The way we are taught at HBS is through the case method – a very practical, hands on way of learning material by putting ourselves in someone’s shoes. The classroom style is rhetorical, with virtually no lectures. The idea is that we are supposed to learn from one another, and we are encouraged to embark on certain intellectual streams of thought in order to do so.
I’ve noticed that the most effective way both to teach and to learn is when asked a question, to in turn ask more questions. Not the kind of Q&A style questions you might get from someone giving a talk, but rather to probe with the right ideas in order to get other people thinking about something in a different way. My peers and professors have employed this tactic in a way I hadn’t previously experienced in professional life, and I think I’ve learned dramatically more as a result. For example, when someone wants to know how or why something happened, instead of simply answering, ask the person why they think that took place. Alternatively, opening it up to others to enlist their ideas.
The reason this method is so effective is that it provides almost no answers, and turns the conversation back on the person who wanted to learn something originally. It pushes us to expand our minds beyond what we might have thought we were capable of comprehending. By generating an answer from within, we learn a lot more than by listening to a rote answer. I think this is a great tactic not only for self-enhancement, but as I think about advising, mentoring and managing.
Time to keep this in mind during exams…