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Balancing task and people

November 22, 2012

I’m working with a client who is providing their employees who need to work across country boundaries with some training on how to best design and deliver an online meeting. As we’ve worked through some of the nuances, I found myself sketching this and thought I’d share it as a way of thinking about blending different communication options and digital supports. If you see the descriptions beside the “box”, it gives some context to identifying your “group”.

As this was originally conceived for a client who was primarily concerned with improving the effectiveness of meetings, it has a “meeting” focus. The “+” means ADD and the “~ ” means ONLY (I doubt it means that, but couldn’t think of another symbol to represent!).

For those who are grappling with the “should this have a social component?” question, I’d love to know if this type of matrix would be helpful to you.

Simply Changing Part 1 – My move to Berlin

October 30, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts on the international flavour of technology and/or learning & development.

In April 2012, I decided to make a bold step in my life and move to Berlin. It is a magnificent city with much history, culture, openness, and beauty that welcomes close to 10 Million visitors a year.

Why Berlin? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • I have always wanted to live in another country – I had worked for 16 years in the same company (many different roles), lived 11 years in the same apartment, and had not lived more than 10 kilometers from Vancouver General Hospital, where I was born. Being a dual citizen of Germany and hearing about how amazing Berlin was made the choice easy.
  • It’s in Germany, but fairly forgiving for those learning German – I may be a dual citizen,  but never spoke German at home and thus I had to almost start from scratch. The Goethe Institute helped with that, and I highly recommend them.
  • An international metropolis in constant change – From the Berlin Wall coming down, a mecca for artists and musicians, the impacts of gentrification and being at the forefront of the Euro Crisis, Berlin is the embodiment of life in “perpetual beta”.

So I packed my bag, and headed over the Pond.  Having spent over 10 years working in the learning & organizational development field, I often worked on initiatives related to change. Sometimes the change impacted me, sometimes just others. I came to realize the power of keeping my approach to change simple.  This time around, I was going to be the initiator, manager and recipient of change. So I did what I had done many times in my professional life, I prepared. I read some great expat blogs, spoke to many people about the change, and even took a pre-change trip to Hawaii! While the preparation provided peace of mind as I packed up and moved to Europe, it was a few simple things that really provided me with the support I required to integrate into Berlin:

Have the curious imperative.

Seth Godin’s post on the curious imperative suggests its just not ok to say, I don’t know. Be it looking for a restaurant or trying to figure out the German bureaucratic system, taking accountability was crucial to learning the ropes, and something I had to remember when things got frustrating. I developed a greater sense of self-reliance and confidence*.

*NOTE: Watch out when trying to figure out German via Google Translator…it doesn’t always help with the essence of what you are trying to say…especially with bureaucrats!

Living like I was in an Improv show

In an improv show, the actors live by the phrase “yes, let’s” meaning that they cannot turn down another idea from a fellow actor, but can alter it through suggestions and feedback. I had taken an improv course and also read how Bobby McFerrin (the guy who sang Don’t Worry, Be Happy) uses improvisation in his work.  

The results:  By keeping this in mind, I was able to meet fantastic people and contacts, experience wonderful cultural events, and open up future opportunities that I would never had if I didn’t say “yes, let’s”. I’d like to think that others benefited from my suggestions and feedback, but the post-event feedback isn’t in yet! ;)

Connecting through a passion

As some of you know, Germany has a rich history in soccer (football) so hanging at the local bar during a match is always a great way to learn about the culture. But I’ve never been good with my feet, so I looked for an alternative. To my delight, I was able to find a baseball team (the Berlin Sluggers) who practiced 2 times a week and played on weekend.

The results: Not only was I able to be physically active and enjoying the beautiful summer weather, I now had an extensive network of friends who have helped me with my needs in housing, professional development, employment and integration.

While this may only be part 1 of the journey, I have learned to use these simple concepts to help initiate, manage and receive change. The power of simplicity is often overstated, but underutilized. The next time you are confronted with change, either as an initiator, manager or recipient, see what simple things you can use to make the change a success.  As Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try”.

Simon aus Berlin

Spark Your Interest goes international

October 30, 2012

One of the wonders of technology is how much it shrinks our world. I’ve often wondered how similar learning & development is in other countries. On the surface it seems as though it is familiar, but perhaps it’s just my filter bubble. Over the next little while, I’ll be engaging with some bloggers and L&D folks around the world to explore this, in a kind of blog-tour.

First up is a former colleague who has moved to Berlin. I’ll let him tell his story in the next post.

Got ideas for how we could explore technology around the world? Drop a comment below…

Learning from Improv

September 19, 2012

My teenage daughter has joined her school improv team and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Having been in the “training biz” for nearly 20 years, and a consultant for more than 5, I’ve experienced first hand how important thinking on your feet can be. Heck, even in just regular organizational settings I see some tremendous benefits. I am pleased that my daughter is going to be learning these things, which can only really enhance her education and of course these are the formative years, so perhaps it’ll have long term effects beyond schooling.

After reading this post by Harold Jarche, and then seeing this one by Annie Murphy Paul, it looks like creativity continues to be an important topic in our schooling and organizations as well. I was inspired to blog and share some thoughts about improv. Here are the things that I like best:

  • Observation – one thing that my daughter has said is that they are students of non-verbal cues in improv, somehow they know who is going to jump into “the ring” by their body language. Those subtle cues are something that we all see, but some of us don’t pay attention to. In improv it’s a huge part of the language. The flip side is also true, they become aware of how they are communicating as a whole and are expressive with more than just words.
  • Courage – I love that improv rewards courage – you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, but along the way you may uncover something very clever.
  • Teamwork – the improv teams come to trust and rely on each other and really work together. They also support each other emotionally, celebrate successes together and comeriserate less successful efforts too. One of the main goals is to make others look good.
  • Creativity – of course – this is the natural business connection – it teaches creativity and innovation, but I think it’s more than that. It teaches pattern recognition and iterative design. Improv’ers know that certain structures work and mash those up all the time.
  • Learning – this to me is at the heart of improv – it’s a living art, as I suppose any performance art is – and they are always learning, from watching each other, from trying new things, from feedback, from other domains, from failures, from other’s failures, etc.
  • It celebrates: Fun. funny. smart – I love that improv is like cerebral sports – for those of us who appreciate those kind of things. It is a facet of humanity that doesn’t get celebrated nearly as much as the physical (Olympics, professional sports, etc).

I see some really interesting aspects of improv for those in the learning business, too. If you are designing training, perhaps borrowing a page or two from the improv world could enhance your programs. In face-to-face training they can add a sense of adventure, but really teach much more than that. And these can be used in virtual training (webinars, web classrooms) as well.

For those who develop training strategies, there could be lots to learn from this site:

If you have ideas for how to inject elearning with some improv ideals, put them in the comments or tweet me @sparkandco, I’d love to hear them.

“T-shaped” instructional design process

June 29, 2012

(Not so) Recently I commented on Twitter about my approach to professional development this year and Steve Flowers (@xpconcept) commented that it made sense in a broader application  to instructional design. Then, I saw a tweet from David Kelly (@LnDDave) who was at an #ASTD2012 conference session with Michael Allen. They were presenting their Successive Approximation Method (SAM) as a substitution for ADDIE (poor girl, everyone’s favorite whipping horse), which sounded a lot like a “T” in my mind. A short twitter exchange between Steve and myself led to this…a blog post idea. And now, hopefully a few weeks later a blog post!

What is a “T-shaped” instructional design process?

As ADDIE is a waterfall method, which allows you to go deeper only when you’ve completed the various hurdles in the step you are on, a T-shaped method favours breadth before depth. You’d look at the aspects of it, going deeper once you have a good overview of all elements (will try to describe elements here), then you flesh it out more fully. With the rapid development tools available, committing to everything in paper up front is not realistic, however, you need to start with paper before you move to digital. I think it is best used as a project framework, but one that is iterative.

My “T” would look something like this (it’s version 1, will tinker with it to see how it fits):

Once the basics of analysis are done: Audience, Concept, Outcomes, & Tech

Then the core of the product (visual, interaction and content) is described and would go deeper with each iteration.

So, you start with a good understanding of what it is going to be, how it will all fit together and then you build it. Not so much a full working prototype, but enough of a proof-of-concept that it allows all stakeholders to understand the essence of the outcome.

I’d love some input/feedback. Am I reinventing the wheel here?  Is this just the SAM method in a clunkier model?

Corporate eLearning Strategies and Development: Instructional Design and Storytelling, or Instructional Design IN Storytelling

May 18, 2012

See on Scoop.itOrganizational Learning and Development

See on

The Knowledge Funnel: A New Model for Learning by Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski (Part 1 of 2)

May 17, 2012

See on Scoop.itOrganizational Learning and Development

Editor’s Note: We have two guest bloggers today — Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, Elliot is co-founder of Big Picture Learning, a global leader in education innovation with 62 highly successful…

See on


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