Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to create learning conversations.

Post 492 - As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” It’s the learning speed of the slowest many, not the brightest few, that counts. To encourage people to learn from each other, here are some ideas to improve the quality of conversations throughout the firm:

- Remember good conversations.
“Learning is using what we already know” according to Plato. So ask people who work together to remember a time in their lives when they had a really good conversation and to note what made it so memorable. By remembering what they already know, they'll be more likely to generate mutual respect, practice care-full listening, and capture collective insights in their ongoing interactions.

- Find the right setting.
The typical conference room is cold, impersonal and sterile. People usually find it difficult to think creatively in spaces like this. Consider creating informal living room settings with comfortable seating and natural light instead. Create a hospitable environment where people can function socially as well as conceptually. Think in terms of "hosting a gathering" rather than "chairing a meeting."

- Create a visual space.
People are more likely to discover shared meanings together when they can literally see what they mean. That's why they scribble on napkins or write on white boards when they're working together - it helps them clarify their thinking. So creating space where visual images and common data can be explored together usually helps to encourage breakthrough thinking.

- Slow down so you can speed up.
It's difficult to think when everyone keeps interrupting the conversation. Try using a "talking stick" which is passed to each member so each has an opportunity to share their questions or conclusions as the conversation progresses. This allows many voices to be heard in a respectful way and encourages people to pay attention and listen.

- Honor unique contributions.
People are naturally curious, especially about the things they care about. Encourage those participating in the conversation to share why the exploration matters to them and how they can contribute to each other's learning. Look at diverse points of view as unique contributions to a common journey.

- Build and sustain communities of practice.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. The Impressionists, for instance, used to meet in cafes and studios to discuss the style of painting they were inventing together. These interactions were essential to making them into a community of practice even though they often painted alone. Membership implies a commitment to a common field of interest, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes the members from other people. Members are practitioners who meet regularly to engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. Over the course of time, they build relationships that enable them to learn from each other.

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