Observational Learning: Lessons from Tiger Woods

Last year, Magma Digital embarked upon a journey of discovery and enlightenment with the BIBAs Academy. Facilitated through a partnership with the Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), it is a fantastic opportunity to leverage the experience and insight of both academic and commercial thought-leaders.

This week’s masterclass was hosted by the wonderfully engaging Ricardo Zozimo, a senior research associate from the ‘Institute for Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Development.’ Ricardo intended to deliver a day of thought provoking stimulation. Indeed, he had rather aptly given himself the title of “provocateur-in-chief” for the day.

We began the day by wondering how world class athletes, such as Tiger Woods, approach learning. The American golfer started using the tactic of observational learning as an infant. Earl Woods, his father, had made Tiger his own mini golf putter and armed with the putter, Tiger would sit in his high chair watching Earl practice on a makeshift driving range in their garage.

One day when he was around nine months old, he climbed down from his highchair with his mini putter and he hit a ball straight into the net. This led to his father stating that he knew Tiger would be a great golfer before he had even turned one year old.

Learning from his father was the driving influence for Tiger as he was growing up. In the foreword to his father’s book Tiger states: “In retrospect, golf for me was an apparent attempt to emulate the person I looked up to more than anyone: my father.”

golfFrom the age of four, he was under the instruction of professional coaches and of course, he soon had a whole team helping him. Ricardo explained how observational learning for Tiger came to mean observing himself in action. Going over videos of his training sessions and looking for imperfections in his swing or movements.

Tiger’s current team make use of technology and Big Data to aid their learning and coaching. This is symptomatic of a wider trend in not just sport – Germany leveraged Big Data successfully at the World Cup – but in business and industry too.

Ricardo proceeded to ask us how we could reflect on our routines in the working day. Our first task involved mapping out the journeys to our desk, that we complete every morning, on to A3 paper. The purpose of this exercise was to visualise what we do without thinking every day: which colleagues we walk past; whether we smile; what we say and what the responses are.

This helped us ruminate on the impacts of the behaviour we display and how it is perceived by our colleagues. In the next exercise we wrote down a list of the people we see when we walk in; we noted observations such as what behaviours they display and how they get things done. We highlighted examples of effective behaviour and thought about the people we never/rarely observe.

This was an important point: are there employees that are introverts that we could be sub-consciously ignoring? There is a skew towards individuals with extrovert characteristics in management and executive level positions. A study led by Harvard Business School found that introverts need more recognition as “the quality of being more quiet and being more receptive to different ideas is something that should be valued.”

It is pertinent to note here that extroverts shouldn’t be given short shrift. Bill Campbell, mentor to Eric Schmidt (Google) and the late Steve Jobs (Apple), states that a key factor in fostering an innovative business culture involves giving a platform to those amongst the “lunatic fringe.” Empowering the right people in the right meetings at the right times is the key.

I think everyone present at the masterclass left with a new perspective on the insights you can learn from observation. Ricardo had lived up to his self-proclaimed “provocateur-in-chief” title. You can read an introduction to his musings on observational learning in the entrepreneurial process in this academic overview.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages? Let us know in the comments below.

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