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designer / student of human nature

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active learning

Outbreaks of innovation

“We will avoid innovation like the plague, until there’s an actual plague” is not part of any organization’s Mission statement. Despite decades of talk about support for innovative ideas, better ways of doing things are routinely ignored or actively discouraged. The reality of life in ordinary times is that having good intentions is rarely enough to spark change.

Bridging the Say–Do Gap
What’s different now? What can we learn from a situation that has lead people to collaborate in new ways and encouraged them to proceed with incomplete information?

Under normal conditions, humans have a habit of putting up with dysfunctional ways of doing things. They work around obstacles rather than figuring out how to remove rocks in the road. This doesn’t happen because people are lazy or lack imagination. It happens because most jobs focus on making minor improvements to the status quo, rather than re-thinking how things are done. People are paid to manage—rather than solve—chronic problems in the system.

This pandemic has exposed gaps in our social contract while showing us that we really can get beyond analysis paralysis. United by a shared purpose, people have been given a new license to take action.

What’s different now:

1. Doing nothing is the less attractive option
When forced to take action, we have an excuse to proceed without proof and predictability. Eye-rolling talk about “driving innovation” (really?) and “thinking outside the box” blather is not needed when people are actually let out of the box. Suddenly, solutions appear to problems that were once considered unsolvable.

2. Empathy is setting us free
The best way to discover new possibilities for moving forward is to see things from every stakeholder’s point of view. This perspective creates true consultative collaboration and real partnerships vs. empty words.

3. Fear of criticism is dissolving
Chronic naysayers are being overwhelmed by people with a can-do spirit. Rigid for-or-against barriers are being broken down. Trying things and learning-in-action is becoming the new normal.

We have a long way to go to achieve a respectful social contract that provides equal opportunity for all. But instead of being hindered by past obsessions with predictability and proof of concept, we’ve been forced to stretch our thinking with new kinds of conversations that make good things happen.

-Sharon VanderKaay

A timeless way to hone human skills

Peer learning conversations encourage caring, curiosity, creativity, confidence and contribution.

We see a steady stream of reports on the future of work that call for human skills development. Unlike technical skills, human skills are difficult to teach. Skills that involve social interaction and thinking evolve over a lifetime, from the playground to the workplace and beyond.

How can this natural learning process be accelerated? Some futurists see training simulations and online courses as a preferred path to developing greater empathy, imagination and resilience: “No need to wrestle with messy, real life situations—you can learn to negotiate with avatars!”

Peer learning is radically human and timeless

Before we place too much faith in simulations, let’s examine the benefits of more integrated, lifelong, human-to-human approaches. What if we learned how to extract more wisdom from our everyday work experiences?

And what if everyone had equal access to human skills development? Rather than depend primarily on costly, exclusive training models, we can draw from timeless ways of absorbing life’s deeper lessons.

Indigenous learning circles, for example, respect everyone who gathers to talk through their real life experiences. In contrast to isolated training events, these ongoing conversations enrich participants’ understanding of diverse viewpoints. They encourage caring, curiosity, creativity, confidence and contribution.

What if we build on the concept of these traditional learning circles combined with the Japanese notion of Ba, (shared space for enriching relationships and knowledge)? Should we be looking to age-old, face-to-face ways of interacting? How radically human!

Instead of relying on artificial training situations to change our lifelong habits of interaction, why not learn by reflecting on our real, messy, everyday experiences? How radically timeless!

Be a student of human nature

people at Light Fest_2

Today we can all benefit by becoming students of human nature. Each day is filled with opportunities to improve how we relate to others. But we need to know what to look for in order to extract the most valuable lessons.

Mindful learning from daily experience can become a habit. These five questions help us diagnose what’s really going on:

Learn more_questions

ACTIVE LEARNING BY DESIGN

Most of the knowledge we need to do our work is learned informally. To thrive in an unpredictable world, we can make the most of these informal learning opportunities.

learn-to-learn

Above quote is from The Economist article: ” Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative

photo at top: “Run Beyond” by Angelo Bonello, Italy, taken at Light Fest 2017, Distillery District in Toronto

-Sharon VanderKaay

 

Design thinking at work

Learning Faster from Experience_16_1
An active learning approach to design thinking

Design thinking helps us get unstuck. It reveals hidden options so we can take action with greater confidence and impact.

Active learning (vs. passive learning) is a mindful approach to leveraging on-job experience.

When we combine active learning with design thinking, we have a powerful framework for continuous progress.

Learning Faster from Experience_vanderpalette

As the integration of AI grows in every kind of job, human-centric skills are in growing demand. But critical thinking, judgment and decision making are difficult to teach.

Design thinking offers an optimistic, strengths-based approach to learning. It works because it encourages our natural human curiosity. In essence, we can learn to design our way through messy situations at work—while staying one step ahead of the robots.

Here’s a slide summary of these concepts:

What questions should we be asking?

luggage rejectionNew ideas are often ignored or rejected. How can better questions make a difference?

Let’s begin by imagining how the invention of wheeled luggage might be met with a shrug.

For many months after receiving his patent in 1972, Bernard D. Sadow’s idea of a wheeled suitcase (pulled by a loose strap) was rejected. As he rolled his sample from meeting to meeting with various department stores, he was greeted with indifference.  Eventually he sold his invention to Macy’s, and the market grew quickly as this story in The New York Times recounts.

But it wasn’t until 1987 that Northwest Airlines pilot Robert Plath invented the roll-aboard suitcase which was pulled in an upright position using a long handle. Plath at first sold his Rollaboard to crew members, then his invention became a hit with passengers who saw it in use by flight attendants.

The initial rejection of wheeled luggage demonstrates a pattern of clinging to the old, difficult way when a better way may be under our noses. What kinds of questions would have changed how people viewed such an opportunity for innovation? What questions would have exposed unmet needs?

The New York Times reported:  “Mr. Sadow recalled the strong resistance he met on those early sales calls, when he was frequently told that men would not accept suitcases with wheels. “It was a very macho thing,” he said.”

So, for example, these questions might have been eye-opening at the time::

  1. Who makes the suitcase buying decisions?
  2. How could the experience of moving luggage be improved?
  3. What if travelers could see a wheeled option in use?
  4. What are the trends in air travel and ground transport links?
  5. What assumptions should we verify before we say no to this idea?

It’s a stretch for us to imagine the idea of wheeled luggage being rejected. But this exercise helps us see how unasked questions may continue to hold up progress today.

-Sharon VanderKaay

 

 

 

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