May 2013 | 

From Insight to Action: Making Knowledge Work


“Going to class is the easy part,” says Brian Risen. The senior vice president at BerkleyNet notes that it’s what you do when you get back to work that either makes or breaks your executive education experience. Risen attended Wharton’s Executive Development Program (EDP) in 2000, and has been back twice for other Wharton programs. “I was looking for an experience that would give me knowledge that I could use to make changes and really do something different. It worked. Today I am still using a lot of what I learned.”

Risen stresses that it’s the weeks immediately following the learning experience that are most critical. “Don’t file away your notes and other material. They’ll end up staying on the shelf. Go through them and find one or two things you can apply quickly. Assimilate some of the learnings into your behavior while it’s top of mind. You need to be asking, ‘Now what? Can I improve on something I’m doing, create more value, mentor someone differently, make a larger contribution?’ The sooner you start to apply what you learned, the more likely you are to continue. You have to start making changes, even if they might be uncomfortable. It won’t become a practice or a behavior unless you get started.”

Making Deliberate Improvements

Mario Moussa, who teaches in EDP, says it is no accident that Risen made significant changes after the program. “EDP provides knowledge, experience, and feedback, and then we pull it together in an action plan. The participants are asked to be highly intentional about what they plan to change after the program, and how they plan to make those changes. Jeff Immelt noted, ‘Leadership is an intense journey into yourself.’ That journey doesn’t stop when you go back to work.

“You get better by practicing, not by thinking,” continues Moussa. “To move from insight to action, we use a four-step program:

  1. Start with an idea or insight;
  2. Apply it — practice doing something different;
  3. Get feedback;
  4. Ask “What would I do different next time?”


Cisco sales director Tunji Akintokun appreciated the opportunity to practice and apply learnings during the program. “The Simulation is as realistic as is possible. Team dynamics really played out, and you saw very clearly the results of making specific strategic choices. It was incredibly challenging, but we learned a lot both in terms of the people and business aspects.

“We also got valuable feedback and time to reflect on how we were doing. One thing I took away was the need for me to understand how I am perceived by others. I have to pay more attention, and I am starting to work on that. Every day I reflect on my interactions, checking to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Just this morning I went back to a team member I spoke with yesterday, saying I might have come across in a way that wasn’t my intention. By proactively reflecting on that engagement I saw that my understanding might not be theirs. I have been able to take the learning and the feedback and turn it into something positive.”

Creating a Global Network

Rodney Dennert, is also applying key learnings — and seeing results. “Our budget process was in full swing when I got back from EDP, and I had to present my budget on Tuesday. I used the Negotiation Workshop techniques I learned to audit my presentation. I made sure I had clarity of approach for influencing the outcome I wanted. It was one of the most effective budget presentations I’ve done, and it was approved that day, which is quite rare.”

Dennert, a group store development manager in Australia, says another key takeaway was “that social capital is a significant driver of outcomes. I was aware of that, but the two weeks in EDP made it clearer.” He created a LinkedIn group for EDP participants and faculty, which is highly active in terms of sharing knowledge, providing feedback, and continuing to strengthen the peer network. “It is providing ongoing benefits. I am reminded of learnings I wasn’t reflecting on, and am able to continue a valuable conversation with fellow participants.”