Gitwit’s Head of Learning: The best companies invest in learning how to do it themselves
It’s the classic “teach a man to fish,” but fishing is the art of innovation.
It might seem strange that an insights, marketing, and product agency doesn’t always want you to hire us to do the work. Let’s be clear: sometimes, a lot of times, we do. We’ve found over the last decade of working with clients that we create the most impact when we are helping people do things they’ve never done before — launch a new venture, enter a new market, develop a bold new marketing strategy, build a new product, etc.
But, once teams have worked with us to successfully accomplish something new, the best become hooked on the process. They’ve seen the outcomes, and they want to know how they can spur more creativity, more skepticism, more momentum, and more impact within their own day-to-day work.
What we know to our core is that it’s not magic. Even though we have long heard of the lone genius who is struck by inspiration (Isaac Newton being the most literal) for an awesome idea that revolutionizes their field, that’s just not how it happens; innovation is a teachable skill that gets stronger and more effective the more you practice it.
Gitwit’s teams are experts at creating innovation methodologies, and now we are innovating on how we deliver these methodologies — no longer only via the projects that we work on with clients, but also by offering learning-focused engagements where we teach teams how to become more innovative on their own.
Our Head of Learning, Amanda Turk, is leading the charge in shaping how we share our approach with the world.
Meet Amanda Turk, Head of Learning
Amanda brings a unique background to the Gitwit team that combines education, product development, and even physics. After earning a Mechanical Engineering degree from MIT, she honed her understanding of how people learn by teaching physics, engineering, and innovation and working to launch multiple new products and programs.
We’d love to introduce you to her, and give Amanda the chance to talk to you about why learning is a critical part of growing your business.
Amanda, tell us a bit about yourself.
I love to travel and have lived all over the US — one thing that defines me is that I love to explore and learn! My career path may look unusual on its surface, but there have been two common threads throughout my career: zero-to-one product development and education. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Kicked off my career as a mechanical design engineer at a startup company in California
- Designed and launched a comprehensive four-year innovation and engineering program at a top-performing high school.
- Led new product development at the Art of Problem Solving, an EdTech company that specializes in building learning experiences that develop non-linear problem solving skills in K-12 students.
Why did you choose to join the Gitwit team, and launch our new learning service line?
I was really excited to find a job that allowed me to combine my passion for innovative, zero-to-one development and learning! And, more than that, I believe in the vision for Gitwit Learning: we want to help businesses do more innovative, impactful work by sharing Gitwit’s creative system.
I was also drawn to Gitwit’s unique team and approach. This team has developed, refined, and battle-tested a creative system and used it to make significant positive changes in a wide variety of industries, company sizes, etc.
Sharing our creative system compels us to find better problems and to use the collective skills, abilities, and talents of team members to solve them in remarkable ways. And I wanted to be a part of that.
Businesses have to be focused on so many things — growth, product development, operations, changes in the landscape/tech, etc. Why should they place an emphasis on learning?
I’ll start off by saying that not all training and professional development is created equal. But if you choose the right learning opportunities for your team, the return on investment will be high.
An effective learning experience should lead to a paradigm shift — it should be thought-provoking enough to push your team to critically evaluate how they are working now and tactical enough to empower them to make adjustments to how they work in the future. The outcome is a long-term shift in the mindset of your team: you’ll have a team that is ultimately more effective and (if you choose the right learning topics) more innovative. In this way, you can dramatically alter the trajectory of your company by investing time and resources in high-quality learning for your team.
What gets in the way of effective learning at companies?
Our education system (and the traditional corporate ladder) has socialized us to look for answers, not for problems or questions. Often, there’s shame or fear associated with admitting that we don’t have all the answers. Yet, it’s the necessary first step — you must first admit that you don’t know something or that you need to get better to improve. You must put yourself in a learning mindset, which means holding the way you currently work or think loosely enough to consider new ideas or a new way. This can either be scary or exciting, depending on how it’s approached.
Our education system has also trained us to think of learning as receiving information from an expert as opposed to constructing understanding with an expert. We think of learning as a passive activity, but real, long-term learning is actually extremely effortful — you take the most away from learning experiences that allow you to experiment with, debate about, reflect on, and wrestle with ideas. This is especially true when learning non-linear, abstract skills, like those involved in an impactful innovation process. Yet typical approaches to professional development don’t take this into account and — if we’re honest — we don’t demand or expect them to.
What’s your approach to teaching innovation and other abstract skills?
The most effective learning experiences are exactly that: experiences. Designing a curriculum should be about curating a set of experiences that allow learners to develop and refine robust mental models and then practice applying them. At Gitwit, our approach to learning is hands-on, extremely practical, and — for the right people — a whole lot of fun.
What does a Learning engagement with Gitwit look like?
There’s not a single way that a Learning engagement can look. Just as with any engagement at Gitwit, we like to work with our clients to identify what they need and then design a solution to match. There are a couple of different formats we can use as starting points:
- Workshop or Sprint: A fully-immersive learning experience that is specifically designed to help teams learn skills they need through practical experiences. For example, in three days, we can guide your team through the process of planning, conducting, and synthesizing insights from customer discovery interviews. Your team walks out not only with an initial round of research complete, but also with the skills and confidence needed to continue the research process on their own.
- Seminar: A short-form, action-oriented session that involves an expert presentation and Q&A session. We’ve designed our seminars to be highly practical and to empower immediate action/application following them. You can see recordings of some of our recent in-house seminars here.
- Training & Onboarding Content: If you have a process, skill, or mindset that you’d like to teach your team, we can help you develop immersive training or onboarding content on custom topics. Even if you’re not 100% sure how to define the thing you’d like to teach, we can help you make the content concrete enough to communicate with your team members.
- Educational Product Development: We can help you productize a learning experience (i.e. turn something your company does really well into an eLearning course or seminar) or develop a best-in-class onboarding experience for your new product.
- Project & Process Consulting: Our team of experts will identify and introduce your team to innovation tools and processes that are most relevant to your current work. We’ll then continue coaching and providing feedback to your team as you put these into practice.
Finally, you recently taught Gitwit’s first college course. How’d it go?
Developing and teaching Zero to One, an innovation and entrepreneurship course at the University of Tulsa, was one of my first engagements at Gitwit - and it was a great introduction to the company and to the entire Gitwit team.
In order to develop the curriculum, I spent time with each of our teams learning about how they approach their work. I worked with them to translate their highly nonlinear processes into an actionable set of skills. Our team then designed a semester-long experience during which students learned those skills in the context of actual, open-ended innovation projects.
One of my favorite things about teaching is having the opportunity to witness the transformation of learners through the experience of the course. I was not disappointed with Zero to One; the course sparked and/or renewed an interest in business for many students. (One of them, an engineering major, even ended up interning at Gitwit this summer!)