Learning Beyond the Learning Curve

Consider the Learning Curve – is it finite, or does it go on ad infinitum? Does the learning flatten out onto a limitless plateau so that we perceive that we can learn no more about this, or that? Or is there another level of learning beyond the learning curve?
Of course, built-in to those questions are some clues as to how we, as humans, think we have arrived at a place of “all-knowledge” on the journey from the place of “no-knowledge.” For when laziness, lack of interest, or even arrogance, overcomes curiosity, then our desire to learn ALL the things there are about this – or that – shuts down.
We think we know it all.
However, we only know more than the fellow next to us, or that chap over there. We can never know all there IS to know about something, for there is a dimension of knowledge beyond the limits of our own perception. To paraphrase the lyrics in the song, “The Circle of Life” – “There’s more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done” – There’s more to be known than can ever be known, more to learn than can ever be learnt.
The Unconsciousness of Competence
On the “Learning Cycle” we pass from an unaware state of not-knowing, through two other stages, until finally reaching an unaware state of knowing.
Here, now, is where we have the chance to step to the level of Learning Beyond the Learning Curve. Here is where, in our mental attitude, we either maintain our curiosity and move forward – or where we lose our curiosity, become lazy or indifferent to furthering ourselves, and learn no more. At this pivotal moment, attitude is everything. It is where that quote by Robert M Pirsig in his book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” comes into sharp relief.

“Is it hard?”
“Not if you have the right attitude. It’s having the right attitude that’s hard.”

There’s a key thing to know about how we can learn after we reach a state of unconscious competence, which is this: Because it is unconscious, this means it is out of our awareness. We are not conscious of it. We are learning without knowing we are learning.
But isn’t that what we mean by experience, I hear you say? Well, perhaps so – yet we can experience many things and learn nothing from experience. To learn from Experience, we need to have that right Attitude that I alluded to earlier.
True Masters
True Masters of any discipline, any course of action, in fact of anything, never accept that they have mastered it. They always aver that there is always more to learn, to discover, to be curious about. Another key element of True Masters is that they have mastered themselves. They have laid aside their EGO, their SELF IMPORTANCE. This is evident right down to their having the need to know they are still learning. For the part of them, and indeed of us all, that always needs to know, is the EGO.
“Tell me how good I am – I need to know,” it says.
The joy of Learning Beyond the Learning Curve is in those occasional moments of revelation; of discovering that we have just done or accomplished something with effortless action. “How did that happen – how did I know that?” we might say to ourselves. And it is here, at these moments, when we encounter what the Chinese refer to as Wu Wei.
Wu Wei (in Chinese, literally “non-doing”) is an important concept of Taoism and means natural action, or in other words, action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. Wu Wei is the cultivation of a mental state in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.
In terms of Unconscious Competence, if you consider the phrase “struggle or excessive effort” you can begin to form a link between Mastery and Wu Wei. If we need to, or have to, THINK how to do something, remember something or indeed attempt to undertake any action or task – then this involves excessive effort. Our execution of the task involves not a smooth or easy flow, but a struggle. We have shifted back out of Unconscious Competence into Conscious. The slow, trudging, cognitive conscious that considers and evaluates everything all the way along.
“Getting our head” around something is exactly like that. It is effortful – whereas at effortless, at Wu Wei, our head is clear; there is space.
Learning a Different Way
Another element of Learning Beyond the Learning Curve is one that we might not be quite prepared for. It concerns the WAY we learn.
There are things we find easy to learn, and things we find hard to learn. This is the way of all things and is the way for all of us too. Some things come more naturally to us than others. I would suggest that this is down to the WAY we are learning, or the WAY we are being taught. Of course, when we are being judged, or judging ourselves, in terms of how we are progressing along the Learning Curve of anything – then Competence is what we are being judged on.

Can I do this; do I know this; Can I prove it?
Our level of Competence is down to just three factors –
The WAY we learn, the WAY we’re taught and the WAY we prove.
If only our education system could embody this rather simple equation! Yet, the balance between the first two, makes the third one often seem an irrelevance. If the way a child learns does not match the way they’re being taught then the Proving will involve struggle and excessive effort. And as we know, starting with SATS and then GCSEs, this entire drama is played out on a regular basis in a child’s life journey through the education system.
Once we reach the point of being on the invisible journey from Unconscious Competence to Mastery, the necessary WAY we learn will change – primarily because the way we are being taught is different.  If we do not accept this, then the journey will be Effortful and will not bear fruit. It is rather akin to what happens to aircraft flying sub-sonic and super-sonic. The forces on the structure as it flies through the medium become altered.
So, if we need to learn a different way because of the different way we are being taught, then a consideration of the way we are being taught is of paramount importance. We need to gain an understanding of the statement:
For me to learn more about this, now, I need to put aside what has got me to this point.
It was this very statement that was my stumbling block when I began my degree in Mathematics. Between the ages of 5-18, I had learned everything I knew about maths in one particular pathway of learning. It worked for me, very well for I was more than good at it – I knew all there was to know about MY understanding of maths. The thing was, and I’ve always said this, I did not have an awareness of the paradigm shift between maths the subject and maths the philosophy. If a tutor, or a lecturer, had said at the time, “You are embarking upon a different kind of LEARNING journey,” I would have, I could have GOT it!
To return to The WAY we learn, the WAY we’re taught and the WAY we prove – the paradigm shift reminds me, in the discipline of skiing, of how I went from competent action to effortless action.I was in a ski school in an Austrian resort in a group of ten very capable skiers. We were a mixture of nationalities – English, French, German and Swedish; and the Austrian instructor spoke German. The language differences were challenging for him, however he, and we, arrived at a common ground – he tutored us all in French!

Now, here, I was being taught a different way – and not about skiing at all, but only about balance. For a week, I learnt about controlling and shifting balance, nothing else, and in French. Our whole group conversed in French as well – which was a fascinating experience that enhanced the whole new learning process in a most pleasurable way.

It not only changed my way of skiing, but also my learning perspective. And that learning perspective is what has brought me to where I am now in terms of Discovery.

When we realise there are as many ways that we can Learn, as there are ways that we can be Taught, and we apply ourselves with awareness to that, then there is nothing any longer for us to Prove. Our Performance moves from effortful to Effortless.