot learn to ride a bike. For example:

You can’t learn to ride a bike in 10 minutes. You probably spent weeks as a child before you were able to pedal down the street, and months before you felt confident on any kind of terrain. Real learning of difficult skills takes time and devotion!

You can’t do it using a written instruction manual. All of us learned to ride a bike under the tutelage of other expert riders. Learning requires adapting to different learning styles and the freedom to make mistakes. It’s nearly impossible to grasp what it’s like to keep your balance on two wheels by reading about it in a book.

You can’t do it if someone is yelling at you! Real learning requires concentration or empowerment, not intimidation or bribery. A good teacher encourages their students, but does not offer undue pressure or special dispensation.

business process transformation is like learning to ride a bike

© Flickr user dadblunders

You probably can’t do it without training wheels. The best learning involves approximations, models, and safe environments. We learn about almost everything by starting out with situations that would never come up in real life. Math textbooks always begin with problems that come out to nice round numbers. Children’s books always use simple words with straightforward spelling. We practice using practice tools so that one day we can be ready for the actual system.

You shouldn’t do it without a helmet. Just as training wheels help you simulate the real thing, a helmet protects you when unexpected things come your way. Throw someone to the wolves and they won’t know how to adapt when something doesn’t go according to plan. It’s always best to protect people when they’re new to a complex process.

You can’t do it on an adult bike – You didn’t start on a 10-speed or a mountain bike. The first machines you use have been especially built for the learner, not the master.

You won’t begin by competing. We never learn how to ride a bike while starting a race! In fact, we rarely learn in groups, but instead as individuals at our own pace. At the start it isn’t about results, but rather about mastering the process.

With all of these lessons in mind, it should be no surprise that it takes time to become productive with complex systems at work. We should expect mastery to come only through practice and support. You’re not going to suddenly become an expert in some new workplace task. You have to strap on your training wheels, make a few mistakes, and slowly find your way into expertise. And unfortunately complex systems are often unlike bikes in that you do forget how to master them. Just because someone once was very good at one aspect of business, without practice, they’re going to become rusty. That could mean starting the process all over again. But with a little patience, that’s no big deal at all.

Help your employees become more effective at work by giving them the chance to learn rather than the expectation that they will instantly succeed. Contact our corporate productivity experts at AccelaWork today. We can help you find the proper way to master complex business processes and lead others in your organization to do the same.

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