Training, the Intersection, and Perspective (2nd of 4)

June 1, 2009

Frans Johansson, at the beginning of The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Cultures, describes a lovely café in the Azores and talks about it as a creative nexus, a place where people from all over the world meet, talk, learn from each other by exchanging ideas, and then spread what they learn through their continuing travels.

This really is not much different than what happens in the best of all teaching and training settings, whether they are in a formal classroom, meeting room, lunch room, or through an online offering such as a webcast, Elluminate session, Skype session, or in Second Life. It is all about the community that we as teachers-trainers-learners help establish through the perspective we develop and bring to our work and to our play.

Sometimes, developing new perspectives can be as easy as stepping into a familiar place and looking at it in a way we previously have ignored. If, for example, we always teach from the front of a room with which we are familiar and are chained to our computer work station, we can shake things up by walking around the room during our presentation, enjoying exchanges with the students to whom we have figuratively and literally become closer. At other times, we might really turn things around by asking for a different room set-up: chairs facing in a direction the students usually have not looked. In that process, we change everyone’s perspective—even our own—as we redefine the front and back and sides of the room. The simple act of modifying the learning space at least subliminally suggests and promises that something is amiss in a potentially exciting way. If it is approached in a natural rather than pointless and gimmicky fashion, it can be a way of waking up those who are prepared to just glide through yet another training workshop. It also creates the possibility that the teacher-trainer will see something unexpected from this new perspective and, through the wonders of improv, incorporate it into that day’s workshop.

There is, of course, the danger of alienating the participants if the change does not make sense.

I recently was part of a group which met daily for a few weeks in a particular room, with an established (u-shaped) set-up of tables and chairs. When one group of presenters decided to switch rooms without explanation, those of us who were in the audience found ourselves in a much less comfortable room with much less possibility for the interchanges we all craved. We sat in rows of seats similar to what we sat in when we were in elementary school. Everyone faced the presenters, who stood in the front of the room. There was little chance for spontaneous interactions since the room itself placed the seminar leaders completely in control of every moment of the seminar, including the all-too-brief question-and-answer period. This was a stark and dispirited contrast to the normal set-up where everyone saw everyone else and exchanges were very lively. Although the presenters had the illusion of absolute control over everything that happened during the seminar, they could not control the participants’ resistance to this unexpected and unwanted change. A few of my colleagues were so disenchanted that they overtly refused to join in the very limited discussion which the presenters half-heartedly tried to conduct during the final few moments of the session.

So, where does all of this leave us in terms of our perspective? In a world wide open with possibilities, where, by encouraging exchanges and creative interactions, we all learn, grow, and spread the word. And, perhaps, we become actively engaged in the Intersection where our sense of community and possibility leads to even greater things.

Next: Training, the Intersection, and Breaking Down the Barriers

This item was originally posted on October 18, 2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.


Training By Stepping Into the Intersection (1st of 4)

June 1, 2009

I am at the Intersection, and I want to take you with me.

The Intersection, Frans Johansson writes in The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Cultures, is that wonderful place where people from different fields of study or walks of life meet, share ideas, and walk away with far more than they could ever create alone. It’s where a Swedish chef who was born in Ethiopia combines ingredients in ways none have ever done before and puts a New York restaurant (Aquavit)—and himself—on the map. It’s where a young Ph.D math student creates a revolutionary card game (Magic), which earns $40 million for the company which buys and produces it.

“When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary ideas,” Johansson writes (The Medici Effect, p. 2). “The name I have given the phenomenon, the Medici Effect, comes from a remarkable burst of creativity in fifteenth-century Italy.”

And for those of us who work in the field of staff training, it is where we learn just as much from students as we can offer them, with the result that all of us are teacher-trainers as well as student-learners and what we find is spread to others we will soon encounter.

There is really nothing new in the concept of drawing from a place we can’t clearly define. Carl Jung calls it the collective unconscious and suggests that when we properly prepare ourselves, we can draw from incredible reservoirs of useful archetypes. Others refer to the sense that they benefit from the experiences of past lives. (I’ve always loved the words a friend once blurted out: “I don’t really believe in past lives—except for the brief glimpses I’ve had of my own!”)

So where does this take us in our role as trainers and educators?

Johansson might suggest that we are constantly dancing at the edge of the Intersection if not completely immersed in it. Many of us travel and, therefore, are constantly exposed to a wide range of stimulating settings, challenges, and people. Our students—even if they are all from a particular field such as libraries—themselves interact routinely with people from incredibly diverse backgrounds and with tremendously varied interests. We are, more and more, expanding our definition of community through the contacts we make with the resources available to us in a Web 2.0 world. And some of us plant and nurture seeds through what we teach and learn in every session which we lead, thereby adding to what grows within Johansson’s Intersection.

We are also constantly exposed to seemingly disparate elements—Skype, reference services, and those who use library services without actually entering a brick and mortar library, for example. This leads to the sort of connection which produced a panel discussion during the Library Staff Development Committee of the Greater Bay Area’s “Future of Libraries, Part III: Embracing the Invisible Customer” conference at the San Francisco Public Library September 26, 2007 and featured a reference librarian from Ohio University Libraries explaining Skype as a reference tool—via a live Skype connection into the auditorium.

The beauty of the Intersection is that it really does not require very much effort—just a commitment to remain inquisitive. We need to be able to question what we learn and know and teach. Break down the barriers. And be open to a constant stimulating change of our perspective. Most of all, we need to listen: to ourselves, to those around us, and to those we meet in books and magazines, online, in classrooms, and even in our dreams

The rest falls into place.

Next: Training, the Intersection, and Perspective

This item was originally posted on October 11, 2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.

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