“Charles Dickens wrote ‘A tale of two cities’ under this very tree” said Andy, as we sat in the sunshine. “Interesting“, i replied, afraid to admit i’ve never read it. One of so many classics to have passed me by: where does the time go? I wonder how Charles felt as he sat there: already, in 1859, an established and successful author, pondering his newest work. A certain pressure to perform, but an idea as yet embryonic, existing only in his mind as his hand paused, poised over the blank sheet of paper.
It’s sold over 200 million copies since then, so i guess he got it right somehow, but right at that moment, it was just an idea.
I get asked sometimes what you need to do to be a writer: start writing, being my usual unhelpfully brisk response. You don’t have to start by visualising success or signing a book deal. You have to start by writing, because it’s a journey and the first step is the hardest. That’s a lie of course: the second and third steps are pretty rocky too. It’s like developing any skill: commitment over time is a good mindset to have.
Our learning journeys are usually linear: you don’t say “i’m going to be a doctor“, you say “i’m going to study to be a doctor“, because the studying is the thing you have to do to get there.
That’s why induction processes take 12 weeks. And why we say we spend a lifetime learning to be a musician. Or an artists. It certainly took the 150 years since Charles sat there before the sapling became a tree.
There’s a trend towards shorter learning interventions at the moment, which is not a bad thing, because much of the older, longer solutions were too long. But we shouldn’t assume that shorter is better: sometimes we need to tie up shorter elements within grand, overarching, epic story-lines that play out over time. Over weeks, months or years. You don’t get success in sixty seconds, unless it’s by winning the lottery. Although even then chances are you had a lot of losing tickets first.
I like this post by Kayla about failure. I always enjoy Kayla’s writing because it’s to the point and rooted in her everyday experience. I always feel that she shares the ups and the downs, providing a very social voice as she narrates her learning in the best traditions of #WorkingOutLoud in the Social Age.
The pressure on organisations drives them to short term, reactive, fire fighting viewpoints: we train people to meet these needs. Short term, immediate, project focussed. But who has the broader view? How do all these little stories line up. Who is looking forward to think about the skills you’ll need in ten or twenty years to be a great leader in your own business? Short is good, but grand and immersive is good too. Short is ok if it sits firmly within a broad framework.
I think the challenge for socially responsible businesses is to reflect both their needs and the needs of individuals: to be unafraid to match short and long term development, even though we know people will move on. Unlike the sapling, which grew into a tree in the same sunny courtyard, most of us move, our development happening over time and in many many places.
Any journey starts with a leap of faith: as i sit here with my hands poised over the keyboard to write, i’m never entirely sure where it will go. It’s an emergent story, co-created with my community. Today i’m influenced by short encounters with Mariano, with Andy, with Jo, with Kayla, with many people who gave feedback or sparked ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes it misses: this is my first reflective space. It’s ok to make mistakes because it’s only one step on the journey.
The challenge? For organisations to recognise that learning takes place over time, to provide the right resources and reflective spaces for that to happen. To recognise the evolved nature of work and the social contract and ensure that the learning they offer is fit for purpose. Not to lose the grand vision of learning in a push towards streamlined solutions.
Great learning design is about telling compelling stories that stick, delivering changes in skills, behaviours and making people more effective. Sometimes those stories are short, sometimes they play out over the pages of a novel, over months or years, growing in the sunlight.