Why it’s good to stumble now and then


I stumbled while running the other day.  Fell, actually.  Pretty much flat-out.  I’m happy to report that I did get up, and, after taking a quick inventory of scrapes and what would soon be bruises, kept on going.  Just like we do in life, right?  Later, I analyzed what had happened.  Why did I fall?  Because I had my eyes on something I Achieve goals runningwas trying to reach up ahead and neglected to also pay attention to the (uneven) ground right in front of me.

This is very much like working to achieve goals in work, school, and life.  While we need to keep our eyes on the end-goal, the ultimate prize, we also need to attend to those things right in front of us.  If we don’t, we might find ourselves stumbling so often that we never reach the goal.  On the flip side, there is a risk in focusing too much on the minutia where it’s easy to get side-tracked or otherwise entangled in obstacles.

If we stumble now and then, is that such a bad thing?  What if we never challenge ourselves enough to risk failing? If we stumble on our way to the goal, might it mean that we are growing and stretching our capabilities?  Too much caution could bog us down, keeping us from moving forward at all.  So balance is important, moving forward, but with purpose and focus on many levels.

And what if attention to detail just isn’t your strength?  Or goal-setting is a challenge?  These may be good opportunities for collaboration, perhaps developing a team of people that have many and varied strengths to offer.  A team of this sort also offers support of another kind, as members hold each other up while all are learning and building new skills.

What strategies have you used in the past to balance between the end goal and the specific steps to get there?  What new ideas do you think you could try tomorrow?


Learning transfer – why should you care?


Perhaps you are the person in your organization responsible for making sure everyone learns a critical new procedure. Everyone attends a full-day training. The training event gets great reviews in the follow-up surveys, and the participants earn high scores on tests given at the end of the session.  But when the participants get back on the job, they have trouble applying what they learned and don’t follow the new procedure. What happened? Or rather, didn’t happen? Learning transfer. And when learning transfer doesn’t happen, it’s costly. Not only because the new procedure isn’t used properly (or at all), but also because of all the costs that go into training, and potentially re-training members of the organization.

What is learning transfer? It’s the ability of learners to apply what they learned in the “classroom” to their real-world environment. If you are familiar with the Kirkpatrick Model of training evaluation, you might think of this as Level 3, measuring how well learners apply what they’ve learned. The good news is that it’s possible to design instruction in a way that promotes learning transfer. Recent research about how our brains learn has found remarkable things with direct application to the learning environment. Instruction designed with a focus on these concepts is far more likely to result in learning transfer.

Learning transfer

Here’s an example. Research shows that our brains are constantly seeking new and interesting stimuli and there are limits to the amount of time we can successfully stay focused on one particular task (Sousa, 2011). This means that in a learning setting, our minds will begin to wander, looking for novelty if the instruction does not provide it. So when an instructor stands in front of a group lecturing for an hour, what do you think happens? Most listeners probably check out after the first 10-15 minutes, thinking about all kinds of things that are most likely not related to the instruction. John Medina (2008) refers to this as the 10-minute rule and designs his lectures around this concept, introducing something to refocus interest right before each 10-minute mark.

How do we ensure that training-time is time well-spent?   That participants come away from training able to apply what they’ve learned? That the same training doesn’t have to be re-administered a few months down the road because it hasn’t been applied?

The key is to consider learning transfer when designing every aspect of instruction: the learning environment, the format. the content, and everything else. In this way, the resources spent on developing, implementing, and participating in training result in the maximum benefit to the organization and its people.



McGinty, J., Radin, J., & Kaminski, K. (2013). Brain-friendly teaching supports learning transfer. In L. M. Kaiser, K. Kaminski, & J. M. Foley (Eds.), New directions for adult and continuing education: Learning transfer in adult education, pp. 49-59). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Medina, J. J. (2008). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school. [Kindle]. Retrieved from eISBN: 978-0-979=77778-3

Sousa, D. A. (2011). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Team-building’s bad reputation?


Have you seen it?  People rolling their eyes when you bring up team-building?  Well, maybe not eye-rolling exactly, but perhaps a slight cringe or something else in their body language that says they’re not too keen on the idea.  Why is that?

Having had many experiences myself in the team-building arena, I have some theories.  I’d have to say first that for me, every one of the actual “team-building” events I’ve participated in was a positive experience at the time.  But only a few had any lasting impact.  What made the difference?  What takes a team-building event from a fun outing or activity to a different level, where it actually results in a team of people moving toward higher functionality and performance?  That phrase itself is part of it – “moving toward … functionality and performance.”  Because true team development is not a one-shot deal.  And while a fun day at the park, beach, golf course – you get the idea – can be an integral part of developing a team, it takes more than that to have a real impact on team dynamics for the long-term.Marble Tubes

Think about the team-building events that you may have been part of.  Were there clear goals?  Did all of the participants understand the goals from the beginning?  What kind of follow-up was there to any activities you participated in?  Did team members ever talk about their experiences or what they learned?

It takes a skilled facilitator to effectively interact with activity participants so they create meaning from their experiences.  Without effective facilitator planning and guidance, a lot of time and money may be spent with no meaningful outcome for the participants or the organization.

A scavenger hunt is a classic example of a team-building activity that is fairly easy to initiate and often incorporated in a conference setting.  Have you participated in something like that before?  It was probably great fun to work with your team to find and photograph different items.  But was your activity designed in a way that maximized engagement and participation; that tied to team and organizational goals from beginning to end; that gave participants an opportunity to gain insights about the way they communicate and interact as a group; that encouraged them to share and make meaning from those insights?  These are the kinds of things that can elevate “team-building” to lasting and powerful team development.

What kind of team-building activities have been most effective for you?  What made them so?

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