How Learning can become celebrated instead of neglected, via HBR

Imagine the scene – it’s a Friday afternoon at Awesome Company. Your CEO stands in front of you and your colleagues at the company all-hands meeting. In addition (or, instead of) chatting about company milestones, sales targets, and tasks accomplished, he/she takes a different approach.

Your CEO sits down and shares what they are learning as a Leader, how he or she has changed over the past year, and how they are working to modify how they work and why. Here, learning is consistent, never complete, and very much out in the open.

In this all-too-rare but important moment, company leadership focuses on process instead of task. When transparency and learning meet and marry, conversations change. Learning also becomes seen as a continuous process and not a box to check. Perhaps, more energy is devoted to work on and explain how the company works together and not just list off what they’ve accomplished.

Yes, leadership might come forward and share these learnings in a ghost-written book or in close dinners with friends – but there the focus is still on what was learned – in the past tense.

The act of consistently learning, in that messy and un-defined and wonderful way that isn’t always tied to clear-cut results is one that doesn’t often get talked about. 

We want others to learn and we help them do so, but are we too focused on learning as an outcome (as task) instead of learning as a process? If the latter were the case, we’d help people learn how to learn, i.e. to be more curious and to reflect.

All too often, says Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri in his latest post from the Harvard Business Review , we’re only focused on a specific outcome, even when it comes to organizational learning. “People care about what you have learned. They care about your results. Learning is great as long as you do it quietly, in your own time.”

When the pressure to deliver results instead of learning takes precedence, “the pressure to keep up and prove oneself all but overwhelms the aspiration to step back and reflect.”

Those who are in the business of life-long learning know that transformational learning, and deep, important change can often look like a cycle, or spaghetti, or two steps forward and one step back… instead of a one-way road.

If we change our expectation, and perhaps alter how we view our learners and we what believe to be true, maybe we can reward others for the act of learning… and not just the end result.

The Role of Educator as Storyteller

The role of storytellers and educators (who are masters at storytelling) isn’t all that different: help your audience see that they are the heroes of the story you are telling, the change initiative you are working on, or the learning program you are facilitating.

Leave space for the audience to be a big part of the narrative, so that they can see themselves in it,  believe in it, and themselves.

The best facilitators, professors, and change practitioners  I’ve seen can tell great stories, but they always find a way to point out the audience / client / learner as the hero in the story.

“It’s not me, it’s you”.

The more we can help others see and feel that, the better equipped others will be to craft more powerful stories and have the confidence to go after the challenges, opportunities, and allies that they need for each chapter of their narrative (or, lives).

Learning and teaching as art: The best, most inspiring example of this I’ve seen recently was as a student in Professor William Duggan’s class at Columbia Business School. All semester long we studied the hero’s journey of ‘famous’ businessmen and women, military leaders and cultural icons.

We were inspired by them but their stories of personal and professional triumph never felt out of reach. Their stories were not fairy tales.

We can study and learn from the quests, obstacles, and successes and failures of others and their stories – but none will be as powerful as putting ourselves and those we help in the driver’s seat of their own hero’s journey.


Less Teaching…More Learning, via

It’s no secret, I’m an experiential learning junkie.  Luckily, it falls in line with how adults learn best… through action and reflection. 

Via Training magazine, here’s their 4-pronged approach to Learning and Development – an approach that reminds us (lest we forget!).. it’s all about the participant.

  1. Limit the amount of frontal lecture. Facilitators have many great ideas that we want to share with our audience. We’ve been conditioned by the preponderance of lecture-based workshops to think we’re expected to fill the time by talking—and that the more information we bring, the better. But we know from our own first-hand experience as participants in other workshops that lecture is not the path to engagement. When it comes to lecture, less is more, as long as you make sure to present impactful material. Skip the appetizers. Go straight to the main course. Deliver your content in bite-sized portions. Let the audience chew on them and digest them before serving more.
  2. Include lots of subject-focused action. Note that action for action’s sake alone is not valuable. Ice-breaker exercises such as tossing a ball to fellow participants in order to learn their names has its place, but it does not constitute action related to the subject material. Instead, design exercises that help the nuggets presented in your lectures come alive. For example, if you’re teaching negotiation skills, it’s more important that you have exercises on negotiation than on ice breaking.
  3. Relate the subject matter to the audience’s particular needs. Demonstrate how the workshop will improve their professional lives the moment they leave the classroom.
  4. Teach what the audience wants to learn. Often, facilitators establish an agenda of what we think we should teach. Instead, we should create an environment that allows participants to guide us about what they want to learn and what would be most valuable to them. Ideally, you will have the breadth and depth of knowledge—and flexible disposition—to take the conversation wherever the participants want to take it, so long as it stays on topic. This takes the guesswork out of what to say, and helps ensure that your audience is engaged and walks away with skills they will apply back at their desks.

Last Word: Less Teaching…More Learning |

What’s the drill – July 5: Three questions to help you know your audience

What’s in it for them?

Are you asking this question enough…and is this the first thing you lead with at the start of a program or a pitch?

To successfully market and reach your participants, and those who decide whether or not to give the go-ahead to your program, we have to not only say, but show what’s in it for them… all the while using their language to get the message across.

What does success look like for them?

How you market a program to an engineer will be different from a sales executive.  It can be a different language altogether. There will be biases and assumptions and expectations you can’t always control.  To help break through, seek out what success looks like for them, while being as specific as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What is their objective?

Everyone has an objective. Is it just compliance – or something deeper? Let’s hope for the latter. Here, Seth Godin provides helpful reminders on learning the worldviews of your participants. Are they batman types or superman types?

It’s nearly impossible to sell an idea or a concept to everyone at the same time. Adjust your story and approach to fit your audience, speak their language and always focus on what’s in it for them.

But, says Godin… “Instead of trying to delight everyone in Gotham City, it pays to find people who already resonate with the story you want to tell”. Yes, AND to that!

What’s the drill – June 20: Tips on marketing people-skills classes

By reading this article you will come away with tips and lessons learned on marketing people skills classes.

Tip #1:

Make it clear what people will come away with because of your class/lecture/session. Sure business jargon has its place, but in my experience, key in getting butts in the seats for your people-skill classes is being clear on what they will get out of this class. Make it easy for them and take away the guesswork.

Tip #2:

Word of mouth is your strongest marketing tool. This is no different from marketing the coolest gadget or hottest restaurant. Start small if you need to by building buzz, but nothing says “this is worth your time” than a wait list, people buzzing on the message boards, or excited energy. The number of emails you send does not equal important or must-attend. Make it easy for them and pull them in to investigate more.

Tip #3:

The people skills classes at your organization may not be voluntary. But, if they are, how can you eliminate the risk (i.e. fear) many feel in signing up for these types of classes. Find ambassadors at their level who have participated in similar classes, start with an introductory class to ease fears of commitment. Start small.

Make it easy for them to say yes.

Teaching is learning twice

To build and maintain a learning organization is to create and offer an atmosphere that encourages peer-to-peer teaching opportunities.

Formal or informal, virtual or stand-up in nature, providing opportunities for learning and development builds connection, can increase engagement, and develop empathy across teams.

Teaching is learning twice.

To understand a concept, is to explain it to someone else — and to not just explain it in your language, but to clearly and concisely teach for understanding and not just data dumping.

Take this article from Psychology Today as it applies to classroom learning:

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

The questions posed by those we teach urge us to think through and explain material in different ways, and encourage deeper, evolved understanding.

How can you create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning? Consider starting small – with your internal communication platforms.

Do more with the people you have. And help those people grow in knowledge and confidence at the same time.

Part 2: How to make learning relevant and personal in the emerging workplace

Last week I wrote of some ideas to help make your professional development offerings more relevant and personal. Key, is to allow learners to choose the content that resonates most with them and their leadership style. After all, we’ll retain more if we’re actually interested in what we’re learning.

Now there’s an innovative tool that leverages this concept, written about here in the latest blog from HBR.

The solution? An app… wouldya believe it?!!

Short, personalized, interactive, social and innovative. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Read about the entire project here: and then think about how you and your company can create social and personalized learning solutions that create jolts, interesting discussions, increased accountability and  peer-to-peer learning.

The organization of the future – Pull vs. Push learning

Inspired by the Wisdom 2.0 business conference, this week we’re focusing on the organization of the future.

The organization of the future is:

  1. One where failure is an option
  2. A learning organization

In this learning organization, the focus is on “pull” rather than push-driven learning experiences — learning is interactive, engaging, and full of connection, where processes are set up for employees to learn from each other as much as they are learning from leaders in the field.

Focusing on a pull methodology allows for greater learning experiences and a higher ROI – because the individual can control their motive and reasoning for learning.

When we are genuinely motivated to learn, and pulled to an event (perhaps even through word of mouth, excitement, buzz, rumors of a wait list, etc) we learn faster, retain the information longer and are more likely to apply this knowledge – all creating cognitive connection points in our brain for future learning experiences.

In a pull learning environment, learning is a choice, driven by the individual.

This learning environment encourages other students to interact, pulling content to each other, creating social, perhaps virtual learning communities to harness the collective intelligence of the company all while building connection and empathy along the way.