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One of the things that I appreciate the most about my work is the high amount of learning that goes together with doing my work. Recently I concluded a pilot project where we managed to reduce the average patient journey time (from arrival at the facility’s Admission desk until the patient enters the Operating Theatre room) by 46%. At this project’s close-out presentation, I took the opportunity to thank the project sponsors and team for the learning opportunity presented by this project. I suppose some may wonder: “If you are learning in the process, why were you leading the implementation?” Let me then use this opportunity to explain what learning looks like for me as a practitioner.

There are numerous models that conceptualises the process of learning and the one relevant to my reflection is depicted in the image below. In many cases learning begins with exposure to new information. At this level we may be in a class, workshop or at home where we are made aware of some information or concept which we did not know about. From this experience we receive a basic awareness and know about the theory.

Now, knowing about something doesn’t always mean we understand it. To understand something we need to know how it can be used and applied to achieve desired outcomes in a context that we are familiar with.

We need examples that help us to see the cause-and-effect without the application of this theory and the cause-and-effect when the theory has been applied. Typically we may read or watch case studies that demonstrate the application of the theory. Alternatively we may run simulations that give us a feel of applying the theory in a modelled and controlled environment.

The simulations and case examples used to help us develop understanding of the theory are simplified versions of reality constructed for learning purpose. This is where the quote attributed to statistician George Box come into play: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” It should therefore be no surprise that when we apply the theory in our environments we may encounter challenges which were not clearly covered in the hypothetical learning examples. It is when we apply the theory in our actual workplaces or homes where we develop the skill to close any gaps between the conceptual environment and our specific environments.

Progressing further in this learning model is where the Bruce Lee quote comes in, we need lots of practice to develop skill and ultimately to achieve mastery. This is where things get a little tricky because one should be cautious of becoming a zealot where everything is reduced to the tool that you have. Remember the law of the instrument: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The form of practice that we are looking for is not a “Copy-Paste” mind-set hell-bent on making the tool work.

Instead our practice should be guided by an enquiring mind focused on expanding its understanding of the Necessary and Sufficient Conditions which govern the application of the theory. As we continue to practice, we will find that we need to acquire new knowledge in order to adapt the theory for different environments. Therefore, the learning never stops even if you have practiced the kick 10 000 times. One becomes a master when you understand why the kick will not work for the current opponent and whether to modify it or to use an alternative strategy altogether for the encounter.

Xie xie ni,