Category Archives: Education 21st Century

Never Forget Lateral Learning


In a recent session with teams of Intrapreneurs from Group Poult (European leader in Private Label biscuits), we asked to some participants to illustrate through their experience what co-creation with customers really meant. The result was brilliant. We first heard about the new relationship between a factory in Brittany with United Biscuits, and then about the way Poult has helped Michel & Augustin (a French young and “crazy” company) in its development. I was supposed to give a short presentation on co-creation, but it proved totally useless. So I did not give it. Once again, I had been totally impressed by the power of what I call Lateral Learning – i.e. learning from your peers.

In contrast to that, I took part last week in the preparation of a learning event for the top 120 people of a large well-known company. The whole meeting was about “filling” the program with more and more experts or speakers. At one point, I asked if it was not possible to leverage the knowledge, wisdom and experience of the participants. The idea was finally accepted, but why did we need so much time to have it appear in our conversation ?

I guess it is because we have been educated in a system where knowledge is transmitted hierarchically from someone “who knows” to others “who don’t know”. It is considered mainly as an asset, seldom as a flow. For some of the best researchers, knowledge creation is social and happens between people. We cannot control this process. At best, we can create conditions for it to happen.

If you want to understand the profound meaning of this shift of point of view, you can watch this video made by the World Bank, that I discovered recently. It explains very clearly  the philosophy of a program called South-South Learning which differs from traditional ones where Western experts would tell to developing countries practitioners what they should do.

In my experience (as a learner or as a designer), a ‘learning from your peers’ approach has ALWAYS worked. At Team Academy, lecturing is considered as a very powerful tool, so we use it with moderation (no more than 5% of the training session time). If we want to use Lateral Learning much more, we need to really believe in people’s ability to self-manage their work*. And that’s pretty difficult !


* This expression comes from M. Weisbord and S. Janoff remarkable book on Future Search.

On Transformational Learning

A very short post to comment a quote from Robert Kegan in Contemporary Theories of Learning, Editor Knud Illeris, Routeledge, 2008 :

Adult educators with an interest in transformational learning may need a better understanding of their students’ current epistemologies so as not to create learning designs that unwittingly presuppose the very capacity in the students their designs might seek to promote.

It may surprise you, but this quote came to me as a big insight. For several years now, I have been trying to introduce self-managed learning practices in organizations. I have always noticed a huge difficulty for people to engage in such an approach because it is so different from all what they may have experimented as learning methods before.

So what does this mean practically. What we “seek to promote” in self-managed team learning is a way of learning that is at the same time very personal and reflective (individual learning contracts, for example), but also based on social interaction (learning sets, for example). Both of these attitudes are different from “current epistemologies” :

  1. At school, but also in organizations, people are not asked to go too deep into self inquiry. What prevail – even in high level education or corporate training – are tools, methods and recipes.
  2. Most of the time, people think about learning as if it was a solitary activity (if not a solitary pleasure…). Evaluation systems and their link to compensation systems in corporation do rarely make space for team learning and team preformance.

Thus, if we want to promote self-managed team learning, we need to start with (and pay attention to) activities and practice that satisfy these habits or mental models (“epistemologies”) such as  formal explanation of immediately useful tools and rewards for individual efforts.

Maybe this sounds very obvious to you… For me, it has implied many years and a few rather difficult experiences to understand. But as Johannes Partanen, the founder of Team Academy says : Learning is always slower than what we believe.

Top 10 Books of the Last Twelve Months

Summertime is great for reading. I’d like to share with you and recommend 10 books I have read over the past twelve months. I’d be glad to hear from you : what nuggets  have you discovered lately ?

This book is really cool. You travel from studio to studio of 20 contemporary painters and you discover how they work : daily routines, material they use, etc. This is like going in the kitchen of a great restaurant. Wizardry stands in the middle of apparently ordinary spaces and tools. But these have been crafted and customized to serve a unique purpose.

Edgar Schein’s last book is both simple and profound. If you are looking for fresh view on how to give and receive help, this is for you. Schein main point is that what makes whatever helping relationship so touchy is that it creates an imbalance between people. How can we deal with this imbalance subtly ? Find out more in this beautiful book of a wise old man.

Wow !!! I just loved this book. You may have seen Sir Ken Robinson in one of his TED talks, but The Element is different. It shows you through examples of real people how important it is for you to play “in the zone” – i.e. to find your Element.  This goes beyond what you’ve learned about emotional intelligence or creativity, it is about a lifelong quest to find where you will give the very best of who you are. And Robinson’s good news is that there is no age limit for this quest !!!

If you’ve never read a book from Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Stress might be a good way to start. You will find many of Gallwey’s main themes and concepts, but framed to help you deal with stress. This legendary coach fights against many managerial myths. For instance, he tells us that stress is NOT good  and that stability is essential for performance. Now, you have to find your inner stability. And that’s where practical tools like drawing your “Tree of Resources” is so valuable. This book helped me a lot in a recent stressfull time, so I highly recommend it.

Is it necessary to present Nancy Duarte ? Probably not. Her last book his a jewel. Not only because it is so beautifully designed and illustrated, but also because it contains the results of years of research and experience. This really personal view of how to tell stories that resonate with your audience has wide implications for anybody who has a message to deliver – be it a simple presentation to your team or a public speech with a large audience. Nancy’s core message is simple : speak from your heart so that you can touch people’s hearts. But this means for you to be very clear about the future that you want to create. A special mention for the deep analysis of Steve Jobs’ and Martin Luther King’s well known speeches.

I read this book last summer and I can say that it truly changed many views I had about business in general and marketing in particular. The ambition and reach of The Power of Pull are wider, though. Seely Brown, Hagel and Davison embark us on a journey towards our present and future society. What they say is that new technologies – social media particularly – have changed the rules of the game : we leave the world of “Push” logic and behaviours for a world of “Pull”. Implications are enormous in many fields (business, education, science,…) but they require very different skills and attitudes from us. The authors invite us to take part in this flow of discovering where our passion is, sharing our knowledge, connecting with the tribes that are relevant to us – both locally and globally.

OK, Guy Kawasaki is not only an expert in the art of Enchantment but also in the art of Recycling (former books, articles or posts…) BUT his talent lies in his ability to deliver very practical wisdom… to live your life fully. His point is that whatever client or boss (or reader or family or …) you have, you can enchant their lives. And this is a GREAT purpose. Guy believes in it. Guy genuinely inspires us. Guy gives down-to-earth advice. I loved this book because it is actually a book on leadership in the age of disenchantment (a wink to Max Weber) and I think that our times desperately need such leaders.

This could have been an Appendix or a special Bonus of  The Power of Pull (see above). But I think it is much more than that. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas decifer the new way of learning in our world of social media. Playing (like in World of Warcraft), writing a blog, following experts on Twitter,… All these activities show us new ways of learning that are essentially social (within a community), linked with passion and building on our ability for imagination and play. Learning becomes a truly lifelong activity and Seely Brown and Thomas provide usefull keys to understand how this shift changes our current mindsets and practices. A must read.

Fish ! is a simple little book that opens your mind on the potential that is already present within your current workplace. It is not because the work of your team is ordinary that you cannot transform your days through joy, fun and meaning. Fish ! describes the change of a boring and execrable workplace to a sensible and joyful one. Why not giving it a try ?

In the spirit of changing the workplace for happiness, Henry Steward – happy CEO of Happy People (Great place to Work 2010 in the UK) – proposes us a tale about the transformation of a manager. It all starts on the beach, where this poor guy is not able to enjoy any minute of his holiday… Step by step, he learns how to let his team do the work (without him having to command and control). This book is full of practical insights and you can tell that they come from Henry‘s experience – not from a consultant’s utopia. As Isaac Getz puts it : Freedom works !

Reflections after Lift 2011 Conference in Marseille

From July 6th to 9th, Fing hosted in Marseille an excellent Lift conference (feel the atmosphere here) with a terrific name : “Be radical !”. As one young entrepreneur put it on a funny slide, “radical” comes from Latin radis – which means root. In a forum full of techies, it was pretty interesting to see how innovation could relate to roots. Two main insights for me :

  1. Problems are the same everywhere
  2. Technology does not change our desire of authentic relationships

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IDEA : Can France be part of the Design Thinking Community ?

A few weeks ago, EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon communicated about the launch of a common venture : IDEA, inspired by Stanford D-School or Aalto University Design Factory in Helsinki. This is great news, since Design Thinking has not been very much mainstream in France so far. We have world-class designers of course, but some key elements of Design Thinking are not precisely part of our national habits or beliefs. Let’s see what are the main challenges that IDEA will face in realizing the beautiful dream that lies behind its creation – particularly in the French culture.

How to create and nurture a Culture of Optimism ?

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, says in his book “Change by Design” (p. 76) : “To harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams, and whole organizations have to cultivate optimism. People have to believe that it is within their power (or at least the power of their team) to create new ideas, that will serve unmet needs, and that will have a positive impact“. This is not precisely the description of typical French business culture. Critical thinking is deeply ingrained in our educational system. In many realms of life, this is definitely a strenght, of course, but when it comes to creating new products or new ideas critical thinking can only come in a second phase, after exploration and ideation. Not before.

It’s OK to fail – only if it’s early

In France, we love perfection. How many time at school have we been reminded that this is the goal : a perfect dissertation or maths exercise ? Recently, a Canadian working in France told me how surprised he was by his son’s teachers. When he would have reached a 17/20 mark, the teacher would focus his comments on what was missing to reach a better one. In Canada, he told me : “my son would receive encouragement several times a day”. This is something that get people very often paralyzed when it comes to taking action (for myself, this is obvious in my blogging rythm… maybe I would blog a lot more often if I was not trying to post only “interesting” things, when intellectually I know (?) that the interest of a blog is when it is an ongoing conversation, not a post every two months…:-)

Last week, I was with Jean-François Zobrist, from FAVI and one of the leaders featured in “Freedom, Inc” by I. Getz, and he impressed me with this single phrase : ” The secret is to go directly from intuition to action, without passing through reflection”. This is difficult. But this is how kids are our masters. I cannot imagine a Design Thinking school without a kid-spirit, where fun and laughter are as frequent as deep and serious conversations. Building such a climate in Descartes’ country is a pretty joyful challenge !

Harnessing diversity

The third challenge I see in French culture is the creation of a cross-cultural context. IDEA is a project led by two leading institutions (EM Lyon and Centrale Lyon). Despite their different academic background (Management & Engineering), these two schools belong to what we call “Grandes Ecoles” in our educational system. This means that they have a lot in common particularly an elitist recruitement based on rather similar criteria. Openness to diversity – be it diversity of intelligences or diversity of social origins – has not really been a tradition for French Grandes Ecoles. Introduction of a variety of point of views has only come in the last 15 years through the opening to international faculty and students. How will IDEA take this need into account ? As far as I understand, there will be classes in other academic institutions (social sciences or design, in particular). Will this be enough ?

I don’t want to be pessimistic or looking for perfection in this post…This IDEA project is beautiful !!!  I truly hope that the challenges I mention are adressed by its creators. Our country needs such spaces for breakthrough innovation – product innovation, business model innovation,  but more than anything management innovation. Long life to IDEA !

Can I Both Start an MBA and a New Job ?

This is the question that B., a former student, asked me last week. Of course, there are as many answers to it as there are different situations or people. Nevertheless, the conversation we had that day helped me reflect on our mindsets when we talk about training or education in the workplace.

Anyone would interpret this question as a “time management” question. Isn’t there a risk of a burnout – tackling at the same time the challenges of a new job with the demands of an MBA program ?

But this is a “How” type of question. Not a “Why” question. And in the case of B., the why questions would be phrased more or less like this : why did you apply for the MBA in the first place ? and why did you apply for the new job ? The answer to these questions is pretty simple :  B. wanted to have a more satisfying job (challenges, responsability, learning opportunities). MBA or new job are just means for this objective to be fullfilled.

Now, what gets into our way when we have such a clear objective. We get trapped into the constraints that others put on us. Who said that you should go to an MBA program in order to comply with each and every proposition being made by the B-School ? Who said that taking a new job necessarily means long hours and overload of work ? Aren’t you the master here – the client on one side, and the new leader on the other ? What if doing both were precisely an opportunity to learn how to help others grow instead of doing everything for your team, to learn how to focus on meaning, on the larger view, instead of micro-managing, etc. ?

Learning and performance have always been sort of separated. In the times of our fathers, you would train and then use the knowledge you got for the rest of your life. Maybe in your forties you would have an Executive Program to refresh some of this knowledge. But today, in the “brain industry” economy, half-life of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter. So learning is not something you can afford just once in a while. It has to be part of your daily tasks, just like checking your email. This is why I believe that “learning embedded in life” will become more and more common practice. Tim Gallway, the legendary coach, reminds us in his Inner Game books that there is a strong connection between three dimensions of work : performance, learning and enjoyment. If we separate these, we don’t get all the fruits of each of them. While the focus on performance is reigning in our organizations, it seems that learning is a sort of “obligation” – “yes, people have to go to training…” – not a powerful driver. And, of course, in many workplaces, one can wonder where enjoyment has gone (if it was ever present) ?

The conversation with B. made me reflect : “Couldn’t we dream of a workplace where we  could start each day as if we were on day 1 of both an MBA and a new job. This would be really enjoyable, no ?”