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Learning in business is about more than skills development

When I ask people to tell me about a recent business learning experience, I almost always hear something about a course they were on or a recent skill they have developed. Skills development is a central part of learning and a critical element in the improvement of any business. In this post I outline how learning in business is about more than skills development.

However, skills development is only one aspect of learning. At its core, skills based learning enhances an individual’s capacity to perform a pre-defined task and generally in a pre-defined manner. In many cases, the individual is positively discouraged from using initiative and is required to follow the systematic process outlined.  This form of learning is essential for any business of scale to offer a consistent reliable service to clients.

Learning in business

But what about capabilities which require the individual to be able to manage complex and evolving situations where there is no predefined outcome? What about scenarios where the individual needs to be able to reflect on what’s happening and to draw on a range of previous experiences to map out a possible solution? This is more complex and not necessarily something which can be simply taught. Yet it is an unavoidable element of the role of the owner-manager who must plan for the development of the business and take action as the business environment evolves in perhaps unpredictable ways.

Drawing on our own experience, the experience and expertise of others in our network and more structured learning opportunities begin to give us the basis for a higher order of learning which moves beyond simple or complex functional skills. Becoming involved in structured learning which deals with business and business strategy gives us an opportunity to develop our knowledge of what others have done and found to work.

experience and expertise

Engaging in a thorough review of an issue with a small number of trusted colleagues (inside or outside of the business) allows for the experience of all to be brought to bear to test the robustness of emerging ideas. By having a structured approach to seeking new ideas related to our business increases our chances of finding useful usable ideas.

Learning how to reflect on our business and how to draw on a combination of structured learning, our network of business contacts and ways of finding new ideas will all support the profitable development of our business.

To find management development programmes designed for small and medium sized businesses, which will challenge you to think and which include peer to peer learning across a wide range of industry contexts, visit

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