Finding Instructional Design Inspiration and Creativity from Unlikely Places

Inspiration

Walking through a lava field in Hawaii a few years ago, I turned to my wife and told her that this was such an inspirational experience… I was getting all sorts of ideas of how to connect this amazing hike with my learning and development projects. She shook her head and told me I had a one track mind.

Are some people naturally more creative than others? Perhaps. But I think like most other things, creativity is a skill set that can be developed over time for anyone who is interested in making their training programs more interesting, engaging, fun, unique and memorable.

If you’re truly interested in building your creative muscle, here are five exercises that might help.

1. Stop and look around.

Seriously, stop whatever it is that you’re doing right now Continue reading

20 reasons training experiences should be more like vacation

Hello again! It’s Monday morning and I’m back, fresh off a two-week vacation to the east coast of the United States, visiting family. Toward the end of my vacation, I posted the following on Facebook:

Vacation Photos

This was my 6th or 7th summer at Squam Lake in New Hampshire. My wife’s family has been going there for four decades.

It got me thinking a bit about training as well. Not only should life be like the images in the photo more often than not, training experiences should be as well. Does this mean we should allow our learners to just sit around for two weeks, not accountable for anything? No.

But enjoyment and effective training are not mutually exclusive. Continue reading

Case Study: Training Challenge – Covering 18 Topics in 45 Minutes

The Training Situation

SightLife, the eye bank for which I work, is dedicated to eliminating corneal blindness within our lifetime. In order to do this in India, there will need to be 100,000 corneas available for transplant every year (last year there were approximately 25,000 corneas available for transplant). It’s a big goal, and in theory, the eye banks of India are aligned with this goal.

But what does rapidly growing in order to help support 100,000 transplants actually mean? What will it take to actually get there? What policies, procedures and practices need to be in place? There’s a lot that will need to happen in order to move this from a big idea to a concrete reality.

The Training Challenge

Each year, we hold a meeting with eye banks in India to discuss these challenges. There are so many areas to focus on that we normally only pick one or two. The problem with this is that some eye banks aren’t ready for the topics we pick, some eye banks are in the midst of dealing with the topics we pick, and some eye banks have already found some solutions and ways to address the areas we focus on.

The other challenge is that this meeting is only one day long, and there are many other items we need to accomplish in addition to educational and professional development sessions.

This year we were left grappling with a question: how could we address everyone’s learning needs, bring all of the issues and challenges we’ll face in order to reach 100,000 transplants per year (we identified up to 18 key challenges, although there are probably more) and do all of this within a 45 minute block of time?

The Training Solution

Taking inspiration from The Game of Life, Monopoly and a few other family board games, our L&D team set out to create a game Continue reading

67 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Learning and Development Professional

washburnBrian2

In spring 1998, a young, brash bureaucrat at the United States Office of Personnel Management delivered a presentation on the federal government’s early retirement policy. It was his first presentation and as the room cleared out, someone pulled this young, brash bureaucrat’s boss aside and asked: “Who’s the asshole?”

It was me. And apparently I didn’t quite hit my first presentation out of the park. I’ve learned a lot over the past 17 years. Here are a few of those lessons learned, in no particular order: Continue reading

Lessons in Informal Learning from a Kids’ Bake Sale

Bake Sale

A few weeks ago, my kids got together with the neighbor’s kids and put up a lemonade stand outside our house. Thanks to several charitable parents and a few good natured neighbors, the kids walked away with $4 in profits that they could split equally among themselves.

This past Saturday, our budding entrepreneurs were at it again, this time with a bake sale. They declared that all the proceeds would be donated to earthquake victims in Nepal.

This morning I will have the opportunity to walk up to my organization’s director of development and hand over about $70 in cash that can go toward re-building efforts in Nepal. It was quite a boost over their previous ($4) effort!

From the perspective of a parent, this bake sale idea to raise money restored my faith in humanity. From the perspective of a learning and development professional, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. I began to ask a few questions about what they thought was the difference between the lemonade stand and the bake sale. I uncovered several words of wisdom from these elementary school kids that talent development professionals would benefit from incorporating into their own practices, such as: Continue reading

The One Word Resolution (2015 Edition)

For the past several years, I’ve foregone a traditional New Year’s Resolution for my professional development goals and instead have resolved to commit to one powerful word that can guide my focus for the upcoming year.

In 2013 it was “momentum“. In 2014 it was all about “possibility“.

As I look to 2015, my one word resolution shall be “execution”.

Not as in “Hey, let’s all go on down to the gallows and see this week’s execution,” but rather as in “Ok, I’ve surveyed what’s possible. It’s time to turn the dream of a world in which every presentation will be engaging and lead to change into a reality. Let’s move from talking and dreaming to the execution of this idea.”

Want to join me? Is there one word you can commit to over the next year to serve as your guide? Let’s hear about it in the comment section!

Whether you’re a regular subscriber or simply happened to stumble across this blog because you typed the wrong thing into Google and somehow you ended up on this page, I’d like to thank you for taking some time to read these posts. After 98 posts this year, it’s time for me to take a little break for the holidays.

I hope to see you back here on January 5th, when the wit and wisdom of the Train Like A Champion blog returns with all new posts on Mondays and Thursdays. For now, I’d like to say: Have a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Facilitation Lessons from a Drum Circle

Drum Circle

In the summer of 2001, I was introduced to the concept of a drum circle. As I reflect on that experience, I realize it exposed me to three key elements of effective meeting facilitation.

I was visiting my friend’s mother, Susan Bauz, at her home in Newport News, VA. All afternoon, people were talking about going to a drum circle. They weren’t sure if I’d enjoy it. They gave me the opportunity to stay home. I had no idea what a drum circle was or why they thought I wouldn’t like it, but I insisted that I’d like to go.

I thought it would be a performance where I could sit and passively listen. I had no idea that it was a participatory activity.

Everyone present was given their choice of percussion instrument and we were welcome to exchange our instruments at any time. Then someone said “go” and the drum circle was off and running. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was quite sure that I didn’t like this at all. There were no instructions. There was no structure. Just people beating drums.

I sat for 30 minutes, beating the same staccato cadence from the minute it began to the minute it ended. There was a moment, about halfway through our session, in which another drummer found my cadence and repeated it. Eventually everyone was repeating my cadence.

Ha! I thought. I’m doing it right! They’re all following me. Finally!

And then as quickly as they found my cadence, they moved on to their own beats once again.

Lessons for Facilitators

A drum circle, like meeting facilitation, involves a lot of improv. To be sure, meeting facilitation will often have objectives, maybe even a lesson plan and some structure, but in the end, skilled facilitators are willing to move away from their planned lessons depending on the needs of their audience.

I’ve been told that there are 3 rules to improv:

  1. Listen
  2. The answer is always “yes”
  3. Make the other person look good

Can you imagine the consequences if we violated any or all of these rules as we facilitated a meeting? What happens when we don’t listen to our audience? What happens when a participant asks a question and our immediate response is “No!” or “That’s wrong!”? What happens when we don’t attempt to make our co-facilitators or our attendees look good?

In the drum circle, there was one brief instance in which my fellow drum circlers humored me and marched to the beat of my drum. And I felt like I was a part of something. For a brief moment, this was fun!

But I never gave anything back in return. I kept to my own beat.

I violated all three rules of improv and this turned out not to be a great experience for me. I’d like to think I’ve learned from that experience and am able to better adhere to these rules when I facilitate in order to create an amazing experience for my audience and my co-facilitator(s).

As for Susan Bauz, the one who introduced me to this whole drum circle business? She passed away this weekend. I’ll be forever grateful to her for inviting me to come out of my comfort zone in order to get a life lesson in improv.

Labor Day is a Good Reminder for Training Professionals to Work Less

Sometimes it seems we training professionals work too hard. As we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, this is a simple reminder for anyone in the training field that we don’t have to work so hard!

I was on vacation last week and spent some time at the beach with my kids. At one point, they asked to learn how to skip stones on the water. I had a decision to make: what would be the best way to train them to skip stones?

My first instinct was to pull out my computer (yes, I even bring it to the beach in case I get a good idea for a blog post) and develop a quick PowerPoint presentation. It only took 45 minutes or so to do a little research on stone skipping and I threw together this presentation for them:

 

They were intrigued by this presentation at first, but quickly lost interest. And when they actually found a few round(ish), flat(ish) stones and tossed them in the water, the stones did not skip.

And then their grandfather came along, helped the kids pick out some good skipping stones, and spent about 3 minutes working with them on their throwing motion. My four year old tossed a stone that skipped 7 times.

Skipping Stones 1

So, to recap:

  • I spent an hour putting together a PowerPoint deck at the beach and then presenting to my children on what stone skipping was, a brief history, reasons to do it and how to do it. It resulted in 0 skipped stones.
  • My father spent three minutes working with the children on how to skip stones. It resulted in countless skipped stones (and even more laughs and smiles and ooo’s and aaah’s).

If someone needs to learn a new skill, perhaps we don’t always need to spend so much time preparing presentations and materials. Sometimes there might be an easier, more effective, less time consuming way to train.

Happy Labor Day!

Where’s the Training in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”?!

Last weekend, we took a family outing to the movie theater. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a movie about training.

Side note: If Hollywood was smart, they’d make more movies about training. Can you imagine the crowds lining up after seeing a movie trailer that went something to this effect: “In a world where everyone was subjected to lecture, one man chose to take a stand. Where others left masses of boredom in their wake, he rose up from humble beginnings to lead a revolution. Adventure. Romance. Engagement. Valuing others’ experiences. Task vs process maintenance. Coming this Thanksgiving, you’re invited to come along for the adventure of a lifetime.” I’d cast Vinnie Chase as the young, sometimes naïve, rogue, rebellious learning professional. But I’ve totally digressed.

Last weekend, my family saw How to Train Your Dragon 2. The adventure and plot twists and drama and intensity and pace were all great, yet I walked away feeling a bit cheated. Empty. As we left the theater, I turned to my 7-year-old daughter and asked: “Where was the training?!” She said there wasn’t any, and skipped away.

How could she be so nonchalant?! How could she not care?! What kind of parent am I? Raising a child who doesn’t even care if the title of the movie matches up with the plot?? (To my son’s credit, he ate a whole bag of Skittles then promptly fell asleep. I’m assuming this was because he, too, was on the lookout for training and when he didn’t see any, he decided to cut his losses.)

I couldn’t let it go. It invaded my dreams on Sunday night.

I dreamt I was in the theater. It all seemed so real. My family next to me. Other movie patrons. The credits rolled. I stood up and yelled: “WHERE WAS THE TRAINING?! I CAME HERE TO SEE A MOVIE ABOUT TRAINING! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE A BLOG POST ABOUT TRANSFERABLE LESSONS THAT I CAN TAKE FROM DRAGON TRAINING AND APPLY IN THE CORPORATE WORLD?!”

And then Hiccup, the hero of the movie, peered out from behind the scrolling credits and, in his calm, rational way of being, simply said: “Sir, what do you mean ‘where was the training’? It was everywhere.”

For some reason, in my dream, I didn’t think it was weird that the movie character was talking with me. I did, however, found his argument flawed. “But there was no classroom. No flipchart. Jeez, you didn’t even have PowerPoint. Or Mr. Sketch markers. Hiccup, you’re a nice guy. But you’re young. And naïve. You need some structure if you’re going to call it ‘training’.”

“I suppose it all depends on your definition of ‘training’ then, doesn’t it?” the young chieftain asked rhetorically. “Look around? Did you see ‘proper training facilities’ anywhere in the set design? No. But more importantly, when we think ‘training’ we think skills development. And that takes place in the context of real life. Our ‘training’ depends on supportive relationships. Teaching others by modeling the behaviors we’d like to see. We treat our dragons with respect. Through our actions, the dragons learn how to behave appropriately around us. You don’t need PowerPoint, or flipchart or a classroom for this type of thing. In fact, I’d argue that PowerPoint or flipchart or a classroom would actually have hindered the way we trained our dragons.”

Then I woke up. They say that different things in your dreams represent different aspects of your life or your psyche. I wonder what this dream could have possibly meant…

A Letter of Thanks to Maya Angelou

Dear Ms. Angelou,

I know you’ll never have a chance to read this. I’m sorry for that, but I’m writing this letter anyways.

As I grow older, I find genuinely life-changing ah-ha moments are fewer and farther between. Several Christmases ago, you gave me an ah-ha moment that has stuck with me. It improved my parenting skills, my presentation skills, and maybe even my appreciation for the kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher (Mr. Reddinger) asked the class to take a few moments and write down what poetry meant to us. When he walked by my desk and looked at my paper, he saw that it was blank. He rolled his eyes, shook his head, and moved along.

Poetry was pretty meaningless to me. It used way too much symbolism, which made me think harder than I felt I should have to think in order to understand something that was written in my native tongue. Why not just tell me what you mean? Besides, how can writers call themselves “poets” if their words don’t rhyme?

As the years passed, I grew older and wiser and more set in my ways about poetry.

When I had kids, I was thrilled to read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. They mostly rhymed, but even when they didn’t, they still made sense.

At Christmastime, it was a lot of fun to snuggle around the fire as a family to read The Night Before Christmas.

When the night before Christmas turned into Christmas Day in 2008, my very young daughter opened a present. It was a book. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace. A Christmas Poem.

Amazing Peace

I had a sinking feeling. I opened it but noticed that this “poem” didn’t rhyme. What fun was that for a toddler, let alone for me? Luckily, it came with a CD, so I didn’t have to fumble through a bunch of poetic verses and stanzas, dripping with symbolism and meaning.

When the presents had all been opened and we all had a chance to take some time to appreciate the gifts we had been given, my wife popped in the CD. My daughter was captivated, perhaps mostly by the illustrations in the book. As I listened, I was captivated by your passionate narration.

It was a poem that didn’t rhyme and was dripping with symbolism and hidden meaning, yet listening to your narration it all seemed to make sense.

The next time I opened Amazing Peace, I tried reading it myself (without resorting to the CD). Not just reading it, I tried reading with passion. I could never equal your narration, but I could improve my own narration every time.

This experience was one of the first things that came to mind a few weeks ago when I read Lauren Hug’s blog post about how her own husband improved his public speaking skills by reading bedtime stories to his child.

Finding something worth being passionate about. Practicing it with passion. Delivering it with passion. These are the lessons I learned from you. These lessons have made me better in what I do.

Thank you Ms. Angelou for helping me to be better.

With great affection and appreciation,

Brian