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Unlocking Learning Agility: Navigating Flexibility, Speed, and Creative Problem Solving 

by | Dec 11, 2023

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One of the best commodities in a workplace is the ability to adapt one’s thinking. Today’s complex business environments require equally dynamic and flexible thinking; learning agility. The ability to be agile – whether in tackling an existing problem – or having the foresight to see issues that may arise with a course of action – are skill sets that thankfully can be built on.  This is agile learning.

Fostering a culture of self-awareness is one way this can be achieved. Encouraging your team to take on challenges and allowing them the space and time to think laterally and creatively to find independent solutions. Plus, there’s always a neurological hack or two to assist in the process!

Mental agility and Self-Awareness 

‘Mental agility is the extent to which an individual embraces complexity, examines problems in unique and unusual ways, is inquisitive, and can make fresh connections between different concepts’, (Williams, J. S., & Nowack, K. M., 2022). Mental agility at its core is confidence in knowing you will find the solution, even if the way forward is uncertain. Confidence that is gained through exposure, not by having all the answers. 

Therefore, a huge aspect of fostering mental agility is by guiding self-awareness. Possessing a deep understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and thinking style allows you the clarity to assess situations in unique ways that may not always come naturally. Rather than being demotivated by a challenge, you welcome them. Knowing they aid in your growth

Hacks for Developing Agile Thinking 

Like a muscle that grows over time with consistent training – mental agility and agile thinking are buildable skills. Creative thinking and novel solutions are the outcomes of such training. Being comfortable with uncertainty gives you the space to consider various angles and engage all parts of your mind.  

Below we will explore some neurological hacks for agile thinking. 

Identifying and Labelling Emotions 

It is the ability to recognise one’s feelings and emotions as they arise in new or complex situations that create mental agility. This recognition creates a tolerance for discomfort and ambiguity. 

Interestingly, naming and labelling our emotions also influences our capacity for emotional regulation. Putting feelings into words, or “affect labeling,” can attenuate our emotional experiences. However, unlike explicit emotion regulation techniques, affect labeling may not even feel like a regulatory process as it occurs. Nevertheless, research investigating affect labeling has found it produces a pattern of effects like those seen during explicit emotion regulation, suggesting affect labeling is a form of implicit emotion regulation (Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D., 2018)

To enhance identification and affect labeling you can check in with yourself throughout the day and label your emotions. Further identification could include associated feelings and evaluations of the problem or challenge. Identifying the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ of different situations allows you to stretch to new skills you may not have explored before— thinking agility. 

Physically Active Mental Breaks 

Two of the dominant modes of thinking that we use to process information and situations include ‘focus’ and ‘diffuse thinking’. Focused thinking occurs when our brains highlight specific details of a task with little distractions. When our brains switch to reflection and insight, we are engaging with diffuse thinking. This ‘toggling’ between modes encourages agile thinking.  

While sitting at our desk and concentrating on a task would engage our focus mode, diffuse thinking is much more likely to occur when our mind is allowed to wander. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to be present and notice when your mind wanders. It is the ability to bring your mind back to the present and stay in control of your thoughts that will develop your mental thinking agility. 

This is also when creative magic happens – awareness of your default thinking acts as a catalyst – this awareness empowers you to ‘construct personal meaning from your experiences, imagine other perspectives and scenarios, comprehend stories, and reflect on mental and emotional states—both your own and those of others’.  

As we delve down this imaginative path, sometimes referred to as the ‘imagination network,’ it becomes clear that it not only informs our creative ideas but also plays a vital role in fostering mental agility. Leveraging this insight, actively engage your entire brain in daily practice, and integrating microbreaks into your routine becomes a strategic ally, facilitating smooth transitions between mental gears and enhancing overall brain function. 

Learning Agility as an Outcome 

Learning Agility is the ability for someone to rapidly develop new effective behaviour based on new experiences and to easily move from idea to idea both within and across experiences. It is about the flexibility to approach situations from multiple perspectives and the speed of learning new things. This flexibility and speed means that people who are learning agile, have the ability to incorporate new skills into their current skill set quickly and efficiently, while at the same time unlearning ineffective skills with the same efficiency and speed (DaRue, Ashford, & Myers, 2012). 

Recognising the value of agile learning is crucial, both from a team and leadership standpoint. Enhanced self-awareness expands the capacity for creative problem-solving. Agile thinkers not only solve problems but also excel at identifying them. Unafraid of complexity, they willingly confront uncertainty, ultimately saving time, effort, and contributing to the overall bottom line. 

How Whole Brain® Thinking Develops Mental Agility 

Agile Thinking refers to the conscious adaptation of one’s thinking in accordance with the demands of a particular situation. The Whole Brain® Model offers a robust structure that helps individuals seamlessly switch between four distinct thinking styles and utilise them effectively. This provides individuals with the tools required to capitalise on each preferred approach.  

The HBDI® assessment is designed to provide teams and leaders with actionable steps to build thinking agility and value cognitive diversity. The assessment itself is an exploration in self-reflection, resulting in increased self-awareness and enhanced problem-solving skills.  

In a world that continues to be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, learning agility is becoming increasingly essential to make sense of our rapidly changing business environments, the dynamic economy, ever-evolving technology, and global interconnectedness (Peterson, 2021). 

Backed by more than three decades of enterprising research, The Whole Brain® Thinking framework provides leaders and teams with the skills to not only navigate but to thrive in modern work environments.

To understand more about how you can drive success in this increasingly unpredictable world – download our FREE Thinking Agility Whitepaper

Download our FREE learning agility whitepaper to discover the importance of agile learning and mental agility

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