The Simple Question That Will Help You Learn Faster

“We’re so scripted in our schedules that we don’t let our minds wander, just see where they go.”

Bradley R. Staats is a professor at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, who combines research on operations management and human behavior to cultivate constant learning and top performance at companies around the world. Renowned psychologist, top-rated Wharton professor, and Next Big Idea Club curator Adam Grant recently sat down to ask him about how we can all maximize our learning by setting aside time for reflection.

Adam: Thinking about my effort to learn a skill or master a task, I’ve rarely been given good advice on how to structure reflection [for learning]. What are the kinds of [reflective] questions you ask yourself?

Brad: When I [first went] to training programs that had reflection, I kind of rolled my eyes. But we worked with a company where we took a six-week training program, and we randomly assigned folks to participate or not in a reflection exercise. For the middle two weeks, we asked them to write every day for 15 minutes about two things they learned that day. At the end of this program, they ended up performing about 25% higher on the test to qualify to do their job, and about 10% higher in their customer satisfaction scores.

So I do something similar at home—we go around the dinner table, and we ask our kids about something that made them happy, something that made them sad, and something that they learned that day. We’ll incorporate reflection on failure as well, something they failed at.

We’re so scripted in our schedules that we don’t let our minds wander, just see where they go. My hope is that that time—hopefully about 15 minutes—consolidates the lessons learned, and also opens up where we’re going next. So for anybody out there, even just starting with, “Hey, what are two things you learned today?” is a great way to turn reflection into learning.

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