When we launched our latest offering “The Inspired Teachers Conference“, which is just around the corner, a friend asked me how many more conferences I was planning to create. The truth is, I honestly don’t know. But I will probably continue for a while because I’m addicted to the thrill of learning and discovering together.
I’m not sure exactly when the habit started but over the years, whenever I’ve been faced with a problem I can’t solve by myself, I host a conference.
In the process I’ve met fascinating people from a variety of different fields, but perhaps most significant of all, I’ve learnt something very important about how we learn. We learn better together, in conversation.
I often quote the findings of Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology, who researched what it is that people enjoy most about conferences. The answer? The coffee breaks.
So, over the years, we’ve worked with the tension between attracting a star-studded cast and making sure that there is enough time for delegates to spend as much time as possible talking among themselves… because these are the conversations that are remembered years later, long after the logos on the goody bags have faded.
Like most lessons that stick, the only way I’ve learnt this lesson is through personal experience. I remember the first time I experienced working with a syndicate group when I was at Wits Business School many years ago. It was hell. Dunne, who had already completed his MBA and was far more experienced in the political dynamics of the syndicate, was amused as I tossed and turned at night, trying to come up with ways to get my all-male syndicate members to give me air time the next day.
Sleepless nights notwithstanding, some of the insights I learnt through that experience (most of them about myself) have stayed with me far longer than the finance notes I wrote down and tried to learn by heart.
The interactive experience of the syndicate group used by business schools is a valuable one, but it’s not nearly enough.
Etienne Wenger coined the term “Communities of practice” to describe the age-old phenomenon where people engage in a process of collective learning towards a common goal. His work has influenced educators ever since.
But collaboration in learning is now becoming even more prominent as we all get thrown together by the big melting pot of the digital economy. In fact, as gaming expert Jane McGonigal told World Economic Forum delegates recently, the 10 000 hours of gaming that the average young person will spend by the age of 21, will be spent honing the mastery of collaboration.
That’s why business, leadership and education is looking to the world of gaming for some insights. Young people might be obsessed with an online world that scares the living daylights out of us as parents, but they are also mastering skills we don’t know nearly enough about.
We know that the ability to work together across boundaries and across cultures is going to be one of the most essential leadership skills for our economic survival into the future. But many of us haven’t even mastered the basic art of listening, never mind the more advanced skill of working together.
I’m reminded of the importance of these skills every time I host a conference and learn as much from the delegates as from the speakers. Now that I’ve discovered this truth for myself there are all sorts of theories I can find to back up what I’ve already tested out more times than I can count – the best learning is learning together. And that’s why I keep creating conferences.
PS This also doubled up as my editorial for the February issue of The QualityLife Journal. If you’d like to subscribe (which would make me very happy) send an email to join-WLJ@quallife.co.za