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Courage Camp: Yes is the Answer

15 Aug

At the end of June I attended Courage Camp, in Avignon, France. In many ways and (to be truthful) quite unexpectedly, it was the start of something potentially transformational. I’ll share more and put it into a more professional context another time. What follows is my very personal reflection. Courage is a practice, and sharing something as personal as this here is part of my own process.


The answer is: Yes.

I’ve been thinking about the symbol I created to represent my personal courage and encapsulate the experience I was having at Courage Camp, in that time and place. And indeed, it was an at-the-moment manifestation of the internal movement that Courage Camp was provoking. The provocations continue, were I to be honest.

When the original idea was pitched – that we were all to develop our own symbol of courage to paint in semi-permanence on the wall – I had a notion about sowing seeds. Growth and renewal. Nurture and harvest. You know, all that crap. I did some sketches and felt settled on the idea.

But as the moment approached, I allowed something else to reveal itself.

  • Why was that particular song playing over and over in my head?

  • Why did the phrase I often use suddenly seem even more apt than ever? You can’t push the river.

  • Why was a blog post I wrote three years ago suddenly in mind? When you get to the fork in the road, take it.

  • Why do I so often say no to being courageous? What am I afraid of?

  • Why is David’s ghost hanging over me today?

Believe me when I say this is not like me. It is not. I closed my eyes and listened… Yes is the answer.


I lost David in December 2016 – truly a brother in every sense of the word but genetic. We’d been friends since we were 12. He died in a traffic accident in Uganda, while working on a documentary film about refugees from Sudan. He was the most courageous person I ever knew. He was also funny as hell, incredibly creative, and a real pain in the ass much of the time. He was a Yes Man.*

Want to take a road trip? Yes!

Jump off this cliff into the water? Yes!

Walk on the wrong side of the fence? Yes!

Go to Africa to make a film?

* I am very aware on the non-gender neutral term here. Since I am using it ironically to reflect off the original negative connotation of “Yes Man,” please forgive the anachronism. 


So, the symbol is a Y, of course. Yes.

Courage Symbols

But it is also a fork, and inflexion point, a decision to make and from which there is no return. Blue, the river flows and spills forward and down to the sea to be taken in by unimaginable vastness. I leave my mark on the wall. I may return to look at it again, but the moment will be gone. Yes is also a kind of impermanence.


There is an apocryphal story about the first time John Lennon met Yoko Ono. Yoko was already a known artist in the London avant-garde scene of the mid-60s (talk about courage – a single Japanese woman travels to London in the 1960s to be an artist!).  One the installations was a high-ceilinged white room with a nothing but a tall white ladder in the center. Above the ladder hung a magnifying glass. John climbed the ladder and used the glass to look at the black spot floating on the white ceiling: YES.

It made an impression. In 1973, he wrote Mind Games, the title song of his album of the same name. It is a beautiful piece, one of my favorite Lennon songs.  As the soundtrack in my head, that song left its mark on me that day in Avignon. The proof is on the wall.

Yes is the answer. You know that for sure. / Yes is surrender. You’ve got to let it go.


Addendum:

Mind Games was the first album that John Lennon produced on his own. To be honest, I think he covered up several beautiful songs with overproduction and unneeded flourishes. It’s my opinion to take or leave.

I have been playing Mind Games (the song) on my guitar for many years, and so I include my own version of it, recorded just here and now (18 July, 2018; Geneva), on my phone with my travel-sized Martin guitar.

I encourage you to listen to the original if you are unfamiliar with it. John Lennon’s was a beautiful voice, instantly recognizable and unlike any other. I believe he, too, was a Yes Man.

Me? A work in progress.

How Fast Can They Learn?

20 Jul

I’ve been part of a complex change initiative for the past 18 months or so, at a large legacy organization that is struggling to catch up to the realities of doing business in this century. By which I mean, in large part, to live and make use of the digital world we now inhabit. One of the primary things we are trying to do is to get people to think about their business data in different ways, and to unify standards of data across a far-flung enterprise.

speedometer-1063350_960_720People are asked to learn new tools and processes, the areas of traditional learning solutions. But also, to think about how their actions improve their teams, departments (lines of business) and client experiences, the ways in which they cooperate and collaborate, and the changing environment that is rolling out around them.

“So,” my client asks, “how quickly can we expect them to learn this?”

I completely understand how she believes this to be a straightforward question, driven by her “learning” budget. She struggled with my answer: “It will take as long as it takes. And it will take something like a lifetime.” I see how that is not a terribly satisfying or reassuring response.

So, I turn it back to her learning experiences. I asked her what kind of phone she had. An Apple iPhone 7, as it happens. “How long did it take you to learn how to use it?” She hesitates, and then answers that she learned how to use it in the first few minutes.

“OK, do you use it in the same way today as you did the first day you got it?”

“No, of course I discover new things and new apps and what I can do with it all the time.” She is starting to catch on to my line.

I get her to see that she has an internal motivation to continually learn its many features, discover new apps (mostly via word of mouth and observation – social learning!) and keep up with her peers, if not her children.

Right. I explain it is very much akin to the same thing.

We can train people on the new technology platforms up to an advanced-beginner level. However, unless they have the motivation to learn, internalize why they should do so, and start out on their own journey of discovery through social learning, peer support (or pressure not to appear behind, if you like) and organizational allowance that learning is as much about trial and failure as it is about success, they are unlikely to ever achieve a state where we can say, “Now they’re done learning.”

In fact, we need to reset hearts and minds to never say they’re done learning. We are teaching a set of technologies, it’s true. But to live and adapt to the modern workplace means learning that is much more like the iPhone than it is like traditional corporate training.

Learn the basics, observe what others are doing, share your own discoveries, and adapt and learn constantly. How will it take you to learn to use a computer? As long as it takes, and it takes forever. That’s the world we live in.

Exactly. That’s where Learning & Development needs to be. Training, sure, if it’s needed (none was needed for the iPhone because it was well designed). But training is the starting blocks. Our primary function is to teach people to be learners. Our organizations depend on it.

Lead with Training? Look beyond the recipe

15 May

I’ve seen it time and time again. An organization has a new technology, often joined with a new process and vision for processing, customer service, data alignment, sales, etc. The knock comes on L & D’s door, and we are thrilled to be able to get in on a new initiative without the baggage of poor performance leading the request.

But just as we should pause and assess if training is the part of the solution to substandard performance or a new change initiative, we need to also pause to think about the appropriate timing and type of training that will advance the strategy initiative. While it might seem counter-intuitive to those of us in the instructional design and training game, we need to think about training as an essential element in the organizational kitchen remodel — a part of a well-designed program, but not the driver.

OK, I’m not entirely sure a kitchen is the best analogy, but let that marinate with me for a moment. A kitchen needs a workflow plan, a place to store fresh and nonperishable items, ample space to store tools and cooking utensils, and a set of good cook books (explicit knowledge), at least until the cook moves through competence and proficiency to become an expert intuitive gastro-artist (implicit knowledge).

So, training can carry the novice cook along the path to competence, and even proficiency. However, if the goal is to build expertise, training can’t carry the load the full distance. Similarly, the training program, no matter how well designed and implemented, can’t deliver the tools, materials and setup necessary to get the anticipated results.

Cathy Moore has done some excellent work on how to evaluate the need for training to address performance issues. But what I’m suggesting here is to take that to another elevation: Even when training is part of the issue, are the conditions for applicable success present? Seen this way, each training design should be a mini (or full-blown) change management program. Per standard practice of change management, skills are an essential ingredient. But so too are organizational support, vision and incentives to follow through.

complex change matrix

Complex Change Management Matrix

So, if you are already in the discussion that Moore (and I) suggests, take it to the next logical step: How does training fit into the change the organization wishes to see?

We don’t spend the money to build a beautiful kitchen without the hope that we’ll become better cooks. But design and appliances don’t get us there. Neither will skills alone without the proper tools and support for experimentation, failure and improvement.

Gold from Straw: Creating Your Own Meaning

27 Oct

Personal learning is a form of assembly, where we find, evaluate, use or discard things we encounter on our way. More often than not, though. we won’t know the meaning of what we discover until long after the fact. Over time, with experience, we’re able to create meaning of (from?) objects, assembling them into applicable learned compounds.

Ah, but what to pick up? We are awash with information, opinions and competing ideas. Through traditional media, social media, conversations, meetings, directives…. we live in an age of overabundance. In prior times information was scarce, and we looked to authority to provide us what was valuable:

I read it in the Times.” “Our CEO thinks that we should redirect our efforts.” “My trusted financial adviser recommended I put my money into tech.” “My mentor said this book was important.” “I ask my assistant to provide me with daily clippings.” Information was scarce, and we looked to those with expertise, time, and the resources to research and bring us information we could use.

Those days are done. We create our own meaning now. We divine it out of the countless dots – the nodes in our network of people, ideas and information – that fill our universe.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world.

Like ancient explorers, we connect dots and create patterns in order to navigate through our world. Photo by Greg Rakozy via unsplash.com.

The solution becomes not one of knowing what is useful, but of deciding what to pay attention to, and weighing whatever we find for its potential value.  There is no way to pre-sort what is worthy; there is simply too much out there and exponentially more being created all the time. Like the scroll at the bottom of a 24-hour news station, we barely notice it’s there. When something catches our attention, we have that “Wait! What was that?!” moment. It’s much the same to navigate through our connected, networked world. Something catches our attention, and we make an immediate judgement: This is something I should pay attention to, something I might be able to use at some point. Or not… let it pass.

The decision is the key. Yes, I like this idea. This is new to me and sparks my interest. This is from a known source that I already trust, so I’m willing to give it a little more attention than I might otherwise. Once a decision is made, apply your process.

  1. Clip, copy, save, share it, while tagging in some way that you’ll be able to find it later (that takes practice, but you’ll get better at it with time).

  2. Note why you thought it was worthy of carrying with you on your journey: That is a critical part of it, and will inform and refine your knowledge management practice over time.

  3. Weigh it for its value over time. Does the idea make sense? Does it add, extend, amplify or purposefully redirect what I do and what I know?

  4. Cull frequently, letting go of what it no longer useful.

By following this process, you’ll create your own meaning, and build your own unique area of expertise that is yours alone. That is an exciting proposition. When each of us is self-directed to build our own knowledge, to create our own Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM), we bring a unique perspective and ability to any organization’s collaborative or cooperative effort. That is a valuable place to be.

Working in the Age of (Digital) Exploration: Part I – Exploring our digital world

11 Aug

Ferdinand Magellan. Marco Polo. Leif Eriksson. Christopher Columbus. The big names of the Age of Exploration traversed land and sea in search of adventure, discovery, glory and wealth. Hong Kong. Amsterdam. Timbuktu. New York. Samarkand. Goa. San Francisco. Great trading cities of the last 700 years (or more), where peoples, cultures, ideas, trades and goods came together and combined in new ways.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

We know even less about our digital world than Ptolemy knew about his physical one, circa 1470.

I say we’re entering a new age of exploration. One in which we are all explorers pushed by digital trade winds to find a new type of discovery, wealth, culture and trade. This new exploration age (what I call The Learning Age) brings together three interrelated facets:

  • The Do It Yourself (DIY) movement overlaps with the “sharing economy,” the “maker movement” and the “hack revolution.” DIY arises from the fact that we don’t need permission to find and use whatever shiny object we happen upon. We can create our own processes, find our own learning opportunities wherever we find them, creating our own Professional Development paths. Intellectual property (IP) rights are in an upheaval, and artifacts that we find in abundance are there to be used, combined, repurposed or discarded—such is our new age of discovery.
  • Digital communities are emerging in ways that allow us to meet people that would have otherwise been impossible, and share ideas exponentially farther than was possible for all but a handful of very famous people in previous generations. The digital trading posts are everywhere, bringing ideas, cultures and wealth of knowledge (along with the same number of hucksters and swindlers, I acknowledge). When TIME ran its person of the year issue in 2006 as “You,” I thought it nothing more than a gimmick. In fact, they were prescient. Who would have guessed?!
  • Learning is the work (not the job): As is increasingly recognized by economists, technologists, strategists, learning professionals and keen observers, the traditional job-based economy is morphing into the “gig economy.” Tasks that require automation and repetition will increasingly become the domain of machines. Economic buoyancy depends on our ability to change, adapt, create and add value. That’s learning, my friends!

But that necessary learning doesn’t happen when we sit behind our desks performing the same tasks in the same ways, and relying on the same information and interpretation as we did yesterday and five years ago. Time to set on a journey of discovery! When we meet new ideas and people on our excursions near and far, traversing the marketplaces of ideas for novelty and gems, we are very much akin to explorers of old. The biggest difference is that we don’t risk our lives at sea, count on the generosity of the moneyed or monarchy, or rely on a crew of many to journey the globe. No, we don’t need the purse of monarchs and financiers to take our trips, nor will anyone command we leave port.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

Marco Polo and the extension of the Silk Road into Europe.

We are all able to set sail to New Goa or caravan to Nova Samarkand on our own exploration, to ride whatever winds we catch to carry us into unknown regions of knowledge, culture and application. In my next post, I’ll share ways to navigate this new world without knowing exactly where you’re going to land.

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