Experience is a wonderful teacher. If you’ve ever tried to convince someone of something by using your gift of gab, you know what I mean. It’s hard to talk people into changing their minds.

Once people have experienced something for themselves, they don’t just believe it. They are true believers and are more likely to want (even need) to share it with others. It is nearly impossible to talk someone out of a belief they’ve gained through personal experience.

Helping people learn through experience takes some setup. Imagine that you want to convince people to change the way they do something at work. If the change is significant, you need to give them some insight and perspective before you say, “Do it this way now!”  How do you set the stage for people learning through experience?

1. Frame and message the idea. Put it into context, help people understand how it applies to them and stress why it matters. “Customers have been concerned that our response to complaints is slow. We are going to change processes to stay competitive.”

2. Share and compare. Ask people to share what they already know on the topic. Build on this information and clarify any points of confusion. “Here’s the current process for prioritizing complaints… What has been your experience? What has worked and what hasn’t?”

3. Test and explore. Tap into people’s previous experiences (“When has this happened to you?”) or predictions (“What would happen if…?“). People begin to think critically about the issue and understand it on a more personal level. “Have you used a matrix to prioritize complaints before? What unexpected consequences might we experience?”

4. Do and learn. Finally, help the person to experience the situation for herself; at this stage, experience becomes a shared understanding. “Let’s try the matrix for an hour with real issues. We’ll share our thoughts and suggestions afterwards.”

Even with the best preparation and explanation, it is only through experience that we can achieve profound insights and deep understanding. When a new idea is explained, tested and adapted in real life, enthusiasm and confidence soar. If you’re struggling with a problem, gain clarity through direct experience. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”


Want to set people up for great learning experiences? Contact Humanergy for help.

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