Thursday, August 19, 2010

Make it your own

Every time I get a script it's a matter of trying to know what I could do with it.
            - Paul Newman

Everyone who teaches a certain class probably uses the same training materials as any other instructor.  There are lesson plans and syllabuses that are to be followed, mostly to ensure that the key concepts are all covered.  But what you do with that script can mean the difference between an Oscar and straight to DVD.

One of the things I do at the beginning of each class is I ask people what they want out of their time with me.  Almost without exception there is one clear omission in their responses: to have fun.  Having fun while learning isn't required, but it sure makes the experience more memorable.  And what's the ultimate goal of learning?  

To give people a memorable experience that they can use to make their work lives better.

Think of Paul Newman for a second.  For most people a particular movie or scene will flash through your mind.  Do you think Paul was the only person to ever play that role?  Probably not, but his was memorable.  He grabbed that script and made it his own.  And you had fun watching that movie.

Think of all of the probably hundreds of movies you have seen in your life - you remember a small fraction.  And why is that?  

I would submit you have had even more learning experiences, and you probably remember the ones that were fun and engaging.  So the question seems to be, "How do I make my classes fun?"

The simple answer is zen-like:  you don't.  Strive to get to know your people, to make the class engaging and casual, ask questions and the fun will just come naturally.

Taking Chances

I've permitted myself to learn and to fail with some regularity. And that is probably the one thing I was given, and that I'm still grateful for.
                                     - John Malkovich

A short while ago, I presented an idea to one of my customers that was clearly "outside of their box."    They were producing training materials by copying select portions out of user guides into slide decks.  After 10 minutes of studying this mess I could not imagine why they had not had a daily mass exodus from their training center.

I knew these people were not there to hear "selected readings" but to get an idea of how they could make their jobs better.  So I trashed the idea of the User Guide Cut & Paste and started a new document with these parts:
  • page references to important sections
  • diagrams illustrating work flows and important thought processes
  • lots of fill in the blank sections reflecting what the instructor was discussing
It was clearly a shock to the system.  The conversation went something like:

"Will this work?"

"I don't know. Try it."

Training is like people and a recipe.  Organizations have different tastes.  Recipes need to be tweaked.  Even Thomas Keller doesn't get it perfect the first time.

But one thing was certain, replacing lecture with activities was the best starting point they had.