Learning from the lack of learning

Pro-learning ecologies thrive on learning from signs of stressed out, anxiety-ridden or depressed constituents. Rather than posing a threat to the ecology or putting it on the defensive, the stress level offers a lesson to learn. The symptoms of excessive stress are an indication that it is a time for a change in how learning gets nurtured. The ecology will mutate and evolve into a better way to function inter-dependently for the sake of learning.

Of course, anti-learning ecologies react in the opposite fashion. They learn nothing from stress symptoms or the lack of learning. The constituents, who's own learning is impaired by their anxiety level, pose a threat to the ecology and appear to be enemies, traitors or saboteurs of the stability. The symptoms indicate that it's time for more of the same, greater determination and dismissing the complaints. The ecology will learn nothing and suffer the consequences of it's obsession with survival.

A pro-learning ecology responds in ways that restore the learning of it's constituencies. By the ecology learning from the internal breakdown of learning and indications of stressed out constituents, an irrefutable message is sent about the importance of learning from what happens. By learning what is causing the stress, feeding its persistence and opposing it's relief, solutions get designed and changes get made. The constituents learn from this learning that they are cared for, respected and valued by the ecology. The are given the impression that learning really is the purpose of coming together in this way.

An anti-learning ecology cannot mutate to restore learning. The necessary changes appear life-threatening and self-destructive. The level of anxiety produced by the evidence of breakdowns shuts down the consideration of options. Like the individuals who have stopped learning due to their excessive anxiety level, the entire ecology cannot rethink it's options or learn from what's happening. Everyone is party to the persistent lack of learning and perpetuation of excessive anxiety.


  1. Tom - I love your posts as they really make me think....I normally have to read them twice before I understand them properly!

    I really agree with your point about stress being an opportunity to improve and learn, given the right environment. Some of our training programmes are designed to put people in stressful situations so that they can really learn a lot about themself, how they behave/react and how this impacts their ability to perform (particularly with others). However, for this to succeed we have to provide a really 'safe' and supportive environment. Otherwise the experience could be a really damaging one!


  2. Thanks so much Chris!
    I'm glad I'm getting you to really think. That's a goal of mine you seem to share and value as a good kind of stress. I find I have to reread most blog posts I subscribe to because the author's frame of reference is different from mine and it take a couple passes to tune into their different set of premises.

    It's so much better to run exercises to help people be self aware of their reactions and impact on others, than to decide who gets terminated next week. Your sensitivity to doing damage is a great asset to those getting stressed by the challenges you're posing to them.