Dr Peter Honey, creator of the Learning Styles Questionnaire, uses the Mr Men to illustrate the Learning Cycle and its implications.
Written in 1987, this is an amusing piece inspired by the late Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men. I wrote it one evening in a burst of creativity, giggling as I did (I know its bad taste to laugh at your own jokes) and have loved it ever since.
Putting flippancy aside for a moment, the article has a serious message about learning style preferences. It argues for flexibility, with people being helped to invest effort in the parts of the learning cycle they would rather truncate or circumvent. The vision is to produce rounded learners who are equally comfortable with all the stages in the learning cycle.
Once upon a time an entrepreneur called Mr. Do had a brilliant idea. It didn’t come to him in the bath. It came to him at a meeting. You see, Mr. Do had always been a great doodler specialising in such things as:
One day whilst attending a particularly boring meeting that dragged on and on he drew:
And then, instead of finishing off with square ends, as he usually did. He added round ones like this
He instantly realised that he had stumbled upon an impossible object.
Mr. Do became enormously excited and decided there and then, as the meeting droned on, to:
- patent his impossible object
- form the Impossible Objects Company
- corner the global market in impossible objects
Then Mr. Do came up with another new impossible object:
Very soon Mr. Do’s enthusiasm for impossible objects spread. In fact, impossible objects became all the rage and Mr. Do, even though he was a great doer, simply couldn’t keep up with the demand.
So, he recruited three managers to help him. They were Mr. Review, Mr. Conclude and Mr. Plan.
Now that there were four of them and this was an implication that Mr. Do had not foreseen, they had to have meetings. Despite the fact that Mr. Do had invented his first impossible object in a meeting – he hated them! The only meetings he liked were the sort where he bounced ideas of other doers, in a surge of creativity and had lots of fun. It was also important to Mr. Do that no meeting lasted longer than thirty minutes.
Mr. Do was, therefore, alarmed to discover that meetings between the four of them were bereft of ideas, not creative and not fun. They also invariably lasted for sixty minutes or more. This was because Mr. Review was ultra cautious and always wanted to examine everything very thoroughly. If you showed him a prototype of an impossible object, as Mr. Do frequently did, Mr. Review examined it from all possible angles and even when he had done so, wanted to mull it over and sleep on it before committing himself.
The meetings also went badly because Mr. Conclude liked everything to be logical and neat and tidy. He couldn’t stand loose ends.
In addition, Mr Plan liked everything to be practical and organised. He wanted clear plans to work to and always became agitated with Mr. Do’s tendency to bursts of spontaneity. Mr. Do, on the other hand, found Mr. Plan’s plans restrictive.
In summary, the meetings between Mr. Do, Mr. Review, Mr. Conclude and Mr. Plan were proving increasingly impossible.
One day, while Mr. Review was examining everything thoroughly and Mr. Conclude was preoccupied with making the latest impossible object possible and Mr. Plan was busy planning how to make the latest possible object useful, Mr. Do was doodling and trying to make an impossible object from a circle.
The inspiration, if that’s what it can be called, came from the fact that they were seated around a round table and because their meeting was, as usual, going round in circles. Failing to produce the impossible object he hoped for, Mr. Do doodled their names on the circle to reflect their sitting positions.
Suddenly, Mr. Do had a flash of inspiration. He realised that he had stumbled on an impossible dream – Suppose the four of them could work together so that their undoubted differences dovetailed together to make strengths.
- Mr. Do would be in charge of doing
- Mr. Review would be in charge of reviewing the doing
- Mr. Conclude would be in charge of concluding from the reviewing of the doing
- Mr. Plan would be in charge of planning from the concluding of the reviewing of the doing
It would naturally follow that Mr. Do would be charge of the doing of the doing of the planning from the concluding of the reviewing of the doing.
Mr. Do became enormously excited by his discovery. It looked to him like perpetual motion, perhaps the ultimate impossibility. What a scoop for the Impossible Objects Company!
After that things went much better with Mr. Do, Mr. Review, Mr. Conclude and Mr. Plan each taking the chair for their respective phases of the meeting.
But one day Mr. Do was met with an impossible accident. He was trying to get to work on his latest invention, the triangle wheeled bicycle when he hit a pot hole and fell off, doing himself all manner of nastily impossible injuries.
While poor Mr. Do languished in hospital doodling on the plaster that seemed to encase most of his body, it was necessary for Mr. Review, Mr. Conclude and Mr. Plan to run the Impossible Objects Company.
This of course, meant that they had to have meetings. But without Mr. Do to do what Mr. Plan planned for Mr. Conclude’s conclusions from Mr. Review’s reviews, nothing got done. They just went round in do-less circles until eventually Mr. Review ran out of tings to review. The problem was:
- If there was no doing there could be no reviewing
- If there was no reviewing there could be no concluding
- If there was no concluding there could be no planning
- If there was no planning there could be no doing
Consequently, they came to a grinding halt until Mr. Review, chasing around desperately for something to review, hit upon the notion of reviewing the impasse itself.
After Mr. Review had conducted a thorough review of all the possible reasons for the lack of progress, Mr. Conclude reached a remarkable conclusion. It was that each of them essential in the same way that four lots of 25% is essential to 100%. If any 25% was missing, be it the doing, reviewing, concluding or planning, it was predictable that they would cease to function.
This conclusion provoked Mr. Plan into planning his most striking plan to date. It was blindingly simple, as all the best things are, with the obvious exception of impossible objects. Mr. Plan’s plan was that each of them should practice the 75% they weren’t at present good at, so that any one of them could do, review, conclude and plan. He called this a contingency plan and argued that it was clearly what was needed to implement in the absence of Mr. Do’s doing.
Mr. Review mulled this over with considerable trepidation since he was especially fearful of doing anything other than reviewing.
Mr. Conclude, whilst appreciating the logic and elegance of the plan, jumped to the conclusion that it would be unlikely that he could change his ways. He was a concluder par excellence and that was that.
Mr. Plan, observing these two adverse reactions, felt that his plan was in jeopardy. Instead of launching into a strong defence of his plan, he thought of a ploy which as everyone knows, is a mini plan. It was simply this: Mr. Plan turned to Mr. Review and asked him what he proposed to do.
Now Mr Review couldn’t recall when last someone had asked him what to do. After a long silence, Mr. Review hesitantly suggested that they visit Mr. Do in hospital to put the plan to him and find out what he advised them to do. Upon hearing this, Mr. Plan smiled a supportive smile and offered the conclusion that this was, in the circumstances, an admirable suggestion, Mr. Conclude, robbed of a conclusion but not to be left out, leapt to his feet and urged his colleagues to do it once before hospital visiting hours imposed an unwelcome delay.
In this way, they made a tentative start on the doing the plan for:
- Mr. Review had been forced to propose a do
- Mr. Plan had seized the opportunity to conclude
- Mr. Conclude, with noting else to do, did.
Mr. Do, on learning of the plan, was as enthusiastic as the confines of his plaster would allow.
Eventually any one, two or three of them could be absent without things grinding to a halt. The productivity of their meetings rocketed since now they each did everything, without friction, in more or less 30 minutes.
And they were flexible:
- Sometimes that would review, conclude, plan and do
- Sometimes they would conclude, plan, do and review
- At other times they would plan, do, review and conclude
- And sometimes they would do, review, conclude and plan
These four permutations covered all eventualities. The Impossible Objects Company thrived and Mr. Conclude concluded that they had found The Secret of working together and, quite possibly, of life itself; to be all-rounders, learning from experience by doing, reviewing, concluding and planning.
They all lived happily ever after, doing, reviewing, concluding and planning:
The Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984)