The depressed inventor hadn’t always been depressed.
For most of his life he had been really happy.
As a little boy, he loved to invent clever ways to fix problems. Once he invented a cat flap to feed the family cat when she came home in the morning. And to get to school more quickly, he invented a really big catapult to throw him from his house to the school yard (although Mummy said “No” to that one).
For every problem, he invented a solution.
And that pleased him very much for many years.
Until the day he ran out of problems to solve.
At first, he thought it would be a good moment to take a holiday. Surely when he came back, he would find lots of new things to invent?
But when he got home, he still couldn’t find anything to work on.
Until he had an idea: He would invent a problem!
For days and days, he worked very hard at inventing his problem.
No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!
Finally, he was satisfied: He had a problem to solve!
So he set to work to invent a solution.
No time to eat, no time to sleep. So much work to be done!
He read lots of books and talked to lots of people. He made lots of notes and did lots of sums.
But after lots of time, he still hadn’t invented a solution.
And so he started to get sad. And sadder still. And sadder still, under he was completely depressed.
For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do.
So he went to bed and slept. And slept. And slept some more.
After a few weeks, the doorbell rang.
The depressed inventor dragged himself downstairs.
At the door stood Benny the Baker, who wanted to know why he hadn’t come to buy any bread for so long. And his little girl Jenny, who asked “Why do you look so sad?”
So the depressed inventor explained. He told Jenny how he loved to invent things to fix problems and how he had always worked hard to make everything work just so. When he told her how he had run out of problems, little Jenny started to smile.
As he started to explain how he had invented a problem, little Jenny started to giggle.
And when he said he was sad because he couldn’t invent anything to fix his problem, she just burst into laughter!
The depressed inventor looked at Jenny all seriously and asked: “What’s so funny?”
And so little Jenny told him:
“It’s so silly. You can’t fix your problem because you just made it up! And the more you work on it, the worse it gets. But it doesn’t even exist, because you just made it up! Your problem is that you had no problems and made up a problem so now you have a real problem because you can’t solve your problem. But there’s still no problem. It’s so silly!”
All at once, the depressed inventor understood.
Little Jenny was right.
And he started to smile again as he remembered he had made up his own problem.
And that’s not really a problem at all !
As a self-employed person, I have a tendency to work, work, work. But right now, it’s 9.15am and I still haven’t “done anything”. Is this bad?
Well, first of all: It is not true. Having gotten up at 6.30, I packed my kids off to school, spent 45 minutes exercising and have since been reading “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel whilst eating a healthy breakfast that I enjoyed taking the time to prepare. So I have done something.
But let’s pretend that I had just rolled over in bed, left the family to it and done nothing but sleep. Yesterday, I only did a 2-hour coaching session and I just spent all of July and August on holiday. That doesn’t sound like doing much. Is that OK? Is that what self-employed people do?
Last week, I read an article about the morning rituals of awesome entrepreneurs like Jack Dorsey or Mr Branson. Up at 5.30. Sport. Meditation. Family etc.. Inspired by that this morning, I thought I should probably now sit down and seriously meditate on my top 3 priority business objectives for the day, week and year to come. I should make plans for new services or products, improved efficiency and more profit. That’s what successful business types do in the morning, right?
But quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. I don’t need to do anything. Tomorrow and Friday I’ll be delivering training all day, my revenue-winning calendar is as fully-booked as I’d like it to be and I don’t have anything hanging over my head. Except the “self-employed-lazy-guilt”, that is.
And then the phone rings. Is it a new client calling to ask me if I’m available for training next Wednesday? What will I say? Strictly speaking, I’ll only be lazing around doing nothing but fuelling my own pleasure. Will I be able to say “No”? Can I tell the truth? Or should I say I’m fully-booked? What if he takes a day off himself and sees me at the cinema at 11am? Or running in the park? Where will I hide?
Or maybe it’s my mother, calling to tell me I’m a lazy freelancer and I can’t possibly expect to be successful if I just hang-around doing nothing when work could be done. “Everybody has to work”. “You can’t expect to just take random days off in the week. Your father could never do that.” Or even worse: “Don’t say ‘No’ to work now. You never know if you’ll still have more next year. You’re lucky people ask you. You should say ‘Yes’.”
Fortunately, it’s an unknown number. The stuff of voicemail. I don’t answer it. Today, I am calling all the shots. As I was promised when I read “Freelancing for Dummies” all those years ago, it would be great if I could do whatever I want whenever I want. If I chose to work for myself, it’s because I thought I could be a better boss to myself than anyone else. Well, I want a boss who loves my happiness more than the cash, productive hours or time-filling. Who is happy with achieving targets and going home early. Correction: Who doesn’t even call it “early” because that implies some form of 9-to-5 ritual just for the sake of it.
For the new season ahead, my boss is going to tell me take it as easy as possible. “The clients are satisfied and so should you be. And even if they aren’t, you can’t please everyone all the time.” Relax. It’s not lazy. It’s awesomely efficient, minimum effective dose. It’s long-term sustainable, more rounded and balanced. You deserve it. Not because you worked so hard before, but just because you deserve it. Full stop.
So go lay on the grass for a while..
When I was a boy my Dad was amazing.
At the end of a long day somewhere, as I would drift in-and-out of consciousness in the back seat, he would pilot the car home. I was unaware at the time as to what he was really doing. He was simply an amazing Dad who could drive. When we got home, he was use his super-Dad powers to scoop my 20 kilograms of dead weight into his arms and take me to bed, somehow magically getting me into my pyjamas without waking me up.
Between October and December, he would crack nuts, using only a nutcracker and his super-Dad strength. I couldn’t do this.
At the weekend or some evenings, he would magically remember all the things he needed to do to make spaghetti bolognese, which everyone would agree was brilliant.
And he had a great collection of music. Loads of different stuff. He introduced me to James Taylor, Kris Kristofferson, ELO and god only knows what else. He was even the first person I knew to dig Nirvana.
Today, I am a Dad.
I drive a car, carry my kids to bed and introduce them to music. I still don’t crack nuts. But I can. Because I am amazing and I have super-Dad powers.
It would be easy therefore to think that my Dad was actually just normal. Just bigger and further on in life. But that’s not the point.
The point is that the little things we take for granted as adults continue to amaze and inspire our kids, and to affect their future.
I still make spaghetti bolognese like my Dad told me to and I can see the awe in the eyes of my girls when I do these normal things and they see super-powers.
And the same is true for the not so cool things. I don’t really remember what they were with my Dad, but it stands to reason that if all these other things were blown up into super proportion, then the not-so-good things were too. So what do my girls think when I am tired and miserable, impatient and angry?
And the inspiring never ends.
When I see my Dad today, I see someone who has understood what is important and what is not. Who has stopped running around and no longer does the things he doesn’t want to. I see a man who got his shit together to retire at 50. Who can build a pond or a vegetable patch or fix a motorbike. He still has super-powers and I still want to be like him.
So, I guess that whatever I am doing on Father’s Day, the point is the same: For better or worse, I am inspiring my kids.
All Dads are.
Make it count.
Back in Belgium, here is a mini-summary of the last 2 days of ATD2015, which thanks to Harry Potter and Lufthansa, could not be delivered earlier…
- Like Ken Robinson in 2013, Sugata Mitra reminded us of the important truth that we are all born learners and that we need to let learning happen, not make it happen
- David Rock explained the neuroscience of why I don’t believe a word anyone says unless they are just like me. Didn’t believe him :-)
- Met the most fabulously gorgeous pair of the conference during lunch, Mel and Will, accompanied by a slightly less gorgeous but nonetheless 129% awesome Don Taylor (who, for the record, was in disguise)
- Got some good simple tricks for contextful learning in one session in the afternoon and won a book prize during the session on Infographics for drawing this (!)
- Had a real adventure in Universal Harry Potter land (watch the video!) catching with Trish Uhl, abusing Alywn Klein with my Lethal Weapon 2 South African accent, watching learning geeks like David Kelly take pictures of a dragon and spending some good times with my new French friends Valerie-Ann (E-Doceo) et al..
- Back to the hotel at 1am, I made the mistake of thanking all those lovely session #M101 attendees who tweeted praise for my session.. bed at 3 :-/
- Despite my good intentions to find out what WordPress has to offer for trainers, I skipped the 8.15am session I had planned for an extra 90 minutes in bed
- Finally caught up with JD Dillon to follow his session on how Kaplan has turned users into contributors
- Interviewed by ATD-TV on social media for formal learning
- Had lunch in the expo, discussing the “Jack Reacher” dream, carrying the minimum-effective-dose of training materials and turning around people’s attitudes during training
- Bumped into Paul Meshanko and Todd Costello to muse over the finer points of respect, marriage, happiness, business development and work:life balance
- Followed a most excellent session with Brian Melven on visual storytelling and learnt got a simple process and lots of resources to turn boring learning materials into comic-style awesomeness (see my first example here)
- …and tried my first Nutshell video, discovered via Rick Lozano and featuring Eric Van Kamp
- Sat with JD for the closing keynote: Erik Wahl making amazing paintings of Bono (picture) and Steve Jobs (picture) in a matter of minutes, whilst explaining how we need to let go of our fear and get out there!
- Unlike some of my colleagues, I didn’t rush off to the airport, but went for a swim before the long ride home
- …driving the bus back, of course :-)
- Had a really nice catch up at the airport with Yves Plees of SWIFT
- Slept 3 hours on the plane :-)
…and that’s pretty much it. Another year of ATD conference fun over :-(
It was really great!
Thanks for reading
Brian Melvin has filled his room in the last #ATD2015 session (W315)And once again, I cheated. Backdoor. Feel bad for the queue. But I’m here, so let’s go!
According to Melven, we have a choice for presenting information to our people: Words or images. Images work better. But we aren’t all graphic designers, so what do we do?
Follow this process:
- Get your story and characters straight.
- Decide what kind of style you want. Today, we are looking at comic styles.
- Find someone who can draw something. Melven suggested not going to a design agency, but just getting online and finding freelance people or student that can help. It’s really not that expensive to get a character like the one below gin 15 or so poses you can use in your materials) for about $200
- Script out your story and get that script sign-off BEFOREHAND you go to the drawing board
- Put a storyboard structure in PPT.. keep it simple, just a few boxes
- Add some text!
- Make a story by using Katie Stroud’s ideas
- Dan Roam’s “Back of a Napkin”
- Brandy Ageneck’s “The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide”
- Mike Rohde’s “The Sketchnote Handbook“
- Tony Buzan’s “The Mindmap Book“
- Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics“
- Visit www.brokencoworker.com to see comic-style instructional design using in-company pictures
- Randy Krum’s “Cool Infographics” and the associated website http://www.coolinfographics.com
- My notes on Mike Parkinson’s ATD2015 session on creating infographics step-by-step
- Get a whole load of images for free from Creative Commons
- Try out a tool like VideoScribe to make RSA style animations
- Check out SkillCatch by E-Doceo to make video/text tutorials
- Read my blog-post on Prezi tips to avoid doing a bad job with an awesome tool
- Make a 3-step photo-based “video story” with the Nutshell app
Having spent the last 3 days missing the elusive slightly-bearded JD Dillon at ATD2015, I am in session W212 to find out how Kaplan is transforming users into contributors. Much of the time, our people know better than we do. How can we release that into the organisation? We know we are supposed to, but what are the principles and tools we need to keep in mind to make this happen?
Admitting that he has nothing original to say today (!), JD started by reminding us of one of the key messages from yesterday’s keynote speaker Sugata Mitra: “It’s not about making learning happen, but letting it happen.”
Adding to this, he notes that many learning professionals have trouble bringing something useful to the business table: We are slow, we are not the experts and we are focussed on building and pushing things into the organisation. We have limited reach, yet we still try to get everyone trained. And we are obliged to justify every last bit of our efforts and carefully spend a set budget (to get everyone trained). JD says we have to stop trying all this formal process-driven nonsense to get to the table and … BE the table.
What does that mean?
Firstly, think about the way we learn at work and compare to the way we learn at home: If I have a problem with my plumbing at home, I jump on Google or YouTube with a problem-based search in mind and find what I need to move forward with my problem right now. I don’t worry about the production value of what I find and I certainly don’t have to fill in any forms or get my manager’s permission to learn.
Why can’t learning at work be like learning at home?
Or rather: How can we shift our focus as learning professionals to make learning at work like learning at home?
We need to foster the right contribution behaviours
To ensure we have meaningful, relevant, scalable and reusable content from our users, JD proposes to focus on a few things:
- Firstly, we need to eliminate the perfection mentality. People need to know that it’s OK to just share stuff. One minute of video doesn’t oblige 5 hours of production. Spelling mistakes are not a problem.
- Secondly, enable bragging and helping. People who do good work should talk about that work and share their stories. Sometimes they will think that is arrogant to do this. But as users, we are all looking for content. So somebody has to share!
- Thirdly (actually, I’m pretty sure I missed points 3+4) we need to give some kind of structure that makes it easy for people to contribute from everywhere.
In principle, this all sounds great, but there is still some cynicism from learning professionals: We worry about control and consistency. We think people will surely get things wrong. “They don’t understand people’s needs like we do.” etc etc…
Here are the tips I heard from JD and some of the attendees today and my own 2-cents on the topic:
- Get a wiki
- Don’t try to moderate everything – let it go and let the contributors find the balance
- Keep a formal controlled space for the content that your company is not willing to leave in the hands of the users
- Teach (or encourage) contributors what makes a good contribution
- Help content-generators to “think SEO”
- Ask people to jump in and share a story. And thank them when they do.
- Add a little points system for sharing. People won’t generate content to get the points, but some (yes, ONLY some) will dig it and appreciate the “thanks”.
- Keep your eye on what is happening on your system or in the organisation (report, if necessary) and use that to think about what topics are hot, where people have picked up content after a formal learning initiative etc..
- Ask your users (consumers and content-generators) what functions or support they want on the platforms you use
- Ask people to create little video-blogs to tell more about “how” they do what they do rathe than just writing on the “what”
- Look for early-adopters in the organisations and whisper “requests to share” in their ears. When the latecomers start looking around, at least they will see something useful.
- Get top-level managers to “narrate their work”. When the top-guy is doin this, it sends a message to people that it’s OK to share. But be careful with the tone.. If you can feel that your top-guy is really not the guy to set the right tone with that, DON’T ask!
Thanks for reading
Having snuck through the back doors I am in the 2nd ATD2015 session to be sold-out (ask me which was the first :-) where our speaker Mike Parkinson is here to help us do a good job faced with two simple truths: Most of the information we process and things we do happen intuitively. And visual cues always win.
(My apologies In advance for the lack of visuals in this post … jump to the end if you are impatient!)
A successful graphic is defined as one where the target audience gets the intended message (quickly). If you (or your subject-matter-expert) doesn’t like the graphic, that doesn’t matter. As long as the audience gets it.
To make good info graphics, we need to first have a good conceptual approach to communication: Think of your audience, define your message and then explain or prove your point.
As any presentation skills trainer (hopefully) knows, a good message has to have a blend of benefit and required action. For example: “Define a good message to be sure your audience gets the point.” (See also my little video on: “Creating Strong Messages“)
And that’s why you need to know your audience. Example: I buy a drill because I want to make a hole. But someone else might buy a drill to be sure that he never has to ask his Dad for a tool, because that would show dependence on a parent (!)
If you have your message clear, you need now to answer 2 more questions: “What do you mean?” and “How do I do it?” According to the speaker, these 2 questions are basically always the same. And that’s what we need to put in our infographic: First chunk the information, then assemble it in the right order, then visualise it.
To chunk the information, look at your message (its “what” and “how”) into the smallest possible parts. Then you need to assemble it into to a story. This doesn’t have to be a full story. Just a simple pitch which puts things in the right order. At this point, we haven’t yet visualised anything. We are just trying to get the right things in the right order.
When it comes to visualising your message, we need first to know what “kind” of message we have:
- Process graphics tell us what has to happen in which ord
- Graphs and charts tell us how number fit together
- “Dashboard” images, analogies and metaphors tell us the state of something
OK, now we have our message, which is relevant for our audience. We have chunked it down into parts and made sense of the story. And we know which type of infographic it is.
We just need some images and a little creativity.
..and maybe some of these resources:
- www.GetMyGraphic.com/GMG.pdf for every graphic you will ever need
- www.creativebloq.com/infographic/tools-2131971 for a whole bunch of resources
- www.canva.com helps you make infographics for free (also available as an iOS app which I will be trying with pleasure real soon)
- Check out smore (example) if you want to make flyers
…and now, for that magical moment: My first (prizewinning!) infographic on … wait for it … how to make infographics, made with penultimate (without a pen!) on my iPad in less than 5 minutes following speaker Mike Parkinson’s process.
ATD2015 session TU209 is with Ethan Edwards, speaking about bringing better context into e-learning. Now, I’m not an e-learning guy and generally don’t like the approach. But I am very interested in the context problem since my TK15 session with Robert Todd earlier this year. That session was quite “abstract” for me, so I’m hoping that this one will really give the 5 practical idea it promises. A good start, as Ethan is full of joy and clearly happy to be speaking. I’m listening…
It’s all about the context
In communication training sessions, we are often interested in the difference between the words that are said, and the way they are said and “everything else” that is going on. The “words” are not the part bring the most meaning.
In many e-learning modules, instructional designers often fail by imagining that their e-learning is “just putting the PPT (words + images) into a system”. But the words (and not even the images) are still not the part that bring the most meaning.
Most e-learning modules look like the one Ethan Edwards showed us… Some explanatory text, a few things you can click to go through some different iterations of the information presented and a quick test at the end. But most e-learning doesn’t work, because that information is not presented “in context”. And it is the context that brings the meaning. And the meaning that brings the spark for recall and potential change.
How do we bring the context?
Our speaker showed a great example of a bad e-learning module for truck safety at a railroad crossing. Truck drivers are basically told what to do and then asked what they would do in the same situation. It was SO horrible it actually made me feel anxious imagining the days I used to be forced to (admittedly click through and pretend to..) follow these things.
But then we saw this:
This module works on exactly the same learning objectives as the other version. But the learner is IN context. In the cab of the truck, the choices to be made are about things that are there in front of the driver (you), not presented on a screen. Truck drives don’t look at a screen. Or, as our speaker put it “I’ve been working for 30 years and my job never involved clicking A, B or C!”).
Even if you can’t make something as beautiful as this example above, or don’t have the budget and even if you are not making e-learning, the following 5 ideas can help you bring in the context:
Create a specific meaningful environment
Like the example above, whatever is being learnt has to be presented as if it is in the real environment in which the performance of behaviour is supposed to take place.
Don’t talk theorectically about what is going on, with models and theories. Use a story arc, with character, a situation, plot complications and resolution.
Insert the learner into the action
Give the learner an objective. Not a learning objective, but something to achieve in the activity. Like “Find the gangs” (for Californian police learner so). Use some element of challenge.
If you are doing compliance training, don’t tell people “we are doing this because we have to”. Show the real benefit for them in terms of their own perceived sense of purpose.
..and finally, create a sense of adventure
This could be anything. Building things up by step-but-step, showing impact of “bad behaviour” (Booom! you died!).
And that’s all folks!
Make it happen!
“Who taught the termites civil engineering?” (Sugata Mitra reminds us how we are all wired to learn by themselves)
In a true lesson of what keynote speaking should be, Sugata Mitra has taken the stage at ATD2015 to talk to us about how our world has changed and what this means for education. A funny, charming, entrepreneurial raconteur what he has to say is possibly the most important lesson for people in the world of education. Really.
The history of education
It’s only been a hundred years since we lived without telephones, computers and rapid transport. And that was the world for 100s of 1000s years before. How that world operated defined how we develop people.
Before we lived in today’s technologically enabled world, people needed to obey, repeat and not be creative. They needed to be able to sit still to read and write on paper and they needed to be able to do arithmetic in their heads. They needed to be able to stand still and do the same thing over and over again according to the rules.
In that world, there was a system whose sole job was to produce those people: School. The role of the school was to create this vast empire of conformity, knowledge and industrial repetition by telling people what they needed to know and making sure they did it right.
That world is gone. One day, our grandchildren will ask us “Hey grandpa. What does ‘knowing’ mean?”
How do children really learn today?
Mitra told us about an experiment he ran in an Indian slum in the late 90s: Placing a simple internet-connected computer in a hole-a-wall 3-feet from the ground, he waited to see what happened.
Children arrived. They asked “What is it?” He replied “I don’t know” and left them to it, giving no support at all.
8 hours later, they had figured it out, were browsing and 8yr-olds were teaching 6yr-olds how to do it.
After more research and observation, Mitra concluded that unsupervised children anywhere in the undeveloped world given access to an Internet enabled computer will, without any training, in 9 months get to the same computer-literacy level as an office secretary in the West.
In short: Children don’t need teachers.
All they need is broadband, collaboration and encouragement!
There is nothing else I want to say about Mitra’s keynote content right now. Nothing could do it more justice than saying that the answer to the above photo question is a resounding “Yes”.
But as a father of 3 small children, I do feel obliged to say something more. If children can do all this (and they can!) what is a risk if we don’t let them? If we keep telling them the answers, where will they end up? If we keep testing them to standards we have invented for ourselves, how can we expect something new? If we stifle their innate creative drive to figure things out, follow their own path and invent their own answers, where will the joy be? How will they find their passions? How will they innovate?
And sure, if we do keep telling, testing, standardising and stifling, everything will be “safe” and I won’t have to worry about “where they end up”.
But maybe I should just let it go?
- “The Granny Cloud” for how standing back and saying “Wow, that’s great. How did you do it?” is all you need to stimulate learning
- Wired magazine’s article on Sugata Mitra’s work
- More information on the School in the Cloud
- Mitra’s TED Talk