Monkey see, monkey do?

April 24, 2018 10:10 am

Monkey see ≠ monkey do when it comes to developing new skills

Have you ever watch someone performing in a role that you aspire to and thought ‘I can do that’?! How about a TED talk or Youtube video?

A new study has found that simply watching (without actually) practising gives people the false illusion that they have enhanced their ability. Contrary to popular belief observation alone does not lead to skill acquisition but does lead to overconfidence.

This is problematic for several reasons. When ‘leadership development’ consists of watching and listening, typical of video-based online training and even in many live group-based workshops, people leave with a false sense of having learned. Likewise, organisations may invest in development programs, assuming that their people will be able to perform differently only to find that while the participants found the program inspiring, helpful and purport to have learned, but their actual performance on the job does not change.

Learning is not a passive activity

The relative ‘safety’ of the development program is wasted when the actual practice in a realistic scenario is not included.

New research shows that the ‘feeling’ of doing something is very different than ‘thinking’ about it or imagining yourself doing it, and that has a profound impact on performance. This is particularly true for learning new skills and embedding new behaviour.


3 Tips to get the most from your development efforts

  1. If you want to build capability and actually change behaviour, choose development activities that include practice.
  2. ‘Testing’ yourself with a practice session will ensure you have a realistic picture of what you have actually learned.
  3. Create opportunities to ‘redo’ in a safe yet realistic scenario will help you gain ‘lived experience’ of performing the new behaviour successfully.

Want more BrainWise Leadership tips?  Please subscribe to the Learning Quest blog. You will get practical science-based tips and techniques that will help you achieve what matters most to you.

Dr Connie Henson, author of BrainWise Leadership, designs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through her company Learning Quest. For information visit Follow on twitter @LearningQuest

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