Lessons from the Ground- Short Learning Loops

(Series Intro) Last fall, we launched Jubilee Ventures in South Bend, IN. The hope was that our work on the ground would inform the way we direct the future of CovEnterprises, and vice versa. We wanted to create learning loops that allow us to not only champion best practices across the denomination but to apply innovative concepts and approaches on the ground.

All that sounds very exciting, but I’m learning that no matter how refined your concept, the work is always harder because it deals in real life (part of the reason we wanted to launch this anyway, to resist trafficking in ideas!). 

In one of our early CovEnterprises podcasts, John Teter talked about the idea of learning loops as essential for the success of their social enterprise, 5000 Pies. The main idea for them is to shorten the amount of time between an experience and reflecting on the experience in a way that allows the team to learn from that experience—hence, closing the loop on learning from that moment. The more time goes by, the less granular and specific you can be and the more your team will traffic in generalities and lose the essence of what can be learned in a specific instance.

This is something we are learning on the ground as well. Every day, we are attempting to start the day with a 5 minute ‘stand up’ meeting where we cover any issues from the day prior, talk through the plan for the day and make decisions together as a team. (More on the ‘stand up’ meeting next week) We also have a longer meeting weekly where we wrestle through bigger issues. In just a couple weeks, we have carved out an afternoon to take our entire summer project into consideration as well. 

In all of these instances, we are creating space to close learning loops, and move forward well. This allows us to do a few things. First, it allows issues to be resolved quickly without festering. Relationally, this (as anything I suppose) can be tiring work. We need to make sure we have space to talk out conflict and move on. Secondly, it allows us the freedom to let go of missteps and mistakes along the way. A start up will be fraught with missteps and we live in a world where people live in fear of making mistakes, the ministry world actually amplifies that in some ways. Short learning loops allows us to own missteps without fear because we expect them, we can embrace failure as an opportunity to learn moving forward. Third, it allows us to be nimble (see last week’s blog). The shorter the time between the issue and the moment we learn from it, the more agile we are as a business. Fourth, it creates the potential for quicker creativity. As we learn from our mistakes more quickly, we generate a rhythm of searching for better, more effective, solutions. We can prevent ourselves from getting in a rut and we can make sure that we are reflecting on the assumptions we are making about our project.

If we had a monthly, or worse—quarterly!— staff meeting, we would lose all of this forward looking momentum and opportunities to refine process and culture. The work is worth it in the long run. 

About Adam Gustine

Adam Gustine leads CovEnterprises for Love Mercy Do Justice and the Evangelical Covenant Church. He is also the founder of Jubilee Ventures; an economic incubator in South Bend, IN. He and his wife, Ann, live in South Bend with their three kids.

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