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How Getting Stuck in Our Thinking Can Be A Learning Disability

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Performance management course for managers

There is this saying, ‘You cannot teach an old dog new trick.’

This thinking can have several interpretations. First, it could be interpreted to mean, learning is too difficult and one cannot unlearn and relearn. Second, it can also mean that one has already learned everything and there is nothing new that can be learned.

A person who has such thinking has assumed a position. In Peter Senge’s work on learning organization and system thinking, it is called ‘I am my position’, a learning disability. In Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset, this thinking is called a fixed mindset. This thinking or mindset limits individual growth and development because the individual already has put up defenses against the possibility that they could be wrong. They are unwilling to explore, to try out a different approach because they are so convinced that they are right. They are defending a position which they have assumed.

Identifying "I am my position"

We can easily identify "I am my position" by listening and seeing how others position themselves. The position they take can appear in the following manner:

  • I am the boss/ manager/ supervisor, you must listen to me

  • There is nothing you can teach me

  • This will not work for me

  • I am right, you are wrong

  • I have been here longer than you, I know best

I once held a position that coaching does not really help clients. I believe that to be helpful, we must provide advice, guidance, answers and solutions to clients. I took a prescriptive approach in my work and found that my clients appreciated my contributions.

When I was introduced to the practice of coaching, I found the philosophy of asking questions, clarifying assumptions and challenging the thinking of clients without providing concrete actions and solutions very uncomfortable. I quickly concluded that the coach is simply ‘borrowing the clients’ watch to tell them the time’ – no substance. I have assumed ‘my position’ quickly.

As I experienced more coaching training and practice, my view began to change. I found that coaching can be powerful if one allows it to be. I began to wonder what caused ‘my position’?

The Position, Interest and Need (PIN) Model

I remembered this tool called Position, Interest and Need model that can help explain my thinking and actions. See the diagram below.

I am my position | Performance Management

Using my example, the position I assumed was that coaching has no substance and I was resistant to coaching. My ultimate need was to feel useful and helpful to clients and find a tool that can enable me to do that. However, my interest was to prove that coaching has no substance, so I was skeptical to the coaching practice, pointed out instances where it will not work in the workplace and challenged others on the efficacy of coaching.

I was being resistant to coaching to prove myself correct! I realized that my position was an obstacle to my need. I had a learning disability. 

The Realization

Once I realized that my position was unhelpful to my need, I tried coaching others and be coached by others. When I was willing and open to try, I began to find possibilities and power in coaching. Using Position, Interest and Need model helped my understand why I am stuck in my position.

Are you in an ‘I am my position’ right now? Do you think the PIN model will help you?  

If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we can help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.

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