September 2010


What’s more exciting, planning an addition to your home or living it it?  Do you prefer to shop for new shoes or see them in your closet.  What is more fun, hunting for game or shooting it?  I can say from personal experience driving off the lot with a new car is not nearly as exciting as the negotiation.

In this podcast, the speaker shares her thoughts on the book Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.  The podcast is about 15 minutes long.  If you don’t have time to listen I will summarize what prompted me to write a post about it.  In the book the author cites research that challenges the theory that dopamine is released as a reward for completing a task.  Dopamine is a powerful brain chemical that  is released by naturally rewarding experiences.  She references research that suggests it is not the finding that stimulates dopamine release but the searching.  From my experience this appears to be valid.

These findings provide support for experiential learning.  In a traditional approach to learning, instructors disseminate information through lecture and the participants listen passively.  There is no challenge.  If there are any questions asked they are mostly low level recall questions.  To quote B.B. King, “the thrill is gone.”

Not only does traditional learning have a negative impact on learner motivation it also has an impact on learner outcomes.  Since the participants are not actively engaged with the content in a traditional approach, it is difficult for them to recall and apply the information correctly when they return to the workplace.  Utilizing an experiential approach engages learners in such a way that they are motivated to seek information and are able incorporate it into their existing knowledge and experience.  When learners participate in experiential learning they are able to recall and apply what they learned more effectively.

Here are some tips for experiential learning.

  1. Challenge your learners.  Giving your learners an authentic challenge that makes them work to complete is motivating and will lead to better outcomes.  Problem-based learning is a great way to introduce challenge into your instruction.
  2. Don’t spoon-feed.  Respect is a key aspect of adult learning.  By asking questions that do not have clear answers and require thought you show respect for your audience.  Often it is the discussion that has a greater impact than getting the right answer.
  3. Use relevant examples.  Adult learners want their learning to relate to personal experiences.  Using a teaching scenario that is not clearly related to the learner’s context may confuse the participants and will undermine the learning outcomes.
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Here is post by Seth Godin that challenges team leaders to hold daily check-ins.  I say challenge because it requires everyone to be transparent, which is not as easy as it sounds.  For such meetings to be successful, supervisors have to create an open and safe environment.  Open enough for team members to feel comfortable sharing new ideas and safe enough to share concerns that keep them up at night.

If you feel up to the challenge, here are some tips:

  1. Stand up.  Newton’s first law applies here.  An object at rest will tend to stay at rest.  The free exchange of ideas will follow.
  2. Keep it short.  The purpose of the meeting is to share information on critical issues.  Everyone is busy.  Respect their time.  Taking more time will only raise anxiety.
  3. Do not discuss.  The point of the meeting is to bring issues to the surface.  Get enough information to understand the issue.  If something merits further attention schedule a time to discuss it later.
  4. Do not verbalize judgments.  It is important not to stifle ideas, whether your initial reaction is positive or negative.  Resisting the impulse to comment on contributions can be hard.  Treat every contribution as having value.  A well-functioning team is self-policing and will weed out the bad from the good.  Sometimes an idea that seems bad has some good in it if the right people are able to refine it.  Creating an environment where people feel free to share is hard enough.  Don’t make it harder than it already is.

I am sure there are plenty of other tips.  What works for you?

In a post last week I referenced an article about the positive impact millennials can have in the workplace.  The article’s author, Andrew McAfee, ended his post by saying he would write a follow-up about mistakes millennials can make in the workplace.  True to his word, here it is.

In the post he focuses on two points:

  1. Filter what you share.    In his words, “narrating your every opinion, emotion, lunch, happy hour, hangover, etc. on your company’s emergent social software platforms is just narcissistic clutter.”
  2. Don’t “act as if all employees are equals, and equally interested in airing the truth.”

The first point comes down to self-discipline.  In a culture where privacy is getting increasingly difficult to protect a person is well advised to be careful what they make public.  Research indicates millennials are comfortable with a blurring of the line between their work and private life.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, developing a filter for what you share on your office social networking site will help your credibility, increase traffic to your site, and maybe save your job.  Here is some advice about having multiple accounts for common social networking tools.

The author’s second point deals with some of the finer points of work culture.  From a learning point of view I disagree with his assertion that it is “a really bad idea” for millennials to “voice their thoughts on topics both related and unrelated to their job descriptions.”  Organizations with effective mentoring programs can use social networking to assimilate employees into the culture and educate them in the process.  Time spent contributing online should be monitored.  This too has value.  It can build accountability between a supervisor and the employee and also reveal opportunities.

Mr. McAfee refers to Gen Y as “digital natives.”  One characteristic of digital natives is that they are “indifferent to pre-existing hierarchies and credentials, and sometimes even hostile to them.”  This is a good observation.  Any young person has to learn the right times to contribute and the right times to listen.  This can be particularly challenging in an organization that has a vibrant online culture.  My experience has been the two ears/one mouth approach.

When it comes to online contributions, striking the right balance between making a meaningful contribution and interfering is difficult.  This goes back to developing an effective filter.  The best way to do this is through thoughtful experimentation.  Careful observation will let you know whether a contribution is acceptable and appreciated.  Another tip I would offer is to develop a thick skin.  I comment on things that I think will shed light on a subject that might otherwise go unnoticed or topics on which I can offer a unique perspective.  However, I realize no one may care what I write.  I accept that and don’t feel like I am owed anything.  I appreciate it when my site traffic goes up but don’t worry if it doesn’t.  My posts are for anyone who may get value from reading it.   I think this makes me a normal Gen X’er.  Phew!

After three posts on millennials in two weeks I promise to take a break.