Exploration as learning.

Written by Chris Huizenga

Thousands of years ago our ancestors took what they knew of seasonal animal migration and set off across a land bridge to explore and settle North and South America. Today, we take what we know of rocket science to explore new worlds and break the boundary of the interstellar. And tomorrow, some tired and uninspired folks will take what they learned to do years ago and they’ll repeat the same old familiar process once again. And they’ll do it again the same way they’ve always done it because that’s how they’ve always done it.

There’s nothing heroic or noteworthy about this way of being, and truthfully, it’s boring. Every minute spent not exploring or learning for the sake of exploration reinforces a status quo that leaves people and teams increasingly ineffective, hostile to change, competitively stagnant and vulnerable to the internal realities of the working environment and the forces working away from outside. Exploration is essential to not only surviving as a species, an institution, or a company; it is a requirement to thriving.

Learning and exploration are inextricably linked: one prepares us to head out into the unknown armed with what we do know for the sake of knowing more. It’s an orbital pattern that creates new pathways in technology, policy, human understanding and beyond.

Right now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of: Okay, Chris, I get why exploration is important, but what the heck does it look like nowadays, and how the heck do I motivate people to go exploring? I’m so glad you asked.

demonstrate curiosity.

The development of our people, our employees, students, teachers, or interns is vital to the health and wellbeing of the group. Demonstrate a very real curiosity and passion for creative problem solving, and students and employees will follow you into the field to experience it for themselves.

Break down silos.

Second, it means that professional development should teach content across departments in a manner that’s reasonable. It means that everyone, regardless of their title or rank, participates in cross-departmental brainstorming, that colleges and universities develop more cross-departmental multidisciplinary curriculum, that companies make development investments in their employees to deepen their specific knowledge or broaden their understanding of related content.

Leaders to the front.

Finally, it means management needs to develop and reinforce a culture that leans into exploration as a means of profiting everyone in the group. Exploration does not come easily for all folks. It requires risk. Some of us, even leaders, are terrified of this concept. Some are stubborn. But one thing’s for certain: when teams resist exploration it’s going to require some demonstration to reassure them that this is a way of finding new ways of doing life, of finding solutions to persistent problems, of finding new ways to provide value. Educators, managers, and mentors must demonstrate that spirit of exploration, and that can come about with sharing out what you’ve learned and storytelling around your adventure.

Exploration is a way of testing our limits for the sake of knowing more. It is a process, a way of doing life and business, that welcomes us to challenge our resourcefulness, our know-how, our abilities, our science and technology, our creativity, and our faith in one another. What we learn from exploration, individually or collectively, can either be used to maintain the status quo, or it can take us to places and positions previously believed to be unreachable.

What’s been one of your great adventures? What’d you learn in the process, and how’s that changed you, your thoughts, your work, your interactions with others, or the value you aim to provide?

Erin Huizenga