Cultures of Curiosity


This month ALALearning bloggers are focusing on how learning is done in our organizations.  Having started at the MPOW just a few short months ago I am still learning how learning happens– formally and informally — in the organization. So rather than address the question narrowly, I’d like to look more broadly at the topic and suggest that the foundation for learning in any organization is having a culture of curiosity.

See the whole article over at ALALearning, (also transcribed below 3/27/13)

This month ALALearning bloggers are focusing on how learning is done in our organizations.  Having started at the MPOW just a few short months ago I am still learning how learning happens– formally and informally — in the organization.

So rather than address the question narrowly, I’d like to look more broadly at the topic and suggest that the foundation for learning in any organization is having a culture of curiosity.  Whether you are promoting learning in your organization through self-paced online tutorials, face-to-face workshops and discussions, or sharing of annotated bookmarks, learning will not happen in any real or consistent way unless there is a strong shared value of curiosity.

Curious kittenWhy do I assert this?  Because an attitude of curiosity is the only known antidote to the single biggest block to learning: the idea that we already have the answer (and it’s 1st cousin, “I don’t care about the answer”.)  Being in a state of curiosity means looking out at the world, collecting data, observing human behaviors and interactions, and asking “why?” and “what if?”  These questions are humbling.  They bring down our blocks and mitigate our filters and invite new data to enter our minds, and creatively find new ways to integrate and organize organizing data with a goal of understanding.

One of the most powerful effects of cultivating a consciousness and culture of curiosity is that it greatly enhances communication and the quality of relationships.  Communication (and thus learning) is shut down when we assume we understand the motivations of others, and all too often we ascribe negative motivations to others without pausing to contemplate their perspective.

Curiosity creates space for that pause.  When we are in a place of deep and authentic curiosity about others, it is impossible to simultaneously be in a place of judgment, which is a closing of ourselves to other ways of seeing.  When we curiously ask why, we  open to the idea that others have a unique and valuable perspective that can expand our own data set and worldview.  Asking why leads to conversation and exploration, which in turn leads us to a deeper understanding of how others experience the world, their motivations, and their choices.  And this deeper understanding, in turn, helps to reinforce our own consciousness of curiosity, and thus our own personal culture of learning.

I am curious about what has worked for you.  How is learning promoted in your organization?   What tools, methods, tips, tricks have worked for you?   Drop your thoughts in the comment section!

Learn More, do Nothing: The Importance of rest and renewal

Would you like to be more creative?  Learn faster?  Super, all you need to do is… Nothing.

Interested?  Read the complete post over at ALA Learning
(also archived below on 3/27/13)

October 9, 2010 update:  Check out Bobbi Newman’s post on the connection between innovation and working less

The New York Times reported this week that researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have found that rats don’t learn from experience until they take a break from the experience.  The break gives them time to process and create persistent memories.  Furthermore, the researchers believe that their findings almost certainly apply to the way humans learn. Uh oh…

Why uh oh?  Because many humans are increasingly connected to our ipads, blackberrys, smartphones, and laptops, keeping our brains engaged continually throughout the day.  And while all of that ubiquitous connectivity offers us the possibility of reaching heretofore unreachable levels of efficiency and productivity it seems that it might come at a price:  The Times reports that “when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas. ”

Having recently started a new job, I can attest to the fact that there’s nothing like a silent drive or a brief nap to process and organize a great deal of new information.  My 45 minute commute home might be the most productive part of my day, as that’s where all of the sense-making is happening.  Strange as it may seem, sleeping has also been incredibly productive as I awake many mornings with a number of ideas synthesized from the previous day’s conversations, observations, and readings.

So as we come to the end of another summer and start getting geared up for the busier days of Fall let’s take a moment to remember:  There might be no better way to learn than by stopping, unplugging, and doing absolutely nothing.

Photo Credit: Simone Ramella via Compfight cc

Battledecks at ALA: Try this at your next Staff Day!

Image Courtesy of John LeMasney   (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Image Courtesy of John LeMasney (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Learning Round Table co-sponsored (along with ALA) a Battledecks competition at ALA, and (perhaps I’m understating this) a good time was had by all.  Below is the video to prove it!

Battledecks is a fun improv exercise that challenges contestants to deliver a presentation on the fly using an unknown slidedeck containing random (and often hilarious) slides.  The contestants are judged on their ability to create a coherent presentation that incorporates the slide content smoothly.  Laughs and getting through all of the slides on time are a plus.

If you think Battledecks looks like fun, consider a competition at your next Staff Development Day.  Between contestants, judges, and slidedeck makers, there’s lots of opportunity for involvement—and as you can see from the video below, the audience is pretty involved too!

Direct link to playlist:


A big thanks to Janie Hermann for coordinating the Battledecks event, and to all of our judges and slidemakers!  A special thanks to our good friend John LeMasney of for designing and sharing (through Creative Commons license) a wonderful Battledecks logo!

New ALA Learning Post: Reflections on Co-presenting

Courtesy Flickr user  elisa greco.  CC BY-NC 2.0)

Courtesy Flickr user
elisa greco. CC BY-NC 2.0)

I recently had the pleasure of co-presenting a full day preconference with my wife Suzanne. (The workshop, entitled, “What’s Your Style? 9 Paths to Personal and Professional Development” was based on the Enneagram personality System)  I’ve co-presented with others many times over the past 15 years and strongly believe that, for a number of reasons, co-presenting can be very beneficial and raise the overall quality of the workshop and the experience of the participants.

For starters, if you are co-developing a workshop as well as co-presenting it (which is common), the quality and organization of the material greatly benefits from a joint perspective. With two brains reviewing the content, errors are reduced and points are clarified.  Likewise, the logical sequencing of the content will also be improved.  We all know (probably from some amount of bitter experience) that what is crystal clear and logical to us as presenters, is not always so clear to those we present to.  The benefits of co-developing a workshop are magnified when presenters have different styles, and if you have a choice I encourage you to find someone most unlike yourself to present with.  Be warned that presenting with someone very different can create friction.  But you can choose to reframe that friction by reminding yourself often that the differences which cause friction are the same differences which will improve the quality of your presentation.

Based on my very recent experience in co-preparing and co-presenting with someone who had a VERY different style than me, here are nine reflections on co-preparing and co-presenting a full day workshop.

On Preparing

  1. Play to your strengths: Inevitably, you and your co-presenter will have different strengths. If you don’t know each other well and/or haven’t presented together before, spend some time discussing what each of you does best, and then make an initial plan to divide the duties and tasks based on your strengths.

  2. Set benchmarks.  Assess progress. Reset benchmarks. Working with someone else will generally take more time than working alone.  Also, it’s not uncommon for two people to have very different senses about when certain things need to be done.  For example, I can be cool as a cucumber even when I haven’t finished writing a talk a day before it’s going to be given.  My wife is stressed when she doesn’t have a talk written and practiced two weeks prior.  Setting benchmarks for progress and frequently checking in on progress is a useful way to keep everyone’s stress level down, while moving forward on deliverables at an even pace.

  3. Work separately and together. Schedule Business Meetings. I found great value in coming together with my co-presenter to set goals and deliverables, moving apart to work separately, and then coming back together to review, refine, and integrate each other’s work.  Setting regular business meetings, on a calendar, with an agenda of what you would like to accomplish, goes a long way towards creating a high quality, well-sequenced presentation in a way that is manageable, and not overwhelming.

  4. Have a Full Dress Rehearsal. No matter how good your lesson plan is, you WILL find problems and areas for improvement during a full dress rehearsal.  Better to find them during rehearsal then during the actual presentation.  ‘Nuff said.

  5. Mind your version control and coordinate backups. My wife and I used a shared dropbox folder to share all materials.  She could see and revise what I was working on and vice-versa.  On the off-chance that dropbox disappeared overnight, I also had our home computer backing up to an external hard-drive.   When all documents and powerpoints were finalized, I put one complete set of everything on three laptops (two were mine, one was my wife’s) and also put a complete set on two flash drives, one for me and one for her.  When we made the inevitable last minute changes, I made sure to update in dropbox and refresh all backup copies accordingly.  Being the least detail-oriented person in the world, I’m also the one to overcompensate the most when necessary!

On Presenting

  1. Set Ground rules with each other. It is possible that you and your co-presenter have different ideas about what is appropriate behavior when one is presenting and the other isn’t.  One of the biggest areas of possible conflict involves whether or not it is ok to interject, correct, or otherwise interrupt your partner while they are presenting.  One of the great values of co-presenting is that your partner is well-positioned to read the facial expressions and body language of participants and is likely to be more cued in to times when participants are confused, and in need of clarification.  For that reason, I encourage everyone that co-presents to open themselves to the interjections of their presenting partners, and allow for a free back-and-forth regardless of who has the floor.  Additionally it is good for each presenter to….

  2. Have complete copies and understanding of each other’s script and materials. Having complete copies of each other’s scripts (and/or outlines, and/or key points) can greatly increase the quality of the presentation for two reasons:  1) It ensures that no highly relevant points are forgotten or glossed over (if they are, your co-presenter can either alert you or interject.) and 2) It frees each presenter up from having to memorize or read excessively directly from notes.  It frees us up to make more eye contact, speak more naturally and conversationally, and connect more deeply with the audience, because we know we have a safety net of sorts; our co-presenter won’t let anything important get missed.

  3. Leave specific timing off of the participant agenda and modify timing/content on the fly. I suppose this could go under “Preparing” too…  I highly recommend having a few versions of how the actual presentation can play out–a few different agendas that you share with your co-presenter but not with participants.  Additionally, it is good to have additional modules (activities) and content that you don’t necessarily plan to use, but could slot in depending on timing (if you’re running short) or the interest of the participants.  When my wife and I recently co-presented, we noted on our private agenda where certain portions could be expanded or moved, and where other modules that we had “in the can” could be inserted.  Throughout the day we adjusted our presentation.  The participant agenda was worded broadly, and only noted beginning, ending, and lunch times, which allowed us to keep to their agenda while making significant adjustments to ours along the way.

  4. Restrain yourselves from talking too much.  My growth as a presenter over the past few years has been to present less, and facilitate more.  When I present, especially when I present on a topic that I’m passionate and knowledgeable about, I want to cram 20 hours of material into 8 hours of workshop.   A few years ago Dr. Marie Radford shared some invaluable feedback with me after I guest lectured for her.  In a nutshell, she said, “Less is more.”  She advised me to cut, cut, cut the material, and spend more time talking with the students and less time talking at them.  She suggested I give them the concepts and then invite them to reflect and discuss, and in that way the learning would be grounded in their own experience.   So I pass along Marie’s helpful advice, as it becomes doubly tempting with two presenters to, well, present!  Be extra mindful to structure your presentation in such a way as to present the key concepts, and then allow the participants to speak, question, reflect, challenge, and discuss — even if that means you don’t cover everything.  (That’s what handouts are for!  And websites.)

I firmly believe that a co-presented workshop — especially a full-day workshop — has the potential to be better organized, more complete and nuanced, and more engaging than a workshop presented solo.  Yes, it’s likely going to be more work for you (if you’re counting the hours and minutes of prep time), but it is also an opportunity for you to learn from someone with a different style, a different knowledge base, and a different viewpoint.  Ultimately, preparing and presenting a workshop with another person can be an engaging and rewarding experience for all involved, and I encourage everyone to give it a try!

Five Tips For Successful Webinars

Note: Originally published for ALALearning Blog

Good webinars don’t just happen.  Beyond having a relevant topic and a great presenter, there are a number factors that affect the end result.  Whether you are scheduling and producing webinars, or creating and presenting them, these tips will help you deliver a great webinar experience for everyone.

    1. Write for the medium: Regardless of the webinar platform you use, tailor the lesson plan to the webinar environment.  Most webinars consist of an audio feed, a chat space, and a space that allows the presenter to share a slideshow, and possibly share their desktop or a whiteboard.  The webinar environment doesn’t allow for the useful visual cues that body language and eye contact provide in a f2f environment, and may not even provide audio feedback for the presenter.  For these reasons, well-designed lessons that work like a charm in a f2f environment might fail to engage the audience and hold their attention in a webinar environment.You can mitigate these issues and engage the audience by building in more questions, and taking advantage of whatever interactive features are offered in your platform.  Does your platform offer polling?  Use it!  Shared whiteboard?  Use it!  Hand-raising or yes/no capability for participants?  Use them!! 


      I like to start webinars by posting a map of the state (or country) and asking participants to use the arrow tool in Wimba to point to where they are on the map.  This communicates to the participants early on that the webinar will not be a passive experience for them–they are going to be involved.  I also work with trainers/presenters to build in slides/questions that can be drawn on (literally) during the webinar, and encourage presenters to include these types of interactive activities throughout the presentation.  At minimum, plan on using more questions, and using them early, to mentally engage participants and create the expectation that they will not be passive observers.

    2. Know your platform: There are many good webinar platforms out there including Acrobat Connect Pro, iLInc, Elluminate, Wimba, WebEx, DimDim, and GoToWebinar.  Each platform has its own benefits and its own limitations.  You wouldn’t go into a f2f training without knowing the room layout and the availability of training tools such as chartpads, markers, laptop, AV, projectors, screen, etc., so don’t go into your webinar environment without knowing the layout, the tools available, and how to use them.   Most webinar platforms offer some great screen-shot heavy help files and/or recorded screencasts you can use to learn the layout and the tools.  Find them.  Use them.  Once you know your platform…


  1. Test, Test Test: The most common reason a webinar tanks is technology failure.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  The failure is not the technology, but the failure of the webinar producer, presenter, and participants to account for the platform’s limitations, and prepare and test their computers.  Each platform has it’s own requirements regarding browsers, operating systems, necessary bandwidth, and downloads/plugins recommended or required.  Each platform generally offers a simple link that can be clicked to setup/test the user’s computer.  Every person involved in the webinar must click the setup link prior to the webinar and make certain their computer is set up, tested, and ready to go.  Send this information out early and often to the participants. And make sure the presenter has tested/setup the computer they will be presenting from, and make sure it is a wired, not wireless, connection.Let everyone know the preferred method of audio participation.  Nothing beats a good noise-canceling headset. (I love my Logitech Premium Notebook Headset.)  If you’re offering dial-in access, send/post the number/PIN.  If participants are going to use laptop or desktop speakers, make sure they know to mute their microphones!  Nothing ruins a webinar faster than feedback (which is why you also need to know how to mute participants individually or en masse–it’s a lifesaver.)

  2. Practice, Practice, Practice Whether you are the webinar producer, presenter, or both (not recommended), it is imperative that you log some practice time in the webinar environment.   I highly recommend that there is at least one “producer” in the webinar (i.e. someone other than the presenter who knows the webinar platform cold.)  The more experienced the producer, the less time the presenter has to practice–but the presenter ALWAYS has to practice.  At minimum, the presenter should know how to advance slides (if using them), and how to log out and log back in again, in case of a network interruption.  Desktop/application sharing, a vital part of some webinars, adds a higher level of complication, and usually requires the presenter to master the application sharing mechanism–something that is not always simple or intuitive.  The producer needs to know everything else: How to advance slides, how to mute participants, how to expand/limit control of various room features (whiteboards, control of microphone, etc.), how to toggle between various features (polls, whiteboards, slides.)

  3. THE ACTUAL EVENT:  So, the presenter has written a great lesson, you’ve learned your platform inside and out, everything has been setup and tested.  Now there’s just the little matter of actually having the webinar!  Here are a few tips that I’ve found will greatly reduce problems and add to the overall quality on the day of the event:


  • Arrive early: Both the presenter and producer should arrive at least 15 minutes early to get logged in and do a final test to make sure the technology is working, and do one final review of the tools/features to be used.
  • Webinar Environment Review: Before the presenter begins the lesson/presentation, spend five minutes doing a brief review of the webinar environment with participants.  Walk them through playing with the features that they will be using during the webinar (writing tools, pointing tools, etc.)
  • Have a wingman (or woman): In webinar parlance, the wingman is the the producer’s assistant.  The wingman ideally knows the webinar platform inside and out, and is available to help participants with any tech/audio issues, and keep an eye on chat for questions or problems.
  • Recording: Yeah, it’s a newbie mistake, but it happens to everyone.  Don’t forget to hit “record”!  (I put this right into my script in 24 point bold type.  But then again, I need notes to myself to remember to leave the house with my pants on in the morning.  Whatever works for you.)
  • Take notes during the webinar: During the course of the webinar many useful resources and/or URL’s may be mentioned by the presenter or by the participants in chat.  It’s a great value-added service if you can capture these resources and post them with the recording and other handouts (i.e. the presenter’s slideshow, supporting documents) after the webinar.
  • Save the chat: Before logging out, copy and paste everything in the chat into a word document and save that document… Besides being a good backup for the recording, having a text copy of the chat to share with the webinar participants after the webinar can help them quickly  find useful pieces of information that may have been shared in chat.  I treat the chat transcript as semi-confidential and I don’t post it–but depending on the webinar I will send copies directly to those who participated.
  • Extend the Learning. Post the recording, notes, handouts:  Finally, spend some time in post-production (the specifics vary with each webinar platform) and get the recording posted to a website along with related documents and the presenter’s presentation, if available.

I hope you find these five tips useful in creating or presenting your webinars.  Let us know what works for you!