We live in a world that speeds by so fast. In our work lives, and in our personal lives, we seem to be constantly pressed to do more, to become more efficient, to find ways to do just enough to satisfy the immediate needs. It’s exhausting!
So today, I want to take a contrarian point of view. I want us to slow down, to try luxuriating in thinking and reflecting, and to explore the value of elegance and nuance in our work. Most importantly, I want to encourage us to take time out to learn.
What got me thinking
Over the last month or so, I participated in some online conversations hosted by Michele Martin and Brent MacKinnon on the topic of social artistry. Highfalutin words, to be sure, but a concept worth exploring because it deepens our understanding of what it means to be a facilitator of learning. (For detailed writings on social artistry, see links at the bottom of this post.)
According to Etienne Wenger, the secret of social artistry is ” knowing how to use who you are as a vehicle for opening spaces for learning… It is a way of tapping into who you are and of making that a gift to the world … it’s about being able to use who I am to take my community to a new level of learning and performance.”
How I want to be as a learning professional
In my work, I am realizing that knowing how to use myself to open up spaces for learning is a worthy goal; I want to be a catalyst, a provocateur, a challenging thought partner. I want to take my community – the community of learning and development professionals – to a new level of learning and performance. I want us to actively learn from our experiences and from each other. I want us to draw in the theory and research of our field in making decisions and crafting recommendations. I want us to reinvent how we support learning in the face of today’s work challenges and in light of so many new tools and approaches.
Being a good teacher/facilitator is part of that, to be sure, but there is much more. To be the kind of professional who makes space for other people’s learning, I need to take up less of that space with my way and my ego. That is, I need to listen deeply, to offer interesting and challenging questions, to show authentic respect, to put off judgement, to be brave enough to engage in verbalizing sometimes messy thought processes in order to co-create knowledge and understanding.
As a seminar leader, faculty member, and consultant, I facilitate learning all the time. The traditional role involves selecting content, designing engaging activities, and tying in relevance and application. That works exceeding well (if done well) when there is a body of knowledge to pass on, or when the skills needed are clear and their development can be accelerated with formal training and practice.
That said, it seems to me that we can make all kinds of learning events and processes more powerful if we also open up space for reinvention, for co-creation, for deep reflection, for processing the lessons of experience. I will be challenging myself to create these kinds of opportunities within formal programs I design and lead as well as considering how these spaces can be supported in a broad learning environment.
I’ve already experimented with this in some of the graduate classes I teach. In certain courses, I’ve spent little time going over content, or testing them on the definitions and steps put forth by their reading on the topics at hand. Instead, we’ve engaged in thought-provoking conversation around questions they bring to the table and the challenges of applying concepts and implementing theoretical ideas. The students have walked away, I think, with a deeper understanding of the topic than they may have had if I had reviewed key points and directed activities on the topic. And they’ve learned a thought process around grappling with new ideas, testing them in our minds,and identifying and mitigating possible issues with application. Leaving that space open is scary, because I never know where a conversation is going to lead, but it’s also energizing, and it engages me as a learner as well.
Outside of graduate school, how often do we get time to talk at length about new ideas and practices? Not often enough, I bet, and we simply need to do more of that. My challenge in this work of incorporating social artistry with facilitation will be to slow down enough to generate the kind of powerful discussion and engagement that exponentially raises the level of learning while not slowing down so much that the world passes by while we’re still thinking about it.
An invitation to slow down
This post has been more of a reflection in progress than a real call to action. I know that sadly, learning professionals are as unlikely as everyone else to have time to slow down for learning. So many learning professionals tell me they have no time to read, to attend seminars, to go to conferences. Even having water cooler conversations with peers is too time-consuming; our communications are often reduced to emails and text messages instead. Our daily exposure to rich lessons of experience may be being squandered because we never take the time to think about what those lessons are and what they might mean for our work going forward. We have to be social artists in crafting our own learning as much as we are social artists in generating learning with others.
So I’ll just close by inviting us to slow down a minute and establish some practices that create a space for our own learning. This week, open up a conversation or two, and see how it goes.
For more on social artistry, see:
Reflecting on #socialartists and #change11 – Nancy White’s comprehensive post summarizing the discussion from a massive open online course (MOOC) on change.
Learning, careers, and social artistry – Michele Martin’s thoughts on the subject with lots of interesting links.
Social Artistry – by Jean Houston, one of the original thinkers on the subject – describes artistry in community.