The process of learning is a natural one which even young children are able to master. Their ability to learn how to walk, talk and develop other cognitive, affective and behavioural skills is quite remarkable, as any parent will tell you. Yet, when it comes to developing abilities in adults many courses, particularly distance ones, have a stuttering impact.
Children learn many of their skills socially through observing and listening to other children and adults around them. The same also happens in the workplace where we pick up knowledge and skills almost without recognising that learning is going on. In fact, the majority of our learning at work occurs through informal processes and, it has been estimated, only 5 per cent occurs as a result of formal training and development. Albert Bandura, the psychologist, termed this powerful strategy ‘social learning’.
Imagine, therefore, what it is like for an entrepreneur who is working independently with less opportunity to learn from others and to maintain motivation. This is why entrepreneur programmes bring people together to share experiences, business tips, and get inspiration from one another. And this is a key reason that the annual ‘MADE – The National Entrepreneurs’ Festival’ is held.
At the most recent event, in September, Levi Roots, of Reggae, Reggae Sauce fame, was a speaker. He, of course, made his name and fortune after playing his guitar and extolling the virtues of his product on BBC Two on Dragons’ Den. His condiment was originally developed in his kitchen and sold at local markets and the Brixton Carnival.
Roots told how Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh, two of the Dragons, were so enamoured by his character and the sauce’s potential that they invested £50,000 in the company. Within weeks Roots was pitching his creation in front of Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury’s. King placed an initial order of 200,000 bottles, which was terrifyingly more than the 65 bottles he could produce in one batch in his kitchen.
Roots’ remarkable story of success, set against an impoverished background and chequered history, provided a dramatic source of inspiration for festival attendees. His estimated wealth of £30m further strengthened the motivation of attending entrepreneurs, as well as school children who had yet to crystalize their own business futures.
In addition to events like ‘MADE’, five years ago the UK government launched an initiative to encourage entrepreneurs to help broaden the scope of the UK’s economy. However, being an entrepreneur is a hugely risky business and many risk their homes and savings on their business dreams. Their investment in terms of personal energy, time, and money is enormous and five-year survival rates are not high, yet still they persevere. Indeed, most people will tell you they have an inner dream of running their own business or having an intra-preneurial opportunity within an existing business.
I’d say that social learning, as Bandura stressed, is a hugely influential form of learning with its influence seen among the audiences at MADE. Training, books and other guiding materials on how to run your own business are essential but nothing inspires and motivates as much as seeing, hearing and mixing with people who have experienced it for real.
How do you, would you, use social learning in your organisation?