Friday, May 25, 2012

Dinner Time!

"We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.”
         ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
This year's ASTD International Conference in Denver was a great event.  I love networking with other people and learning new things.  And you just can't do that very well from your desk.

One of the concepts that really struck me with this conference was the focus on insight and innovation.  I don't know anyone who would say, I can't stand innovation or  Insights are dumb.  But how many of us spend any part of our working day trying to develop those skills? 

Almost no one, including me.  Now that's a real insight!

I concatenated a number of concepts from different talks.  One was a neurologist who was researching what happens in brain activity as someone has an insight, or as they described it an "ah ha moment."  The talk described how when we focus on a task we "turn off" access to other parts of our brains.  We lose the ability to connect to experiences stored deep in our mind.  In contrast, when we dream we have access to the total of our experiences on a subconscious level - that's why we dream odd things from our distant past.  Insights come to us when we are unfocussed.

Another talk described how we are wired for stories.  Storytelling can be so powerful because our brains activate different parts of our brains and experiences as we process.  Stories connect with us logically, emotionally.  Insights come when we connect fragments in a "non-linear" way.

One session that really struck me described the phenomenon of an answer to a problem "coming to us" later, after we've had time to process the question.  Even though we may have stopped consciously processing, our subconscious keeps working.  Often an answer will "bubble up" when we are unfocussed.

So this week I directed my team that for one day each month they are to disconnect from the working world.  No emails or cell phones.  Go for a walk.  Read a book about the industry.  Attend an industry event or talk (or a conference!)  Network.  Listen to Ted Talks.  Do anything to let your mind free up and seed insight and innovation.

Now this isn't a day off or a slacking opportunity.  They are responsible for writing a deliverable that describes what they learned or came up with, and to share that with the group as a whole.  They have to document some new learned piece of knowledge, skill, insight that emerged from their subconscious, or some new idea(s).  It is definitely a productive day.

What are you doing to feed your brain?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Don't Forget To Feed Yourself

In our everyday lives we hurry through our days, trying to get things done and cross items off our eternally expanding to-do lists.  Few of us have a lack of things to do.  We never get to work, fire up the technology, and say, "Gee, I wish I had something to do." 

So we make lists, sometimes on paper but more often in our heads.  We spend our days constantly shuffling items as priorities shift.  Your boss, your employees, your family and friends all seem to spend every waking hour thinking of ways to toss a wrench into your finely tuned machine.  You know they really aren't, but the result is still the same.

Everyone is different but I can guarantee every list has the same omission.  They all lack "you time."

As I attend the ASTD conference one thing hits me right in the face.  I come to the realization the I'm collecting so many new ideas to use in the classroom, in my company, and with my colleagues.  It makes me a better professional.  It makes me a better person.

This is "me time."  This is my refill, my recharge.   

So here's one more "sticky" item for your list.  Make time for yourself to  learn.  Shift priorities but that one will always be there.  Be it a conference, a workshop, or just a hike or regular conversation.  You owe it to yourself and everyone around you.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

“Little things made a difference in feedback I heard – the handouts, quality of answers to questions, internet access, lunch…”

I like to start my blogs with a famous quote to set the tone.  But this one is from an attendee from our annual Users Conference (I’m going to maintain their anonymity).  That part of the note to me really hit home.  I thought of a recent anniversary weekend away I spent.  I remember grousing about the price of the room before the trip but when we arrived and during our trip everything was flawless.  There was no detail left undone, from the landscaping to the fruit and wine on the reception table in the lobby. 

Then I realized that I really don’t mind paying more for quality.  We could have saved a few dollars staying at some chain hotel but it would have been a completely forgettable experience. 

Which brings me back to the conference.  We really spared little expense or effort to make the experience really great.  We printed some nice bound books that we could have just stapled together, we offered a full buffet breakfast and lunch in a nice room with tablecloths and silverware, and we staffed to the point where every room had a greeter and SMEs to help answer questions.  This is all on top of a two month effort to develop great quality sessions.

We didn’t have to go to all of that trouble.  But it was clear to me that our customers (our learners) had a great experience.  They will remember what they learned better because they were comfortable, relaxed and not distracted.

Often when we develop a learning experience we just look at the content, instead of the whole picture.  Next time you develop a course or session, step back and put yourself in that room.  Ask yourself, “Would I want to be in there?