Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Key Note

So, I'm back in the office today, catching up on a day out, and reflecting on the learning points I took away from yesterday's trainingzone Live 2012 conference in London ( ).  The organisers helpfully provided us all with a reflective Personal Learning Log sheet in our conference pack, which I've scribbled into, but I've already decided to capture - and more importantly, share - my key learning 'nuggets' (from my own and others' contributions to the Twitter backstream yesterday) in a Storify story.  That's for later tho'...

I got a lot out of the workshop sessions I chose to attend, and that will show up in my Storify.  But, whilst I have come away from those sessions intellectually and professionally stimulated, I have been thinking today about what most inspired and energised me during the day.  And it wasn't the workshops, it wasn't the opening presentation, and it certainly wasn't the closing "Any Questions" expert panel discussion - it was the second-to-last session with key note speaker, Steve Backley OBE ), Olympic javelin multi-Medalist, World record-holder and now development consultant with his partner Roger Black.  Not only was Steve an engaging personality, he told an enthralling story of success and failure in his athletic and Olympic journey, authentically, with passion, humility and humour, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout.  Others have - and I will, in my Storify - shared their 'take-aways' from Steve's session, but here's what I wanted to talk about today...

I have been fortunate enough to attend several conferences - and my first UnConference - in the last year.  From each of them, I came away with useful personal and professional development ideas which I have been able to utilise, in one way or another.  But what has really hit home after yesterday's trainingzone Live, is how great the different Key Note Speakers at those events were, and how humble, entertaining, intellectually stimulating, inspiring and downright 'value for money' they have been.  

I heard Lord Robert Winston ) speak on the development of the human brain (at the Learning and Performance Institute's LearningLive conference) last year); I also enjoyed Edward de Bono ), Ray Kurzweil ) and Jaron Lanier ) delivering challenging - and contrary - keynotes at the Learning and Skills Group's 'Learning Technologies' Conference in January this year.  And now I am pleased to add Steve Backley to that list of inspiring speakers.

What I loved about them all is that, whilst they are 'experts' in their own specialisms, they brought into our increasingly navel-gazing L&D world a different energy, passion and perspective, which challenged me to step out of my professional comfort zone and consider what we do and the people with whom (and,in some cases, to whom) we do it, in a completely different light.

What I missed at yesterday's TZL, particularly from the 'expert' panel at the end, was that sense of humility, of that recognition that we now operate in a very different world, with different expectations of what learning looks, feels and tastes like; that it is happening out there now, with or without our involvement, and that, maybe, we should lift our eyes up and look at what's happening around us.  I was really disappointed that no-one mentioned the growth of social and collaborative learning (not social media - that's just a tool in the arsenal) and that our roles in L&D need to change to embrace, facilitate and support peer-driven learning - as another part of the blend.  If we keep thinking of ourselves as the experts, then we are going to be arched and sidelined by the wisdom of the crowd and by people's own desire to share and learn from each other.

So here's where I'm going with this.  My recent attendance at the L&D Connect UnConference (to which, incidentally, I was invited through LinkedIn by one of my Twitter friends and on which I have already blogged) opened my eyes to another way of thinking about the opportunities afforded us when we get a load of L&D people in one room at the same time.  In an UnConference, the attendees set the agenda, discussion groups are formed and dynamically change during the sessions, with people free to move between groups as their interest/whim takes them.

Now, imagine the stimulation for discussion if your next conference was an UnConference AND it was kicked off by a quality keynote speaker of the calibre of those above, who would challenge you to think outside of your comfort box, before you break out into your discussion groups. And then you share your learning during and afterwards by whatever social and other tools are available to you.

So, conference organisers and colleagues, let's take a chance, look up, get a different perspective, and let's put some humility and passion back into the mix.  Any thoughts?


  1. Great post Niall and I really, really agree with this. I love the concept of unconferences but feel that having a keynote or main speaker would add to the overall experience. I too found Steve Backley really inspiring and Edward de Bono was frankly brilliant. To bring a flavour of great minds and experiences like these to unconferences would be fantastic. On the practical side there's a cost issue of course, but in an ideal world this would be a great mix of learning, being inspired and the collaborative element that makes unconferences so appealing. Maybe one day hey?!

  2. Agree with much of this Niall and especially your observation on humility. Keynotes should be inspiring, engaging and hought provoking. Too often in our profession we can witness self-proclaimed gurus using jargon-fuelled language to reinforce their status. This is not learning for me. I echo your thoughts and will resist the temptation to self-publicise. Great blog, and look forward to seeing you soon, Ed

  3. Kate / Ed,
    Once again, thanks for taking the time to read and comment; I really appreciate it.
    This wasn't the blog I set out to write as my reflective piece following trainingzone Live, it kinda 'snuck up' on me as I was pondering - but I knew there was something there when I experienced that frisson of excitement that comes with the spawning of an idea and a theme; a feeling not dissimilar to that I experienced when watching and listening to the great KeyNote speakers I mention. (No criticism of trainingzone Live here, btw, and I will be reflecting more on the value I got from the whole day later).
    Also Kate, totally get the cost implications of inviting the 'big guns' into a more intimate, collaborative unconference environment, but I wonder if anyone has actually asked any of them if they would be interested in participating in such a different kind of event. They might get something out of it themselves!
    Thanks again to you both.

  4. Niall.....finally came across your blog...via Twitter of course! Amazed that social and informal learning wasn't covered but I totally agree with your point about humility. I was a member of a loose collection of consultants that went under the name 'Authentic Guides' and I am big believer in being authentic and humble in our work. As far as 'big guns' go I rail (sic) against the enormous fees that pro-speakers charge - apparently it's £25k for Tony Blair to speak at your dinner! Let's have some fresh thinking from interesting people that we don't know!

    "It's better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."

    1. John, thanks very much for that. I do think the tide is turning. I think my tolerance of 'experts' is waning, just as my ever-expanding PLN and the sharing dialgoue that I experience through them, via the social channels now available to us, grows.

  5. Totally with you here Niall & funnily this crosses a few conversations I've been having about unconferences this week...

    The challenge of any such format is to create action afterwards - otherwise at best it's just a nice conversation.

    There's no denying individual responsibility in any format but I think we need to foster collaborative responsibility too. The best way I think is that healthy mixture of support & challenge. With the tools and connectivity we have at our disposal this is so much easier than it used to be - and we have an interest to do it!

    Add in a healthy dose of humility & passion and it starts to feel like a very human learning experience that leads to change. I'm up for that! The unconference format is just the beginning!

    1. Agreed David, I'm conscious that the temptation to become just another self-publicising broadcaster is an easy one. Just because one has found one's voice doesn't absolve one from walking the talk as well, both in one's own workplace and in the wider community. I guess I'm up for that too!

    2. Hi Niall,

      Great post. It inspired me to write something on the subject of social learning and on TZL12 too. So thanks for inspiration!
      I agree that social learning is happening now, before our eyes, but because it came to many people so naturally (I specifically mean a social networking sites here as a learning tool), I think we might be taking it for granted and not be really considering it a 'learning' as such. Please read my post: