I spent an enjoyable day at the National Motor Museum yesterday, on the Beaulieu estate in the New Forest.
I realise this gets us off to a bad start, especially if you don’t live in England: pronounce it ‘Bew-Lee‘ and, not ‘Bow-le-o‘ and, in case you were wondering, the New Forest is approximately a thousand years old. I’m unsure if there is an Old Forest, but it was certainly before my time if there was. How would you know if you don’t live here? I have no idea, unless you have connections into a community that does. That type of tribal knowledge is not easy to find.
But i digress: the main house on the Beaulieu estate is still home to Lord Montague. You can visit many of the rooms. Fashioned out of the original Cistercian monastery, its massive stone walls and
wood panelling must have seen many stories play out over the centuries, not least stories of the Earl’s family, who have lived there for thirteen generations.
Which is why i enjoyed the pictures so much.
Instead of the usual captions that accompany dark and faded oils, (‘Rembrandt, oil on wood, 1586‘), labels on the heavy frames decorating the walls of the Drawing Room and old Library were family stories. Anecdotes about what great, great, great, great, great, great Uncle Ralph got up to with the Nanny in 1780. Illegitimate children, Royal intrigue and the perils of inheritance, fossilised in pigment, nailed to the wall.
It’s all about people: the tribes that hold knowledge, the stories that carry authenticity. The picture itself is just a token: without the story to interpret it, it’s abstract.
The lesson here is in how we design systems, organisational stories and how we engage with learners. It’s all about meaningful and authentic communication and effortless interaction. It’s easy to create pictures, easy to build collateral, but it’s the authenticity of the interpretation, the quality of the stories that count. And very often it’s about understanding people.
The Motor Museum itself is part of this: it was Lord Montague’s father who established the museum, as one of the first motorists in the UK and a pioneer of motoring legislation. He collected half a dozen cars together and displayed them on his lawn. So the story of the museum which grew out of that, as well as the story of the house (and indeed the story of the Cistercian monastery from the ruins of which the estate grew and whose bones still poke through the ground around the estate, are all joined together. The history shapes the present, will influence the future.
This aspect of change over time, of connection with the past and future is often missing in organisational learning too: we favour ‘just in time‘ over context. We favour compliant and vetted by marketing teams over authenticity. We go through the motions instead of telling compelling stories.
I wrote an article for a magazine this morning about learning technology in the Social Age: you’ll recognise the theme if you are a regular reader. Technology facilitates communities: it lets people do the things people want to do. If we start using technology to constrain or dictate what people should do, we are losing.
You’ll forgive the disjointed nature of todays post: it’s reflective. Reflecting on the closing gap between ‘formal’ learning within organisations and what happens out in the real world, which contains everything else. To have any chance of generating engagement, of effecting meaningful change, we have to ensure that our stories relate to people, using a real tone of voice. We have to make learning relevant and timely.