Intrapreneurship Starts With Learning

Want to innovate within your organization? Be a learning leader. Erin Huizenga explores ideas from her recent book “Learning in the Wild.”

By Erin Huizenga

Cropped shot of unrecognizable businesspeople sitting and writing notes in a book while in the office during the day

It’s wild out there. Technology, business, and healthcare are all changing. There are expectations on how to balance life and work like never before, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up with the abundance of expectations and information that is thrust upon us. 

Now is the time to lead with learning as a core leadership value. Learning was once seen as an education and development, training, or human resources function, but there is now a responsibility for teams up and down the organization, and for all of us as individuals, to build learning experiences. Learning can become a branded and strategic benefit for associations and for each one of us as individual contributors.

Why is building learning opportunities for you and your team important? It inspires mental clarity so we can see the full picture. It is excellent for longevity and relevance for you and your colleagues. It’s good for employee retention. It provides a sense of ease, flow, and centeredness that we all need at work these days. And perhaps most importantly to an association: it helps teams to be smarter and more well-equipped to solve member challenges and curiosities. 

The American Marketing Association (AMA) contacted Desklight because they wanted to remain on the cutting edge of marketing education and professional development. Through deep dives with the AMA team, we identified a need for tailored, relevant, and dynamic learning pathways that could support marketers today and prepare them for the rapidly changing future. Using learner insights from research, we developed a comprehensive framework outlining the skills marketers need to thrive. We equipped them with a roadmap and set of tools to activate their subject matter experts to allow for the creation of the new learning pathways for their members.

So, how can you become a learning leader? In my new book, “Learning in the Wild,” I outline 21 ways to innovate from within. All of these are relatively low cost and free from traditional educational requirements, degrees, and training. Here are just three of the ways to lead with learning:

Identify as a learner 

Simply call yourself a learner. Instead of asking people how they are doing, ask what they are learning. Explore how this feels to you to humbly share all you are learning, reading, and taking in each day. Be curious about the people you are with and the places you go each day. Deeply observe what’s happening around you.

Embrace the field trip

Remember how “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” took the kids on TV-based field trips to places like the crayon factory? Why don’t we do this more as adults? It’s a great option for team leaders. If you work with a medical association, what trips could you sponsor for your team so they are more in touch with what members want and need? If you are at a hospitality association, why not encourage your team to stay at a member’s hospitality group so that they can be in better communication with the members from that group?

Build mini learning moments

The best way to learn something is to teach it. Studies show that our attention spans are decreasing by the day due to exposure to extreme amounts of content and burnout at work. Why not try introducing a new system for learning outside of traditional  professional development? Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach. Innovate from within by creating peer-to-peer micro learning moments.

These are just three of the 21 ideas shared in “Learning in the Wild.” Becoming a learning leader will make you a stronger innovator, build your capacity for ambiguity, and trust in yourself.

About the Author

Erin Huizenga is CEO and Co-Founder of Desklight, a learning innovation firm that brings a learner-centric focus to instructional design. Erin and the Desklight team have helped organizations such as McGraw Hill, Smithsonian, and American Marketing Association to discover learner insights and develop innovative strategies to design ideal learning experiences. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Crain’s Chicago Business, and Fortune, and she has been included on Chicago Inno’s list of “Women Founders in Chicago Tech.” Erin has taught at nine universities including Northwestern University and the ID program at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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