Storylistening versus Storytelling?

This week’s chat2lrn is a post from crew member Fiona Quigley, who works for Logicearth Learning Services based in Ireland. 

I just love stories; it was an integral part of my Irish upbringing – two Scottish grannies and family of singers tends to make it that way!

And over the last few years, I’ve had a bit of a hobby collecting stories. I’m not a great storyteller myself, but I do love to listen to others’ stories and to collect them. Over the last few years, I’ve collected more than 1500 women’s career stories. Some are short – a couple of paragraphs, while others go on and on for pages, reaching a eureka moment at the end.

This ‘hobby’ started off very innocently. I kept reading about the pay and gender gap, and also read various statistics about women’s prospects in the workplace. The so-called glass ceiling seemed as far off as ever. I sent a few emails to friends asking for their career stories and in particular to reflect on any transitions or decision points they encountered. These friends also kindly sent emails to other women and before I knew it, I was getting lots of stories from all over the world.

I’m lucky to know lots of strong, capable and ambitious women, so I was intrigued when many of the gender/pay statistics hadn’t seemed to have changed in the last 10 years. The decision points in the women’s stories ranged from going for their first promotion, getting married, to having children, and dealing with personal or family illness. All impacted their careers – some in a good way, some not so good.

The stories are precious to me, and I won’t ever share them but I have learned a lot from them.

So what did I learn?

Well often the most important storylistener needs to be ourselves. We go through day-to day life, almost automatically at times. We get caught up in our own and many other people’s narratives; the dutiful wife/husband, the diligent worker, the stressed out commuter and so on.

By narrative, I mean a set of related stories. We live our lives as an evolving set of lived experiences – or unfolding story. Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we are living the story or the story is living us! Due to on-going life and work pressures and the general busyness we get caught up in, often we flit from narrative to narrative either giving away our power or not realising what power we have to create better story endings for ourselves.

Many of the 1500+ women’s stories that I have collected so far, made this same point – they haven’t had the chance to sit down and collectively reflect or join the dots between all their career experiences to date. They’ve missed patterns and repeating bottlenecks, simply because they haven’t had a chance to listen to their own stories. Worse still, no-one else had listened to their story to help them confirm or validate it.

Which brings me to one of the often forgotten points about stories in general – we learn from others’ stories precisely because stories give us a chance to reflect on lived experience and join the dots in our own lives.

What has all this got to do with chat2lrn?

Stop rambling Fiona I hear you say! There is a point to this, I promise…

I wonder if, in the workplace, we helped others to pay attention to their own stories or narratives, would it make a difference to our workplace relationships and how we collaborate and share knowledge? What If we were able to just slow down or stop for a few minutes each week and ask each other to share a career story or how we overcame a difficult challenge? And no I’m not advocating tree-hugging or therapy for all, I’m just thinking about re-tuning the radio of our lives from busyness to a few moments of quiet reflection. If, according to the 70:20:10 model, we learn most from others, then surely listening to others’ stories has to be a part of that?

If you understand the concept of tacit knowledge, then it is easy to see that we all know more than we usually express. Giving our staff time and space to reflect is the first step on the way to freeing that knowledge. As a final example, I asked a colleague to reflect on what learning meant to them. I was writing a blog on workplace learning and I kind of knew what answer I wanted back (we all do that don’t we?), but I was blown away by her response. Helen is a keen mountaineer and reflected on learning like this:

MountainQuote

How many other rich answers are we missing from our colleagues just because we don’t give them time and space?

Getting more practical

I tried this exercise a while back with a few friends and I was surprised by how much they enjoyed it. They have since tried it in their own workplaces and have told me that it has improved some of their workplace relationships as well as revealing some interesting insights.

lunchtime-story2

Are your ears twitching?

So what do you think? Could you give this a go in the workplace? What might stop you? Join us this Thursday 21st May in chat2lrn to continue the discussion.

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Revolutionize Learning and Development

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from Clark Quinn. Clark Quinn, Ph.D., is a recognized leader in learning technology strategy, helping organizations take advantage of information systems to meet learning, knowledge, and performance needs. His approach is learning experience design, combining what we know about how people think and learn with comprehension of technology capabilities to meet real needs. He combines a deep background in cognitive science, a rich understanding of computer and network capabilities reinforced through practical application, considerable management experience, and a track record of strategic vision and successful innovations. He is a well regarded speaker and author on human performance technology directions. You can follow Clark on Twitter: @Quinnovator. See more of Clark’s views on this subject in his book Revolutionize Learning & Development.Revolutionize Learning & Development , Clark N. Quinn


 

Is Learning & Development achieving what it could and should? The evidence says no. Surveys demonstrate that most L&D groups acknowledge that they are not helping their organizations achieve their goals. It’s worse than the cobbler’s children, because they at least got others shoed, but here we’re not getting ourselves effective enough to help anyone else. Where are we falling apart?

My short answer is that we’re trying to use industrial age methods in an information age. Back then, one person thought for many and our training was to get people able to do rote tasks. There wasn’t a real need for knowledge work, and we were happy to filter out those who couldn’t succeed under these conditions. In this day and age knowledge work is most of what contributes to organizational success, and we want to foster it across the organization.

To succeed, there are a few things we need to get into alignment. The simple fact is that much of what is known about how we think, work, and learn isn’t being accounted for in L&D practices. We use courses to put information into the head, but there’s clear evidence that our thinking is distributed across information in the world. It’s also hard to get information into the head. So we should be focusing on putting as much information into the world as we can. We also now know that the way to get the best outcomes is to get people to work together, and that silos and hierarchies interfere. If we want the best outcomes, we want to facilitate people working and playing well together. Finally, we know that learning should involve models to guide performance, be emotionally engaging, and have sufficient, appropriate, and spaced practice. All of this is antithetical to so-called rapid elearning.

Underpinning this is the fact that we’re measuring the wrong things. We’re out of alignment with what the business needs; when we’re measuring how much it costs per seat per hour, we’re worrying about efficiency, and we’re paying no attention to effectiveness. It’s taken as a matter of faith that ‘if we build it, it is good’, and that’s empirically wrong.

Quite simply we need a revolution; a fundamental shift in what we value and what we do. It’s not redefining what we do completely; e.g. courses are still a viable tool, but they’re just one part of a bigger picture. There are two things organizations need: optimal execution of those things they know they need to be able to do, and continual innovation to adapt to the increasingly complex environment. Courses are only a part of the first, and essentially irrelevant to the latter. We need to incorporate performance support for one thing, and sponsoring innovation is about facilitating communication and collaboration. That comes from using social media (all of it, not just technology) in appropriate ways.

The upside is big. We can, and should, be the key to organizational outcomes. We should be designing and fostering a performance ecosystem where people can work in powerful ways. We should be shaping culture to get a workforce that is motivated and effective. If we do so, we’re as fundamental to organizational success as anything in the business. I suggest that this is an achievable goal and emphasize that it’s a desirable goal.

To get there, you need to ‘think different’. You need to shift from thinking about learning and training, and start thinking about performance. You need to take development to mean facilitation. L&D should be Performance & Development, or even Performance and Innovation. That’s the promise, and the opportunity. Are you ready to join the revolution? Your organization needs it.

Let’s discuss in #chat2lrn this week.  See you on Thursday, May 7th 8:00 am PDT / 11:00 am EDT / 4:00 pm BST.