Learning about learning

Education, Presentation | Posted by Doc List
Jun 01 2016

I spend a significant chunk of my time thinking about how to make my “training” more effective. I quote the word because I don’t really think of it as “training”. I mostly think of it as “guiding learning”. Yes, it doesn’t hurt if I’m an expert (or at least reasonably knowledgeable) about the topic. However, being an expert doesn’t instantly confer expert teaching/training/facilitation skills on me.

The thing is that it’s about the learning. In order to deliver effective learning experiences (you call them what you like, I just can’t refer to them as “training”), it’s important that I understand how the brain learns. Yes, I said “how the brain learns,” not “how people learn.” Sure there have been studies about individual preferences (visual, auditory, kinesthetic). However the more recent studies in neuroscience reveal some very valuable lessons.

“Another recent study at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that the structural core of the brain receives sensory information from different regions and then assembles bits of data into a complete picture that becomes a memory of an event.This memory is strengthened by multiple sensory inputs.For example, if we both see and hear something, we are more likely to remember it than if we only hear it.

If we experience an emotional reaction to something – fear, anger, laughter or love – that emotion becomes part of the memory and strengthens it dramatically.In recalling memories, subjects who had experienced an emotional reaction were far more likely to remember the event and with higher accuracy than those who simply witnessed an event without any emotional attachment.That explains why highly emotional events – birth, marriage, divorce and death – become unforgettable.

What does this neuroscience research suggest about learning?We need to ensure that learning engages all the senses and taps the emotional side of the brain, through methods like humor, storytelling, group activities and games.Emphasis on the rational and logical alone does not produce powerful memories.”

from “How the Brain Learns” at TrainingIndustry.com

Sometimes I do things very intentionally when I’m in front of a class.

  • I tell stories, because research shows that stories help people learn.
  • I am (try to be 😉 ) humorous and amusing because laughter helps people learn.
  • I have people engage with each other because the shared experience helps people learn.

Overall, my goal is to create an immersive, engaging, memorable learning experience.

I have learned from and integrate the work of people like Sharon Bowman (“Training from the BACK of the Room!” and “Using Brain Science To Make Training Stick“), Dave Meier (“The Accelerated Learning Handbook“), and John Medina (“Brain Rules“). When I develop new classes, I consider all of the lessons and think about how to make the experience richer and the learning stickier. When I teach classes that other people have developed, I find opportunities to introduce some of this stuff if the material isn’t as interactive and interesting as I’d like.

One of my friends, Tricia Broderick, commented to me at a conference “I always know how to find your session… I just listen for the loudest room!” That’s because I frequently have people talking, laughing, and carrying on in simulations. If learning isn’t fun, I just don’t feel like it’s worth the time.

Now extend that into meetings, gatherings, and events, and you can get an idea of the difference this can make.

So yeah, knowing how the brain learns is at least as important as knowing how people learn.

Things happening that are good for my ego ;)

Agile & Lean, Facilitation, Photography, Presentation, Travel | Posted by Doc List
Nov 30 2015

Tomorrow (Tuesday, December 1, 2015) I will be featured in “Photography and the Art of Facilitation“. It’s a virtual, online event in which I get to talk about two of my favorite things – Agile and Photography – via one of my professional areas of expertise, facilitation.

On Sunday, December 6, 2015 I leave for Spant! in The Netherlands. On Tuesday, 12/8, I’ll be delivering a keynote at the Continuous Delivery Conference. My topic is “Continuous Delivery requires Continuous Communication“.

Coming up next year I’ll be at a number of conferences and conventions in both the Agile and Photography worlds. I’ll also be teaching more classes in Austin, including my well-received class on creating composites in Photoshop. Here’s a recent example.Amanda at the Prison

For those of my readers who are not uncomfortable with some nudity (“appropriate” nudity – no genitalia and no nipples showing on women), I’ve been busy this year with a passion project called the Austin Bodies Project. It’s primarily focused on celebrating fitness and the human body. It’s had an excellent response, including at the exhibit I had at the Gallery at the Ground Floor Theatre. If you are so inclined, can scroll back to August to see images of the exhibit.

In January, I’ll be volunteering at the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) annual convention called ImagingUSA in Atlanta. At the same time, I’ll get to learn from some top professionals, see the outstanding images that received merits* during this year (including mine), and hang out with some of my photographer friends.

In between all of this, I continue to work as an Agile Coach and Trainer, and as a photographer. I’ve got some weddings coming up, more work on the Austin Bodies Project, completing my application to be a PPA Certified Professional Photographer, and of course there are the holidays.

I’m crying

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc List
Jun 17 2015

Read this first: http://www.hragilesolutions.com/blog/week12.

I love these women. I have loved working with them. I learned as much as they did, I think, as we explored applying the values, principles, and practices of Agile Software Development within the HR department at Gap Inc.

It saddens me in so many ways that this team is being “redeployed”. This project shows such promise, both at Gap and for the HR profession.

When I’m not so sad, I’ll write my thoughts about what we’ve learned and why this went the way it did.

For now, I’m being sad.

Amazingly Agile

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc List
May 07 2015

I’ve been privileged (yes, seriously) to work with a group in the HR department at Gap Inc.

Yes, the HR department. Not software development/IT/technology, HR.

And it has been amazing. They built a team.

Going back to last year when this started, they had me come in to do Agile basic training. It was a three day class, and at the end of day one they said “While this might be very relevant for people in IT, it’s just not resonating with us. Could you do it differently?” At which point I threw away the Powerpoint I’d been using, found out from them what topics they were interested in/concerned about, and made it up as I went along.

They loved it!

The following week was aimed at doing some coaching, working with their pilot team. When they introduced me to that pilot team, there were Directors, Senior Directors, a Vice President, and a couple of Senior Managers. Lovely people who know a lot about the subject and care about it.

But they were the wrong people. They had too many responsibilities, too many demands on their time and attention, and would have been hard pressed to get things done. I told the Executive Sponsor this.

And so they built a team. They agreed to identify people who could be dedicated to the project. In some cases they searched the rest of the organization to find the best people to fill out this team of five. One of the members of the team has never been in HR. This process took months. I patiently-but-eagerly awaited the results, and finally got to meet the team in the last week of March.

This is a remarkable team. Their tenure at Gap ranges from 25 years to one year. Most of them have been in HR for a significant period of time. All of them are smart, personable, committed, and eager to learn. Oh – and they’re all women.

I’ve been working with the team, on and off, since the end of March. I’ve spent one week, two weeks, one week. We have a team room. We’ve done much of the usual kickoff/inception stuff. This team has struggled and learned and demanded more and more from me to satisfy their desire to learn. We’ve explored Scrum vs. Kanban vs. Scrumban (and – at least for the moment – settled on the latter).

They’ve tried cards+stickies and a few different electronic systems for managing the backlog and workflow. It’s been a whirlwind and an adventure.

Here’s one of the things that excites me the most: they’re making everything they do public!

Take a look at their site. I’m so impressed with what they’ve done, both as an agile team and in publishing the experience and their work.

It’s f’ing awesome! I’m so proud.

A Little Story About Personal Branding

Career, Events, Presentation, Social Networking | Posted by Doc List
Dec 13 2014

[Originally posted on Facebook]

A little story about personal branding.

I’m attending the Better Software Conference/Agile Development Conference in Orlando, Florida as a speaker. I did a tutorial on Monday on my philosophy of “It’s All About Me!™” and a short session on the subtlety of language on Wednesday.

After my session on Wednesday, I attended a session that a friend of mine delivered on personal branding. First, I’d never seen her present and wanted to. Second, I thought I might learn something new.

After her session, I wandered into the exhibit area (a.k.a. the break area). I picked up a lovely little snack and a cup of hot chocolate, and moved to a standup table and introduced myself to the fellow there. He introduced himself – he’s from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) – and said “Oh! We know all about you at the CBC!”.

I’ve never been to the CBC, never worked with anyone from the CBC, don’t know anyone at the CBC, as far as I know. It seems that their internal agile coach has attended one of my conference sessions somewhere, and when he returned he talked about it (okay, maybe he raved about it). If it’s the session I think it is, I give out some cards that are used for a role play simulation about facilitation.

Later, I ran into my friend Jennifer, who’d done the session on personal branding. She said “I saw you in the session and I thought ‘What is he doing here? He has done an amazing job of personal branding. Get out of here, Doc!'”

This stuff surprises me. I mean, I know I’ve worked at it, and established “Doc List” as a brand and a persona. It still surprises me.

When my team gave me the nickname in 2007, I freely admit that I set out to make it my brand.

Apparently it has worked.

It’s All About Me!™ in Orlando

Coping and Communicating, Musings, Social Networking | Posted by Doc List
Nov 13 2014

I just did my first half-day tutorial on my favorite topic, It’s All About Me!™. You’d think after talking and writing about it for years, I might have done something sooner.


In reflecting on it, I conclude that I’ve been afraid that I’d put it out there and someone would call bullshit on me.

Happily, that didn’t happen. The feedback was excellent. My favorite was “Great session! Included original material rather than just rehashing existing stuff.”

I’ll be doing more sessions, and maybe sometime soon I’ll finish the book I’ve been working on.

Language counts!

Musings | Posted by Doc
Sep 24 2013

Here’s an interview that Ade Shokoya (AgileTV) did with me in Las Vegas after my session “You said WHAT?”.

Consistent with my thoughts on IAAM, I talk about the idea that behavior (including language) is all we really know about other people.

I want to take Paris

Photography | Posted by Doc
Aug 30 2013

Here’s what I just received. Feel free to vote for me. 😉

Doc, Art Takes Paris voting will be disabled in 3 days!

As a top contender for the People’s Choice Award take advantage of these final days to share your entry and get as many votes as you can before Midnight Monday to stay in the running.

Your entry currently has: 61 votes


You’re entry continues to be amongst the highest voted so keep pushing and have your friends share your link with all of their friends, too. Make your entry go viral and you can be the People’s Choice winner who receives $10,000 in cash or a Trip to Paris!

Voting will be disabled THIS Monday September 2, 2013 11:59pm ET

Good luck, we can’t wait to see the results!

Emily K.
Community Director

Art Takes Paris

Walking in sync

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Aug 29 2013

At the client facility where I’ve been doing coaching and facilitation/training, they have large, long corridors floored in tile.

The other day, as I was walking out – about the equivalent of three city blocks – I heard footsteps behind me. Click click click of hard heeled shoes. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a woman walking in the same direction I was going. No big deal.

I faced forward and continued walking.

I heard the sounds of another person coming into the main corridor from a side corridor. Now the sounds went

Clickclick click click click…click clickclick click click clickclick…

As I listened it changed to

clickclick cliclick clclick click click click click

Just in case that’s not clear (LOL), what happened was that these two women started to walk in sync. It continued for a few more seconds until it was clear that they were walking perfectly in sync with each other.

meetingI turned to look and saw that they were not together in any way, and were walking on opposite sides of the corridor.

I blurted “You synchronized!” They looked at me, looked at each other, and laughed.

Now let’s consider the larger implications of this simple experience. Two people who apparently did not know each other, organically beginning to move in sync with each other.

How does this play in teams? (You knew I was going to go here, didn’t you? 😉 )

Consider a group of people who may or may not have worked together before, who have different work styles and rhythms, who see things differently and understand things differently. Throw them together in a modest sized room, give them some guidance on how they might work together, get them started, and coach and guide them. Mightn’t they also begin to walk in sync?

Walking in sync doesn’t mean that they become identical. The two women walking down the corridor behind me were not the same height, were no doubt thinking about different things, were carrying different things in their hands, wearing different shoes, and so on, and yet they naturally fell into sync with each other. Their differences remained, and yet they began to “work” together organically.

This is what we expect to see on Agile teams: organically beginning to work in sync, to develop rhythms and patterns that belong to the team, as much as to the individuals. We see this on high performing teams consistently.

Are you fighting the rhythm or letting it flow through you?

No one Agile

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 28 2013

What’s the right way to do Agile?

Thinking differentlyIs Kanban Agile? Or is there Agile and Kanban and Lean and…?

Is iterative harder than Kanban or vice versa?

These questions and more seem to lead to organizations making statements like “this is the way that WE do Agile!”

I don’t object to an organization choosing an approach, unless they choose from a position of ignorance or confusion or both. And that’s what I see a lot.

There is no one way or right way. Even within a single organization, there might be variations that make sense.

There is no Agile Cookbook. There’s a pantry, a refrigerator, a stove, and a bunch of hungry people. Go figure it out.

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