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Recipes for Success: a tasty way to share lessons and good practice

Learning and Knowledge Development Facility recipes for success

As winter arrives in the Northern Hemisphere and 2017 comes to a close, it is a time to reflect on our work and give thanks for all the opportunities and lessons of the past year. It’s also traditionally a time for cooking!

We seized on this idea recently with UNIDO’s Learning and Knowledge Development Facility (LKDF), where Gillian has worked as a Learning Expert for several years. LKDF wanted a fresh and engaging way to capture the lessons and successes of its innovative Public-Private Development Partnerships (PPDPs) and share them with the public, partners, and donors during a meeting.

From a forklift operator training project in Iraq, to a project in South Africa that uses virtual reality to safely teach students how to use log-cutting equipment, young people are learning the technical skills they need to find jobs and become part of a skilled workforce in their countries.  How could the learning be interestingly captured and shared from eight projects around the world?

“Recipes for Success”

With holiday cooking on our minds, we captured the lessons and good practices of the projects with specially designed recipe cards called “Recipes for Success”.

We began by sending a template and a sample recipe to project managers ahead of the meeting, asking them to provide information about their projects. We worked with one game manager in advance to create a fun sample recipe we could share, which gave people an idea of what we were looking for – we wanted “ingredients”, directions, preparation, and “cooking times” for their projects.

An editing job spiced up the answers and clever formatting converted them into recipe cards. Tips and variations were included, such as “This recipe is for counterbalanced trucks below 5 tonne only” and “This recipe is designed for a maximum of three learners to one instructor so it is makes a small portion with a lot of impact (driving experience).” Although not your typical easily reproducible recipes, they gave the flavor of the project, provoked interest for more information and provided a funny and memorable takeaway for participants.

You’ve Heard of Speed Dating, and Speed Meeting… How about Speed Eating?

On the evening of our meeting, partners gathered for a not-so-typical meal to learn more about each project.

In a room with 10 small, numbered tables, Recipe Holders (project managers) had 6 minutes to share their project “recipe” with a group of 5 donors, colleagues and industry partners. Each Recipe Holder had a stack of recipes to hand out and a 3-D object from their project, from a beautiful hand made shoe (from the leather panel training project in Zambia) to a set of branches (from the virtual reality forestry training project in South Africa).

After six minutes a bell rang, and each group moved in chronological order to the next numbered table, where they met the next Recipe Holder. On each table was also a set of real appetizers, so as the participants talked to the project managers and collected the recipes, they were also able to have a bite to eat. (That’s dinner sorted!)

Inspired by the global love for eating and cooking, especially at this time of the year, we found a fun and more engaging way to share learning and good practices. If you think back at your year, what did you learn? What would be your Recipe for Success?

More food for thought

Bite-Sized Learning

Sharing information is hard. We have so much we want to share that we tend to push it out in large quantities and in the same old ways. How can we cut through the tidal wave of information, find the best nuggets, and make information stick?

One way is to make it bite-sized! Fortune cookies can be a good way to make information stick. Besides being tasty, they can provide a little, physical reminder to join a LinkedIn group, recall a key lesson from a team-building exercise, or follow up on a commitment.

There are other ways to make it short: learn how quiz-based micro-learning can deliver a wealth of information in manageable “nuggets”.

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Condensing Learning into 4 Minutes or Less? Making a Simple Animated Video for a Complex Project

I am enjoying being the Learning Expert for a very innovative programme (Learning and Knowledge Development Facility) that aims to promote, capture and share learning from a series of international public private development projects (PPDPs). The objective is to create a platform and a process for sharing learning among all the project stakeholders and with other interested parties for continuous improvement in the existing projects and to create efficiencies in future project development and implementation.

For this project, among other things, I recently wrote a series of How-To Manuals (see the blog post: How to Write a “How To” Guide: Two Approaches to Creating Reusable Learning) based on individual learning gathered through interviews and collective learning from facilitated workshops and meetings. These detailed documents are all available for practitioners in the project to use as well as anyone else interested.

But, they range from 20 – 30 pages, with some shorter executive summaries that aim to distill further key points. With piles of reading already on their desks, the project managers challenged us to create some new, shorter learning products, not just for them but for their colleagues and others who were interested in the project, who wanted to learn more, but were just starting to dip their toes into it. 

The project is about developing Public Private Development Partnerships (I’m not going to describe them here, you have to watch the video!) It’s quite a nuanced concept. And because of the complexity of writing about and describing the PPDP approach itself (one of my long How-To Guides was about PPDPs – How to Develop and Implement a Vocational Training Public Private Development Partnership – even the name was long!) that was where we decided to start.

So we made an animated video – a 3 minute 23 second explanation of what PPDPs were, how they worked (and of course the benefits!)

All in all, it took us four weeks from the telephone interview that produced the narrative, to receiving the link to the final video. We chose an aggressive time frame as we wanted to show the video at an upcoming meeting. For this project we worked with Simpleshow.

This was my first experience working with a creative team to create an “explainer” video. There were a number of lessons that I learned along the way that I want to capture, for my own future reference, and also for sharing with anyone who is tempted toward the process of condensing and sharing learning in 4 minutes or less.

Lesson 1: What’s the message?

As I mentioned above, the idea started with a 33-page “How-to Manual” which structured a rich multitude of lessons learned by many different actors. How on earth could that be condensed into 4 minutes or less? Four minutes was the upper limit given to us by Simpleshow, with a suggestion that even this could be too long. (Note: There is plenty of interesting research done on video length and viewer attention span – like this article by Powtoon Explainer Video: How Long Should Your Explainer Be? We went plenty over, relatively speaking, what seems to be a generally suggested time limit of 1-2 minutes.)

It was obvious that this amount of content was far too ambitious for a 2-4 minute video. So we needed to think again. When we considered the questions that come in about the project, the first ones and perhaps the most fundamental are really the basics – What is a Public Private Development Partnership? Who is involved, how does it work and what are the benefits? In answering those questions, our message is really basic: This is a very cool approach which you should know about and might want to get involved in. So we started there.  You really need to be crystal clear about the central message you are trying to convey. Too many messages make for a messy animated video.

Lesson 2: What’s the story?

For a video to be good, there needs to be some kind of clean and simple story or narrative with some characters, a challenge that people are trying to solve together, a barrier to surmount. Our story had all of those components. To get to the essence of the story for our video, Simpleshow sent a questionnaire with some very good questions along these lines. We answered it and sent it back and then set up a call with a project manager and a story writer that lasted about an hour. I discussed with them the answers to the questions – What is a PPDP? Who’s involved? What makes it special? What problem is it trying to solve?  And they asked more questions, and I gave more answers. After a while it formed into a simple but compelling story.

Lesson 3: Whose voices? Which characters?

If you watch many explainer-type animated videos, you will notice that there is almost always one voice that is the narrator. This voice introduces the characters, and effectively tells the story for them while they move around and animate the story.  (More on this narrator voice later.) As such there are a lot of decisions around characters and voice in a video. First, you need to identify your characters. Our first list was very long as there are a lot of important actors in PPDPs. But you really can’t have too many characters as it can be hard to keep track of them and in some cases hard to tell (animated) people apart. Remember that they are not distinguished by their voice, as they do not speak – one central voice tells the story, so they need to be differentiated in other ways.

In our case, the main actors involved were actually organizations, as we were describing an approach or a process. So we had to decide which organizations were the most central to our story, and what characters would represent them. We ended up with four main characters with actual names (Peter, etc.), and with some minor characters without names (e.g. teacher, government official, other student).

You do need to be thoughtful about names – selecting those that are not too similar.  For names we tried to use known names from where our characters originated; the most important name choice was our central character, a woman graduate in Zambia. For that I researched the most popular female names in Zambia and decided on Thandi, which is near the top of the charts of popular names for women in Zambia, For next time, I would suggest even more diverse names for the other organizational characters as the project is international. We changed a couple of them from those suggested by Simpleshow, which was perfectly fine with them, but could have changed them a little more to capture the true diversity of the project.

Lesson 4: Getting the story crystal clear

The next step was to write up the narrative – the story as told by the narrator. This was the script and was written from the perspective of a storyteller which was not one of the characters. The script was drafted based on our telephone conversation. Simpleshow wrote out the script. word for word, exactly as the narrator would read it, and sent it for review along with some ideas of visuals (in words) and potential images that could accompany them (characters, icons, etc.) I checked the accuracy of statements, changed terminology, answered some questions, and looked for points of emphasis.

It was important here to remember that some words can be very politically charged, how some characters are described can be consistent with their own terminology or quite incorrect. You need to remember that you are the expert at the topic, the video maker works on a myriad of different themes and although they do their best,  it is your responsibility to catch things at this stage. I shared my comments with colleagues to make sure that I was not missing anything, and indeed I had! At this important script stage we needed to sign off on the narrative as written, because it is not efficient or practical to change the text after the images are drawn.

Lesson 4: Sketch stage – Choosing the right images and icons

I considered what was being suggested in terms of images and iconography and made some tweaks. Sometimes the initially proposed icons might not be quite right to represent the actor – for example, a technical assistance donor will not resonate with an image of a bag of money, but with a growing plant instead.  Other images benefit from changing to increase accuracy or authenticity. For example, I changed an image that was represented on a chalkboard to make it more consistent with the reality of the project (from a flow chart to an engine diagram as the project works with heavy machinery), or changing what one of the characters was wearing to be more like that we see in the vocational training centre workshops in the project.

For this, I used photos from our project, and also googled factories in Zambia, and sent links to the animators, and generally tried to help make the story and images as accurate as possible with the reality of the project. It was at this point also that I received a first sketched of the characters. For Thandi, our Zambian main character, I commented on her dress and hair, and googled lots of Zambian universities and factories for photos to see what students were wearing. Although I have been to Zambia on more than one occasion, I wasn’t in a heavy vehicle vocational training workshop! So I passed this by colleagues who had been working in Zambia, and had been to the vocational school until we all agreed. All the images need to be checked carefully for accuracy and authenticity as again, it is practically impossible to change them (or very costly to do so) once the voice actor is engaged and the animation completed. You definitely don’t want someone watching the video a month after production saying, “That’s not how you pronounce ‘Thandi’ in Zambia”!

Lesson 5: Voice actors – What voice best matches the content?

Speaking of pronunciation…the video narrative will be read by a professional voice actor (I enjoyed googling that fascinating field of work). The company has a pool of voice actors and sent me some audio clips to listen to, and from which to select the one that seemed to fit the content best. I found out from the company we worked with that most animated videos they made were narrated by men, and often with American accents (at the request of clients).

We decided early on that we wanted a women’s voice, so the Simpleshow sent through some female voice clips for me to listen to, with some different accents. It was interesting to hear all the varieties of voices, and their different qualities, intonation, brightness, etc. We decided that we wanted a British female voice. I listened to a few more audio clips and chose one. The voice in the original clip I found a little too bright and chirpy, which didn’t fit as well for our content, so I made some suggestions along those lines. When the actor recorded it she matched our request and instructions.

Lesson 6: Signing off final stages – no going back

At this point I had signed off on the text to be narrated, and I needed to sign off on the images and icons, and what would happen to them which was described in words (wondering, searching, happy, ‘wiped away’). I was asked about how to pronounce ‘Thandi’ ( with “h” or without – I double checked with a Zambian friend to be sure!)  Also how to pronounce ‘UNIDO’ ( spell it out or read it.) It was great that they asked, I am sure the voice actor needed to know. Again this is something you might anticipate and give some instructions before the voice actor does her work.

At this point, the text and images go out of your hands and the company puts together the animation and the voice actor records her text. You can listen to the final results in the video above!

We would ideally have liked another review step or a quote for how much that might cost (it might be significant if the voice actor needs to re-record something to emphasize a word more or less, or a sequence in the middle of the video needs to be re-shot). I understand that is why there are so many opportunities for iteration and sign off steps. It is however still challenging to try to imagine how the voice will work with the images, and how the images will move. There can be unconscious messages communicated when some images stay longer on the screen or have a more central place in the viewing pane. In the future I will try to pay more careful attention and try to anticipate this, and thus give some additional instructions to the artist and voice actor on this aspect if needed.

What might happen next?

The video launch received a very enthusiastic response and good feedback. People are thinking actively about how to use it. The team recently translated it into French  as one of the new PPDPs is in a Francophone country. That took only 2.5 weeks, from request to final French-version of the video, and provided another broad set of possible accents and specialised terminology to select from (with no changes made to the animation except the last ‘thanks’ page).

The video has been put on the webpage and shared widely with partners. It will feature in an upcoming training course on PPDPs in the introduction, and is being sent to potential partners through email and in workshops and meetings. It is such a short and easy introduction to PPDPs, and is much more engaging than any PPT slide set or oral introduction, both of which would take longer than 3 minutes 23 seconds.

Overall, it was a very exciting and fast paced process, and it’s fascinating to see ideas move from a conversation, through written words, to images and then jump off the page into an animated video. And it is not as mysterious as you might imagine. I enjoyed writing down my learning and things I want to remember, not least because I might want to reuse my learning in the next set of animated videos that are already in planning!


Can Humiliation Boost Brain Function? (Yes, When You’re Learning Something New…)

Surfer Hollow Wave Ride

There I was, prone, my nose the requisite hand-width from the logo on the waxed board. Then, on command, execute sequence: paddle the air like crazy, then up on one knee, then two knees, stand up, body turn, arms out and ride that imaginary wave.

Surfing seemed pretty straight forward there on the sand. Side-by-side on the beach we had 10 surfboards, and 10 wannabe surfers, being put through our paces by the surfing instructor before we ran into the water with our boards. Cool! Well…

I spent the first half hour of my 90-minute lesson just trying to get on the darn board without falling off the other side. That was already rather humiliating, but I had the water to hide in (frequently and head first). Once I could actually get on the board, turning it around so it was facing in the right direction was my next challenge, and doing so without getting caught broadsided by the waves that were coming in with frustrating regularity, as waves do I guess.

Then I found myself miraculously on my board, facing the beach (at frighteningly close range) and hearing the surf instructor shouting “PADDLE!” at me. I paddled, and rode my wave onto the beach –  on my stomach. It was surprisingly comfortable but, I was assured by my sons, not the way to do it.

There were several thousand witnesses on the beach that day, watching me fall off my board, belly surf onto the beach and twice get up onto my knees but no closer to the standing cool of the little kids and my sons dude surfing around me. All in all, I spent at least an hour humiliating myself and the rest of the time underwater.

Benefits, you ask?

That was a sunny day in Rhode Island, let’s go to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean now, to Newcastle University in the UK.

Thirty volunteers were recruited recently for an experiment that began by subjecting them to a barrage of problem-solving, memory and reaction time tests to set a baseline. Then they were randomly assigned one of three activities to do for eight weeks and went home.

Members of one group had to walk briskly for three hours a week, a vigorous exercise that kept their hearts pumping and their brains deliciously filled with oxygen-laden blood.

A second group played Sudoku and did puzzles like crosswords for their three hours a week. Comfy in their lounge chairs, their brains were constantly being challenged and titillated solving these brain teasers.

The third group spent their three hours each of the eight weeks staring at a naked man named Steve. This was actually in the form of a life drawing class, where Steve was the model.

And eight weeks later, where were our volunteers now?

As expected, the walkers made great strides in their general health and fitness. The puzzlers became addicted to Sudoku and presumably proudly got their solving times down from double to single digits and competitively went on to harder and harder puzzles.   And the life drawing group? They enjoyed it! But when the scientists re-ran their cognitive tests, which group do you think made the most brain progress? What’s your guess?

If you guessed Sudoku, you would be WRONG.

The life drawing class made the most progress in cognitive skills of memory, reaction time and problem solving –  why?

BBC news, who reported the experiment, quoted clinical psychologist Daniel Collerton as saying “Learning something new engages the brain in ways that seem to be key. Your brain changes in response, no matter how many years you have behind you.” Learning something new improves your brain function and memory! Yes!

Now, let’s go back to my surfing lesson, as embarrassing as it was. That was (obviously) completely new for me. Trying to do all those coordinated moves, that the instructor was telling me, in the right sequence, for the first time, definitely engaged my brain as well as my body. The life drawers in the study saw brain benefits from developing their psychomotor skills by thinking about moving their hands to draw.

The life drawers also derived more health benefits and calorie burn from standing three hours a week for their drawing class (better than sitting – unlike our puzzlers, you can’t do Sudoku standing up). Although I was not standing, ever, I also was not sitting on my surf board (I was falling off it most of the time).

And finally the life drawers in the class were the most socially active of the three groups in the study, talking to each other and learning together, this social side also reportedly contributes to keeping your brain sharp.  My surf class camaraderie also produced opportunities for social interaction that did not always involve collisions, but lots of tips, cheers of support and peals of laughter (including my own saltwater chuckles.)

The Newcastle study concluded that “any group activity which involves being active and learning a new skill will boost your brain” and its cognitive function.

So the next time you’re laying on the beach and see someone learning something new, like surfing for instance, remember that they are improving their brain function and you are just getting a sunburn!

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Encouraging and Evaluating Impacts from MEGA-Conferences

Colloque BIOFILMS 5 à Paris.

They cost millions to put on and convene the best and brightest of a community – how can you channel that collective strength for collective impact and, in the end, how can you tell?

I just returned from 7th World Water Forum in Korea, where numbers of attendees were reported at 41,000 people. I also worked at the 6th World Water Forum in 2012, with 35,000 people. That’s a lot of talent in one place.

Is there an Expectation of Learning and Impact?

It is interesting to think about the cost-benefit for individuals and organizations for participation in such an event. If you were on the Learning Team for such an event (do these events have learning teams – maybe that is Suggestion #1!), what might be some of the ways to first, identify desired learning (organizational and individual level), foster that learning through design and format, help record outcomes for monitoring and sharing, and see what changes people are making based on their learning and participation?

I’ve seen and worked with some different approaches and, taken together, they make for an interesting thought exercise and potentially an opportunity. Here are a few ideas for consideration.

1) Use a Facilitation Team to ensure interactive learning in Conference Sessions

Conference don’t have to be panel after panel of 9 speakers giving their ideas from a podium of behind a table and a short Q&A (IF the speakers don’t go over their time) for those bold enough to stand up in front of hundreds, or lucky enough to get the attention of the person with the roving microphone.

Interactive learning is possible even for very large groups, and even in theatre set up (although round tables are MUCH better – this can work for 400-600 people in a ballroom, at least it has for us in the preparatory meetings for the 6th and 7th World Water Forum.) I have written a blog post about facilitating large groups (When Numbers Soar: Facilitating Large Groups) and it is certainly possible with good design and professional and confident execution. It might take a moment to flip your audience from passive half-listening/texting observers to active contributors, but once you have their attention the opportunity engage and crowdsource ideas, suggestions, solutions, etc. from such a large group is incredible.

A good facilitation team can also help create consistency and support reflective practice throughout the event, when these questions and practices are built consistently into the agenda of events. With the whole facilitation team introducing this in all parallel events.

2) Introduce a Conference Activity Handbook

At another large conference I facilitated recently, we created an Activity Handbook that was put into each conference pack, and had a couple of different purposes. First, it guided participants through the conference, each session had an entry that engaged the participant in some way, from a place to write their goals for the event (Session 1), to places to record answers to specific technical questions, a self-assessment that started one session, a quiz to warm up on another, an action planning template for the final Session (to record follow-up to the conference of people, ideas) etc.

The resulting Handbook once completed, was a take-home artifact from the conference that reminded the participant of his or her learning, thoughts, ideas, and actions. It also included other key information – contact information, URLs of resources, etc. all in one place. But unlike any Conference brochure, this participants interacted with daily and became a living record of THEIR event.

Even in a larger event where people are moving around to different activities all the time, such an Activity Handbook could be helpful to guide people through their experience and structure reflection. If there are facilitators, they could start and end their sessions with a reflection question recorded in the workbook (“Open your Activity Handbook to page 16 and take a minute to reflect on what you want to learn today – make a few notes for yourself and I will give you a couple of minutes to share this with the person sitting next to you”,or “What was the most important key message from the sessions you attended today”, “What is one thing you might do to follow up on something you learned today?” etc.)

If people need an added incentive to complete their Activity Handbook, offer a completion gift to those who complete their book, such as a mug or water bottle with the conference logo, available in the exhibition area at Stand X – ask people to come towards the end and show their completed booklet for this gift. (There was such a gift at the recent World Water Forum, although you only needed to answer a few questions to get it, but almost all people I spoke to found their way to the exhibition hall stand with their voucher to collect it). As people get these items in their conference bags anyways, why not give them a little homework to get it?

3) Ask Organizers to Develop and Participants to Contribute to Next Action Plans

One of the features of the World Water Forum process was the expected output of an Implementation Roadmap (IR) from the different thematic streams of the conference (every conference seems to have an organizing principle of some sort – often thematic). The organizers’ reporting templates from the different thematic sessions were made consistent with this and individual session organizers were asked to collect ideas from participants in their sessions that could be integrated into a thematic IR.
The idea of this Implementation Roadmap was to capture in one place all the ideas and actions that stakeholders attending identified and felt are helping achieve some desired change in their subject area, so that they can be executed after the conference and this execution monitored. Each IR had one or more coordinating organizations who volunteered for this role (because it is central to their work), and participants in their sessions could indicate how these Implementation Roadmaps could improve, if they wanted to be involved in follow up, and what they could contribute.

Of course this only works if there is engagement and good coordination prior to the conference, real interactivity in the sessions (see Facilitation above) and if there are resources made available (time, energy and potentially funds) for this follow-up. The organizers must take this seriously and support it. More information on the IR process can be found on the 7th World Water Forum website. As this event is each 3 years, Coordinating organizations can be asked to report on progress and results from their Implementation Roadmap work. Central coordination over the interim period to keep momentum is an important additional role for the main organizer. Without this, probably only a small percentage of these would produce results, based on the sheer will and investment of the thematic coordinators.

4) Follow Selected Individuals for a Conference Impact Study

We did a Curriculum Impact Study at LEAD International when I was the Director of Capacity Development there and this was a really interesting and effective way to see how a learning experience impacted individuals participating in the programme. This could be an interesting addition to a large conference M&E and learning process, and help answer the questions – what changed? and was it worth it?

In the LEAD process, we identified a select cross-section of participants (different countries and different sectors – we had 18 in total), and invited them to participate in our study. This process took some time, so they had to be aware of that and committed (in the case of a conference, could they get a reduction on their conference fee by participating?) We started prior to the formal learning events, and went on for a designated period afterwards.

The study started and ended with an interview that we administered. The initial Orientation Interview included key questions that established a base-line of the individual and their organization, and identified an issue or issues that they and their organization would be dealing with over the next two years where they might apply their learning, etc. After the initial interview (also to explain the process), the exercise was journal-based (there were three Journals) with key reflection questions at periodic points that were triggered by dates, reminders, and email. The journals were collected and analysed (and returned) and case studies following the learning and learning application process of the individuals were written (not using the original names and organizational names).

This impact study provided a more detailed way to understand the impact of the programme on their professional and personal lives. Based on your overall goal of a conference (such as more conservation impact on the ground), such a study could help understand what participants do to prepare, engage during and integrate into their practice afterwards. It also helps identify places where the organizers can support participants more – maybe the preparation needs to be more directed and different, maybe the sessions need to be more interactive and engaging – as people spent most of their time in the exhibition hall (or maybe more needs to be programmed there), or more support in identifying or using the learning, etc. This kind of impact study of individual’s experience with your mega event can give insight into this.

5) Design a More Deliberate Learning Programme

All of the above need good design, preparation, coordination, guidance, consistency across a complex event with many moving parts. Lessons? This needs coordination, guidance, and consistency, and a central team with an overview of the learning goals and enough advance time to prepare the different elements so that the experience is reinforced throughout the conference.

Of course, this also costs money, but then you just invested millions to get everyone there. Doesn’t it make sense to invest a little more to make sure you get as much impact out of the conference as possible?


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Must See for Learning Practitioners and Educators: Remembering Rita Pierson

If you love everything about learning, whether formal or informal, and you haven’t already seen it, you really need to take 7 minutes and 48 seconds right now and watch Rita Pierson’s TED Talks Education talk called  “Every kid needs a champion” (recently broadcast on PBS 7 May 2013).

I learned about this video only a few days ago on NPR’s TED Radio Hour – this is a curated, thematic one-hour programme that mashes up a number of TED talks, compares and contrasts their messages and goes a bit further with their authors.

This particular episode was called Unstoppable Learning, and Dr. Pierson’s NPR conversation explored what role relationships play in learning. As you can imagine I pricked up my ears at this. How people learn best is one of my enduring sources of deep curiosity. And developing good relationships and “being nice” are values that our Bright Green Learning team hold dearly. And of course you can’t just appear to be nice, you have to really be nice, caring and interested in the people who are doing the learning (because after all, we are learning too). I was just trying to explain this to a potential new collaborator a week ago. Dr. Pierson put her finger on it in one of the most memorable quotes of her talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”  This is a profound observation from a career educator (and in my experience it also holds true for adult learners).

Rita Pierson also argued for teachers to take a more positive and appreciative approach with their students, even those – or in particular those –  who are not excelling in their work. She gave an example of a time that she gave a student a +2 and a smiley face, instead of minus -18 on his test. She said that’s because -18 “sucks all the life out of you” and +2 says “I ain’t all bad”.

I love this reframing, which is so motivating and still somehow such a rare approach for educators and learning practitioners to take. There is a reflex in many educational contexts to focus on what learners missed or need to improve, rather than on what they are doing right (and as they say in Appreciative Inquiry, in every organization or situation, something is working, even if it is only +2 out of 20).

Rita’s short talk brought tears to my eyes. I also grew up the daughter of two educators and see how students were touched by their work. Her words sounded absolutely right to me and I realised that she had articulately described my values around learning and education and those I would hope all teachers would take (including those teaching my own children).

I wanted to write this blog post to remind myself of where I could go for inspiration in my own learning work, and to connect to Rita’s talk so I could listen to it again. I didn’t know when I started this research that I would also be writing it in memorium, as Dr. Rita F. Pierson died unexpectedly last Thursday, on the day I discovered her on the NPR TED Radio Hour. Her death has left a gaping hole in the progressive educational community. She was a real thinker, shaper and feeler in the field of education and someone that everyone working in learning should listen to…have YOU listened to her amazing  7 minute 48 second TEDTalk yet?

You can read more about this remarkable woman and her impact in Remembering Educator Rita F. Pierson on the TEDBlog.


Fishing it Up from the Depths: Relearning Childhood Learning

Years ago I regularly went fishing with my father, who was and continues to be a real outdoorsman – someone who seems to know how to do and catch anything in the woods, lakes, fields and streams.

I followed along, doing my best, and apparently listening (although that is not what children normally do in my experience) and learned how to cast, toss my bait into the little space between the bank and the shady dock, bait my own hooks and neatly clean my catch.

Now fast forward 30ish years – through university, several international moves, 70+ countries of work-related travel, and not much fishing to speak of – I am begged to go fishing by my own two sons. What do I recall from my childhood learning?

My first observation is that if you don’t use it, you actually don’t lose (at least completely). I can remember how to string a rod, tie on the hooks, sinkers and bobbers. I know that fish hide in shady areas, or swim very deep when the water is too warm. I know that you can’t fish at midday when the sun is at its hottest, and that early morning or dusk is better to catch feeding fish. I also know that if you don’t catch anything in one spot after a while, you need to move your fishing location, and keep moving, until you find the fish.

But, we are still not catching any fish over here, four thousand miles from my father, the resident expert.

I think there are a few things impeding us. First, I think that I am struggling with a new application of this long ago learning  – a brand new context. I am no longer walking through high grass to Ohio farm ponds. In this Swiss lake, unlike the Great Lakes and ponds where I fished as a kid, I don’t know much about this lake, its bottom topography, temperatures or depths. I don’t know all the species of fish, I don’t know what they eat (salmon eggs, worms, doughballs?) and when they eat it (not so much the time of day, but the time of year – are they spawning?) This latter would never cross my mind, but when I described to my father that we had seen big carp and couldn’t get them interested in our bait, the first thing he said was “they might be spawning”. I googled it and indeed carp spawn here in late May and early June depending on the temperature of the water. I didn’t know that. Clearly some of it a good fisherman who had fished all over would figure out – like a lifetime practitioner of any field would intuit some things in a new context.

So there’s another thing – I built up some good experience of fishing long ago, but I don’t have decades of watching this water, understanding the fish and their behaviour, and knowing the broad range of tools (baits, spinners, lines) that a veteran fisherman would have (nor the graduate degree in freshwater fishery biology that my father has.) These things come from much more experience, and a lot of trial and error. My father no doubt took all the trial and error out of my early fishing experiences (kids get bored so easily), so some of this I will have to repete myself. And I will have to be curious, instead of irritated, when things do not come out the same as they did those long ago years. I will have to test a few of my own hypotheses, and remember what works when it does. It would also be good to make friends with a local fisherman who might be able to give me some clues to fishing in this particular ecosystem at 46.2 degrees north and 6.15 degrees east.

So what does this tell me about learning? Well, even when learned at an early age you can remember some things and even develop muscle memory for physical activities, like casting and reeling in my case. So you will not start out again as an absolute beginner. As you use this memory, more things will come back, although they might not be exact memories. And early experiences and memories that are good will no doubt drive you to keep trying, even when the new context is different, and potentially produces different results than the past.

For me, when I am experiencing this, I will try to:

  • Acknowledge that, although everything seems familiar, I am out of my original context for learning so will pay particular attention to what I am doing and challenge any old assumptions;
  • Seek local expertise – get a local “guide” who can help me, and help translate my knowledge into something more appropriate for the current context;
  • Try things – which is fun, if I look at it from a that perspective – because I have a learning curve again (even if I didn’t 30 years ago).

Ultimately I guess it’s about relearning. I found this interesting quote by futurist Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

So keep on learning (and relearning), and let’s go fishing!


Writing Good Instructions for Workshop Games

I have just finished reviewing a set of instructions for a series of games that a big group will be undertaking as a part of a team development exercise. There will be 70 people in teams of 12,  8 different game stations, and a very ambitious time schedule (about 20 minutes per activity), so the set up and instructions for each game needs to be very, very good.

Teams will be moving from station to station. As each team reaches their new game station, players they will receive the instructions for the game at that location. At that moment, they need to have all the necessary information, in an easy to read format and be able to understand it very quickly.

Here are some of the things I am checking for in the game descriptions and instructions for the games, and where needed, modifying:

  • Is the game text too long, too wordy or too dense? Make it shorter with only essential information, put game steps into numbered points, lists into bullet points instead of narrative text, and numbers for scoring into a table; 
  • Are there any vocabulary words or idioms in the descriptions that might be misconstrued or misunderstood? Make the language as simple as possible;
  • Is there any ambiguity in the description text or rules? Make it crystal clear so no time lost in doubt or disagreement on interpretation among team members; 
  • Is there consistency in format and layout of the games’ instructions? Reduce any inconsistencies in the way the rules are written in terms of level of detail, the order that information is given, the font, etc. so no time is wasted and teams will learn and read faster as they do through the games sequence;
  • Is the goal of each game clear? (e.g. How do you win – what do you have to do to win?) Rewrite as needed and put that up front in the instructions, so the rest of the instructions are read with that goal in mind;
  • Is the scoring clear and consistent within each game and overall across the series of games? Make sure it is clear how you get points and how many points for different aspects of the game (as applicable), make sure the points levels are the same for the different games so if a team doesn’t do well at one game they are not overly penalised.
  • Is there anything subjective in the scoring (like points for quality or how things look)? If so decide in advance the criteria to award points and who will award them. This can potentially cause lots of disgruntled players. 
  • Are the materials needed/provided to play the game listed in checklist format? Create a checklist so the team can quickly assess if they have all needed materials.
  • Are the rules or steps numbered? Number these so team members can discuss them/refer to them by using their number as shorthand.
Some other considerations for good game instructions:

Consistency: Make sure the delivery of the rules to each team is consistent. For example, we are providing rules printed on an A5 card and putting that in a sealed envelope that the teams get when they reach the spot where the game will take place.
Testing: We are having someone test each activity first by following our instructions, to make sure steps are clear as well as feasible in the amount of time allocated. If it takes twice as long to complete as allocated, that obviously won’t work. Things sometimes look feasible on paper, but when you are in situ, there may be features of the game environment that cause slow downs.
Game Aids: I am also making up job aids, like a score card for each team, so they can keep their own scores. We are also making a larger game score card on a flipchart, posted at each game station, so teams can see how other teams scored.

Teams love to play games, and the design and make up of a good game takes much care and consideration. Good instructions are crucial to make sure that playing the game actually meets its goals and results in both learning and fun.  

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“Howtoons” – Tinkering, Making and Mashing

I’ve had the word “Howtoons” written on my bulletin board for several years.

For me, the word has become emblematic for mashing things (anything) – combining, mixing, using them in ways you might not have thought about before – to make something new and even more useful. And there are blissfully no rules to this.

In the case of Howtoons it is using cartoons and comics to help people learn how to do things (versus pure storytelling and entertainment alone).

I love the word “Howtoons” for what it reminds me to do. It’s almost a one-word checklist for:

  • Is there something completely different I can do with this thingy?
  • Can I put something from another field, sector, industry, country, department, etc. with this to get something fresh and new that I can use? (I wrote a little about this in 2008 in a post called “Keeping it Fresh” after my 5th circus performance as a spectator in a month, and again in 2011 in 10 Different Ways to Do Anything: Get Inspiration Anywhere)

And when I googled “Howtoons” just now, I was even more delighted with some of the sites that use this moniker.

At the Instructables website, they call Howtoons “weapons of mass construction” and show in comic strip format how to make everything from a Marshmallow Shooter to a Turkey Baster Flute. They say they use OpenKidsWare much like MIT uses OpenCourseWare for wider distribution.

The Howtoons website itself is more of a one-pane cartoon, very sophisticated and embedded with what makes great comics, where they manage with this format to explain how to make their alka-seltzer powered rocket and spring loaded chopsticks. They also explain that Howtoons are what you get when you take a comic book artist, an inventor and a toy designer and put them together. Another successful mash-up!

Ever in search of innovative ways to help people learn, I have been delighted with what I have heard in the last year about the “Maker” movement (not as in True Blood) and tinkering, as ways to bring innovation and creativity to learning. These were both featured at the DML (Digital Media and Learning) Conference earlier this year – they even had on their Conference Committee a “Making, Tinkering and Remixing Chair” – Mitch Resnick.

DML sessions included Tinkering with Tangibles (digital textiles), Making Makeshop (on designing making experiences with families), Literacies of Making, Mobile Quests (that remix public events for social change), Design Tinkering  – that was a breakout – very fun!

In the Design Tinkering workshop, each table had the same pack of materials and some instructions. Two tables each had the same instructions -e.g. there were two sets of instructions – one was prescriptive about what to do with the materials, the other said (as below) “build and explore as much as you can about the materials provided”. We tinkered, and it was great fun re-purposing familiar materials into new things (the “thing” we made below lights up, not sure how useful it is otherwise, but we enjoyed our work)!

At TEDGlobal this year, we were also treated to talks on tinkering and making, with an interesting one by the co-founder of Arduino, Massimo Banzi. Arduino makes the cheap open-source microcontroller, a small programmable computer that has launched a thousand projects (like the DIY kit that sends a Tweet when your beloved houseplant needs watering.)

Another TEDGlobal speaker, Ellen Jorgensen, talked about her do-it-yourself biotechnology lab where you can walk-in and do biotech research in a community lab like GenSpace (where you can “hang out, do science and eat pizza.”) TEDGlobal itself even had its own MakerSpace where you could do your own DNA extractions, among other things. I wrote about my bio-molecular self-assembly experience in TEDGlobal2012: What’s Going On Right Now?

I will keep that word “Howtoons” right in front of me on my white board. For inspiration, and to prompt me to combine, recombine, mix and mash my learning tools with each other or even very different things – whether its cartoons and how-to advice or others (and I’m sure I can think of a way to use that Turkey Baster Flute in my work…some how…)

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Building Peer Learning Into Mega-Events and Conferences

When Conferences focus on plenary speakers and traditional panel sessions these days, some of us might feel that our experience could be better if we wait until they are available on YouTube. Any ticks or flubs are edited out, and the video camera inevitably has a better seat and vantage point than we do in the audience. And you know exactly how long each intervention will be -and we can pause, repeat or even skip those that are not quite what we’re looking for (of course we need to be open to surprises too).

But when Conferences have exciting peer learning and interactivity built in, then no longer are you are just one person watching a string of speeches from a relatively uncomfortable chair, knowing that you are shoulder to shoulder with probably some of the most interesting people in the world in your field – although due to this format there’s no way to know it. What if you were a part of the Conference? Or even, you were the Conference!

Running World Cafe’s, Open Space Technology Sessions, Peer Assists and Carousel Discussions, and Fishbowls are some of the activities we recently ran at a large conference of some 16,000 people. Those took facilitation. However, there are lots of things you can do that don’t take that kind of support and still build up the peer-learning opportunities at a large-scale event.

So, what are some of the ways that big events help feature and build its participants into the Conference?

What if you ask people to pick a button that somehow illustrates how they are feeling at the moment?

Not only is that a conversation starter amongst participants wearing them, but imagine that the button dispensers are tubes that create a physical bar graph of how the whole body of participants (or at least those taking the cool buttons, which seemed to be everyone) feels?

What if there is a tablet built into the wall where particpiants can take a photo of themselves and write on a message about a commitment they will make?

and then use the images to make a wall of these…

What about a simple graffiti wall and lots of coloured chalk?

Or if there are a number of different thematic streams to the conference, what about producing different colour ribbons for each and letting people choose and wear them around their wrists or bags, so that in the thousands of participants, you might more easily bump into and recognize someone who is interested in the same theme as you are?

And then how can you know if you can actually speak that person’s language at a large international event? What about language buttons that people can choose and display on their lanyards (we wrote about doing this at a conference of 8000 people – very popular initiative to support communication, and be surprised at what languages people speak – How to Start Conversations Among 8,000 people.)

What interesting interactive elements have you seen at Conferences that use their fascinating participants as a part of the overall learning experience?

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Badging: The Future of Learning?

Our team (LEAD and Project Wet) just competed as Finalists in the DML Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition which was sponsored by Mozilla Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. And while we ended up unfunded winners this time, we greatly enjoyed the opportunity to create a badging project together that we intend to pursue.

But what is badging? And what gives it potential for enhancing learning in the future?

As a part of the Open Badges Project, an open source infrastructure is being created on the web that will serve as the ecosystem for a wide range of electronic badges that many organisations can issue and display.

Now how much jargon did I just use to try to describe this? Let me try again…

Imagine that you take a course, online or in person, that gives you some skills in systems thinking. At the end of it you have the choice of a certificate in paper, or an electronic badge. You choose the badge. What do you get?

The organisation that ran the course is the “Badge Issuer“, and they have a set of criteria that you have to meet to get the badge. These might be that you 1) showed up, 2) engaged actively in the conversations, and 3) passed a little assessment test or did a project that showed that you understood and could use the new tools and skills (or maybe just that you showed up).

So now you qualify for a badge. The Badge Issuer sends through a message to the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) run by Mozilla, and a badge comes back directly to you (the learner) in a “Badge Backpack” which is a personal online space where you can collect your badges. At this point you might only have 1 badge for this systems thinking course in your backpack. But the backpack is there now, and you can take other courses and get other badges that will start to fill up your online backpack.

Now what can you do with your badge? There will be a number of “Badge Displayers” who will let you post your badge on their site. These are sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, your website, WordPress, and job and recruitment sites. As the learner you have complete control over where you post your badges. They don’t show up automatically anywhere, and you can manage them, delete them, or put some here and there.

So what does the badge do? Some badges that you might already be getting on FourSquare or other sites are mainly icons, or pictures of your achievements (like being the first of your Friends to go 4 times in a row to the same coffee shop). The OBI badges would have more data in them, so that when you clicked on the badge you (and anyone who sees them displayed) would find out more about what you had to do to get the badge, who issued the badge, and potentially what your “score” was on the assessment.

This all a part of the “Metadata” that is “baked” into the badge. Metadata means that when you click on the badge you would get a small screen that would give you and anyone who views it this information – it is effectively a gateway to evidence about your learning. There would be a “Criteria URL”  which would give people the criteria that you had to achieve to get awarded that badge. It might be that you just needed to show up (but maybe you flew 10 hours to get there, so that was a real achievement), or that you had to pass a test by 75% to get the badge. All of these things would be the same for anyone who had that badge.

The second URL that would be baked into the badge could be an “Evidence URL” which would be different for each person who got the badge. This would be the evidence that you produced during your learning process – such as the title of your systems thinking project, or your individual grade (you only needed 75% but you got 95%).

All of this would be embedded, or baked, into the icon of the badge. It would also remind you of what you did to get it.  All of this would be a part of the badge that would come flying into your badge backpack. The badge issuer would have built the criteria into the badge before you came into the systems thinking course, and then added your evidence once you were done. Voila you have a badge!

Why badges?

We are learning all the time. We learn on the job, we take additional courses, we learn through mentoring and coaching. There are so many valuable ways that we augment our capacities, many of which go completely undetected by our peers, teachers and employers (current and future). Children learn important life lessons through extra curricular activities, but these do not show up on their grade cards. College students learn about collaboration, project management and negotiation through their courses, but these do not show up on their transcripts (although they might be the most important qualities for a new employer). As adults, we might include on our CVs that we are good managers, or have good people skills, or are are excellent communicators, but potential employers have no effective way to check this and we have often have no opportunity to prove this to them – no real evidence to show.

And these skills, through our badges, can travel with us whereever we go – our personal Backpack will stay with us. And while we might have started it during our school years, we can keep and add to our badges throughout life as an electronic portfolio of achievements that we can keep to ourselves or share.

In the future, employers might seek certain badges for specific positions. A certain mix of badges might qualify you for an internship. You might want to change your career path without going back to university; and launching a concerted effort to work on and achieve a number of badges in relevant competency areas might be what it takes to prove that you are qualified to make that shift.

Badging inspires some heated debate – detractors talk about the comodification of learning, and about the impact of moving from intrinsic and extrinsic motivations for learning. Proponents point to the empowerment factors – that badging allows for self-regulation and more democratic learning and it provides a cost-effective way for people to get an education. All interesting indeed.

This is an experiment, and from the sounds and efforts that the Open Badges community is making around it, one that will get a good run while people tinker around with the concept, build the ecosystem, and start issuing their badges. By this time next year, you might have your first one…

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Congruence in Event Design: When It Tastes As Good As It Looks – Learning from #TEDxEHL

We just helped put on a TEDx event hosted by the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) on the future of hospitality which had a string of amazing speakers exploring “ideas worth spreading” from how our human spaces will increasingly interact with us, how to put together an unlikely “SWAT team” to solve a problem that needs innovation, why thinking like a novelist can help you create the perfect cafe, meat as the luxury item of the future, why if there is no nose there is no fun…and more.

With a topic like hospitality, and an audience filled with EHL alumni, partners and others for whom the hospitality industry is their bread and butter, no only did the talk selections have to be surprising – the curation aimed to scope future surprising trends from other fields such as neuroscience, storytellers, gamers, flavour science, anthropologists and innovation engineers – but the surroundings also had to step up to the plate  (ok, that’s baseball, but think porcelain in this case).

And, we were in one of the most famous hotel schools in Switzerland, so that gave some excellent grounds for innovation.

For the coffee break, it would have seemed odd to have just coffee and biscuits, so the school served at their coffee break hand made icecream in delicious popcorn flavour, in white wine flavour, and caramel which they made with liquid nitrogen right in front of us and served in tiny dishes. 

They also capped every coffee with an intricate design in chocolate which they did at amazing speed.

For the reception, the students created a special TEDx cocktail which was red and delicious and and matched with an equally interesting and flavourful tower of mini “icecream” cones filled with a mousse of truffle and foie gras.

The whole event was a full sensory experience, the ideas were exhilarating and, of course, the hospitality was excellent!
(PS. Find a running commentary of the event and key speaker ideas on Twitter at #TEDxEHL or with the tag TEDxEcoleHoteliereLausanne)
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Making Meetings Meaningful – Greatest Hits from an Organization’s Learning Department

In doing the research for a participants’ guide for the Facilitation learning programme we’re launching with a partner next week, I found a nice “greatest hits” collection that we made of some of our blogging reflections on the topic of making the most of internal meetings.  These posts were written from inside a large organization’s learning department and give some insight into the internal dialogues, learning and engagement processes (all kinds of meetings and gatherings) that institutions convene to help work through issues and generally get things done.

I am delighted now that we captured our learning at the time in this format – a blog- and wrote it with the spirit of creating “reusable learning objects” (I was always banging on about RLOs in the organization, now that I am actually reusing them I am delighted!)

This collection of 18 posts is organized below (with summaries and links) into the following categories that explore aspects of how to Make Meetings Meaningful:

  1. Purpose
  2. Positioning, and
  3. Process (e.g. design, implementation, reflection) 

1) What’s the Purpose?

Are we having conversations that matter?
How are the conversations our organization is having changing the nature of relationships and the way people, groups and societies around the world are thinking and behaving? In other words, to what extent are our conversations bringing about the change we seek and helping achieve our objectives? And how can we continue to improve the quality of our conversations to better ensure that they matter?


What Is the Purpose of ‘Free Coffee Mornings’?
What value do weekly free coffee mornings have in fostering staff networking and informal learning in our organization? We decided to explore the opinions of others in our organization on this topic, through a short questionnaire. Many staff commented on the exercise itself, pointing out learning about how to make the most of free coffee mornings in the future to engage with staff, about how enthusiastic staff are to express their opinions, and the importance of ‘social spaces’ and time for team-building and collaboration across ‘silos’.

You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?
What are some of the different purposes of a Staff Meeting?

-To update and inform staff members of activities in the institution
-To profile people who have done good work and let them share their reflections
-To maintain transparency and an open environment for sharing
-To bring staff together for a shared experience once and a while
Have you ever been to a great staff meeting? What was it about the meeting that made it useful, interesting, and made you excited to go to the next staff meeting?

Post: You’ve Just Been to a Great Staff Meeting – What Happened?

Networking – In or Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Monday afternoon, a two hour session was held titled, ‘Learn Something New: People and Networking’. The objective was to not to provide a taught course on Networking, but do create an environment where people can share and exchange about networking, and do it at the same time. … Some suggestions were offered about how we can do more networking, and how we can help create work environments where networking and interaction is one of the key objectives. Longer coffee/lunch breaks? Open spaces in the agenda for interaction? Introductory sessions which serve to connect people and help them build relationships?

2. Can Meetings be Used for Positioning?

In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk”?
We’ve all heard of “walking the talk” – but what of “talking the walk”? In our day to day conversations, how do we “talk the walk” and reflect the core values employed in our work?… Our conversations can serve to enforce or discredit our messages and ourselves in powerful and lasting ways. Walking the talk is imperative. Talking the walk is so important too. People notice.

No Such Thing as a Pointless Question: The Impact of Simply Asking
The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way. With our questions we get people to focus on something – what is that thing? What is our purpose of the question we are asking and what impact will it have on the way that person and the room think and feel? If people go in the direction you question them, where do you want them to go?

Me and My Multiple Intelligences. We and Ours.
In our organizations, what are we doing to make sure we interact in ways that address diversity of intelligences and learning styles? And how can we engage the multiple intelligences of our colleagues to best answer this question?

3) How Effective is our Meeting Process?

a) Design and preparation

How Old is Your Knowledge?
Workplace learning is 20% formal and 80% informal. Informal learning is an interesting combination of reading, internet surfing and search, audio-visual inputs, speeches and presentations, meetings, and conversations in the cafeteria, corridors, and on the bus. For the most part in these activities learning is quite accidental and not a deliberate objective. There are learning opportunities around every corner. What are you doing to structure your informal learning?

What Kind of a Discussion do You Want?
It is thought-provoking to hear people come away from discussions that they have lead and say, “Why do you think people reacted that way to my ideas?” Another question they could ask might be, “What could I have done differently to develop a generative discussion rather than a debate?” … If one sets up an academic situation, then people will be happy to react as though they are in one! Rarely do people throw a professor or a keynote speaker for that matter a soft ball…

A Courtroom or a Concert?
If I was going to run an important meeting, which environment would I want to create? How would I want my participants and speakers to feel when they left the room? What would I want people to get out of it? Would it be a zero sum gain, or would it be a step of a creative, hopeful process? When I sent out my next invitation for the group to meet again, what would be people’s reactions? Would they be excited that their favorite group was holding a concert again? Or would they dread the eyes of the jury?

Bottoms on Seats – How Do You Make That Memorable?
People travel to the venue, they walk into a bustling and colourful conference venue (exhibitions, restaurants, meeting spaces, and all), then they walk into their first of many small workshop rooms and basically sit there (different small rooms of course) for 75% of the conference… We spend a lot of energy thinking about communication to conference participants and the media around the event to make it colourful, interesting and engaging; how can we make sure that this does not stop at the workshop door?

Leveraging the Wisdom of Crowds in our Organization
Next week, our organization is hosting a week of meetings, bringing together in headquarters senior staff from our offices around the world. During these meetings, how smart will our crowd(s) be? How smart could it/they be? As session organizers, what can we do to make our crowds as smart as possible – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future?

Lights, Camera, Action: Working with Star Speakers
Here is a lesson that I absolutely need to learn as a workshop facilitator: No matter how well you brief a plenary speaker who is a subject matter expert, they will go over the time. … Plan for it in as many ways as possible, especially by allocating substantial discussion times (even after they get cut down) so that this critical part of the learning process is always there to help people follow your star.


b) Implementation

Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We Just Went to a Great Staff Meeting – What

Happened? (Reprise)

We decided to use our own communications unit meeting to generate additional creative ideas, and then to share them with the team who is responsible for our staff meetings… Here was our question: You just went to a great staff meeting – you left excited, energised and hopeful. Tell us – what happened? We first worked in pairs to create our stories, then shared them with each other. Here are some of the ideas that emerged.

Ballroom Learning and Large Groups: Using Socratic Questioning
I am sitting in a hotel ballroom with 140 people at a conference titled, “Capacity Development Strategies: Let the evidence speak” and the level of some of the participants has dictated a certain room layout and format – we have a head table with four speakers and 140+ people sitting shoulder to shoulder behind tables in the room… If learning is the goal, and this formal room layout is a given, how might we best work with this format for optimal exchange?

What Exactly Are You Facilitating?
I have had a few people ask me about the value of facilitating other people’s workshops. What does that contribute to the grand scheme of things? The overall goal is not to just to move people around a room for a day. A good Facilitator is a process person with their eye on outcomes and learning – there is reason for every interaction, what is it and how can a process be designed that makes those conversations easier, smoother, and more productive? After all, facilitation comes from the Latin word “facil” which means to make something easy. Good facilitation means making group dialogue, decision-making, information sharing, and learning processes easier and more effective for everyone: your workshop hosts, your participants, and yourself.

c) Reflection and follow-up

Helping Other People Do Great Work
How transferable was my experience last week and what can it prompt me to learn about how to help our guest speakers do great work for us at the upcoming workshop? What more could I do in the next few days that could make all the difference for a first-timer, to create an environment where people are proud of their contributions, others appreciate it, and generally helps everyone do great work?

Dialoguing about dialogue
“Listen to one another with your full attention. Think about what is said, how it is said and the intent behind this. How does it make you feel – physically, intellectually and emotionally – as a participant in this dialogue process? How does it make others feel?” There is still much to explore and emerge about the role of dialogue in change processes. Along the way, how can we replicate such experiential approaches in our own institutions for collective learning about the important role of dialogue in change?

I found it interesting to look back, now that I am working from the outside and don’t always have seamless, day-to-day contact with such micro-learning processes, to remember how valuable it was to capture this nuanced process learning through a blog. Even after some time I find the learning very clearly reusable.  
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By-the-Numbers: The Power of Math in Group Processes

Sometimes the math behind learning and collaborative events and processes is pretty impressive. For example, I used the slide above in my intro at a recent multi-Stakeholder event.

  • 198 was the number of people who had registered to attend.
  • 12 was the number of hours each of us would spend in session over the two-day workshop.
  • 5.5 was the number of hours that we would be on breaks (coffee breaks, lunch and receptions) prime time for informal networking (about 30% of the total, not too bad).
  • 2,376 was the number of person hours in total that we would be working together – which adds up to roughly 59 person weeks/or over a year of work (with no holidays!) 
  • 16.5 is the number of hours that it would take if everyone spoke for 5 minutes in the plenary, one after the other with no breaks (and no podium/panel speakers).

The last point is especially provocative from a group process point of view, and interesting to point out – if the group is large, and the format is plenary, and if you want to hear from everyone (because for example its a stakeholder dialogue), and everyone feels they have to speak in the plenary to be heard, it is a zero sum game.

With the math it becomes quite clear and a powerful rationale for both (a) design decisions such as adding into the agenda all kinds of small group discussions, pairs discussions, talks to your neighbour after a speaker or before a plenary discussion (and maybe some good capture tools if you want to collect these thoughts). There simply are not enough hours available for everyone to speak in plenary; and (b) on-the-spot facilitation decisions such as helping people understand that they need to be brief and concise in their interventions from the floor and also from the front (panel, podium or other). This way if the facilitator selects someone new instead of someone who has already spoken, even if they are literally jumping up and down, an understanding of the math may help foster some understanding and patience with the process.

Invoking the math can also help people gain a greater understanding of what is being invested (e.g. 2,376 person hours) and also what that might cost if it was monetized. It also speaks to what can be accomplished if that time is used most productively (design again – do you want it to be spent listening to speakers?)

Do the math, it can be a powerful intervention for all – participants, organizers and learning/process designers!

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Learning with the Business Model Generation’s Canvas

Synchronicity. That is the best word I can come up with to describe my first introductions to ‘Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionairies, Game Changers, and Challengers’ – simultaneously via my neighbours the Ortelli’s who know lead author Alexander Osterwalder and rightly thought it was a book I would love, and via my Hub Geneva collaborations with Patrick Keenan of The Movement who’s partner Alan Smith led the handbook’s design. Thank you all!

It aims to help people understand and methodically address the challenge of business model innovation. It addresses the questions:
How can we systematically invent, design and implement powerful new business models?
– How can we question, challenge and transform old, outmoded ones?
– How can we turn visionary ideas into game-changing business models that challenge the establishment – or rejuvenate it if we ourselves are the incumbents?

Not the typical strategy or management book, it is designed to convey the essentials of what you need to know to work with business models quickly, simply and in a visual format. Examples are presented pictorially and the content is complemented with tools, exercises and workshop scenarios you can use immediately.

Having incorporated the core tool – the Business Model Canvas – in a couple of workshops, there is plenty of learning to share. So here I write up some of my own process notes to help anyone else interested in using the Canvas in a workshop setting when time is limited. It is a very participatory, learner-centred, peer-learning approach.

Using the Business Model Canvas in Workshops

1) Set Up: Mount a very large Business Model Canvas (approx. 6 flipchart sheets) on a wall. Mark on this the block names: Customer Segments; Value Propositions; Channels; Customer Relationships; Revenue Streams; Key Resources; Key Activities; Key Partnerships; and Cost Structure. (See sample in photo above.)

(If you are dealing with ‘Beyond Profit’ business models, you may like to add also Social and Environmental Costs; and Social and Environmental Benefits as described on pp265.)

2) Understanding the Canvas Blocks: Having prepared ahead of time an A4 sheet for each block – on which is written one question that best guides people in determining what content goes in each of the canvas blocks – ask participants to randomly pick a sheet (e.g. place them face down and ask them to select.) Depending on group size people may get more than one or may share one between a few people. Ask the group to read silently the questions on their sheets and consider which block the question relates to. Once they have a good idea, ask them one at a time to read out their question and suggest where it belongs. The rest of the group then says whether they agree or think it belongs somewhere else, and – once there is consensus – stick it on the wall-mounted canvas.

For example, for the block ‘Customer Segments’ the question on the corresponding A4 sheet may be along the lines of: “To whom do we offer products and services in response to their problems / needs?” Continue until the group is satisfied that all the questions are in the right blocks.

Already the group is actively engaged in establishing understanding of the different Business Model Canvas blocks, and participants are helping one another learn about it along the way – rather than listening to an ‘expert’ present it to them.

3) Detailing the Features for Each Block: The next steps also require some advance preparation. This time it is post-it notes (or ‘stickies’); lots of them! For each block, write up a handful of examples or prompts, drawing from the material in the handbook if desired. For example, if we take Customer Segments again, we know from the previous step that we are looking for clients to whom we are offering products and services in response to their problems / needs. In this step, the post-it notes might include: mass, niche, segmented, diversified, multi-sided, and so forth – with a brief explanation of each. Take the group of related post-it notes, and stick them to an A4 sheet labelled with the block title. So for each block on the Business Model Canvas you an a sheet of prompts.

Repeat the process for step 2, asking people to choose a sheet and then determine – as a group – where the post-it notes belong. Note that these prompts are not necessarily the answer to the question “To whom are we offering products and services..?”. Rather they just provide a means to better describe the business model, so we can say, for example – “we offer our services to X, a niche market…”

4) Designing Your Business Model: Once the the group has constructed this canvas, complete with questions and prompts, it’s time to dive into working through an example. I like to divide the group into small teams and have all these teams work on describing a “business” that is known to everyone – such as their own! Then when they present back, consider where there is agreement and where some divergence is present. A great launch pad for the next step – considering what the business model could be!

I hope this helpful. Perhaps one last thing – the ISBN: 978-2-8399-0580-0. Happy Modeling!

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Make your business cards “Moo”

As learning practitioners, we are always looking for new ways of engaging people and helping people learn. When it comes to helping people learn about what we do, we have a handful of cards up our sleeve. Moo cards. We love them – and we think that you will too.

Moo cards = business cards with a difference. Ours are mini; only half the width of a normal card. We have 50 different designs in full colour on both sides. We created them ourselves on the Moo site. And they are printed on paper that is sustainably sourced, as well as acid and lignin free.

Each of the 50 designs features one of our photos. Each highlights a diverse aspect of our work – so if someone is beckoned by our blog they can have a business card with our blog on it; if they are seeking systems thinking and crazy about causal loop diagrams – hey presto, a card to match; or maybe they want to get their fingers on some of our favourite books… a card featuring our bookshelf!

Of course, we also enjoy saying “here, take a look and take your pick”. They get a photographic tour of what we are all about. We see some great conversations sparked and engage in great two-way learning. And of course, they get a great card they chose (and chatted about) which means they are much more likely to remember us and keep in touch.

Go a step further and we can design our business cards into our learning and facilitation processes. For example, if we want to divide a group into teams for group work, we could hand out a selection of our business cards (ensuring that there is the appropriate number of duplicated or themed cards) and use them as the means by which the group organizes itself into teams. They pay attention to our card – which has a valid purpose in the process – and they get to keep it afterwards, which means less work networking after!

These are just some reasons why we love our Moo cards. Visit the Moo site and subscribe to their creative newsletter for stacks of ideas helping you to help others learn about you.

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Swimming in the Sea of Learning Resources

I am currently working with a team focusing on biodiversity conservation and assessment to “makeover” an existing training curriculum into one even more interactive and learner-focused. As a part of this process I offered to put together a selected list of resources, from the raft of those available, that are particularly useful to me in this kind of work.

As trainers, capacity developers, learning practitioners, and facilitators we have before us a veritable sea of interesting tools, techniques, and even toys that have been developed to help make our events successful and enjoyable (yes, we have discovered a learning space where we can have fun and learn at the same time!)

Because this sea is vast, we each have our own parts that we prefer. And our selection of what we bring with us may be different every time – we might dip in and out, or we might dive deep into one area or another. It’s always varied, to keep both us and our co-learners fully immersed and engaged. What follows are some of the places I go to find inspiration (many I have written about on this blog and in these cases I will link up the posts or the tag).

Of course I always approach an event from the point of view of its learning objectives. Once those are clear, how you achieve these is an exercise in building an agenda or process that will, as much as possible, bring people out of their everyday discussions into a vibrant learning zone. Try…

I use “games” frequently in my learning work, whether they are quizzes (see: Want to Learn More: Take this Quiz), experiential learning processes (see: An Appetite for Experiential Learning), or introduction games (see: An Amazing Group of People), or others. I find they help tap into the natural curiosity of learners and participants. I have written quite a bit about using games (see the tag: Games), and I frequently use the Thiagi Gamesite for ideas and for ready to use games, as well as Thiagi’s books, such as this one on interactive lectures, for when you can’t avoid a presentation. I adapt games, create new ones (see: Make a Game Out of Any Workshop Topic: The dryer the better), and get ideas from other trainer’s games. Brian Remer and The Firefly Group have a nice website and Games newsletter called the Firefly News Flash, for example. I also use the games of Dennis Meadows, such as Fishbanks and Strategem in my work, as well as the Systems Thinking Playbook (NB: We are writing a new Systems Thinking Playbook on Climate Change right now that should be published by GTZ in the next months.)

Discussion and Co-creation Techniques
There are so many wonderful tried and tested techniques and processes available now with which people are getting more and more comfortable (facilitators and participants). I’ll list a few of these here along with some of the blog posts we’ve written about our learning using them. What is also intriguing, once you get really familiar with them, is to mash them up! This helps them be even more suited to the particular needs and interests of your group. Among these is Open Space Technology, developed by Harrison Owen which has a whole community (OpenSpaceWorld) of connected users (see: Opening Space for Conversation (and Eating Croissants)). We have enjoyed learning about and using World Cafes (see: Our World Cafe: Kitchen Table Conversations for Change), and this methodology has also gone global with a useful website (TheWorldCafe) full of its own tips and resources. We have built numerous Conversation Cafes – into our sessions (instead of holding them in cafes). These are slightly different than World Cafes – they are hosted and build conversations without people moving tables.

Specialisations to Add
To a good interactive learning base, you can add some special features to your event (warning: with too many it starts to become full sensory overload). The selection also depends of course on your goals and objectives. What about Storytelling (see: My Point? To Be a “Story” there Must be a Point)- story circles, featuring cases as stories, etc. Anecdote from Australia has a wonderful website showing how you can “put stories to work” and a good newsletter by the same name. Check out their learning White Papers for interesting applications and how to’s. We also have a tag on Storytelling on this blog.

Improv Comedy and Theatre
I love the idea of adding Improv comedy or Theatre activities, especially if you are working in leadership, presentation, conflict resolution, teambuilding or just to spice things up and get the group thinking more creatively. I have been to a couple of Improv Theatre application workshops and have experimented with adding this to events (try to go further than role play.) (see: People Buy Adjectives). John Cremer gave an excellent workshop at last year’s European IAF Conference on using Improv and his website gives more ideas about how to use it for creative thinking and presentation skills learning. If participants need to give presentations as a part of their learning event, why not start with a little interesting improv training on this?

Visual Facilitation
There is a great deal of nuance here around graphic facilitation, visualisation, graphic recording etc. which I lump together as “visual facilitation”. The bottom line is that real-time visuals are created to capture the discussion and activity threads of your event. (see: Making Memories: Improving Your Impact Through Visualisation, Slam Poetry and More). We have worked with a Danish-based group called Bigger Picture, who are members of a larger, global Visual Thinking community called VizThink. We have contributed to visual murals at Society for Organizational Learning Conferences, worked with cartoonists at several IUCN events, all with great results, tapping into visual learners, and giving an extra dimension to our work. Visual facilitation works best when time is given in the session to have participants co-creating, developing personalised icons and talking through what is being visualised.

Systems Thinking
This is one of my personal passions – using systems thinking tools for learning. We have experimented a great deal in applying an approach that might initially appear to be too complicated to introduce in a short workshop. It does have a specialised vocabulary, a number of graphic tools and a set of conventions. We have a tag on this blog devoted to using systems thinking (see: Systems Thinking) which features posts on using it for strategic planning (see: Building Capacity in Systems Thinking: Want More Amplification? Don’t Call it Training), and exploring ways to help learners pick it up and use it in experiential ways (see: Working With Systems Archetypes in Learning Contexts). Systems thinker Linda Booth Sweeney has an interesting site devoted to systems thinking learning and storytelling, and has developed a useful systems thinking resources room.

And So Much More
You can actually find inspiration all around you for making your learning events more meaningful, more engaging, more powerful. Look everywhere (see: When I Was a Game.) Why not do your reporting back after group work borrowing from the current trend in micro-lit? (see: Micro-Lit: Too Wordy, Try it Again or the longer Trendspotting: Micro-Lit and Other Applications) or have all your presentations time in at 6 minutes and 40 seconds because they are given as Pecha Kuchas (see: Taking the Long Elevator – 13 Tips for Great Pecha Kuchas). This great technique helps speakers get to the point by putting all of their inputs into 20 slides, auto-timed at 20 seconds each. Presentations in general can have a myriad of formats – even PPT can be replaced by Prezi (see: Preparing a Presentation? Read this Praise for Prezi) or any other number of innovations (see: The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting and Mashing for Facilitators).

Send your working groups on a walk, use the cafeteria or hallway for a session, make cool job aids (get inspired for your handouts by David Seah’s Printable CEO series.) Pull one of your main presentations up into a webinar (see: Look Behind You! The Webinar Facilitator’s Non-technical Checklist), or instead of a live speaker, find an excellent TED Talk video which presents the content in an engaging 15 minutes (see: On My Way to TEDGlobal).

Through this process you will “Learn how to speak agenda” and will be able to both design for interest and impact, and also to write up your agenda like it was a menu at a restaurant. Think of yourself as a diner, if you got this menu (agenda), would you want to eat at this restaurant (or attend this workshop?)

And Finally (although I think this beach is endless)…
A recent book by the World Bank called The Black Box of Governmental Learning, which I am reading right now (download it for free from their website), starts with an interesting history citing the progression of learning in this domain  -governmental- although I find it widely applicable from my experience. It talks about the change from expert-driven learning which is lecture-based with limited interactivity, to the newly evolving paradigm of learning with each other. The tools and techniques that I list above can help makeover a learning event from a one-way teaching model, to one where everyone jumps into the topic together.

Such a long list might seem indeed for a trainer or facilitator like jumping in at the deep end yourself, and yet you can wade slowly into this sea of interesting learning tools and techniques, until you find your own favorite place(s). Good luck! Fellow trainers and facilitators, please add your favorites in the Comments section below!

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Working with Systems Archetypes in Learning Contexts

Systems Thinking Learning: Stand Alone or Integrated?

This year I have been working with LEAD Europe (Leadership for Environment and Development) to integrate systems thinking effectively into the leadership curriculum. Last year, I contributed a stand alone module to the LEAD Training (Using Systems Thinking: How to Go from 140 PowerPoint Slides to 2), and think that this year’s more integrated and incremental approach is much more effective, not least because with case-based training you have real content to use as examples and group work.

This year, in the first of the two LEAD Europe week-long training sessions, I introduced the overall concept of systems thinking, and two diagramming tools – Behaviour Over Time Graphs (or Reference Mode Diagrams), and Causal Loop Diagrams (or Feedback Loops). And we used lots of systems games to illustrate the points, I even created a new one called the Flash Mob Game.

The second LEAD Europe session just finished in Brussels earlier this month, and during that week the systems learning focused on Systems Archetypes. This is the first time I have gotten that far with systems thinking learning with a group, usually I only have time to get through the diagramming tools, so it was learning for me too!

10 Systems Archetypes and Where to Learn More

There are some very good resources about systems archetypes. I really like this paper by William Braun titled, The Systems Archetypes,  and the online resource Archetypes: Interaction Structures of the Universe by Gene Bellinger to list two.  These ended up being good references for the work that groups would be doing on this topic.

I could not imagine anything harder to understand and do something with, than me standing up for 1 hours and giving a lecture about the most common systems archetypes. According to Braun and Bellinger they include (sometimes the names differ slightly):

1. Limits to Growth (Limits to Success)
2. Shifting the Burden
3. Drifting or Eroding Goals
4. Success to the Successful
5. Escalation
6. Fixes that Fail
7. Growth and Underinvestment
8. Tragedy of the Commons
9. Accidental Adversaries
10. Attractiveness Principle

These names are intriguing, seem simple enough, although not completely self-explanatory. Still, using an hour of time to go through them, their generic structures, examples, and the insights thay they give sounded too passive and abstract to be useful to the learners.

Using Peer Learning, Even for Complex Issues

Over the time I had worked with this interesting cross-sectoral group of LEAD Associates, I had seen them to be real self-starters, and still maintaining a helpful stance towards one another. We had worked hard to create a collaborative co-learning space in this programme (rather than a competitive environment). So instead of “teaching” on this issue, I decided to support them as they made these archetypes meaningful for themselves. I started by giving a brief high level overview (e.g. what are they and why they can be helpful). To reinforce the message about paradigms, mental models and habits -which may hinder you from seeing the systems around you – I used 3 short systems thinking, experiential learning games (Colour/Flower/Furniture: See post How Deep Are Your Neural Pathways?), Pens, and Arms Crossed (watch Dennis Meadows run this game in the video Change is Difficult.

Then I put people in six randomly assigned (e.g. pick a card) groups, gave them some background resources, a flipchart template to fill in (see above photo), and had them pick a slip of paper with one of 6 of the archetypes written on it out of a hat. The groups were then given 45 minutes to create their own description of the archetype, give some examples of where they have seen these patterns in real life (including the context of the full-day simulation that we would be conducting on Day 4 of the training), give some insights about what one can do when you spot this particular pattern or archetype, and finally draw a Causal Loop Diagram that illustrates the concept. Each group then picked the name of an archetype out of my hat and that was their archetype for this exercise. They went outside and went to work.

What ensued was really peer learning and team learning: They used the handout resources, explored understanding, corrected any language or comprehension mis-matches, and told stories as examples from their own experience as well as from the case study of this module (the EU carbon emission targets) which was also the basis for the simulation.

When they returned to the plenary, they presented their archetypes and then answered questions/comments from the group, their peers.

When we started, no one had any experience with systems archetypes. However, by the end of this session (2.5 hours) they had a very deep understanding of one (and how it worked, and where it could be useful), and a good understanding of the others, as they listened and talked to their different peers presenting the explanations. For them, I am convinced that this was much better than sitting in chairs and listening to me talk and show them slides of 10 of the most common archetypes. In this scenario, they would not have had the practice identifying and using them.

Using Systems Archetypes

When I designed this session – self-taught systems archetypes – I wondered if it would work. I was pleased that it worked so well – the examples were excellent, the whole thing was personalized, and I could simply intervene to add stories or correct things, as needed. I had time to help groups that might have been stuck, and question them in ways that would get them to think about the issues at a different level.

To reinforce this learning later in the week, I offered a prize for anyone who used or referred to a systems archetype within the context of the simulation. Interestingly, I found many examples of how systems and the archetypes were being used. As a reminder of our archetypes, we kept all the flipchart explanations/diagrams in the room for the rest of the week.

I could have made up a job aid that described in that way all the archetypes, and simply presented it. But this way, the self-taught approach – with participants making their own set of personalized “job aids” for future use – turned out to be an extremely effective way to transfer messages and learning about systems archetypes.


How to Go to TED (or at least TEDGlobal)

(Note: I went to TEDGlobal this year in Oxford, so this is written from my experience, and may be very different for the other TED events.)

Going to TEDGlobal was like jumping into an icy stream, or swimming in Lake Geneva at 4 degrees C. It took endurance, a little craziness, and provided that kind of a wake up and direct reconnection with so many of life’s support systems. That for me was the WHY, here is the HOW…

T is for Technology

To connect with a TED event, the main port of entry is through the TED website, which is interesting all by itself as it features links to the “riveting talks by remarkable people” videos from past TED conferences that we know so well.  If you want to explore joining a TED conference, there are four now – the TED Conferences link will show you where applications are currently being accepted (yes, you do have to apply to go to a TED event). The four include the Long Beach, California TED, TEDActive in Palm Springs (simulcast of the Long Beach TED), TEDGlobal in Oxford, and new this year, TEDWomen. There are also more and more TEDx events around the world, which are independently organized TED events.

It must be said up front, attending a TED event can be a rather expensive proposition, an investment you could say, with published prices ranging up to USD6000 for the Long Beach main event. Having said that, there seems to be a lot of variation in what people pay, and some ways to join an event that are supported, such as through the TED Fellows Programme (there are Fellows and Senior Fellows). You can also try to make an individual case for a reduction, this has worked for some in the past. Another option is to gather a small group and follow simultaneously one of the events online through a TED Associate Membership, at a reduced rate. We had a group of participants in Kenya following the TEDGlobal event; at one point they hooked up a video link and we exchanged a “Hello!” with them from the Oxford Playhouse.

If you decide to apply, the electronic application form is available on the TED website. You will want to spend some time on this: the questions are provocative and are the main way that the selection team assesses your application if you are not known to them. A key word for TED is “curation” (a curator is content specialist responsible for an institution’s “collections”. ) So everything from the chemistry of the participant group, to the framing of the talks, is highly managed and choreographed.

Once you are there, at the TED event, a notable “T” stands for Take your Toys. You will see people tweeting, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, you name it, from the event – either live during the talks from the back row of the auditorium (audibly enforced), or in the simulcast lounges set up for spill over and for this purpose. The amount of e-chatter that comes out of the events through every technology imagineable is amazing. You can take a technology holiday yourself, but will still want some way to capture your thoughts as they roll through your head at 200 miles an hour over the week-long event.

E is for Education
(Actually, it is officially for Entertainment, but Education speaks more to me!)

There is a lot to learn, both at the TED event and prior to it. Before you get there, do some “self” learning –  you will be asked the question “Why are you here?” by everyone you meet, and if your answer is not satisfying enough, you may be asked it twice. Look deep and be ready with a good, authentic answer to this question. This is not just why are you at TED, although that is also interesting to people, but Why are you on this planet? (This was something I noticed on my first day there which I blogged, “TEDGlobal: Why Am I Here?) This conference is full of social entrepreneurs, angel investors, many people with great ideas to share – their answers to this question are fascinating.  After all, TED is about ideas worth spreading, make sure you have yours ready.

There is also quite a bit of information on the TED website, which merits attention (probably more than I gave it in the busy weeks prior to the event.) There was an interesting matching exercise, which identified 10 other participants that you might like to look up. I did have a few people find me, and should have printed my list! If I was doing it over again, I would have spent more time with the online participant list (there was none printed) to identify people that I wanted to find and meet from amongst the 700 attendees. There was a tag wordcloud produced (we each picked 5 tags for ourselves for our profile), which could help narrow down the participants to some groups of interest. These tags were also printed on the helpfully large name tags (11cm x 19cm). No matter who they were, everyone was incredibly accessible, and the TED community norm was definitely to approach anyone for an introduction and a chat. There was also much waiting-in-line-time (more this year according to veterans) as lines formed in front of the Oxford Playhouse for main stage sessions. I would go much earlier to queue up than the 15 minutes recommended to get a good seat, if that matters to you, and the Lucky Dip of wait companions in line make it all the more worthwhile.

Finally, educate yourself about your baggage limit if you travel by plane; you will get a pile of big books and a TED gift bag (more like a napsack) of many delightful and sometimes bulky items like Mike Dickson’s Please Take One* (One Step Towards a More Generous Life), a bobble, a handy Rhodia notebook, BBC Earth Life on DVD, more films and books and technogadgetry, even a magic wand, by far the most talked about inclusion, from The Wand Company.

D is for Design

Design expresses itself at TED in many different ways. There is of course the content about design, as well as the overall stylish design and curation of the event, and all the satellite events. I noticed design in a few other simpler places. For example, if you like people watching at airports, you will just love doing this at TED. The great part is that you can walk up and talk to these passers-by, versus watch them on their way to Gate 48. You can also afford to be yourself with this group, you don’t need to pack that conservative kit that you might take to a normal conference. Nothing is too unusual for this crowd. I enjoyed talking to The Retronaut at one evening reception, creator of a visual time-machine, who in addition to having a fascinating story delightfully looked the part.

Other often hidden innovative “design” elements that I noticed included titles and labels, and business cards, to name a few. First of all, everyone was a Founder, Owner, a Maker or a CEO. There were also bio-inventors, creative directors, and rational optimists, voting system designers, plant neurobiologists, whistleblowers, humourists – what do you call yourself when you are doing something that not many other people are doing?

And then what about that business card? They were being exchanged fast and furiously. One artist I met specialised in invisible paintings, and she wrote on her business card in invisible ink (the kind you need to hold to a lightbulb, I hope my CFL will work!) Another green designer worked only in bamboo, and his business card was printed on a thin slice of this favorite material. A staff member of Foursquare.com invited people on the back of her card to “Collect all 6” (and presumably she would have been happy to give 5 more if someone had asked). Another staffer of a company that traded in (presumably happy) digital labourers sported a ’50s black and white photo on the back of his card provocatively asking you to find, “How many happy people in the picture?”

How to Go to TED

These are some of the things I thought were interesting to keep in mind if I went to TED again, or which might be interesting for others who are considering, or going, for the first time. Overall, I thought it was a wonderful experience, and I’m happy I went.

I came away in awe of the imagination of humanity, at the creative pioneer spirit. And definitely benefitted from the refreshing paradigm-shifting that undoubtedly results from repeat practice (like 100 times in 5 days) in thinking laterally about just about everything.

One thing I would definitely do differently next time and would encourage first-timers to do – I would apply to speak at TED University, where participants apply to speak on stage in shorter increments (there are even 3 minute slots), to share their work and thoughts. That would add to the stress a little, and also greatly add to the benefits of going to TED.

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Learning from Best Practice: What Can You Do With That?

(Note from me: This (rather long) post was inspired by my partner in this exercise who challenged me to try to blog about our own process reflections. It seemed congruent to frame it as a “How To” – so this is my learning about learning!)

In many project documents and programme concept notes you see mention of building on or using learning from best practice. But how exactly do you go about collecting this, and in what form can you use it?

Identifying Patterns

We recently finished a 6-month learning exercise at a large international NGO which explored this issue. It focused on learning from a number of experiences in the last 10 years in a newly developing area of partnership work for the organization – providing independent advice for businesses on biodiversity conservation in their operations. The HQ programme manager saw some patterns developing that she thought would be interesting to capture, organize and make available for other colleagues around the world who were interested in adding this kind of work to their portfolio of projects.

We were also curious to see if there was a way to describe some of the common components of the processes that were being used as models that made them more easily transferable. And we wanted to learn from the Project Managers living and breathing these experiences about what worked and what they might change, if they did this again, in the different stages of their process. These included areas like governance, communication, contracting, etc.

Don’t Shelve It! (Why to Collect It in the First Place)

In this case, there were several reasons for collecting best practices:

  1. To help understand more about staff member’s work in this new field and to make it visible;
  2. To provide Project Managers doing this innovative work with an opportunity to reflect on their process and what they are learning, and to document this;
  3. To provide interested staff members with some basic “how to'” information, as well as to connect them with a set of experienced colleagues to whom they can go for advice; 
  4. To develop a set of models – in the form of diagrams, generic steps, and actionable insights –  that help to lightly organize the experiences (which developed organically in many cases). These model descriptions can help staff and potential partners more strategically choose from amongst them when a collaboration opportunity arises, and also help this new practice be more effectively communicated internally and externally.

The learning exercise therefore had two target audiences – staff members (both running these partnership projects or interested in starting them); and potential new partners. The first was considered to be more important at this stage as a focus of the learning exercise. As these are very different audiences, two separate products were designed as vehicles for the best practice information collected – a “How To” learning document for staff, and a promotional brochure for potential new partners.  The first one took 6 months to write, and the second took 1 day.

Do It in Steps: How We Collected Best Practice

A. What Makes for Best Practice? Identifying the Cases
One of the first steps in the exercise was to identify the cases that would become a part of the learning and analysis. We found that we did not need to worry about how to categorise “best” cases (by anyone’s subjective standard) as in every case Project Managers could pick out aspects that were working very well, and could also always pinpoint things that could usefully change or had changed for various reasons. Good practice was a better frame as it exhibited itself in every case we analysed, whether in setting up the project Advisory Board, how stakeholders were integrated, developing strategic reporting time lines, or using formal team building. Each Project Manager had innovated in interesting ways, and also had naturally come up against challenges. In some cases, they had effectively solved them for each other, but prior to this exercise no format existed to capture and exchange on these items.

We started with 10 cases and ended up using 7 of them for various reasons. We tried to get a variety of experiences from different parts of the world that were well established (i.e. had been going for some years, or were nearly completed) and for the most part well-documented. Each however had something in common, they worked with a new business partner with a specific goal of providing independent advice for biodiversity conservation.

B. Creating an Opportunity for Reflection: Gathering Information
For each case, although for most cases there was lots of descriptive documentation on the web, it often did not include process information. It was mostly framed as reporting details and quantitative data. We did use that as background, but our main input was conversation based, using Appreciative Inquiry stems for questions (e.g. focusing on what is working). So Skype or face-to-face interviews with the Project Managers and, in many cases, other delivery team members external to the organization, were built centrally into the process.  We focused in the interviews on what people thought worked very well and what could be different to make the experience even more successful. Creating an opportunity for reflection, we asked about learning along the different stages of the process, from preparation/set up through delivery, to reporting. And, because this was a newer area of work for an well-established organization, we explored perceptions of risk. We specifically asked for Tips for future project managers who might be running a similar exercise, and on the qualities that Project Managers needed to have make the project successful.

C. What’s Bubbling Up to the Surface? Developing the Model
It was only after all the cases had been written up, that we could step back and try to understand what some of the commonalities might produce in the form of a generic model or structure. In the stories of the Project Managers there were definitely repeating elements, process steps, even challenges. Some features were shared across all the cases, for example, all had some similarities in sequencing of process steps, all had a governance component – an external Panel or Steering Board that helped the advice given be truly independent, all were set up with some form of formal agreement between two organizations even if a larger number were involved. Across these common elements much good practice was exhibited.

Other things in the cases were clearly different, and what became apparent as we looked deeper, was a framework model that included the goal of the process, especially the depth of outcome desired – was the change on which the project focused a remedial action (e.g. trying to fix something in a specific location like a lake, harbour or protected area?) Or was it aimed at much broader social change? This was linked to the level of intervention – a field operation, a company, sector, supply chain or society. Each of these in turn had an optimal level of stakeholder involvement. We plotted the categories of projects and the individual cases along these lines to see what we would get.

What this analysis produced was a useful tool, a diagram, which collected the different kinds of experiences in one place, based on their key features. It effectively organized the diverse experiences in a visually interesting way and could be used as an aid to guide an exploratory discussion with new staff member or with a potential business counterpart.

D. Pulling it All Together: Producing the Best Practices Product
The “How To” Learning document was an exercise in synthesis. Although we had collected a binder full of data, and held hours of interviews, the result had to be a crystallisation of the learning. In the end, the main body of the document was 22 pages of text with diagrams which included an overview of the main categories we identified, each with a set of steps for implementation, tips for setting up and managing the processes, communication lessons, and a discussion of potential risks and management options. It was in the Conclusions section that we introduced the model that situated all the experiences into relationship with one another based on the features mentioned above (depth of outcome desired, stakeholder involvement, and scope of intervention). The case studies and resource documents were alphabetised in the Annex, along with a matrix snapshot of the cases in terms of their exact cost, time frame, managers, and level of public disclosure. The cases studies were also referenced throughout the document in the form of a three letter code, set up as a key at the beginning, so that for any tip or process step, readers could refer back to a real example in one of the case studies.

A Challenge We Faced in Developing Best Practice Advice

Even though the framework model was a key intellectual input into the learning exercise, we chose to put it in the Conclusion. This decision was based on what we found as one of our key challenges in this overall best practices process.

Innovation in organizations can happen in many different ways. A new idea or practice can be developed centrally and then tested in different locations/conditions to see how it works. The lessons can be gathered and analysed. This more top-down process exhibits a certain amount of standardisation at the onset, although different contexts will see practice gradually diverge from the first model. Another way, however, is more bottom-up. Some internal or external opening or trigger (policy change, global change, etc.) sparks new practices start to occur organically in different places and these experiences start cropping up in parallel to one another with very little horizontal interaction. They each understandably develop their own vocabulary, labels, and a proliferation of process peculiarities. If at this point you decide to undertake a learning or best practices process that includes some sort of meta-model development – which need a certain level of harmonisation of labels and a set of common concepts – then you might find this a little more challenging. You can still find incredibly useful best practices, and will get to be creative about the categorization and labelling of these.

In the end, each case we explored was indeed unique, and at the same time, their goals were very compatible, which made for a rich value-adding exercise to look across them and understand what makes for best practices, so that they can be shared, communicated, and used for continual improvement through learning in the future.

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The Capacitator: I’ll Be Back

Trainitation, Facilitaining?

When Lizzie and I went through the Certified Professional Facilitator process, there was a Trainer (with a capital T) in our group who didn’t get through (e.g. didn’t get certified). There was a clear division between training and facilitating to which the assessors were incredibly sensitive. I remember myself, in one of the oral interviews, getting caught out providing a rationale for a facilitation choice that was more about learning than about strictly moving the process to its product end. The IAF facilitation competency is to “minimize the influence on group outcomes”.

Of course this is highly contextual and I can completely understand the need for complete neutrality in facilitation. And at the same time, what an opportunity a face-to-face get-together provides to help a group develop – to learn to work together and make them better, stronger, faster in their tasks. Especially if the group will be working together again in the future. And if people go to many meetings (and so many people do), and they get enough of this “learning” through their facilitated events, they will become Super Team Members, versed on group process, and practically emerging facilitators themselves.

Building learning into facilitation seems an excellent way to build the capacity of a group to handle its own dialogues, discussions and processes in the future. And it takes some directed learning built in to do it. I definitely observe in colleagues that we have worked with repeatedly in this way develop, over the years, an increased attention to process detail, to interactivity, relationship building, and to the design part of a meeting.

This does eventually put you out of a job as the facilitator, and I think that is fine. It depends on your goal of course – if your goal is to help advance the community generally, then adding learning into your facilitation is a good way to optimise investments made in meetings. And it still takes a while, and gives you an interesting metric (slightly counterintuitive). If you are watching closely and notice that one of your partners is gradually bringing their process design and facilitation in-house, and you are getting less call-outs, or perhaps get drawn in more for coaching team facilitators, then this is a sign that your facilitation is building capacity. As long as the team knows you are there for them and can always come back to support their process as needed. This development can only be a good sign, if you are a Capacitator.

(click on the arrow below to see what I mean…)

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The End of Boring: Borrowing, Adapting, Mashing for Facilitators

I had a design conversation this morning for a one-day workshop that featured 10-15 participants each individually presenting project ideas, one after another. How do you make that interesting (after the third one)? Why not a pecha kucha or an Ignite (the tag line is “Enlighten us but make it quick”)?

Both are presentation techniques with origins in the design and IT world which give presenters 20 slides on autochange at 15 seconds (ignite) or 20 seconds (pecha kucha), for presentations that total no more than 5 or 6 minutes. Both are now global phenomena, yet far from being household words. Pecha Kucha has a good website with samples, and here’s one using Pecha Kucha for sustainability. Some good videos of Ignite presentations are on the Ignite Oreilly site, with more on Igniteshow).

These techniques shifts the whole emphasis refreshingly onto the story and the images and makes it much more fun and creative. One website said, “This is not your father’s PowerPoint presentation.” It all might sound intimidating, but even bad ones are really good (or at least funny and only last 5 or 6 minutes anyways.)

So there are new ways to do presentations, there is also new software for that. Lizzie wrote recently in our blog about Prezi, and what about Keynote that I recently heard enthused over by a super smart 11-year old attending a workshop with his mother (a reaction to the slideset no doubt). In fact, there are 40 listed in wikipedia under presentation programme from AdobePersuasion to VisualBee. It probably has never crossed your mind to try anything but PowerPoint, but if you only have 6 minutes to present something or if you want to get people’s attention in a long series of presentations (or just a long day), it might be worth trying a new format.

Or what about a completely new format for the workshop itself (or at least Day 2)? We have written about using Open Space Technology in the past (see our post Open Space for Conversation and Eating Croissants) and how that technique helps to organize and support learning. There are a range of Unconference techniques that are being used (many again conceived in the IT sector, and often focused on sparking innovation and creativity enhancements). I heard at last year’s Online Educa about the FooCamps and BarCamps that started 5 years ago and promoted as “user generated conferences”. Again the content is brought by participants, and schedules are generated by those with ideas to share and develop with others. A typical FooCamp schedule board looks like this (lots of intriguing titles – I like the scribbled out session called “Howtoons” – I would have gone to that one.)

Again, the objective is to provide those people who seem to have at the top of their Job Description: “Go to Meetings”, with a new and refreshing frame. A 2006 article about this was explicitly headlined: Why “Unconferences” are Fun Conferences: Unconferences – meetings organized on the Web or on the fly – are becoming the no-b.s. alternative to industry gabfests. The mention of “organizing on the Web or on the fly” comes from the fact that many pride themselves in being organized in less than a week, and are “evangelised” or promoted using mainly web tools. Some recent social applications include CrisisCamps held to promote relief efforts for the Haiti Earthquake. They are also short, with one day or half day formats, and a panoply of parallel, one hour sessions. (And perhaps also a driver for the creation of Ignite or Pecha Kucha type presentation formats).

All this is still a lot of talking. What about having a whole session where no one talks at all? Maybe something like a Dotmocracy session could be a calming and still productive way to spend an hour after lunch. I have seen this done for evaluations, but not as it is described here as a way to gather inputs on a specific idea. If you look at the template, it is obvious how you can use this for brainstorming, and you don’t even need those sticky dots that can be a pain to cut anyways. This looks like something that could also work with very large groups, similar to the Camps and Pecha Kuchas described above.

Maybe I am oversensitive to boring. And yet, there are productivity gains to be made from spicing things up, speeding them up, tapping into enthusiasm and creativity, and cross-sector learning from the IT sector – not just from their methods, but also from their eternal willingness to borrow, adapt and mash things up. And for Facilitators, boring is not what we want to pop into people’s minds when they think of our work (I was going to say “is the kiss of death” but that sounded rather unappreciative). At least there is no shortage of intriguing pathways to explore, these are just a few, if we want to help try to bring an end to boring.

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An Amazing Group of People: Have a Party, Play a (Social Learning) Game!

Last Friday night I went to a birthday party that a friend of mine threw for herself. It was a nice group size, 10 women, that she had drawn from various of her different social groups. Because of this diversity, everyone knew somebody, but no one knew everyone, except for her. So she decided to play a game, as a way to bring the group together and get conversation going.

At the beginning of the party, in front of the fireplace, we all sat together searching around for things to talk about with one another, work, school, family, our origins – the usual conversation suspects. Going on in parallel, as people came in, my friend would hand them a small piece of paper and a pen and asked them to write something about themselves that was interesting and that the others might not know about them, and give it back to her. The first reaction in almost every case was, but I haven’t done anything interesting! Stumped, people held on to those papers until the very last minute when they would finally write something down and hand it back.

My friend put all the papers aside as we started dinner, and indeed there was one conversation going at one end of the table about school, and another at the top of the table about another topic, and a few people like me in the middle trying to listen to both, but not quite managing to jump in. At that point, getting our attention, our hostess announced that we were going to play our game. She told people that she was going to read one of the statements and that the table would have to guess who had done what. People laughed nervously at first, apologetically restating that they had simply not been able to think of anything very interesting. Then we started, my friend began reading the statements one at a time….and… within minutes we were in an uproar, bursting with laughter, incredulous with disbelief!

This amazing group of people had been all over the world and done remarkable things – someone was being quietly paid to go by train every Friday up to Gstaad one of the world’s poshest ski resorts to teach flute lessons to a couple of students living there (we never found out who they were), one person had competed nationally in Latin Dance competitions and danced in stage shows, another person had a long list of movie stars that she had bumped into (some literally) in New York City and great stories to go along with these, someone else had worked as a forensic DNA research specialist in Costa Rica and mesmerized us with the story of CSI-like drug-related murder that she had worked on and helped solve.

What a completely different conversation we had after that! No more super small talk, there was no going back.

With that small game, not only was the conversation brought together, giving us a shared experience, it also produced an opportunity for us to connect with each person individually, making finding further conversations topics a breeze. We also quickly went to much deeper quality connections, and more memorable ones. I will probably never forget these things I learned about these women, and when I see them next I will be able to reconnect with them in a much different way thanks to this relationship building shortcut. It was a service to social learning too, knowing more about what people do and can do, if anyone asks me for a good music teacher, I know where to send them.

This game also created lots of good energy, and that relaxed people who did not know one another. It helped us share things about ourselves that we are proud of, but that would have never come up in a normal cocktail party conversations (like taking blood samples from dismembered corpses), and gave people a real sense of accomplishment; we all left feeling much more “amazing” than when we arrived. Remarkable what a little social learning exercise can do!

If you want to do it yourself, here are the game instructions:

Materials: Squares of paper (1 per person – make sure they are all the same), pens, a bowl to put them in.

Time: 3-4 minutes per person playing.

Game steps:

  1. As people walk in give them a slip of pepole and ask them individually to write down one thing about themselves that is interesting, and that people in the room may not know about themselves. Don’t give them any examples (they won’t really need them), but you can ask them to think about their past, their home or work life, etc. Tell them NOT to write their name on the paper.
  2. Collect the papers and fold them over; put them in a bowl or hat.
  3. During dinner, or when everyone can listen and see you, announce the game and pull the first paper out of the bowl. Tell the person who wrote it not to announce themselves until someone has guessed, or the group is stumped.
  4. Read the first paper, and start the guessing! When the person has finally been guessed, ask them to talk a little about their experience, ask about context, or for a short story (this is where the good stuff comes) and let the group focus on that person for a time before going on to the next paper.
  5. People will naturally keep track of how many they guessed correctly – if you want you can have a small prize for the person who got the most correct.

Variation: In a workshop setting I use this game just after lunch or on Day 2 or 3, as on the first day if people really don’t know one another at all, they will not be able to guess. If people do know one another somewhat, you can move the game up in the agenda. With a larger group, I mix up and number the cards, and then at the start of the game, I ask people to take out a piece of paper and number it from 1 to 15 (the number of people playing), and I read through all the papers first with no out-loud guessing, simply asking people to write down their guesses. Once I have completed one reading, I go back and read them again in the same order (thus the need for numbering!) and this time, we guess and then move into the wonderful sharing and storytelling as people get to tell more about what they can do and know.

Whether at a birthday dinner or in a workshop, you just never know what a gold mine of experience, stories and knowledge you have with you in the room, until you ask, and then let the evening be naturally taken over to learning about your Amazing Group of People.


The Changing Face of Learning – It’s Here!

I have just finished writing the report for a very interesting study aimed at a reconceptualising a large organization’s Training Division into a Learning Division, and exploring what that might mean for its structure, task orientation, skill sets, and correlated processes and policies. It was a fascinating exercise in both retrofitting and growing new functionality in the division, all the while maintaining ongoing delivery to support the institution’s goals and objectives.

My report had a number of suggestions which were very much informed by all that I am seeing and experiencing in my work with various organizations and teams, and hearing in related communities of practice, about the changing face of learning. The first three suggestions were:

* Moving from Training to Learning
* Blending Formal with Informal Learning
* Exploring New Learning Technologies

Today, synchronicity (and a good network) provided a number of useful resources that capture these trends, and help substantiate these suggestions in a succinct way; so I thought I would share them here (on our 300th blog post!).

The first was an interesting LinkedIn slideshare called The Changing Face of L&D which was posted recently by Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies and Jay Cross’ Internet Time Alliance. This was a presentation to the Learning Technologies 2010 conference in London, and shares in a neat visual way how the social media revolution has precipitated a social learning evolution. (Thanks to Michael Randel for sending that!)

Then I read today’s Chief Learning Officer e-news, which featured an article by Agatha Gilmore titled “Tweet This: Creating a Social Networking Strategy” which helps organizations reframe their question from “Should we address social networking?” to “How will we address it?” It also offers some good suggestions for CLOs on the policies that are needed to make this addition to workplace learning work best.

And finally, a spirited discussion on the LinkedIn Chief Learning Officer Group mentioned Josh Bersin’s December 2009 white paper on “Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2010: Predictions for the Coming Year” (which I just read today), which includes 12 predicted strategies for organizations this year including, “We are shifting our focus from e-learning to We-learning,” and “Learning Management Systems will continue to evolve into talent and information learning platforms, and Collaboration Systems will become hotter. Other learning tools will continue to grow.”

There is a lot of noise in cybersphere about all this, and (full disclosure) I am definitely an advocate. If it is indeed here, now there is definitely some work to be done in our organizations and businesses to think very practically about what that means for our existing work in capacity development and learning. Thankfully these do not sound like distant, frontier concepts anymore. They are right on our doorsteps, waiting to be invited in.

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Warning: This Post is Rated PG (Practitioner Guidance Suggested)

I am writing what’s turning out to be a very long report that’s thinking about the evolution of training into learning. And I’m very much enjoying the late night research part, which flicks me serendipitiously through many of the grainy midnight channels of the World Wide Web, as well as into some brighter and more highly produced mainstream offerings.

Last night on my channel surfing, I clicked onto Jay Cross’ newest article on Chief Learning Officer called, “Dirty Words” and have not stopped thinking about it. It wasn’t the title that got me, it was the story, of course.

It was a cautionary tale.

There is indeed something deliciously self-perpetuating about a new field of work, once you can get past the nay-sayers and eye rollers, into a set of early adopters who can help to develop the shared vocabulary, the group of interconnected concepts, the specialised actions that can be attributed to “practice” in the field.

These people start to move ahead with it. They spin off a set of correlated concepts, further definining the field, making distinctions and boundaries that set the new off from the old. There is a sense of identity of the group, and a set of short hand terms and labels emerge. You can get pretty far into it before you notice that the buzz is contained in a small (but hopefully growing) group of practitioners. The attractiveness of the cache sits rather uncomfortably with the kick you get from proselytising the new message (dooming you to putting yourself out of an elite job, and into a historical role as one of the First).

That is what I hear Jay Cross talking about in his article on Dirty Words. As learning and informal learning, rather recent in their more specific usage (several years, short in the grand scheme of things) has developed this far, with its pantheon of leaders, its specialised journals, its sub-themes, and key words. In his article Jay reminds us how other people in our institutions (those with the money as well as the need) might hear their learning teams talking and what they think when they hear some of our accepted buzz words.

I am writing my report, fully pro-learning and full of venacular for me, to an audience that has yet to be convinced (not about learning, but about the subtle difference between what we are talking about now and what went before – such as training and capacity building.) I say “A Field is Born!” but they might hear it as “#$%^&*!”. This advice from Jay is coming at a good time. When I go back through my report, I will have to remember to use my PG filter (Practitioner Guidance Suggested).

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Don’t Be Afraid of Fun in Institutional Learning

The title of the next Chief Learning Officer Webinar I’ve signed up for is called, “Corporate Learning in 2010: Social, Mobile, Collaborative, Engaging and Fun.” I was interested to find an example of this – of how informal learning at the organizational level can be just that – here near Geneva last week.

I had lunch at WWF International in Gland, Switzerland, last Friday where they were just completing a Learning Week that featured five packed days of learning exchange from “How to take a good photograph” to hot topics like the Water Footprint on which WWF is working. When I walked into their offices at lunchtime I could feel the buzz – sessions were going on all over the building, often five in parallel, all internally sourced. Internally is defined broadly here, as some external people were presenting and running sessions too; these external people however – from globally recognized Business Schools and multi-national corporations – were all WWF partners who had taken the opportunity to contribute some of their knowledge to this organizational learning extravaganza.

Fun and learning are not mutually exclusive, as we all know, although having fun in the workplace is not what we have come to expect. It is refreshing to see how that synergy of informal learning and fun can open up space for real connections both at the content level and interpersonally, that can then lead to productivity results afterwards.

As I left, prizes were being given away by senior management for the best presenters, to the person that attended the most events, and so on, in the wrap up of this Learning Week. It no doubt ended with the same energy with which it started – Day 1 of the agenda featured a Staff Quiz, all about the institution and its work. Eight teams turned out in Fancy Dress (I hear), to compete in rounds towards the champion position. Team scoring was done by Senior management. The Pub Quiz format was about institutional learning and exchange, and also ticked the fun box for team development and relationship building. As a Learning Week launch it no doubt served as a wonderful icebreaker for the open discussions and cross-silo-fertilization of ideas that would no doubt follow such an activity.

Reducing “power distance” in organizational hierarchies can also be treated through fun – a staff party where Senior staff bartend, as WWF had, might demonstrate the service orientation of the highest level of management, not to mention model some of the acute listening skills that bartenders are well-known for (and not just for drink orders.) In addition, everyone was invited to submit a session idea, again taking decision-making out of the hands of a few and into those of many, now co-creators of the content.

These are the kind of clever decisions that have important and subtle effects.

Whether skills building or learning about one another’s programmatic work, event titles on the five-page agenda, featuring over 75 events, were innovative too (“Herding Cats 101” building facilitation skills, and “How to manage your energy, not your time”), promising fun and interaction and not just a barrage of PowerPoint. (In fact, guidelines sent out in advance requested reduced reliance on PPT). Even the physical spaces that were used made that in some cases impossible, I saw a hands-on session happening at a clutch of computers in an open space area, others were in the Visitor’s area – unusual spaces for this kind of exchange that signaled something different than business as usual.

Why not host an in-house learning event/conference that is a provocative mix of formal and informal peer-learning which is interesting, useful and most importantly fun. It takes some courage to put on such an event, but the opt-in, staff-built programme with lots of choice no doubt helps people tailor their learning needs to their own interests, and allows them to learn much more about and from their peers through the shared format of fun.

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Is YouTube Making Training Obsolete?

I was not too sure about this until I watched a YouTube video that helped me do something I had never done before (make a video with my computer’s integrated webcam to post on my blog), now I think YouTube is going to give technical training, at least, a run for its money…I might have actually taken a training course on this…

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Follow the Leaders: Sharing Jay Cross’ Collected Wisdom

The recent Online Educa International Conference on Technology Supported Learning and Training featured a stream of fascinating workshops in and around informal learning that was organized and facilitated by Jay Cross (author of Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance.)

I attended a number of the workshops in this stream, that started with a session called “The Great Training Robbery” and included others such as “The New Era of Corporate Learning Unconference” and a Pecha Kucha Mini-Master Class (my first exposure to this cool presentation technique). (Note for conference organizers: Titles are everything when you have 10 parallel sessions to choose from, plus the ongoing pull of the cafe or bar for networking; this stream had some of the most provocative titles and they lived up to their promise.)

Today, Jay kindly sent around to participants of his workshop stream a wonderful set of links to all the rich content and out-front thinkers who contributed to his sessions and said, “Feel free to pass it to others.” So here it is, a veritable cornucopia of fantastic stuff about learning, well worth exploring for new ideas and to get a feeling for where some of the leaders in this field are heading:

Session: Informal Learning + Web 2.0 = Social Learning Breakthroughs

  • The Cluetrain Manifesto, the important book for understanding web culture;
  • Jerry Michalski’s video interviews with Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman (who challenged transport planners to look again at the way people and technology relate to each other);
  • Enterprise 2.0, important new book by Andy McAfee;
  • CIA Blog & Wiki Vision by CLO Carl Andrus;
  • Toolwire, David Clarke IV’s company;
  • Jerry’s online Brain and tweetstream
  • Jay’s Research Page and Articles
  • Jane Hart’s eLearning Pick of the Day
  • Jane’s Social Media in Learning
  • Pecha Kucha Mini-Master Class:
    Recordings of our first four Pecha Kucha sessions on YouTube.

    Session: The New Era of Corporate Learning

  • Internet Time Alliance, the folks running the workshops
  • Charles Jennings’ blog
  • Jay’s blog
  • Kevin Wheeler’s Global Learning Resources and blog, Over The Seas
  • Kevin’s Corporate University site
  • Jane’s Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies
  • Jay’s notes on Unmeetings and Open Space Technology
  • Jay’s Research Page
  • Online Educa Learning Video Festival
    The video listing is at http://bit.ly/8XPDsB

    Faculty (Gillian: I added the links here)

    All of these experts make multiple resources available for other’s to use, whether its a daily reviews of learning tools and news on their blogs, Delicious pages, Flikr accounts, Podcasts, YouTube videos, and Twitter feeds – all are focused on social learning, walking their talk, and making it easy for others to follow some of the leading thinkers exploring this growing field.

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    The Two-Day Total Twitter Immersion: Using Twitter for Social Learning

    Many people do not see the point of Twitter. I know this because I counted myself as a proud member of this large, non-plussed group until a few days ago. We had followed the hype and set up an account, followed some people (quickly stopped following some people), Tweeted a few times to see how it worked, and then thought, “so what?” Nobody tweeted back to me, most of my “followers” didn’t know me, and it felt a little silly to be sending these cheeps out alone.

    Using Twitter in a conference setting however completely changed my mind about its utility and possible applications for learning.

    The Online Educa Conference was full of Tweeters. I know that because I spent a lot of time looking at the hashtag that was set up by the conference organizers (smart, they printed it in the front of the Conference Programme Catalogue in “Important Practical Information”.) A hash tag – like #oeb2009 – is a tag that people include in their 140 character Tweets that is searchable on Twitter. If you put the hash tag in the search box on your home page, any post that includes it will come up in an aggregator window on Twitter. So you can keep track of the whole conversation happening in real time, even if you are not following the individual people Tweeting (yet).

    Believe it or not, a big conference was a great place to be totally immersed in Twitter as it had so many useful applications at the event. Here is what I was noticing about how people were using Twitter for social learning in this setting (remember there were some 2000+ people attending).

    • At any time, there were up to 10 sessions going on in parallel and obviously you could only attend one, but you could count on the fact that a dozen or so people in each session were Tweeting the main points, and if one of those sessions sounded better than yours you could always split and go find it. Twitter helped make more purposeful the Law of Two Feet.
    • Speakers were using Twitter to publicise their sessions in advance (plenty of healthy competition with participants spoiled for choice). They also used Twitter to share their websites and papers. They even used them to announce changes to rooms, speakers line ups etc.
    • Being active and thoughtful on Twitter helped people gain visibility in a large conference. In vast plenary halls, no one could really stand out, and very few got to make their points publically, but on Twitter anyone could jump in with good ideas, and be rewarded with comments and engagement.
    • Participants were using Twitter to gather people together – for example plenty of Tweets announced snacks and discussion at a certain time at some stand in the Exhibition Hall, or at the bar. As one Tweeter lamented, “Shoot!!!…. i see i missed the Tweet meetup at the oeb bar yesterday…always good to meet tweeps in RL.”
    • In each session, there were assistants handing out paper feedback forms, but I noticed that not too many people were filling them in. I think they didn’t need to, people were giving real feedback to speakers and organizers on Twitter on everything from the quality of the presentations to lunch. One Tweeter wrote, “maybe we need an online course for silently closing the door!” (obviously sitting too close to some conference room exit).
    • Panel Chairs could use Twitter to gather questions from the audience. At least one Chair monitored Twitter for questions, that she then used to launch discussion when the panelists were done with their formal presentations. One Tweeter even asked his “followers” (not at the conference), “going to mobile learning session- mates of mine, any questions I should ask?”
    • People were using Twitter to be a part of the larger conversation and interact with many more interesting people. We noticed that we could talk to about 20 people face-to-face in the breaks during the two-day conference. However, we heard from and engaged in conversations with hundreds on Twitter.
    • Now, after the conference, Twitter acts as an archive of content through Tweets, with their links, ideas, and connections to a previously unknown group of like-minded people.

    Overall, I was impressed by how much Twitter added to my conference-going experience. It took me a while to get into it. I needed to install Tweetdeck on my I-phone before it got really easy to use it for all the things above. It took me some time to find my “voice”, make some personal policies about what, when and how I would engage with the community through Twitter. And suddenly, I wasn’t learning alone anymore.

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    Ahead of the Curve: This Year’s Learning Trends at Online Educa

    I just spent the last two days at Online Educa, one of the largest global conferences for technology-supported learning and training, held annually in Berlin. It is my third time attending and every time I return full of new ideas and a glimpse at the future learning trends through the eyes of some of the top thinkers, academics and techno-geeks. This year was no different.

    Each year there is some tool or topic that is capturing the excitement and imagination of the 2000+ participants. When I first attended in 2006 it was blogs and wikis, with many people enthusing about their experiences with these young tools. At that time we had just started this blog, so were eager to hear how people were experimenting with theirs for learning. Informal learning was also a topic with Jay Cross’ original book on this published.

    In 2007, the buzz was around real learning applications in virtual worlds, like Second Life (SL), which most people had discarded as playgrounds for slackers. Many formal and informal learning experts were exploring and exploiting their potential for all kinds of learning. Podcasting was also a hot topic, and mobile learning was a beginning topic of conversation then, but was being drowned out by SL avatars and a much bigger conversation about the quality and quantity of user-generated content. (I’ll never forget plenary speaker Andrew Keen -author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture- who was boo-ed for proclaiming to the audience of thousands of otherwise very polite internet enthusiasts that wikipedia and the internet was being written by monkeys, or something to that extent.)

    Trending this year were a few things: Tools like Twitter were not only mentioned in practically every session, but also was being actively used to extend the learning beyond the seminar rooms throughout the conference. All kinds of video application was also a trend, from having school kids use the video clips they took with their phone for show and tell, to the question of whether YouTube and its mega supply of how-to, just-in-time learning content might ever replace formal training. Mobile learning was also very big this year, with everyone doing it on their I-phones (or other, although I saw lots of them) as well as discussing the future of learning as being “hand held”. This was linked to an ongoing discussion about the coming of cloud computing, having everything in the “cloud” with ubiquitous access, where any user can access any content, anytime with their phone, PDA or even a TV. One plenary speaker heralded the end of “bulky” laptops, while holding up one of the smallest I’ve seen.

    I myself found it fascinating that I only turned on my own PC once the whole two days (and that was for a skype call to Sweden). Not that I was taking notes and talking instead, no, I was on my phone the whole time. I used it to Twitter the conference, used it to give feedback in sessions on Backnoise.com, to ask questions of other participants, to meet and interact with many people, and more. Instead of sitting down to write my blog posts, I micro-blogged the whole time (I would have never found the hour it takes me to write a proper blog post during that fast-paced conference.) And in doing got some experiential learning in “going mobile”, learning alot about this new handheld future, from many who do it so expertly.

    In fact, my last Tweet from the Conference was: “#oeb2009 Difference @ OEB for me this yr: Didn’t use my laptop at all- all interaction with mobile & found it great- Next yr no pc 4 me!”

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    11 Ways to Build More Learning Into Your Work Life

    Learning can be a useful accelerator for the work you do. It can help keep you motivated, let you experience your progress in a different way, keep you engaged with wider processes. So how can you build more learning into your work life? As a learning practitioner, I asked myself this question, and here is what I came up with:

    1. Ask great questions
    It is surprising how many people don’t ask any questions, or only ask rhetorical, obvious or yes/no questions. Try to ask engagement questions that people want to answer, questions that ask people to think and share. Ask questions of yourself (like I just did). For all of your questions, consider how you ask them – an approach like Appreciative Inquiry can help you refine your questioning practice (it even works on yourself).

    2. Listen for learning
    Listening is a companion to number 1: How often do you ask yourself as you go into a listening or a conversation opportunity, “What do I want to learn?” Answering this question can help you listen very differently and more deliberately. You can also ask yourself, “How am I listening to this?” This can help you explore your openness to learning at that moment, and to notice when you are most receptive to new ideas and messages (and when you are not).

    3. Be a better storyteller
    Storytelling has so many contributions to make to learning, as we have written about so many times. It helps take you through the process of packaging your learning for better recall and resuse, makes it easier to repeat/retell (thus further embedding it), and makes your learning more useful not only to you, but also to others, as you do the work for them to distill the most meaningful parts of some experience or learning.

    4. Start a blog/vlog
    For so many reasons, blogs help you be a part of the conversation (even if you are only talking to yourself). They provide an opportunity to notice your experience and a provide a virtual place to record it. Because it’s public, it asks for some quality control (through, say, number 3 above.) Its chronological organization and tagging helps structure your experience, so it can be used as a knowledge management tool. And I personally use it to strengthen my reflective practice, more on this below.

    5. Join a community of practice
    These can be physical, virtual or both. They can help you share and be shared with, providing rich opportunities for peer learning. They can be even more useful if you use them to practice some of these other learning tools, like asking great questions, and listening for learning. If you don’t find a community of practice that fits, can you start one? (Ning makes this easy for virtual CoPs.)

    6. Practice it
    Find opportunities to try something again. Maybe you went to a great visual facilitation workshop – how can you continue to practice that even if you are a beginner? As you sit in on a conference call, or in a meeting, can you doodle icons of the conversation process ?

    7. Move your learning into a different side of your brain
    Can you add an image to the theory, or link your learning to a physical experience that makes the point visceral? Can you draw a diagram that explains your thinking in addition to writing a paragraph about it? Can you move your learning from knowledge to behaviour change, from left brain to right?

    8. Notice/Map your personal knowledge management system
    If knowledge is a flow, how are you tracking the flows? What kinds of tools are you using to manage this flow – google is good of course, and what other kind of nets are you throwing out in the ocean of information to help you get the quality of inputs you need when you need them? In effect, what are you using as your personal knowledge management system? For example, do you have a list of the gurus in your field whose blogs or tweets you follow? Do you tag useful incoming content in your gmail or in a delicious account? Can you improve your email management system (e.g. through something like Inbox Zero?) Plenty of opportunities exist in the Web2.0 world of today.

    9. Be deliberate about reflection
    People use different means for this, and generally agree that they are more fully present for learning when they are actively reflecting on their experience. Capture, whatever your tool – journaling, blogging, songwriting, slam poetry – is helpful for many reasons that can be found in the points above. The choices you make about what to record helps to prioritise information, makes it more reusable and, depending on your tool, makes it available on demand for both yourself and others.

    10. Help other people learn
    In addition to the obvious social value of this, learning through teaching (with a small “t”, thus not necessaily in a formal learning setting) is a well known way to embed learning. How can you volunteer your learning to others and in doing so practice and progress your own? Every conversation is an opportunity to exchange, so you don’t need to have a classroom environment to help other people learn.

    11. Know your own learning preferences
    There are of course diagnostics around this, and I think one of the simplest ways to identify your learning preferences is to ask yourself some questions (and voila we’re back to point 1): “When was the last time I learned something new? What were the conditions that helped me learn? What was I doing? What were the people around me doing to help me learn? In what situations do I learn the best?”

    Learning happens continually, and still there are always opportunities to integrate it more powerfully into personal practice and team practice, even without a training budget. For example, just writing this blog post gave me an opportunity for learning, which combined many of the above. Once you get out of the formal learning environment it’s free for the most part, it’s relatively easy, and still, it takes a little thought, and perhaps a change in daily practice. The rewards, however, can be great – a boost in productivity, satisfaction, direct engagement with your topic, as well as an opportunity to strengthen yourself as a practitioner and further increase the value of your contribution to your community(ies) of choice.

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    Embedded Learning and Making the Bed

    Last night I participated in an excellent webinar run by Chief Learning Officer Magazine called “Metrics of the Modern CLO: Measuring Formal and Informal Learning“.

    (CLO offers a great series of free learning webinars, by the way, see the archived version of this webinar here.)

    The speaker was Josh Bersin, and he spoke about three kinds of workplace informal learning and how to measure them:

    1) On-Demand Learning
    2) Social Learning, and
    3) Embedded Learning

    He said businesses report that informal learning gives the greatest business value, with 72% of learning coming from on-the-job experience (stretch assigments, etc); on-the-job mentoring/projects/rotations; and coaching and peer learning. Only some 28% comes from formal training. He noted that informal learning was not fad, it was an evolution in workplace learning. Yet only 1/3 of organizations have learning and development programmes that reflect future talent needs (and that is in the private sector, I wonder what the percentage is in the other sectors – higher? lower?)

    This morning I woke up thinking about the third kind of informal learning. I am not used to seeing or hearing the words “embedded learning” and I needed a way to remember this, and here is the learning anecdote I came up with.

    Embedded Learning is the invisible learning on the job, feedback from managers, performance support from mentors and peers, and so on. It helps you on the job to learn as you go, in the context of your working community, rather than noticing something you need to learn and then going out to search for it yourself (this is on-demand learning).

    From June I started working from home. So that is my workplace, and at the moment I work primarily alone. Of course I have many virtual partners, and occasionally meetings in my home office. However, one person I do see weekly during my working day is the nice lady who comes in to help for a few hours. She just started just over a month ago, and we already appreciate her as a masterful mentor in her approach to family order.

    The first week she was here, the house was a jumble, and when she left the house was perfect. Everything that had been out on any flat surface was gone. Some things are still not found (library book, football socks, telephone list). The second week, it happened again. The third week, again, although slightly less was exposed. After a few weeks I noticed that just a few days prior to her arrival, things started to get put away. Now, the day before she arrives, everyone reminds one another of her imminent arrival. And like magic, order gets restored even before she comes. She set us on this learning pathway and it is working through embedded learning.

    This woman is a household manager and she is clearly giving us feedback. When she doesn’t like where something is, she shows us what she wants by putting it where it belongs (in her estimation). She models the kind of (workplace in my case) environment she wants us to maintain. It’s happening over time, and she is helping us make the change ourselves. This is embedded learning. There is no job aid or checklist on how to maintain this productive learning/working environment (on-demand learning) or no wiki where we are writing down where we are putting things (social learning). Although both of these kinds of learning might also be useful in the future.

    Today when my husband left the house he reminded me very seriously that it was Friday (implicitly, anything you don’t want to disappear needs to be moved now) – and this from someone who has not traditionally noticed anything below 1 meter. The mere mention of her name and my 8-year old is scouring his bedroom floor for precious items. This order mentor and household coach has been like magic. She has embedded new practices at the smallest unit of organization, although not through formal training, or setting formal systems into place. If she stays long enough, dare I say, this might be permanent; and eventually she could leave quietly and move to another family, like Mary Poppins, her work done.

    Once you start to think about it, you might notice embedded learning in other places around you. Today’s high turnover in organizations might provide an opportunity for embedded-learning spotting. In a workplace where someone has moved on, you might notice habits and practices that have changed as a result of someone’s influence, coaching, modelling, mentoring. That is, if they happened to be in tune with embedding learning, overtly or not (I am not sure the nice lady in my house is actively thinking about her household learning programme, although I may be wrong about that.) Not everyone operates that way of course.

    How you get people to operate like that is one of the keys to a learning organization. Then people can move in and out, and the learning is embedded, it stays and just keeps building and growing.

    Even if it is not the original person, with successful embedded learning, someone keeps making the bed.

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    Who Wants to Be A…Converting Game Shows to Workshop Learning Games

    For an event that combines product designers, technology experts and policy makers, you want to move into as many innovative “integrative” spaces as possible. That takes buy-in from all parties, as well as lots of courage!

    On Tuesday, the second day of a 2-day international conference on sustainable products and services in Essen, Germany, we took the familiar format of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” and converted it into “Who Wants to Be a Sustillionaire” (credit to the CSCP team for the title!) We used this modified format to do something interesting and new for plenary reporting on a series of 5 parallel workshops, in which 200 people from 29 countries took a set of project ideas to their next stage of development.

    Many conferences have a combination of plenary sessions and parallel workshops as a part of their design. The challenge is how to bring in the learning and outcomes from the parallel work back to the whole group in a way that is not a boring sequential set of oral reports from the workshop organizers.

    It’s an interesting decision about whether to do plenary report-backs at all. Really large conferences don’t bother. Medium-sized ones with community-building goals, often try. And it is a challenge for organizers and facilitators to do this in a way that is engaging and not sleep-inducing (heaven forbid adding into the mix the after lunch snooze-time zone.)

    One compelling reason to do after-workshop reporting, is that it ups the stakes in terms of quality outcomes. If you need to report back to 200 people what you accomplished during your 2 hour session, you put some extra effort into it and want it to be good. Another pro is that it promotes more authenticity in reporting, as you have your whole group of 40 or so participants in the room witnessing and hopefully validating your description of what came out of the event.

    So there are some good arguments around why to try to bring some of the flavour and learning from parallel sessions into a plenary setting. We decided to do it.

    So back to our game session, “Who Wants to Be A Sustillionaire”. We thought it would be interesting to get each of the Project Incubators (the titles of our parallel workshops) to give us two questions, in the familiar multiple-choice format of the game show. We would combine them all into one game round which would be delivered by Powerpoint in the plenary after the conclusion of the parallel sessions.

    On each slide we had the question, and then an A, B or C choice. The next slide had the same question with the right answer highlighted. There were 10 questions. Each question was asked to the audience by the game host (in this case it was me), and their answers were collected in different ways. After some of the questions (at least one per workshop) I asked someone from that particular Project Incubator, either an organizer or participant, to tell us a little more about the question’s answer and in doing so some of the results of their workshop.

    It was ambitious, we got some laughs, and good humoured responses. In retrospect, I would do it again. Here are some of the things I learned about the conversion process, converting the game show format to the learning format, that I would consider next time:

    What I liked:

    1. I could administer the game from the audience, I had a lapel mike and walked through the audience as I asked the questions which were shown on the big screen at the front of the plenary. I also had a hand mike, so I could either ask the group to respond, or I could ask individuals the questions. It made it more spontaneous.
    2. The quiz was at the end of the conference, so I knew many people by that point, and when I needed to pick an individual to answer a question, I knew who might be happy to answer a queston in front of a group of 200 people, and who might add a little extra humour to their answer.
    3. I thought 10 questions was about right, I would not have wanted more (perhaps a few less, but generally, the 10 questions went pretty quickly).
    4. I thought it worked well to collect the answers in different ways. For some I asked the audience to stand if they thought it was A, B or C; or asked them to raise their hands; or ask individuals. I could also lightly play on the ask the audience, phone a friend etc. (although no one took me up on the latter). I couldn’t easily use 50:50 as we always had 4 answers.

    What I would try or do differently next time:

    1. I would number the questions (1 to 10), so as the game host, I could tell when we were getting near the end and raise the drama.
    2. I think I would put the questions in order from very easy to hard, like in the game show. Ours were mixed, and all of them had some funny answer choices, which was good, and at the same time made the questions continue to be rather easy. Next time, I would make the first ones very funny and easy, and then get gradually harder so that people didn’t automatically know the answers. It might give me more opportunity to get discussion going within the audience and not just between the audience and me.
    3. I would vary the kinds of questions – we used a template to make it easier for the session organizers to give us their questions. We even gave them some samples, and then asked them to give us the wrong answers in advance and then give us the right answer after their session. I think having different kinds of questions, and different numbers of answers (e.g 2, 3, 4, 5) might have given more variety, and therefore be easier to animate.
    4. I was a good idea to have question “stems” (e.g. What are the priorities for…? What is the role of…?) which were sent in advance (5 days) to the organizers who could use them to frame their questions. In the future we could go back to the game show for some familiar stems, to even further connect the audience to the energy of the tv game.
    5. I would build in a little more time between the end of the workshops and the quiz in plenary – we had a courageous 30 minute coffee break to collect the final answers, check through them and run the game. It did feel like the quiz was very fresh which was great, and perhaps little more time would help iron out any little hiccups, let us look over the quiz as a whole for the build in difficulty and drama, and give us a test period. A lunch break time length would be great.
    6. I might add a final question that is not directly related to the indvidual workshops but was a comment on the overall goal or message of the conference – that could be the 1 million Euro question.
    7. Adding monetary figures overall to each question might have added some fun, at the end I could have asked who wanted to donate their winnings to the Project Incubator follow-up (hopefully everyone would have raised their hand!)

    These are some of the things I learned from the experiment to convert a game show into a conference reporting game. It was infinitely better than stand up reports, gave some interesting energy to the end of a lively conference, and gave people a shared experience that could continue to bind them together (more than sitting shoulder-to-shoulder together and listening to podium speakers).

    I think it also showed the organizers in a good light, as courageous and willing to try something new. It promoted the idea that there are always new ways to do routine things, things that we might do without giving it much thought, especially in a familiar setting (in this case, like a conference). How can we keep from going on autopilot and missing out on the innovation and energy that comes from trying something different and new? And for sustainability, we will take all the innovation and energy we can get!

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    Re-Learn Something “New”: Testing the Depth of Those Neural Pathways

    I wrote a post in March about learning through repetition, versus intense bursts of learning – so the benefits of 15 minutes of Spanish a day for 2 years versus the same amount of time in a one-month intensive each summer. This apparently deepens your neural grooves and helps you really learn something (See para 2 of Golden Nuggets from the GTD Summit – notice also Michael Randel’s comments about the timing piece).

    Well, I checked that recently when I did two things that I have not done for over 25 years. I picked up my silver Stradivarius Bach trumpet and played a high school fight song, and caught four nice largemouth bass on a rooster tail spinner (albeit not at the same sitting, or standing, as it were).

    I had no idea that this intrinsic knowledge was still there. It made me wonder what else there is still sitting in there waiting to be used, or re-used?

    Indeed, 25 years ago, I played my trumpet nearly every day over a seven year period. I was in the marching band, orchestra and in a jazz band. I even got to leave school from time to time to play taps for military funerals in our small town. (Because I was paid for this I got a lifetime of confounding responses to the workshop icebreaker game “2 Truths and a Lie” -no one ever believes that I was a Professional Trumpet Player – it almost made standing in the snow behind a tombstone half a mile upwind from a 21 gun salute worthwhile.)

    I probably played that particular fight song thousands of times. Any one Friday night football game, win or lose, would have produced dozens of opportunities to do so, not to mention the practice drills, and the end of every single, daily 45 minute band practice. I picked up the music for that song two weeks ago, looked through it and played it without hesitation, the second time from memory. My kids were amazed, they couldn’t even get a non-frog sound out of the instrument and they’d never seen me and a trumpet in the same room together.

    Bass fishing was a similar experience. Over the years I have had a few opportunities to drop a worm on a hook into a farm pond and pull up a few bluegills. However, casting for large mouth bass with a spinner takes a little more than watching the bobber go under in shallow water and pulling up the fish. Although I found bass fishing again – getting the lure just where you want it and reeling in at the right pace – after decades of not casting, nearly as easy as that. I could even strike so that the bass were lip caught and could be happily released instead of having to practically surgically extract the hook, which never bodes well for their continued longevity as anything other than turtle bait.

    Fish filleting also came with the memory package (the bluegills my boys caught), as I got to bring back those specific skills to create lunch. This was not like buying fish in the supermarket and taking off the skin, this was like taking the shiny excited fish out of the bucket of water and making it into tiny lunchable boneless, skinless filets. Something that as I get older and perhaps more sympathetic to vegetarianism, I find harder mentally to do, although I could do it almost mechanically and of course did it all the time without hesitation when I was younger and living in a rural community.

    It seemed so easy, it took so little time and those abilities were back. It made me want to remember what else I have really learned in the past, perhaps long forgotten, that I could bring into service now. And somehow reapply – my guess is that trumpet playing and bass fishing might be hard to integrate into my current line of work. Although if one of my goals was to meet some new people in my local area, and perhaps work more at the community level, I can assure you that I never thought of joining the fanfare (local village bands notorious in Switzerland for playing long sets after speeches at national celebrations, and before the drinking starts.) But maybe I should.

    And I’m sure that I could come up with multiple parallels between bass fishing and leadership learning if I tried, it might make for some good learning anecdotes – at least for me.


    My Point? To Be a “Story” There Must Be a Point

    A week or so ago (time marker), I spent the day in London (place marker) with Shawn Callahan from Anecdote, an innovative storytelling group from Australia, in a full day learning session called “Storytelling for business leaders”.

    Let’s say I wanted to tell you about my day. I could write down a list of things I learned, but that wouldn’t be a story. I could give you my opinion of the day, but that wouldn’t be a story either. If I was going to tell you a story about that day, I would need to start with a time, date or place marker, add an unanticipated event, and even more importantly, I would have to have a point – the reason for the story. (This might sound obvious, but if you think about it, how many so-called stories do you hear where the point is far from clear? )

    Why do we need a point? In our workshop we talked about this. Stories aren’t just for entertainment; they give us a repertoire of captured patterns. And matching patterns (e.g. our past experience, with a new situation) can help us with decision-making (see Gary Klein on naturalistic decision-making). Having a strong point, not only helps your listener tag your story, but helps you do it too, so that it is easier to remember and therefore more meaningful, which makes it easier to use the information and learning in the future.

    This point was made for me experientially by a sequence of activities that followed in the afternoon of our workshop. We were asked to craft and tell a story to a partner who would then reflect back to the storyteller what their story told them about that person. We told the first iteration of our stories. Then we were given some tips for improving our story – making it human, keeping it simple, using the unexpected, making it concrete and credible – and we saw some amazing YouTube video examples of storytelling, from Geena Davis at the Golden Globes to Obama “Fired up and ready to go” on the electoral trail. Then we were asked to work on and tell the same story again, better this time.

    I worked on my story, based on a recent experience about learning from mistakes, tried to make it more concrete, and brought in some of the real life drama and emotion of the situation. Then I retold it. And in the feedback discussion the same thing happened – my partner told me as my previous partner had, that he enjoyed it, gave me plenty of reasons for liking it, and then asked me gently – what was my point?

    Slightly crushed, I asked myself – what was my point? It’s not enough to be an impressionistic storyteller – I had a general feeling of where I was going. But how do you get there? Do you need a point first and then find a story – or do you have a great story and massage it to make a point? Either way, I was clearly missing it. Even with an entertaining narrative. This is the real art of storytelling.

    I need to go back and rework it; that story has potential, and must always remember to ask myself before I start to tell a story – what’s my point? I said that many storytellers we hear are rather unclear as to the purpose of their stories. I might have been one of those perpetrators in the past – are you? If so, help people learn more from you, and you from yourself, by upping your game in storytelling.


    An Appetite for Experiential Learning

    Can you go too far with experiential learning? This is learning by doing, as opposed to learning by more passive means (listening to a speaker, watching TV, etc.) Experiential learning has the potential to get deeper, be more memorable, to create an experience or a learning moment that you can draw on or act upon in the future.

    The (all too) oft-quoted Confucian saying, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand,” argues for this more interactive approach to learning. So how can we make, or take, more learning opportunities outside of formal learning situations – into the informal learning environment. What about this…

    I am a member of a thoughtful book club which is just about to finish reading The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle. It is a powerful book about inequity, humanity, and the poverty/environment interface. In the book two families live within 500 meters of each other in the outskirts of Los Angeles, one on a fragile hillside in a makeshift hut of stolen pallets eating domestic cats and thrown away produce, all by-products of the incredibly affluent (in relative terms), gated, chardonnay- and smoothie-drinking estate which sits downhill; only a 2.5 meter high stucco wall separate these two worlds. One is a family of illegal Mexican immigrants, the other can be characterised by their upper middle-class, double-income urban flight.

    So before this sounds like a book review, to the point, and back to my book club and learning. We try to link the evening of each of our book club discussions to a meal. I see a potential learning opportunity here. Now, I am not eager to sacrifice either of our pet cats, so how else might I make this discussion of haves and have nots, of the extremes between poverty and over consumption, deeper and more personal – more experiential?

    Might I ask my fellow readers, when they enter my house to pick a number from a hat? These numbers might determine their places at the table for our discussion and meal. Maybe the “1’s” will sit at the head of the table. They might have a table cloth, polished cutlery, a nice bottle of wine and a warm meal, with a starter, dessert and coffee. And what about our number ”2s”? Maybe their half of the table will feature a newspaper covering, tin cans of tap water to drink, a spoon, and a small bowl of yesterday’s beans and rice, barely warmed over, to share?

    How might that make people feel? What kind of a discussion would ensue – would it be different? More congruent with our book’s message and therefore more powerful? Will we learn more than we would have from our usual discussion? And more importantly, how might we look differently at our food and drink at our next meal?

    (Bonus question: Will people be happy to come back to my house for book club again?)


    If You Had to Choose: Using Your Web 2.0 Dashboard

    So I just spent 2.5 hours on my Web 2.0 tools; it all started with 1 LinkedIn invitation in my Inbox ….

    Then I spent some time reconnecting through LinkedIn with people that I met at the recent GTD Summit, and enjoyed reading their CV2.0s in there (even their titles are interesting – wonder what The Chief Innovator’s day looks like? Sounds great).

    Then I sent a Tweet on Twitter about it, and while I was on Twitter I checked out the #GTD tag to see what people were posting about that. One of the GTD Coaches said she was just in Mexico and was happy that she did not come back with “Get rid of Swine Flu” as a Project. Which reminded me of some of my Mexican friends while I worked at LEAD. That took me back to LinkedIn searching for them.

    While I was doing that I got a message from a former colleague asking me to join her on Facebook. I resisted the impulse to open that account and inevitably spend time looking at photos and reading updates.

    While I was on LinkedIn, I saw my last blog post there, and also I read through the blog feeds from some of my other LinkedIn connections. That made me want to write a blog post. When I went to my Blogger dashboard, I got a number of feeds from other bloggers I am following through my blog reader – including a few I decided to invite to add to my LinkedIn connections (back to LinkedIn).

    All those interesting blog posts and links reminded me of my Del.icio.us social bookmarking account, which has been dormant for a while, although I do get daily notices through my Plaxo page (when I check it) about other people’s Del.icio.us additions (which for the most part are very interesting-thanks to them for filtering part of the deluge for me). Must go and tidy mine up, but not right now.

    OK, so since I was putting in links to this post (not that anyone and their dog cannot find these sites, just for good practice), I went to Facebook (FB) to copy the URL (big mistake) and couldn’t help pausing to read some of my Friend’s updates and to ask if anyone there is using Twitter.

    Big circles and lots of time. Where is this getting me? So many people are using these Web2.0 tools – how many times do we reflect on what we are getting out of them? What are we learning? Here’s some of what I’m noticing:

    LinkedIn: I think this is useful. I started LinkedIn when my neighbour got a job interview with Google through his extended LinkedIn network. Although I have not yet had such an offer, it has connected me with some interesting people I did not already know. Mostly it gives me updated contact information and reminds me of interesting people I have met and worked with. As we move through many jobs, processes and events these days, it is a great way of keeping your professional network in one place and available from anywhere. It’s also good to capture feedback and recommendations, giving a different voice and perspective to people’s work (not just self-reported, although some recommendations are really OTT).

    I like the new LinkedIn features of blog feeds, and short updates like in FB; however I can’t seem to get into TripIt, or the Amazon reading function, that seems too FB (as in too much information) to me. The Groups have not yet worked for me either, I think Listserves are better, at least you can file them automatically. People seem to use the Group affiliations to beef up their CV2.0 by association, but I don’t see lots of activity there. Someone write and tell me about a good Group experience on LinkedIn. Finally, it seems to have reached critical mass for my age bracket, whenever I search for someone on LinkedIn, I usually find them.

    Twitter: This is my newest interest, although unlike LinkedIn, when I search I rarely turn up people I know, although apparently there are millions in there and more than Paris Hilton and her 47,000 followers. David Allen is Tweeting and, since I have met him, I enjoy that. Many techies are in there (Guy Kawasaki Tweets many times an hour seemingly automatically, so I stopped following him), and some interesting learning people are using Twitter to speed link to all kinds of news and research, like Harold Jarche. I know that my husband was keeping up with the swine flu spread on Twitter, which made him altogether too paranoid for a while as the number of flu-tagged Tweets soared by the second.

    What am I getting out of it? Well, it is new, so there is the gratifying heatseeker thing. I also think it has some intesting applications for informal learning – I enjoyed seeing how interactive the Twitter Fountain made the GTD Summit plenary session, which I have blogged before. I feel that Twitter helps connect me to some people I admire who are doing good things for the world, like Hunter Lovins, Alan AtKisson and Alex Steffan at Worldchanging.com, and who are using it to share their thoughts 140 characters at a time.

    Twitter also introduced me to making Tiny URLs (because you can’t have your URL take up half of your character allocation.) As a result of this brevity it takes only a few minutes to read your Twitter home page, if you don’t click on any of the links or search the hashtags (#something) which takes you to all the other Tweets with that tag. You can process it quicker. You can even add and delete followers and followees in a second if you want to. So can other people. Which seems to translate into a lot of spam. I had “Prime Minister Gordon Brown” sign up to follow me today on Twitter – clicking back asks you to sign a petition.

    Facebook: OK, in the last 10 minutes since I posted my update on FB asking people if they were using Twitter, I have had 3 comments from people in London, Geneva and Texas. Whatever you want to say about FB, that is where the people are. If you ask a question, you will get some answers. That’s not always the case with most blogs or most Twitterers. However, for me, like others, FB remains mainly social, and most of what I learn is about the value of keeping social connections warm. I heard one of my Communications colleagues say that our organization was going to move from putting time and energy into a FB Group to using Twitter for disseminating updates on conservation action, because people aren’t searching for that kind of information on FB.

    And there are so many more…So what Web2.0 tools are you using, what do you like best and what are you learning?


    Facilitators Demo Day: Learning from Good Practice

    When do you get the opportunity to watch and participate in the work of 10 different facilitators in one day? We did yesterday by hosting a Facilitators’ Demonstration and Learning Day (see previous blog post: Facilitators Demonstration Day – Bringing Together Supply and Demand).

    We had professional facilitators coming from the Geneva area, neighbouring France, and even the UK. We also had a number of facilitators and trainers participate as observers. These practitioners joined 18 of our colleagues in this learning day.

    Because it is unusual to get to see so many facilitators in a row, I couldn’t help noting down a number of good and interesting practices that I observed, and wanted to put them on the blog for sharing and future reference (not in any particular order, and obviously from my personal perspective):

    • Labelling: Get stickers or address labels with your name/company on them, and put them on your markers, cables and materials. Then they don’t get confused with those provided in the venue. And if other people help you clear up, they’ll be able to tell what’s what.
    • Branding: Two groups had printed large post-it notes that they used for brainstorming cards etc. with their company names on the bottom.
    • Signage: One team had a flipchart sized sign printed with their organization’s name/logo which they put up in the room.
    • Colour: I definitely noticed when teams used colour – things like markers (more than the standard red/green/blue/black), cards, ppts, and believe it or not, even what they wore. I was surprised how bright colours on people’s clothing positively affected my disposition to the task.
    • Job Aids: There seems to be a line between job aids that are too hand-done and “cottagy” and too slick and somehow “industrial”. I think a combination works well, perhaps hand written flip charts, and printed hand outs? Or something in between. Printed things seemed to tidy up tasks.
    • Table Settings: Home magazines put a lot of effort into giving people ideas of how to lay tables for special dinners. When this happens in a workshop setting, people notice and appreciate it (like an open box of new markers, post-its in the middle, a creativity toy, etc. nicely laid out in the middle of the table for the group). I once heard about a Disney creativity meeting set up, with a placemat for each person, drink, playdough, pens, etc.
    • Economizing Supplies: I appreciate it when people use a whole flipchart for notes as they speak, and not write one or two big words and then turn over the page. Maybe it is my environmental background. Actually, that drives me crazy.
    • Handwriting: I think that facilitators either do, or should, take courses in handwriting. It makes a huge difference when you see great handwriting on a flipchart. People can also practice writing legibly fast – there could be a competition on this at a Facilitators Convention. Of course this also goes for participants. One Facilitator yesterday said he used the “Heineken Rule” when asking participants to write on cards. If he couldn’t read it, they had to buy him a beer.
    • Letting People Read: If you use cards, I like it when facilitators ask people to write large enough on cards so that people can read them on their own from a distance. It saves time.
    • The Power of Nice: I think I am very sensitive to what I perceive as “nice” behaviour from the facilitator, that is genuinely caring for the participants, wanting to be helpful, guiding and supporting. I personally respond very well when I see that.
    • Innovation: It is great to see people innovating on current practice, a little surprise dynamic, way to organize a group, new rules for a familiar game, etc. That keeps it fresh.
    • Working Towards Congruence: It was interesting to see people demonsrate facilitation and then in a short debriefing bring out the methodology and rationale. I realised that it is very hard to talk about Facilitation. I guess this could also be called “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”, a principle that can be applied to nearly anything.

    This was a full 8 hour day of on-your-feet activity, and at the same time presented great opportunity for observation. People came away with a great overview of approaches, styles and techniques and some excellent local contacts. Thanks to the generous spirit of exchange and learning, we had an incredibly rich experience with our Facilitators Demonstration and Learning Day.

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    What’s New for HeatSeekers? Using Twitter in Meetings

    If you look up “Heatseeker” in Wikipedia, you get redirected immediately to “Missile Guidance”, and a long explanation of how these kinds of missiles work to find their targets. However, the top link of this entry is another redirection to Billboard weekly album chart’s Top Heatseekers which refers to a selected list of new and emerging artists who have never been on the top 100 albums list. In fact, once an album hits the top 100 chart, they are off the Top Heatseekers list. The label of heatseeker is strictly reserved for great new stuff.

    I was interested at David Allen’s GTD Summit a few weeks ago to hear the label of “Heatseeker” used over and over again. It was used to refer to speakers and participants, like Guy Kawasaki or Taco Oosterkamp, who are out there looking for the newest technologies, gadgets and productivity enhancements (usually these people are in the technology space, but this is probably not a necessity.) One of the participants beside me in a panel session was using the newest Kindle, and delighted in showing me how it worked, what he liked about it and what he was looking forward to in the next version. Everyone had their iPhone and were talking about new applications for it and wishes. David Allen was given a Mac after Guy Kawasaki hassled him about not having one, clearly for the Heatseekers a Mac with all the bells and whistles is essential.

    One thing I noticed about this meeting that I have not noticed before, was that everyone seemingly was using Twitter. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a plenary session where, in addition to the two central screens, there were two lateral screens that were scrolling the Twitter Tweets as people posted them. It turned out that there were dozens of people in the room who, throughout the speeches and discussion, were micro-blogging their 140 character Tweets, including questions (that other Twitter users were answering), quotes, additional information and connections to what other speakers had said (especially when they contradicted each other). Nothing got past the people Twittering. And the interesting thing was that people outside the room were following people inside the room, so not only were we benefitting from the Tweets, but who knows how many people not attending the conference were following those Twittering inside the meeting rooms. Apparently David Allen has over 75,000 people “following him”, which he said was either the cause of celebration or great paranoia.

    I had heard of Twitter a few years ago just after it started. We had a demonstration during our New Learning Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt in 2007, where at the time the primary new and interesting Heatseeker thing was using Second Life for learning. I started my own Twitter account in the meantime but had not discovered its potential yet for learning. In addition to using it to host multiple conversations during what otherwise would be a monologue of a plenary session, they had some other applications for Twitter. For example, the Heatseekers said that it definitely could be useful for learning how to waste time (that was their first response.) However, they also said that it gave people up-to-the-minute news flashes (remember the people who tweeted about their plane crashing before any other media was on the spot.)

    And of course trend spotters and Heatseekers use it to find the heat, so no wonder they like it. There are definitely different levels of Heatseekers, we have a few in our institution, although I don’t know of anyone yet who is Twittering as a part of their work (or even for recreational purposes for that matter). We haven’t had a meeting yet that mentioned real-time bullet-point reporting via Twitter. Our team has introduced reporting via a cartoonist, graphic facilitation and blogging. Maybe Tweeting is next. When you only have 140 characters to make your point, you need to make sure you are on target – maybe that missile guidance system analogy works after all…

    Informal Learning and the Financial Crisis: Lessons for Practitioners

    When people ask us what our unit does, the Learning and Leadership Unit, we often say that we do capacity development by stealth. That is, we focus much more on informal learning than on the more obvious training courses to help build capabilities and improve the overall effectiveness and impact of our organization and its staff through this learning.

    We still do the odd training course – on systems thinking tools, on blogging, on developing facilitation and teambuilding skills, or using productivity-enhancing approaches such as Zero-in box. However we have found that busy people do not have the time to attend training, and the higher you go up the hierarchical ladder, the less time you may feel you have.

    So the informal learning approach, much heralded by the private sector as the highest impact way to make learning interventions, has become our main modus operandi. I would say this approach as it has been formalised in recent years and its language is still quite new in the NGO sector. We have been working with this approach for the past 3 years. What kind of things have we done to promote informal learning?

    To create new learning opportunities, early on, we developed and lightly programmed a weekly Sponsored Coffee morning that still gets people together for social networking to learn new things from colleagues they may not always meet in their well-worn pathways around the building. When our first training course on the subject did not get a high response rate, we integrated systems thinking tools instead into visioning and strategic planning workshops. To reverse a deficit frame (common in the sustainability community) we used Appreciative Inquiry questioning techniques into our designs. And to reinforce the asset-based language and viewpoint, we introduced the Strengthsfinder diagnostic tool into our own team, and based on our learning developed a facilitated sequence with the results that we have now woven into the many team retreats we facilitate. In the last three years we have worked with over half of our headquarters staff with this interesting tool. To soften the walls of our institutional silos and foster more collaboration, we built into regular meetings innovative games and techniques such as World Cafes and Open Space Technology among many others that help build relationships, encourage people to share their ideas, and help people practice joint problem solving and co-creation of ideas. To embed and model teamwork, trust and collaboration, we also coach our colleagues in meeting design and facilitation and no longer do all the events ourselves. But none of this we have done through training.

    An issue is, however, that training is obvious. It has a schedule, a meeting room, a reserved table in the cafeteria and a cow bell to call people back after coffee breaks (at least in our Swiss-based institution). It also has a set of known metrics attached to it, and a defined beneficiary group, who know that they are being trained because they are sitting in the training room for several days with other learners. Therefore you can easily report on training – the number of training days, how many people were trained, how much budget is spent per person on training, and through standard evaluations, with quantitative and qualitative questions, you can provide data to anyone who wants to know, about what has been learned by those people in your training courses.

    The metrics around informal learning are unfortunately less obvious. People’s experience and time spent in informal learning is more streamlined and hidden in their day. They need a great deal of reflection to notice what they are learning, and rarely have a forum to report on it. In most workplaces, which are go, go, go, reflective practice is sporadic (which is why we build so much of it into our meetings and workshops), and there really is no place for people to capture and document their learning (which is why we started this blog in the first place – for ourselves, to do this.)

    Which means that when it comes time for budget discussions, in a time of global financial crisis, it is possible, that the work of a team that does informal learning may not so obvious.

    Recently, in Chief Learning Officer’s online magazine (a terrific e-zine by the way), Jay Cross, author of the book Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance, wrote a provocative article called “Get Out of the Training Business“. In this article Jay reinforces his premise that informal learning is the learning mode of the future, and training is based on the workplace format of the past. We have indeed taken this to heart over the last few years of our work in our institution. Informal learning, I am convinced, is the right paradigm for the learning organization of the future. However, it will also take a paradigm shift to help decision-makers from all our institutions see its value. And one work area for informal learning practitioners continues to be creating the metrics that make it visible and valued, so that even if the work is done by stealth, the impacts and the activities that inspired them are completely obvious to everyone. In this time of financial crisis, making these causal links (loudly) is particulary important; they might not be as obvious to others as they are to you.

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    Putting the People Back in Paperwork

    “Oh, Paperwork!” was the answer my new colleague Barbara gave at our weekly team meeting to the following question: “When you think of performance assessments what comes to mind?”

    However, for the last 2 years our team has decided to make performance assessments all about team learning. And in doing so, we have used them to build up our noticing skills, our understanding of the situations in which our team members work best, and what we all need from each other to operate as much as possible in this productive zone. I wrote a blog post a few months ago on the 360 degrees process we use called: Practice Note: Helping Performance Assessments Be About Both Individual and Team Learning.

    Now we’re preparing our individual work plans for 2009 – the agreements upon which our performance assessments are based – and we took some time to reflect on what we’re learning and why we think team assessment and work planning, rather than the traditional 1-to-1 meetings with your managers, presents a richer and more useful experience for everyone involved.

    Here’s why we think performance assessment and individual work planning (agreements) should be done as a Team:

    • Focus the team on the team: There are not that many opportunities (unless you create them) for a team to talk about its own performance. Regular team meetings are usually task oriented and focused on getting things done. Discussions around performance assessments however are focused more on how we get things done, individually and as a team.
    • Create a safer space: Team discussions can help tone down the anxiety that some people might face in a one-on-one assessment or evaluation situation (for both the staff member and the manager – we think this is one of the main reasons why performance assessments inspire masterful procrastination.)
    • Strengthen accuracy and utility of reporting at all levels: When using a team approach for everyone, including the manager (who in our case only needs to be assessed by his/her line manager), the team approach helps provide more useful and accurate information on daily work practice for everyone and from everyone’s perspective.
    • Form the bigger picture: Knowing what everyone is doing helps piece together that larger picture of the goals and vision of the unit, and how each team member is contributing to these. It gives the rich context that some people need and helps make meaningful links between individual pieces of work and that of the team. This understanding of individual contributions to a larger goals also helps with engagement and motivation.
    • Help more people identify change opportunities: With a sense of the overall results desired, it is easier to identify places in the team’s work where a change of practice can produce the most benefit. It also helps people understand potential trade-offs that might be needed for such change to happen. That work becomes a task of the team, rather than simply the manager, when the overall picture is shared.
    • Create Ambassadors: When everyone understands the vision of the team, how their work fits, and how these aggregated efforts contribute to the overall institution’s goals, then each member can share that understanding in the many informal learning situations in which they find themselves each day.
    • Provide professional and personal development opportunities: In a time when bonuses are not really an option to reward good work, team acknowledgement can be an internal metric to help people assess their own growth, development and improvement.

    We generated these thoughts as a team. And we think these are compelling reasons to put people at the centre of performance assessments, and take the focus off the paper that they’re written on.