Workplace Learning & Leadership: It’s a Book!

April 25, 2011

They may not be as heart-warming and engaging as the words “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” are. And we’re certainly not giving out cigars. But the phrase “it’s (finally) a book” is tremendously satisfying and rewarding to those of us who have given birth to one.

The recent publication of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Nonprofit Trainers, which Lori Reed and I co-wrote for ALA Editions over a two-year period while meeting quite a few other professional and personal commitments, does bring home the satisfaction that accompanies any extended act of creation—particularly one that celebrates the spirit of collaboration by itself being the product of extended and extensive collaborations.

And it’s far from being all about us. Workplace Learning & Leadership reflects the collaborations we established with acquisitions editor Christopher Rhodes and other colleagues at ALA Editions. It also is the result of collaborations with the trainer-teacher-learners—many of them active in the ALA Learning Round Table–who volunteered hours of their time for the interviews that are the heart of the book

Given the theme—that workplace learning and performance professionals are increasingly ineffectual if we don’t assume leadership roles within our organizations and foster the development of communities of learning—there’s little surprise in the acknowledgement that our colleagues helped create what ALA Editions published. It’s one thing for trainer-teacher-learners like Lori and me to try to pull together our own experiences in a way that helps others learn how to create effective training programs. It’s quite another to recognize that learning is at least partially fostered through effective storytelling, and that it takes a lot of great storytellers to create a book about effective learning.

Gathering some of the best storytellers we know, then taking a back seat to those storytellers so they could engage readers in a memorable and entertaining learning experience, reflects what we all know about learning: it has to be sticky. And stickiness is enhanced by a variety of voices.

The foundation for all of this, of course, is recognition that success in training-teaching-learning is rooted in a sense of humility. It’s not about any of us posing as the ultimate experts in our field. Nor is it about achieving a level of expertise and then resting on our laurels. Learning is continuous—as is the act of gathering and documenting practices that benefit all of us—so what we have done through Workplace Learning & Leadership and our ongoing attempts to stay ahead of those who rely on us to provide effective learning experiences is to celebrate.

We are celebrating the joys and benefits of collaboration. Of community. And the effective use of leadership to the benefit of all we serve. We are also celebrating the leadership skills all of us have developed as well as the leadership skills we see in others. Most importantly, we are celebrating the positive effects our efforts have on learners and the people whom they ultimately serve.

It’s all about providing something of lasting worth. Something that contributes to the workplace learning and performance endeavors we all adore. And something that will reach and touch members of our community we otherwise might not have the chance to meet.


Rework: Collaboration, Creativity, and the Spirit of Wikinomics

July 25, 2010

The commitment to improvisation, collaboration, and sharing that runs through all successful workplace learning and performance efforts is at the heart of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s recently released book, Rework, a wonderful collection of very short essays about how we need to rework much of what we currently do.

It’s a book very much of its moment as those preferring Web 2.0-style collaborations and those who feel territorial about everything they produce attempt to find common ground. The writers suggest that we avoid the complexities and turf wars which so often hold many of us back from achievements we might otherwise produce if we weren’t trying to do too much, trying to recreate what others are doing rather than pursuing our own vision on behalf of those we serve, and allowing ourselves to “obsess over tools instead of what [we]’re going to do with those tools” (p. 87).

Readers familiar with Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, will find themselves on familiar ground here as they encounter Fried and Hansson’s suggestion to “sell your by-products” (pp. 90-91)—a suggestion rooted in the idea that if we find applications for everything we work on rather than focusing only on what we set out to do and leaving untapped resources as waste material, we become more effective at what we do. Trainers, for example, might take parts of something already finished and find a new use for it, as Gwinnett County Public Library Training Manager Jay Turner did by using video clips from a live staff recognition event to create a new half-hour virtual staff day video which more than 90 percent of staff voluntarily watched after he posted it online for them; Turner found another way to rework the material by writing, for other trainers, about the tools he used to produce the piece.

Another familiar aspect of the book is the light and playful approach the writers take—which also carries over to the promotional videos posted on their website for Rework. The simple graphics which are interspersed with the text throughout the book seem to take a page—or many pages—from Dan Roam’s The Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin, which help trainers and other presenters see that we don’t have to display the artistic skills of Michelangelo or Rafael to be able to reach others. The use of the graphics and the stylistic device of providing short sections on dozens of interrelated themes—most pieces are no longer than a tightly written blog posting and have the same sense of informality—make the book a pleasure to peruse and easy to absorb. Which means it again offers a great model for trainers who are tackling complex topics and trying to find ways to break the complexity into small, digestible chunks.

It is not the content that is revolutionary here. Reminders to improvise (pp. 18-20), produce something tangible rather than engaging in endless discussions about producing something tangible (pp. 33-45), undertake a few achievable projects rather than trying to pursue every possibility and ending up completing none (p. 83), ask what problems we are solving through our undertakings (p. 100), and learn by doing rather than always trying to duplicate what others have accomplished (pp. 134-136) simply take us back to basics we should already know but all too often set aside in a frenzy of trying to respond to all constituents without serving any of them effectively. And if we can relearn and rework some of these lessons, just imagine what the learners we assist will gain.

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