It’s the irritation that grows the pearl: the grain of sand that causes the oyster to lay down layers of calcium carbonate in concentric rings that are polished to a high lustre, creating the pearl. Without disturbance, little changes. It’s the disturbance, the grain of sand, that causes the pearl to grow.
Disturbance is a potent force in learning, but it needs to be the right amount at the right time: too much disturbance breaks the links with what we already know to be true, it’s too big a leap to make. Too little disturbance and we have no impetus to change, we can absorb the impact. It’s a bit like throwing a stone into a pond: a paving slab will cause a huge splash that soaks us all, whilst a grain of sand will barely show. A small pebble will create ripples and it’s the ripples that fascinate us.
Ripples in our understanding of the world, ripples that cause us to learn.
We hold within us our understanding of how the world works: we may choose to learn more either through necessity or curiosity, but in either case, the process of learning is the same. There is a disturbance in the calm of our worldview, we seek to do something about it.
The funny thing about learning is that it can happen quite slowly and, like the pearl, grow into something of great value over time. It’s rare that we transform ourselves overnight, but rather we curate ourselves into something that we want to be over many years. We train, we learn, we gain experience, we proactively seek out new knowledge and work within our communities to generate meaning from that knowledge. In the new world of work, in the Social Age, we do that in communities of practice and alongside the personal learning networks that we carry with us throughout our lives, working together to create meaning and to apply it in the real world.
Wisdom is what we distil out of this experience: it’s the most valuable of the pearls that we grow, the legacy of everything we experience. Wisdom may be grown individually, or it may be a product of a group, handed down to new members, codified in songs and prose and treated like a venerable object. Wisdom guides and shapes us.
The impact of the Social Age is that our communities are bigger, often global. Our horizons are no longer just those that we can see from the highest hill, but rather they are governed by how far our voices carry online. Our communities are formed and bonded around shared interests, around mutual success, around energy and shared disturbance. We work together to build new knowledge, to create new meaning, to change ourselves as a result of the disturbance. The process of narrating our work, of working out loud, helps us to recognise and harvest the pearls from the sand.
To learn is to change. Sometimes that change is incremental, building slowly over time. Sometimes it delivers pearls that we can share.