Six instruments for faster learning

How do we learn faster?

In order to stay ahead, we need to learn faster than the world is changing. How is that possible? That’s the million dollar question! I don’t think there is a cookie-cutter approach to use here, but a number of different solutions depending on who you are as a company. Here are some of the instruments we use at Spotify to foster a learning mindset and enable speedy learning for the band.

1. Vision & Purpose

The first essential “instrument” is having a visionary leader with the ability to paint the picture of who we are and where we’re going as a company. With that vision, it’s easier for the band members to find their purpose, and having a purpose is a foundational motivation factor.

There’s a lot written about motivation and we are inspired by Self Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan), and the work by Dan Pink, on what drives us.

Having the ability to illustrate the purpose and meaning of what we do, to feel that we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves. That is what it boils down to.

2. We’re all owners

The Learning & Development (L&D) team at Spotify is called The GreenHouse. We don’t view ourselves as a traditional L&D-department, we’re more like gardeners in a greenhouse.  All Spotifiers are responsible for their own learning and the expectation is that they learn from each other and teach each other. The GreenHouse team focuses on creating an environment where growth is enhanced (we water and fertilize), to enable and strengthen our band members. We support Spotifiers in driving their own development as well as the development of others around them. Some call this approach peer-to-peer learning, we call it Play it forward, and we think it’s one of the best ways to keep learning happening. Decentralised responsibility is key.

A huge supporting tool for Spotifiers to be able to do this is our learning portal. It’s an online platform, where anyone can build a ‘community’. A community acts as a virtual meeting place for shared learning. Here, anyone can post all kinds of learning materials  – anything that can be useful to others in the community. This makes the learning material more relevant compared to when a centralized L&D department owns everything learning related. The social aspect is really key to the engagement – most people are much more likely to trust and digest learnings shared by a colleague rather than an anonymous trainer. This contributes to engagement, and we encourage this by running train-the-trainer sessions so that Spotifers are comfortable to teach others, whether that’s via a video or a lunch ‘n’ learn.

Another conscious decision is not to control what’s being taught – the joy of learning and teaching usually brings synergy effects even if the skill being taught does not fall within the teachers or the learners job description (did you know that learning to play an instrument is proven to make it easier to learn a language?).

3. Autonomy & Mastery

With the ownership of learning decentralized, we’re asking our band members to drive their own development. At first glance, it may sound a little ‘laissez-faire’, like we are simply letting go, but it’s about giving the right conditions, the tools and the support to know how to drive it.

Again, this is about basic motivation and what drives us. Purpose, as I mentioned above, is one factor of motivation. Autonomy is a second part. We all have a need to direct our own lives to a certain extent. So, at Spotify, we don’t micromanage, instead we point out where we are going, where we want to be. How to get there? The teams decide that for themselves.

A third motivational factor is the human need for mastery – to grow and develop. This need is two-fold; we need it as individuals but we also need everyone to grow and develop at a company level. So the GreenHouse team does everything in our power to enable that, to gain mastery; grow, develop, and empower Spotifiers to get better at what they do. When our people grow our company grows.

4. Failure

I mentioned this in a previous blog post  – the word failure is often connected with negative feelings about making a mistake. A failure is most commonly perceived as something bad. But it’s the opposite! It’s one step on the way to success. If we always play it safe then ok, we will probably never fail, but that means we will never innovate either. Having a culture that not only accepts failure, but one that embraces the learnings that can come from failure, is crucial to creating an environment where we can make great things happen. One of the driving forces for that culture is good role modelling. Our leaders have to live what they learn, and failure and its subsequent learnings need to be celebrated across all levels of the organization. At Spotify we even have ‘Fail-Fikas’ – a chance to celebrate the failure and subsequent learnings!

5. Learn to love chaos

Stepping out of routines and the same old thinking patterns, lays the foundations for innovation. We need some chaos and unpredictability. Unexpected connections and unsorted ideas act as a hotbed for new thoughts. Not having too many heavy processes will nurture that little bit of chaos.

Sometimes it can feel messy and like an uphill sprint when not everything is in order, but we live in a world of hyper growth and we’re running a marathon, not a sprint. We should be set up and ready to embrace the unexpected.

6. Interaction

There’s a misconception that great inventors and scientists, the ones we put on a pedestal, have gotten there entirely on their own with just their own brilliant mind. But if we take a closer look at scientists such as Darwin, for example, we know for a fact that he wrote approximately 15,000 letters in his career, and he got at least the same amount back.

This interaction with others brought new ideas and thoughts to his creative work. He spent a large amount of time in his day-to-day reading and reflecting.

Innovation is seldom an isolated product of one person, it takes interaction and collaboration. Bouncing ideas off of someone, exchanging ideas and thoughts, being inspired by each others differing viewpoints. Collaboration is one of our values at Spotify – we know we’re better together.

The band

We may have these six instruments, but it’s only when we add the Spotifiers – the people that embrace our values and want to be band members,  that we can become a real band and be at the top of our learning game!

The foundation of values is set and as we add new band members all the time our culture evolves slightly each time. We like to embrace the differences in people, we prefer to find new Spotifers that can add something new to our culture, rather than more of the same.

It’s ok that our culture continuously evolves as long as each band member can relate to our values and is inspired by our vision. This is how we make sure we’re playing the instruments together, as a finely tuned band making sweet music!