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Strategies For Success In Personal And Professional Development – Exclusive Interview With Ian Gibbs

Ian Gibbs is a leading expert in learning techniques and personal development. Through his talks, books and workshops, Ian helps individuals and organisations develop better strategies for learning how to overcome obstacles and achieve goals they thought were beyond them. He is the founder of Learning Clubs which are rapidly gaining notoriety for being a powerful personal development accelerator. Ian's mission is to help people understand and apply everything that science knows about how we develop new behaviour and skills but which is sadly so often overlooked and so keep up in today's rapidly changing world.

Ian Gibbs, The Learnability Man


Please tell us a bit about yourself so we can get to know you better.


I was born and bred in Sheffield which is a city in the middle of the U.K.. But since 1990 I live in the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain. I’m happily married, with two teenage kids and a dog. Three of my worst subjects at school were English, Spanish and Drama. So it’s a little ironic I turned out to be the director of a Spanish theatre company which performs educational shows in English for children. I think it’s a lovely example of how little impact our education actually makes regarding our professional careers. My other job is to write and give talks and workshops on personal development and learning.


What is Learnability and how did you get interested in it?


It’s a word I’ve hijacked! I use it to refer to the strategies and techniques we use to learn and personally develop. Learning is a skill just like anything else. Once a person knows how to improve their Learnability, their self-confidence grows and they can get up the learning curve more successfully.


In your experience, what are some of the most common mistakes that people make when it comes to Learnability, and how can they avoid these pitfalls?


The biggest mistake is to confuse theory with practice. We’re very good at acquiring knowledge and it’s tempting to think that because we’ve read an article or a book about a subject that this somehow improves our ability in that field. No one reads a book on playing the guitar and expects to be able to play like Jimmy Hendrix without dedicated practice. Yet it’s easy to fall into the trap that we can improve our skills by skipping the practice part. To avoid this, once a person has acquired a new idea, they need to plan out how they are going to start trying it out. If they don’t, the idea will just sit there and gather dust.


In your opinion, what are the most important skills or qualities that someone needs to develop in order to be successful in their personal and professional life?


To learn any new skill or behaviour requires continuous focus, an intentional strategy and lots of motivation for when things don’t go according to plan. Real learning takes time. It doesn’t happen from one day to the next. If you can learn how to do this, you’re well-equipped to deal with anything else.


Can you share some strategies for overcoming obstacles and setbacks on the road to success?


I believe there’s a lot of wisdom in the saying ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together’. We each need a team behind us, for support, for alternative points of view, for accountability. Time spent creating a strong team to help you progress is time well spent. This is one of the reasons why Learning Clubs are so powerful.


Learning Clubs?


Yes. As far as personal development goes, after looking at what makes the difference between success and failure, I put together my own program. It’s a combination of four learning methods: Self-Directed Learning, Action Learning, Social Learning and what I call Mastermind Learning. I describe them as personal development accelerators because people usually surprise themselves making progress that is beyond their own expectations. Each Learning Club is small, just four people and each member is usually working on their own development objective. This means that each person focusses on what’s relevant to them. And even though the learning objectives are different, the bonding that grows between members, the support they give each other, the motivation and accountability are impressive.


So in a Learning Club, who provides the expertise?


No one. In my experience, expertise is overrated. Each one of us already has more than enough knowledge to keep us busy. As I said before, the problem isn’t acquiring knowledge, it’s applying it. During Learning Club sessions, members take time to reflect on their situation, plan a progress strategy, share ideas and celebrate progress. That is what makes it a development accelerator.


Could you share an example?


Sure! I have a member who joined a Learning Club because she was struggling to learn French which she needed for work. She’d spent ten years trying to get to the level where she could give presentations in French, but no matter how many courses she did, she never got any better. She had plateaued. After just two months in the Learning Club, she had identified why she wasn’t progressing, rectified the problem, and was not only giving presentations in French but also enjoying it. She described it as a miracle! But really it was just a case of her taking ownership of her progress, getting out of her comfort zone regularly and lots of motivation from the group.


That’s amazing. So, what are some of the key trends and changes that you see shaping the future of personal and professional development?


I think partly due to AI and partly due to understanding how learning works, we’ll see more emphasis on Self-Directed Learning, where instead of following generic predetermined instructions, each person will be more aware of their learning styles and strengths. This means they’ll be able to develop their own personal learning plan rather than follow a Henry-Ford-style production line course which hardly works for them at all. So for example, someone working on their leadership skills can choose exactly what, how, where and when they are going to practice and improve. That would really be an exciting thing to see.


Brainz Magazine: If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be and why?


I’d love to see people taking more ownership of their personal development. Many people have inherited from their school days that learning is synonymous with doing what they’re told and getting a certificate. From an early age, if students had more say in the ‘what, how and when’ of what they could learn, their attitude would be more positive, the results would be better and their confidence to keep improving would be stronger. Unfortunately, too many people are not discovering their full potential because they don’t know how to go about it.


If you wanted the reader to take away one key idea from this, what would it be?


That learning isn’t just about collecting knowledge. It’s about intentionally getting out of your comfort zone… regularly… making a mess of it, reflecting on what happened and then trying again. That’s when you become a great learner.


Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


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