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What you have in common with Zappos’ CEO, Alec Baldwin and Yogi Berra

the art of doing 2Actress Laura Linney once struggled with stage fright.

Star chef David Chang hit dead ends in his quest for a winning restaurant.

Martina Navratilova faced a difficult turning point in her tennis career.

Their stories -- how they resolved their challenges -- are among the three dozen interviews in a brand-new book, “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield.

There are lessons here for many of us, the authors say: We all tend to focus on goals and relentlessly pursue them in a single-minded way. That’s “single-loop” learning. Once we hit a roadblock, we think we try harder … but often get stuck in old patterns… and wind up frustrated.

The answer, they say, is "double-loop" learning – becoming more self-aware, dropping our defenses, looking at our assumptions and exploring a wide variety of new strategies.

In a recent New York Times story, double-loop learning was summarized this way:

“We question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. Honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.”

Sweeney and Gosfield credit Chris Argyris, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and author of a classic article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn,” for the “single-” and double-loop learning framework.

Argyris argues that high achievers are so afraid of failure that they stick to rigid patterns of behavior even when things are not working. He argues for fresh approaches and productive reasoning that truly leads to continuous improvement.

As for the folks mentioned earlier, here are their successes from using a double-loop learning approach:

  • Laura Linney got over her fear of failure – and hit her stride as an actress in her 30s.
  • David Chang embraced creative cooking beyond his original vision for a noodle bar, owns eight restaurants and other enterprises and appeared on HBO series “Treme” last season.
  • After a serious loss, Navratilova questioned her assumption that talent and instinct alone would keep her a winner. She explored every aspect of her game, embracing rigorous cross-training and a new diet to make a comeback.

Curious about all the folks interviewed for “The Art of Doing?” You can get a peek here.

To read their interview with Alec Baldwin, here is a story in The Daily Beast.

And if you have had single- and double-loop learning experiences you want to share, I’m interested in your story. Just drop me a line.

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