Pursue Learning, Not Training

Updated: Apr 7

When we learn something new, we move through three stages: Shu, ha, and ri, a framework borrowed from Japanese martial arts.

守 Shu , the first stage, is following directions, blindly. Say you’re learning to cook, and you’ve never cooked lasagne in your life. So you just follow the recipe to the letter. You don’t innovate, because you don’t even know what you’re innovating against yet. You just follow. You’re learning the basics.

破 Ha is when you understand enough to innovate. You’ve got the basics down. Now you can play a little bit.

離 Ri is when you create your own forms. You’ve studied, you’ve learned, you’ve played, and now you’re truly inspired and creating.

So what does this kind of obscure concept have to do with learning and training? It’s about your mindset.

Education changes how you think about your work.

Training is mechanistic. It’s about how practices are done—guides, templates, tools, procedures, rules.

Education isn’t training. Education changes how people think about their day-to-day work: How do they govern agile projects while staying flexible? How do they build code while reducing the cost of change? Education changes how people answer questions like these, focusing them on outcome rather than process, and helps them decide what works best for them and their team.

When you’re trained, it’s really hard to advance past the first level of following. You just do what you’ve been trained to do. You stick with what you know because it’s safe.

But when you’re learning, even though you still start at the same place, you understand mindset, values, and principles. You’re in a mindset of exploring and changing and experimenting.

Agility is all about experimenting and learning.

To venture out and learn new ways of doing, you need time. If you don’t have time, if you’re constantly stressed about rapidly producing the same output over and over, you can’t really risk failing by trying something new. You get too afraid to not follow what you know won’t produce a specific output: If you never have time to cook, it’s safer to follow a recipe and not innovate. Failure takes time to recover from, to learn from.

Agility is all about experimenting and learning. If you’re only trained in agile processes, not educated in the agile mindset, you probably won’t change your perspective. Given enough time, space, and courage—and if it's done right—a learning mindset teaches you to innovate.

Agile is a mindset defined by values, guided by principles, and manifested through practices. Agile itself isn’t a particular methodology. It’s a way of thinking, a culture of continuous learning and education. Not what we do, but how we are.

That’s what I mean when I say that agile influences people’s mindsets through education.

(Side note: ICAgile, the company I co-founded, focuses on classes that provide agile education, not training. Our learning programs change people’s mindsets on agile. If you’re curious, go to icagile.com.)


I'm Ahmed Sidky.

As a seasoned practitioner of business agility, I want to share these insights with the world.

Chances are, I’ve gone through what you’re going through. I can help you out.

Use these resources. Study them to help you learn business agility. Share them freely with your colleagues.

When you’re ready—