• Jon Robbins

Making the Change

'Sparks' and 'Grit' in Learning

REMEMBER one of the more valuable lessons you’ve ever had in life, when you learned something that really made a difference, the sort of thing you’re not likely to forget. What was it that made such an impact on you?

Sometimes the largest lessons are learned from the toughest times, sometimes from challenges we overcome; where we fail at first, but - stick at it, a bit of grit - we ultimately triumph. Other times, it’s because of that person, that great teacher, someone who really understood you, and kindled your curiosity.

Whether it’s a moment of wonder, that spark - seeing things with new eyes, or a personal realisation over time, it’s the experience that burns its impression on us, ignites the desire to find out more. And then go on to share the light of learning. But here’s the crucial point: You discovered it. You weren’t a passive recipient of information but were doing something - actively participating. You’ll remember strongly where you were, too, whether it was in or out of a classroom or, more likely, in the flow of life. And you learned it, remembered it, because it mattered to you.

‘Sparks’ ~ understanding

The most powerful learning begins with a moment of discovery, a new way of thinking.

‘Grit’ ~ behaviour

But the change takes application, practice and perseverance to build habit and achieve mastery.

Sparks need Grit; Grit needs Sparks.

Knowing, Doing... and the Difference

When it comes to knowing stuff, obviously we can (and it’s sometimes necessary, if a tad tedious) to learn by rote and repetition, but - as any actor intuitively understands - it cannot end there; knowing the words does not make the performance.  Does reciting instructions on how to ride a bicycle mean I can ride it? Of course not. I had to try it out, fall off, get back on, try again.

And does having the skill mean I’ll use it?

Being able to ride a bike doesn’t mean it won’t be gathering rust while I grab the car keys and decide to poison your children’s lungs instead.* And it is a choice. (Well, that’s the uncomfortable truth of it, however poor a motivator guilt is.)

*9500 deaths per year in London caused by air pollution [King's College London report on mortality burden of NO2 and PM2.5 in London, 2015]

Simply knowing stuff is an unfinished job.

So when we want to make a difference in the world, we’re concerning ourselves with more than recognising the problem, we need a change in behaviour. If you peddle knowledge without application, send a pdf and be done, let it vanish into a file marked 'Stuff', and stop wasting time and money on workplace training. Or on school, for that matter.


The problems society faces often seem so enormous we belittle ourselves into apathetic finger-pointing: "Why don't they do something?"

Because change really happens when we realise that:

There is no THEM; I am THEM.

With this dawning responsibility, it seems unlikely we'd have much impact on the outer world without first transforming our inner selves.

Similarly, the problems organisations face are so often ‘cultural’, (a term, I notice, often accompanied by a slight sigh) suggesting, ‘It’s so entrenched I can’t do anything about it. This ship’s too big to turn’.

But, in fact, we can. It’s entirely possible. I’ll take you through it. We just need the right mindset, the right method, and the right support.

Have HOPE.

Create SPARKS.

Apply GRIT.

Stay tuned for Three Principles for Effective Learning.

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