The World Is Either Wicked or Kind — Here’s How to Tell the Difference
Knowing how you learn is critical to your growth and impact in the world. Though not necessarily practical knowledge, the skill of learning effectively is the difference between making big strides and being frustrated with your progress. However, having clarity on your personalized learning style can be difficult to ascertain.
When asked ‘how do you learn?’ Most of us will respond that we are visual or non-visual learners. These are legitimate learning styles, but there are some basic approaches, and more importantly, environmental factors we should be aware of.
The two most dominant approaches are:
- The behaviorist approach — this is the most common approach utilized and taught. Based on ‘classical conditioning’, a theory developed by Issac Pavlov, this approach is based on intaking stimuli and learning through repetition and reward. Think of the classic way a dog learns its tricks.
- The cognitive approach — similar to learning by doing, this approach is based on experience. Promoted by John Dewey, the father of the American education system, this approach is based on the idea that the learner must experience to learn. In other words, this is the school of ‘experiential learning.’
In addition to knowing some common approaches, keeping your environment in mind when learning helps you in a few ways. Specifically,
- It helps set expectations of how quickly you can learn and master a subject.
- It dictates how you gather feedback when you are learning
- It determines how easily distinguishable patterns are, and when intuition will emerge
- It determines how structured the subject is, and how the content will be delivered.
Learning environments can be split into two: kind and wicked.
A kind environment is one where the feedback is rapid, patterns are accessible, intuition is gradually developed, and the ‘rules’ of the subject are easy to define and understand. In contrast, a wicked environment is characterized by one where the feedback is unpredictable, intuition takes time to develop, and the rules are complex or unknown.
A good example of a kind environment is any sport you’ve played. Let’s take golf:
- Feedback is immediate as after you hit the ball, you’ll know exactly if it was good or bad based on the ultimate position of the ball
- Because of the position, you can quickly reflect and determine if you’re swing led to the expected placement
- By applying feedback and patterns, you can easily intuit how you should stand, how hard to swing, and generally, how to control variables to get what you want every time
- Lastly, because the rules are administered by a central authority, players know the boundaries of the game, and how to use their developed intuition to play effectively.
Contrast golf, to the game of business, where a wicked environment prevails:
- Feedback is infrequent and provided by various parties in various forms. Not only do you get feedback from your manager, but you also get it from other colleagues, data (qualitative and quantitative), external parties, other departments, etc. Moreover, the feedback is both explicit and implicit, and in some instances, incomplete.
- With the nature of feedback being so inconsistent, patterns about your professional performance can be incredibly hard to identify
- Due to the infrequency and unpredictability of feedback, intuition takes an unknown time to develop.
- Lastly, because the rules are not clear or written, you won’t know if what you’re doing is good or bad unless you pay closer attention to feedback and clarify the rules for yourself. Secondly, the rules may be different at each organization or endeavor, making it even harder to apply intuition across time.
The truth is that the real world is much more wicked than we all hope. The game of life throws you unexpected curveballs and provides feedback in unforeseen ways. But by paying close attention, you can understand the type of environment you’re immersed in.
That said, ask yourself the following questions to determine which environment you’re in so you can best use your time.
After you’ve determined your environment, you’ll know where you focus your efforts as you begin the learning process. You’ll feel more comfortable, and know what to expect as you continue making progress. And though the wickedness of the world may be challenging, by answering some of these questions, you’ll become a natural at noticing feedback, honing in on patterns, improving your intuition, and exposing the rules of the game.