April 26, 2010

This winter, while attending an industry conference, I was approached by the organizers to see if I was interested in assisting them with developing the educational track for their 2011 conference. I was, and wanted to hear more, so we agreed to talk further once the planning began.

So for the remainder of my stay, I carefully observed the educational practices in place, and recognized, as I expected, that it reflected a 20th century structure that adhered to learning principles known to us in the 1980s. The experience was a fairly standard – what Jeff Hurt would call a Walmart experience-with some personal interaction at registration which disappears into an abyss as one travels the maze of long halls trying to find, amongst the sea of “something for everyone”, a transformational message. You know, the kind that inspires you to do something differently once you return home to your office.

As with most large conferences today, efficiency trumped effectiveness, with no balance of formal and informal learning formats – except for those few moments we, the attendees, created on our own. Logistics and seminar “time slots” trumped audience involvement, engagement and empowerment, leading to some pretty ineffective attempts at adult learning. At best, it took on a format appealing to a novice in the industry with little apparent thought to methods needed to retain attendees, add new followers and grow the conference. At worst, it displayed most of the conference planning myths that serve as roadblocks to learning.

Although I did have some concerns, I was energized and eager to take on this challenge, as I knew my longtime experience in the industry and interest in adult learning could make a difference. Ever cautious, however, to not make a hasty decision, I carefully laid out my concerns and devised conversational questions that could help me glean whether or not the concerns could be alleviated or overcome. I tried to hold back my desire to facilitate change, with common sense and thoughtfulness about how I could mitigate the risks involved to them, and to me. Then, off I went to discuss the potential opportunity.

From my perspective, the conversation did not go the way I hoped, but was what I certainly expected. Through-out the discussion, concerns grew rather than were put aside. I returned to my office, still enthused about the opportunity, but knowing full well, the pit in my stomach was the intuitive signal that this was not a project for me.

I recognize that the analytical organization is built to maintain the status quo, and I would need to work extremely hard to strike a balance between that and my thoughts if I wanted to change the structure and process to move forward towards my own vision of results. At the same time, fulfilling my responsibility to understand and respond to client needs and wishes, means I need to appreciate the legitimate differences, empathize with the client, and have time to show the advantage of change and what it would mean in their world. Neither time nor proposed compensation support that I would be able to accomplish this.

So I wrestled all weekend with what I should do. Only after another night of “sleeping on it” did I clearly see this morning, that I need to say no. Although I strongly believe there are no “right” answers, and that once we began the process, we would need to move to a collaborative solution, I also know patience is not a strong suit of mine, and ultimately, disdain for those not open to change triumphs in my world and rises to the surface. At all costs, I want to avoid that. I like these people; I like their organization. I like what they are trying to do in the industry. I shouldn’t force my passion for and commitment to new adult learning models upon them if they do not see the benefit. I’ve been there, done that, with not so good results once this past decade. I am not going there again. At the same time, right choice or not; I am disappointed I am not going to be involved.

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