Friday, June 23, 2006

More on Brainstorming

David Jago's initial post on brainstorming (see Brainstorming and Other Techniques, 21 June 06) has generated some interesting email discussion among my Ndarala colleagues who use these types of techniques as part of their professional armoury.

Now David has put a new post on the smart meetings bog ( including links to some interesting articles.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Business of Blogging

Like many of us, I am still learning about blogging. So I try to take the time to search for good sites that can help me.

One of the best sites that I have found that focuses especially on the business of blogging is Des Walsh's blog - Des describes himself as a blogging evangelist, I know from my own experience with him that this is pretty accurate.

The site provides a steady stream of new material on blogging, especially from a smaller business or personal business perspective. It is also a well structured site.

Brainstorming and Other Techniques

David Jago put a short but interesting comment on his blog ( drawing from a very interesting article by Jared Sandberg originally published in the Wall Street Journal.

Sandberg points to some of the pitfalls of brainstorming, arguing that the technique is likely to fail unless very well planned. This got me thinking about this type of technique.

When my daughters began primary school, I noted with fascination the way they were introduced to a whole series of process techniques including project management, mind mapping and brain storming previously falling to the management domain. At the time I thought that this was a good thing. Now I am less sure.

Part of the problem lies in the crowding of the school curriculum, reducing time for thought. But part lies in the nature of the techniques themselves.

I use most of these techniques in my professional life. I know from my own experience that the point made by Sandberg on brainstorming apply to them all, that they are likely to fail unless well managed. And this is actually not easy.

Take brainstorming. It seems so easy, get a group together and let a thousand ideas bloom. yet the reality is that real skill is required to make a brain storming session work. And this requires not just planning but also practice.

One difficulty with brainstorming is that people focus on its role in generating new ideas. However, those ideas are almost inevitably set within a frame created by the combined ideas and experience of the group, making it hard to get outside the box. Further, brainstorming is also a technique for creating sometimes enforced consensus among participants.

This point can be illustrated by taking another technique, the delphi process, often used to generate and test ideas among a distributed bigger group, usually experts in the subject.

Initial material is circulated for comment and the generation of ideas, the comments are consolidated and the material revised and then re-circulated. This proceeds until a common view is formed. The process is very good for establishing a majority view, for testing things, not good when it comes to moving outside the box.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Developing a Personal Education Program

In my last post I looked at the reasons why people found it so hard to develop personal education and training programs. I suggested that a core reason was that they simply did not know how to do it. In this post I want to make some simple suggestions that may help in developing a personal learning program. But first, a confesion.

Starting with Elementary Latin at University, a subject I did as an extra, I have a long history of paying for but not completing formal training courses! Why is this so? I enrolled because I thought that they were a good idea. I failed to complete because they did not in fact meet my real immediate needs. So the starting point in developing a personal training program is to focus on your needs.

Now this is not easy. Most of us have some idea as to where our knowledge gaps are, but this does not mean that we must fill those gaps. My advice is not to bog down. Simply prepare an initial gap list. You will revise this several times.

The next point to remember is that 80 per cent of learning is informal, with over half of this coming from work experience. This leads to a core principle: in thinking about your own learning program, start by defining just what you are learning from your current job.

In doing this, try to distinguish between knowledge (things that you know) and skills (things that you can do). Do not worry if they are small things, the aim is to have a complete list.

You should also try to identify areas of decline in knowledge and skills. This can be depressing, especially if your job is in fact limiting you.

Now compare the results of your job related learning experience with your initial list of training needs. What are the gaps? Do you want to make any changes to your needs list in light of the results? Again, don't bog down. You are going through a process.

Having now refined you needs list and identified gaps, start thinking about different ways in which you might fill those gaps.

At this point, it can be helpful if a little depressing to draw up a list of personal problems that you have to overcome in moving forward. How much can you afford to spend? How much real time do you have? How do you learn best? Any action plans you develop need to take these into account.

In thinking about filling gaps, start with your work environment looking at both formal and informal learning. Are there things that you can do there that may help you develop your knowledge and skills? What training activities does the company provide? Are there any ways to improve the work that you are being given? Are there people in the company that you might talk to, not necessarily either your boss or the HR people, who can give you advice, act as a sounding board, provide some form of mentoring?

Then look externally. What things can you do on your own through personal study, what things might require more formal study?

The distinction between knowledge and skills can be important here. Knowledge can be obtained through personal study using a wide variety of free resources including the web. However, skill acquisition requires practice, one of the reasons why informal on the job learning is so important. So if you are targeting a skill, especially one relating to interactions with others, you have to think about just how you are to practice that skill. This may require a formal course or at least interaction with others.

Having got this far, you should now be in a position to define a personal training program including both work related and private learning activities.

This need not, indeed should not, be complicated, nor should it be too ambitious. You want to succeed, not fail. To this end, try to chunk things into the smallest possible bits so that you can do them easily and thus build a sense of momentum.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

On Time and Training

In a recent post on his FRACAT (Free Resume and Career Toolbox) blog - - Dan Sweet commented that he talked to a lot of job candidates who complained that their employer had not offered any training.

Dan's experience fits with my own. However, and as Dan said, it is up to the individual to make sure that their skills are current. So that started me wondering why individuals had so much trouble in defining personal education and training programs..

Time pressures are an obvious problem. Unless compelled to do so, we all tend to put our own training and personal development in the important but not urgent basket. Cash is another issue, although an enormous amount of material is available for free. But beyond this, I wonder if the problem simply is that people do not know how to develop their own training program?

It seems to me that many of us get locked into a triangle made up of formal qualification courses at one apex, generally short course corporate offerings at the second and, in some cases, continuing professional development requirements at the third.

The difficulty with this lock-in, at least as I see it, is that it ignores the single most important thing, the individual's real training needs. These may or may not fit within the triangle. So we have to start by defining those needs before we can define the required training program

However, this leads us straight back to the core problem in that many people have great difficulty in defining their training needs and hence in defining the training required to meet those needs.

I will return to this issue in my next post, looking at ways in which individuals can in fact plan to meet their own training needs.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Time, or the Lack of It

Where does the time go? A month since my last post, and I wanted to use this blog to chat about all the things that would otherwise be submerged!

I will try to do better.