Entrepreneurs who bootstrap businesses will tell you that the best way to learn is by actually getting your hands dirty and learning by doing, or experiential learning. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years as a serial entrepreneur. As long as I had a passion for a business, I always knew I would be able to figure it out along the way, even if the learning curve took many years.

Innovation learning curve

The innovation comes from making mistakes, learning from them, and figuring out new ways to improve. Along the way you get those “aha” moments you would never get from just listening to a lecture. Or reading about something in a book. You can’t force serendipity to happen.

Now, as a professional speaker, that learning curve is worth a lot of money. I spent years in the college of hard knocks to learn things that can’t be or aren’t taught in a regular college. That’s because I’ve learned that valuable information by actually doing it. But I’ve made many mistakes along the way.

Experiential learning

Experiential learning isn’t something new. In fact, Aristotle coined the phrase “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” in 350 BC. Luckily experiential learning is making a big comeback. Organizations realize that they get a better ROI when participants have a combination of lecture and hands-on experience.

The learning pyramid or the cone of learning, was developed by the NTL Institute and finds that learners retain approximately:

90% of what they learn when they teach someone else
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration
20% of what they learn from audio-visual
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture

The 5% that attendees learn from a lecture alone seems like a big waste of money to an organization. This is why I always like to make speeches interactive. You can’t learn about creativity and innovation just by reading a book or hearing a lecture. You have to do it yourself. Just like you can’t learn to be a speaker, actor, dancer, singer, chef, mechanic, or just about anything by simply hearing a lecture or reading a book. You have to jump in and do it. This is how you learn.

Experiential learning and improv

I teach creativity and innovation by having audience members go onstage and participate in improv and brain games or learn storytelling by writing and telling stories. Most people resist because they don’t want to look stupid in front of their peers or managers. They don’t want to make a mistake.

Innovation isn’t something that is neatly wrapped and perfect right out of the box. It’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation. So, if you do it right, you will make mistakes. But, that’s how you learn. And that’s how you retain the information, as the cone of learning shows. That person who jumps on stage and dives into an improv game is going to learn 70% more than the person who hides under their chair and doesn’t want to be called on.

I usually start by telling the audience that everyone is going to get an F, so you might as well be brave and open yourself up to making mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. As an inventor and entrepreneur I’ve gotten used to it. I know¬†the learning curve is simply part of the process.