Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From "Ha-ha" to "Aha!"

New study on puzzles, problem-solving and laughter, demonstrating that people find it easier to solve puzzles through a flash of insight after they've watched something funny.  I love this from two points of view:

As a puzzle maniac, I agree that even thinking about a good one (cryptic crosswords are my drug of choice) induces a pleasant mind-state - something they found in the study.  And that moment of insight when the answer suddenly appears is one of the great joys of life, to me.

And as a creator of leadership-skills practice sessions which always combine laughter with serious practice, I constantly see how insight follows the loosening-up process of watching a funny live scene.

Glad to have the neurology to prove it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stepping up

British corporate change expert David Bovis wrote in a discussion on LinkedIn, "Neurologically / psychologically, we are 'designed' to learn from mistakes, and we learn quicker from environments that provide positive reinforcement, forgiveness & understanding following mistakes."  He goes on to give the (wonderfully vivid) example of how we encourage babies learning to walk. No one ever says, "You little idiot, you'll never walk.  Why even try again?"  And yet our feedback and evaluation systems tend to focus on what we've done wrong, in a punitive way.

That reminds me of Marshall Goldsmith's wonderful Feedforward exercise, which we've used with a number of different groups:  clients, our religious community, and even just between Dan and me.  Instead of focusing on the past (which we can't change, anyway), feedforward encourages us to consider ways that we can do better as we move ahead.  

If you haven't tried it, I urge you to check it out.  Marshall's clever format helps stop our usual resistant brain-chatter and opens us up to true listening and real possibility.  People report feeling truly cared for after the exercise and tend to come away with a few good ideas for improving their lives.  One baby step at a time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Good words

There are trivial truths, and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true. -  Neils Bohr

Monday, October 25, 2010

The wisdom of crowds

Online training has become an accepted, often cost-efficient way of training in the corporate setting.  E-learning allows people to work at their own pace, during their own available time.  But what's lost?

One answer is hinted at in a blog post by Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex.  The topic is buzz and how it works to sell products, especially movies.  But near the end of the post, Lehrer writes:  "For too long, we’ve tried to understand ourselves in isolation, as we test people one at a time in the psychology lab or rely on their past preferences to predict behavior. But these conditions and algorithms are artificial. In the real world, we are deeply intertwined with each other, dependent on our social networks for all sorts of advice."  

I thought back to a recent workshop we gave, in which 24 newly-minted supervisors watched each other deal with various realistic management situations, live and impromptu.  Participants commented on how valuable it was to see how other people handle things - even if their style is different from yours (or perhaps especially so!). Even though back on the job these folks will often have to act alone, the collaboration they experience in training helps give them a repertoire of possible approaches that they're more likely to remember when they need them.

We often emphasize the practice aspect of our workshops, and of course that's vital:  nothing makes learning stick like actually trying it out.  But the group process may be equally important for topics (like supervisor skillls) that involve social interaction.  In a culture that still tends to overemphasize the individual, it's useful to reaffirm the wisdom of crowds.

Photo by Jill Brazel of a Workplace Productions program

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Good words

Every tradition is actually a successful invention. - Yo-Yo Ma

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Good words

Part of creativity means keeping your learning curve as high as possible, and part of teaching is learning. - Yo-Yo Ma

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two to tango, four to square dance

Excellent article in Slate that looks at creativity in partnerships and takes on the pervasive cultural myth of the lone genius.  Joshua Wolf Shenk even takes on the whole notion of a separate "self" - an idea that's been questioned by such paths as Buddhism and Advaita.  
Do we really exist outside of relationships?

I've always been annoyed by the phrase, "We're born alone, and we die alone."  I can't speak about the death part of it, but having given birth, I can say most emphatically that we're not born alone!  Some woman (and likely a whole bunch of other people) are on the scene and working very hard to make that birth happen.  And, as the article points out, babies are interrelating right from the start.

We Americans seem to be especially in love with what Shenk calls "the atomized person."  I can't help thinking that this notion is partly responsible for the polarization of the country today, and the apparent loss of the sense of the collective good.  If we saw harming our neighbor as actually harming ourselves, we might have a different view.  In the piece, John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago says:  "We're ready for a Copernican revolution in psychology." 

Which sets me to thinking about how what aspects of learning design may be based, unknowingly, on this underlying belief in individualism.  Are there ways to do it better?

At Workplace, we adore collaboration.  From the basic pair who run the company (Dan and Beverly Feldt, who are husband and wife); to our fabulous interactors; to our clients, whose great ideas are always incorporated in our "flight simulators"; to our focus groups and participants, whose grappling with the situations we present creates the learning - it's all glorious groups.  Could we be the wave of the future?

Yummy food for thought.  Maybe I'll go talk to Dan about it...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Good words

Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't as all. You can be discouraged by failure - or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that's where you will find success. – Thomas J. Watson

Monday, August 30, 2010

The clock is ticking, part two

I had a chance to try out the 10-minute rule at a program we did for Northwestern University last week.  The workshop is called "Grace Under Pressure," and it focuses on how to recognize and relieve adrenaline flooding - the fight-or-flight response that shuts down your ability to think clearly.  It's really cool material, mostly developed by Andra Medea, who wrote Conflict Unraveled and certified me to teach this stuff.

We have two fantastic interactors who demonstrate flooding and its solutions, and of course they're riveting.  But there's also a lot of information on the physical signs and symptoms of flooding that I have to convey at the beginning of the workshop.  Last time we did it, a participant complained about the "lecture" (!), so I wanted to tinker with this section to see if the 10-minute rule might help keep the learners more engaged.

I redesigned this chunk it so that I changed direction about every 9 minutes, bringing in the interactors, discussion, etc.  I also made sure that I explained BEFOREHAND exactly how the information would be useful to the learners.  (I'm an awful nerd sometimes, and I tend to get enthusiastic and not notice that listeners may be thinking, "And you're telling me this WHY?")

The redesign worked beautifully!  In fact, one of the participants, commenting on the half-day program as a whole, said, "I don’t think any of us were bored for even one second."

Granted, most of this was due to Ta-Tanisha Jordan and Jack Hickey (pictured above), and their skill at demonstrating conflict and calm.  But at least I didn't get in their way!

Photo:  Jill Brazel

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The clock is ticking

Found this interesting item on John Jamison's ImagiLearning blog:                                    

There is something about the human brain that causes it to begin to refocus every 10 minutes. So after doing your best for 9 minutes, spend the next 60 seconds doing something to re-capture the brain's attention, to 'hook' it into sticking around for the next 10 minutes. If you lecture for 60 minutes...or create online courses...chunk them into 10 minute 'modules' divided by a 60 second "hook"...something that will cause the learners' brains to say, "Say what?" This buys you another 10 minutes.
 Don't know what research this comes from, but it's interesting enough to try out.  I'll watch in my next training program to see if folks get restless in 10-minute intervals.  Anybody notice this in their own classroom work?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good words

Tell me and I'll forget.
Show me and I'll remember.  
Involve me and I'll understand.  - Confucius

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


This brief article in NewScientist, "We Humans Can Mind-Meld, Too," says people listening to a story produced the same brain patterns as the narrator -- just a few seconds later.  In a few cases, the listeners' patterns even preceded the storyteller's.  (I've experienced that myself: watching certain television shows or movies, I can often say the next line before the character does.  Poor writing, not my genius!)

These findings seem like neurological support for the well-documented phenomenon of entrainment, when people in conversational sync spontaneously mirror each other's movements and rhythms.  Guess we do it on the brain level, too.    Does this explain why my sister and I so frequently say the same thing at the same time?  We even do it while instant messaging.

So, fellow trainers, how can we encourage this shared neurological dance with our classes?  And does this give you new ideas about the effectiveness of story in adult learning?

Wait, I know what you're going to say...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What really motivates us?

Cool story on NPR yesterday:  an interview with Dan Ariely, author of The Upside of Irrationality, about how effective money is as a motivator.  More money, more motivation?  Sometimes.  More money, less achievement?  Also true:  we're more likely to choke when the stakes are high.

And how important is it to see our work last?  Ariely devised a fiendish experiment about that, too.

If you have eight minutes, listen to the interview.  It's fun, and there are surprises lurking.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good words

To confront a person with his own shadow is to show him his own light. - Carl G. Jung

Friday, April 30, 2010

Getting to "Aha!"

Great blog post by Mitch Ditkoff on helping the fiercely left-brained learn to be more creative. I especially appreciate his emphasis on giving linear thinkers a mental map of the brainstorming process to reduce their anxiety.

I also like his suggestion that those leading creativity sessions mention repeatedly that chaos and disorder precede breakthroughs; so many people take that wheels-coming-off moment as a sign that they're lost, rather than as evidence that they're finally beginning to get somewhere.

Most of us are heavily rewarded throughout schooling and career for being orderly, linear thinkers. Predictable. Correct. Logical!

New research (and a lot of old intuition) is showing that this left-brain approach is only a tiny part of the real capability of the brain -- and not the smartest part, either.

As trainers, we can help people trust their mental resources by giving permission to be playful, non-judgmental, and experimental. And by setting aside time for analysis and logic, when they're appropriate -- but not letting them run the show all the time.

Image via Creative Commons

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good words

[Leonard] Bernstein was always able to take big risks. He never fell off the first rung of the ladder, he always fell off the top rung. - Stephen Sondheim

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cheat the choke!

We've all had that horrible moment. The presentation where we suddenly can't get the words out. The big exam, and we can't remember anything we've studied. The music performance where our fingers won't work any more.

What's behind this painful self-sabotage? Jonah Lehrer discusses the latest research on his always-excellent blog, The Frontal Cortex. Choking could be described as the analytical function of the mind interfering with an "automated" action -- one that we've learned so well that our own verbal prompting impairs our ordinarily smooth operation. (Think of what happens to your golf swing when you're telling yourself, "Wrists straight! Head down!)

Surprisingly, we can actually help prevent choking by concentrating not on the details of our action but on what the experimenters called a "holistic cue word," such as "smooth" or "balanced."

This finding reminds me of a practice my teacher Cliff Missen showed me when I first learned African-style drumming. If you focus on your hands or try to count beats, you'll mess up every time. But you can keep yourself in the rhythm if you make up a little phrase (nonsense is fine) that recites your part. For example, one drummer had a rhythm that was played exactly like "I'm ex-TREME-ly late." All she had to do was mentally recite that sentence and play along.

This technique was fabulous for me, since I'm prone to verbal intrusions into everything and tend to argue and discuss with myself while I'm trying to do something else. Reciting my piece kept my overactive verbal mind happy and left my hands free to do some drumming! And usually I was able to drop the recitation at some point in the drumming session and just enjoy the groove.

As my Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ven. Tsoknyi Rinpoche used to say, "You've got to throw your mind a lamb chop to keep it happy." Another term for this process, I believe, is what Jill Bolte Taylor calls "stepping to the right": dropping the intrusive mental process of rehashing and hectoring that we call thinking, and allowing a more holistic sensibility to take over -- which it's generally dying to do!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From the Gateless Gate

Ten thousand flowers in spring,
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,
snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

Photo by Howard Wolinsky

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good words

We must realize, if tomorrow is going to look any better than today, that the currency for compassion isn’t what someone else does, right or wrong – it is the very fact that that person exists.

- Sharon Salzberg

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book review

Check out my review of Oops! in the current issue of Perdido Magazine. Subtitled "13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money," Aubrey Daniels's book is a contrarian take on widespread strategies that don't work -- including downsizing, discussed at some length in a recent Newsweek cover story. The book's kind of clunky in its writing, but definitely worth a look.

Good words

Teaching depends on what other people think, not what you think. - Deborah Loewenberg Ball, in an excellent article on the elements of good teaching.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All I have to do is dream...

From Jonah Lehrer's recent essay in the New York Times:

In a 2004 paper published in Nature, Jan Born, a neuroscientist at the University of L├╝beck, described the following experiment: a group of students was given a tedious task that involved transforming a long list of number strings into a new set of number strings. This required the subjects to apply a painstaking set of algorithms. However, Born had designed the task so that there was an elegant shortcut, which could only be uncovered if the subjects saw the subtle links between the different number sets. When left to their own devices, less than 25 percent of people found the shortcut, even when given several hours to mull over the task. However, when Born allowed people to sleep between experimental trials, they suddenly became much more clever: 59 percent of all participants were able to find the shortcut. Born argues that deep sleep and dreaming "set the stage for the emergence of insight" by allowing us to mentally represent old ideas in new ways.
photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Monday, March 8, 2010

Good words

Integrity is the essence of everything successful. - R. Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good words

The real questions are the ones that obtrude upon your consciousness whether you like it or not, the ones that make your mind start vibrating like a jackhammer, the ones that you "come to terms with" only to discover that they are still there. The real questions refuse to be placated. They barge into your life at the times when it seems most important for them to stay away. They are the questions asked most frequently and answered most inadequately, the ones that reveal their true natures slowly, reluctantly, most often against your will. - Ingrid Bengis