Thursday, November 22, 2007

Leveraging my own grey matter

I've been having bad few weeks; various influences had put me in a tough spot.

So much so that the first part of this week was spent struggling with a course outline for a new client that should have been ready at the end of last week. Coming up with something that would satisfy the simultaneous demands of the client, my new boss, the improved (more standardised) business processes we are implementing and leave me with mental capacity to spare for home was looking like too much.

A quick chat with a colleague - a recent addition to the company ranks - made a world of difference. Just 30 minutes of chat left me feeling better. The fact that it consequently took just 15 minutes to write a rough overview of the entire course, and just 2 hours to subsequently write a 7 page course outline that I actually feel excited about developing just blew me away (okay, the arrival as I did this of 5 super-sweet layouts from our great GD helped, but still).

It wasn't that my colleague told me what to do, but how to approach the problem.

"This is all wrong," she said taking a look at the template outline I had taken along to show her. "That's not how you think."

Like I say, we are putting in to place new processes so I was trying to use the new standard outline document. I'd looked at the required content, lifted the structure the client had used, mapped their learning outcomes against sections and then... and then...

Every angle I looked at was functional and dull. Not through any fault of the client or the system, but because try as I might, using this approach all I could do was to take facts and say "this goes here and this goes here" and what I was left with was a series of facts and what the learner would get would be the same series of facts. BooorrRRING!

Worse than that, I wasn't in possession of the full facts - we're still in the period where the client is fact gathering. Every blank space left me in a panic. I was immobilised.

"You don't need to know," was my colleague's zen-like reply when I appealed to her to tell me how I was to reconcile not knowing the information with writing the plan.

"How would you write this?" she asked me after I let slip that this sort of thing (corporate induction in the public sector) was exactly what my first training job was. After a long pause, I conceded that I didn't know. I'd forgotten.

"But it was easy then - I was the SME!" I protested.

"Exactly. You know this so it should be easy for you now. How would you do it?"

So I started to say how I would train people - without any thought on the detail of the content. Things started to come thick and fast. "Good, you could probably write most of this course without knowing anything." I didn't believe her.

She went on to explain that she feels I tend to be more free-thinking and creative insofar as when I'm thinking my thoughts race off and diverge. Where I was going wrong was that in sitting with the highly structured document template in front of me I was trying to force my brain in to a mode that didn't suit me.

She went on to describe how what I needed to do was embrace my brain's desire to think wildly and only once it had stretched it legs, refine the results in an organised way. The other key point was that she said I HAD to limit the creative time or else I would spend forever thinking.

So I did. I went upstairs and got out my lovely new mindmapping pens and the unlined pad that I had put together having seen my colleague's similar set up. I put some soothing music to power my thinking and set the alarm on my watch.

Within minutes I had sketched out a plan that rolled from theme to theme in a coherent fashion, carried the learner along a path that was structured and built on each point. It clicked buttons the client wanted to hit, linked in themes and objectives. It used the learning principles I had been so conscious of missing in the earlier attempts. It felt good and in my mind I can see how it will look.

What's more, it covered everything they'd asked for, and more, and has the capacity to absorb the inevitable bits and pieces that will need to go in as everyone thinks again about what to include now that a concrete plan is coming together.

It's not going to be an award winner, but it feels right. But for me the best thing is the way it developed. The results have left me buzzing since. I like my job again. My colleague rocks.
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