It’s not always obvious to clients or new Refinery staff why we take the process of “discovery” so seriously. Not every instance of teaching requires extensive discovery or diagnostic effort. I usually don’t need to know much about someone, to explain where Bora Bora is on a world map or tell someone facts about the Galapagos Tortoise. If the “someone” in question is literate, and speaks my language, and has seen maps and tortoises or turtles, we do not need much “discovery” to understand how we would teach.
Our work is rarely like this. Our work is more typically aimed at changes in behavior, not simply acquisition of facts. Our clients expect us not only to influence individual change, but organizational change. Changing an individual’s behavior is tricky…as any smoker or ex-smoker can attest. Changing an organization’s behavior is at least as challenging, if not more so.
At least half of the value of a good medical practitioner’s skill is knowing what needs to be changed. From Greek origin, diagnosis means “seeing through”. A competent doctor screens out all the “noise” of various symptoms and sees the underlying condition that can be addressed to improve health. By correctly seeing the underlying issues, change is possible.
Our skill as learning practitioners focused on improving leadership, is to see the organizational conditions that are both limitations and opportunities for growth. We see through the organizational noise to the possibilities for an organization to be more successful if their leaders are stronger, more self-aware, and more confident.
We need to spend quite a bit of time just “hanging out” with our clients to begin to recognize the opportunities. We do not stop this process after we begin teaching. It continues throughout an engagement, helping to shape our work.
We employ many of the skills and tools of field researchers in “discovery”… drawing on sociology, anthropology, social psychology and journalistic interviewing and observation. It demands a substantial consultative toolkit.
Learning designed for change, that is not informed by deep “discovery”, typically will fail to appreciate the resistances in the organizational system. Learning designed to fit within the system, but tweak it or enhance it, is always born from the client reality, even if it challenges it.