Flexing our learning muscle for personal development

By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th April 2021

I came across an excellent McKinsey article by Christensen et al (2021) on “intentional learning” – the idea that we:

  • set clear goals for what we want to learn about
  • give ourselves a timeline in which to achieve the goals
  • commit to and gain support for achieving our goals by telling others about them.

The 3x3x3 heuristic relates to 3 goals, a 3-month time-frame and 3 people.

There is more in the article to support this approach. It set off a string of reflection in me on how the biggest breakthroughs happen, for myself and for my coaching clients, when we get intentional and develop habits to support our learning.

Taking a focused rather than a scattergun approach

I love to learn! It’s one of my values in life: to keep learning for my personal development, and to discover resources that I can share with others. It’s no wonder that I am a coach, facilitator and trainer – and of course it feeds my blogs.

My office is stacked with books, and I do manage to read them and draw insights from them. But it comes at a price, my brain gets over-active and jagged, I don’t know what to focus on first, I lose depth, I don’t have enough time for everything I want to do. And then I remember to stop and breathe….

I’ve learnt that there is a time to be focused, and there is a time to take a more exploratory approach. When life and work get busy, when there are things I need to get done, I simplify, I focus, I enjoy going into depth on just one or two things.

When life and work are quieter, and they do get quieter, I start exploring more widely again. And, because I want to make sure I have opportunities for that wider exploration, I also look for ways to simplify my life and work to create that space.

The result – both the approaches are possible and feel good when they are the right approach. Both are a version of being focused: in depth or in breadth. The broader approach no longer feels like a scattergun approach.

Does any of this resonate with you? What is or are your preferred approaches to learning?

Working outside our comfort zones

A book that made a big impression on me during my coaching training was Carol Dweck’s Mindset. If we have a mindset to learn and “grow” then we will get more comfortable about experiencing and experimenting with things that feel uncomfortable.

I went on a really helpful follow-up course with Ted Bradshaw, one of the Barefoot Coaching tutors, on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. One of his suggestions is that we identify some aspect of our behaviour that we want to change. In my case I had an example of shifting my mindset from feeling that I had to be self-sufficient, towards finding opportunities for more interdependence with family, friends and colleagues.

The chances are that making this change, “stepping off the path” of what we are used to, will feel scary in some way. So we have some options. We can:

  • Identify a small thing to change and just try that for starters
  • Observe how others do things, do a bit of research, to see what we can learn from them
  • Enlist a member of our family, a friend, a colleague at work to support and encourage us
  • Once we’ve had a go, repeat the experience until it starts feeling that little bit more comfortable, then stretch a bit further…

What I’m experimenting with (in relation to the example that I shared above) is being more conscious of opportunities where I can ask for ideas, and be more receptive to offers of help and support. Recognising the value that I get from that for my personal development as well as in my work. Also that I’m being more authentic in modelling the kind of behaviour that I encourage in others.

What aspect of your personal development could you step out of your comfort zone about and experiment with, to get more of the results that you would like to have?

Adopting a reflective approach

In my days of developing and supporting knowledge management strategies (Goodman 2016), “After Action Reviews” were central to everything that we did. The phrase was coined by the US army. It was about taking time, after any significant activity, to objectively review what happened, how it related to the original goals, what could be learnt from that, and what action would be taken and new knowledge shared as a result.

There is an abbreviated version of this approach that I learnt about from Barefoot Coaching, and that I use and share with my coaching clients:

  • what happened?
  • so what (can you learn from that)?
  • now what (will you do the same or differently as a result)?

It’s very simple, and very effective. It’s also another instance where we need to be deliberate or intentional with our learning. It requires time and attention to make it happen though.

I aim to do this after every coaching intervention, after every course that I deliver, and in my diary at the end of the day. I don’t manage it every time, but it’s enough of a habit for me to come back to it and ‘catch up’ if I’ve missed an occasion or two. I find that going for a walk, or allowing myself some time for reflection on a Saturday morning also help. I know the value that this delivers for me and that motivates me to keep doing it.

Do you do this kind of reflection? Would you like to try? If so, when might be the times of day, or occasions that would lend themselves best for you to do it? What would get you motivated, and keep you motivated to carry on?



Christensen, L. et al (2021 April 19) Intentional learning in practice: a 3x3x3 approach. McKinsey Accelerate. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-accelerate/our-insights/intentional-learning-in-practice-a-3x3x3-approach

Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset. Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Robinson.

Goodman, E. (2016). The effective team’s knowledge management workbook. RiverRhee Publishing.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.

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