Posts Tagged ‘training’

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

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.

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.

Quests and powerups

Agile & Lean, Education, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 07 2011

on a questThe first challenge I’ve set myself is to explore how to incorporate the concepts of quests and powerups/levelups into the professional educational setting1.

In many situations, there is certainly a sense of accomplishment. In fact, at our internal training at ThoughtWorks, we’ve2 moved away from lecture and classroom intensive training, and toward project-focused, experiential learning. This allows the participants to gain feelings of achievement and accomplishment, to learn about collaboration, and to find a sense of discovery. Much of the instruction has moved to a Socratic Method, which both leads and allows the participants to use their intrinsic motivation.

The question I’m exploring is “can we apply these same methods and techniques in a public, less-controlled setting?” I believe the answer is yes.

What would the changes have to be?

  • Far less lecture. Just enough to give them a basic understanding, but not enough to fill their heads.
  • Challenges that allow them to discover, rather than be spoon-fed.
  • Questions rather than assertions, to allow them to incorporate changes in their thinking.
  • Achievements that allow them to feel good about themselves while they are learning.
  • Some extrinsic motivation, as long as it’s not the main focus.
  • The idea of a constant progression toward mastery (which takes me back to Shu Ha Ri and my post Is easy the same as hard?).

We’ll be working on this in our educational content. Expect to see the first results publicly available in the next few months.

Just because, look at this TED Talk by Sugata Mitra. It’s fantastic. (it should be embedded right here)

1 Just in case it hasn’t become painfully clear yet, I am avoiding the word “training”.

2 While I say “we”, in fact I had nothing to do with it. Take a look at Sumeet Moghe’s blog. Sumeet is the driving force behind all of our internal education at ThoughtWorks.

P.S. We’re hiring at ThoughtWorks again (still).

Learning and games, games and learning

Agile & Lean, Education, Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 04 2011

I’m reading “Reality is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal. It’s fascinating stuff, talking about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and using gaming to teach, learn, collaborate, and learn to enjoy what we do.

Of course, it’s got me thinking.

Alternate Reality

Does this mean some kind of weird science fiction stuff? No. It means games that can be played in the real world or in virtual worlds that may apply different sets of rules or contexts. McGonigal mentions the virtual worlds of Halo and World of Warcraft in the book. These are two very different contexts and scenarios. Halo is warfare set in something like the real world we know. Okay, there are aliens. But other than that…

I’ve never been a big, enthusiastic gamer, but I do like shooting things and blowing them up. And yet, somehow Halo has never called to me.

And then there’s World of Warcraft, which is a fantasy world in which you complete quests, fight, and band with others. If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said that I had no particular interest. But thanks to Jane McGonigal, I decided to sign up for a free trial of the game. It was more what she said about Intrinsic Motivation (see Dan Pink’s “Drive”) and how the quests relate, and the overall idea of collaboration but not (necessarily) competition.

The quests are compelling. Nothing really happens. I don’t get any prizes or recognition or anything but leveling up in the game. Somehow, in spite of that, I want to keep doing quest after quest. There’s a feeling of satisfaction about it. Finish one, start another. Level up periodically. Fight monsters, deliver messages, get lost and wander around, go up trees and down into the earth… On one level, it seems entirely pointless. On another, I FREAKIN’ GET IT!


How does this apply? Is there a way to use this kind of approach in delivering what we oh-so-annoyingly* call “training”?

I’m thinking about the idea of intrinsic motivation, quests, achievements that allow each of us to feel a sense of accomplishment, and extending it beyond the specific educational situation. That last includes some form of “social medium” and also thinking about how to extend it into the workplace.

Agile teams are pretty good at this. Each time a person or pair completes a story, they get to move it on. There’s a sense of achievement in that. Of course, they don’t get a nifty “+1” floating over their heads. They don’t level up to the next level of developer or tester. Maybe there’s a way?

For now, my immediate focus is on how to apply this in the educational/learning situation. Is there a way to design and create learning environments that take advantage of the work of Jane McGonigal, game designers, and others?

* I say “oh-so-annoyingly” because we should NOT be doing “training”. We train pets to certain specific behaviors. When I’m working with a project team or a bunch of folks from an organization that wants to adopt Agile, I’m not training them. I’m leading them to think differently and adopt different behaviors. So “training” just seems the wrong word to me.

What is training?

Facilitation, Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Nov 13 2010

Doing what we call “training” for a while, I’m reflecting on what it means.

I tend to think of training in terms of providing information, guidance, exercise, and correction in order to help others develop some level of understanding and skill.

I’m forced to consider whether what I do on a day-to-day basis is actually training, or is something else.

I am definitely teaching, in the sense of pedagogy: I deliver information, attempt to engage with the students, and check to see if it’s sinking in.

I am definitely providing all the tools and environment and – in some cases – exercises people need to learn.

A lot of what I’m teaching (or enabling others to learn) is intellectual: principle, values, philosophy, attitude. While there is some skills acquisition as part of it, there’s so much more.

Is that training? Or is it something else?

Presentation tips

Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Nov 09 2010

Planning and Preparation

  • Read books like “Presentation Zen” and “The Naked Presenter” by Garr Reynolds, and “Slide:ology” and “Resonate” by Nancy Duarte. Learn core skills of designing, planning, and building the presentation deck. Read Garr Reynolds’s blog, as well.
  • Remember that the deck is not the presentation, you are.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t expect your audience to retain dozens or even a dozen key learning points.
  • Decide up front what your core message is, and a few sub-messages, and stick with that. Martin Fowler talks about threes: three main points, then three sub-points under each.
  • Fewer words on the slides is better. Plan for the audience to pay attention to, listen to, and learn from you, not from reading the slides. Use words sparingly, use relevant images and illustrations, keep it simple.
  • Use visuals. Keeping words to a minimum doesn’t mean blank slides. Use appropriate photographs or illustrations that reinforce what you’re saying.**
  • Make it flow. Plan your presentation like a novel or a movie, so that the audience is guided from beginning to end.**
  • Use “callbacks” to reinforce key messages. Don’t just say something once. And don’t repeat ad nauseum. Reinforcing key messages periodically has real value. This helps to lock in the words that trigger the associated concepts.**


  • Deliver knowledge, not just information.
  • Tell stories. There’s nothing like real experience to drive a lesson home, not to mention engaging the audience’s interest.
  • Make eye contact. Eye contact means that you are connecting with the members of your audience. If you’re not making eye contact, they might as well be listening to or watching a recording.
  • Face your audience. Don’t turn and face the screen. Turning away from the audience disengages, and also makes you look like you’re not ready.*
  • Take the audience’s temperature. Constantly monitor for alertness, interest, fatigue, distraction, and so on. Check their body language, facial expressions, and movement.
  • Move. Don’t stand in one place, particularly if that one place is behind a lectern. Don’t play it safe. On the other hand, don’t move frenetically. Slow walking, gesturing with your hands, changing the distance between you and the audience are all good. Use your movement to emphasize what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method is a great example of this.
  • Have a conversation with the audience. Don’t talk at them. Don’t lecture them. Talk to them as if you’re having a one-on-one conversation, explaining and discussing something.
  • Relax. The more tense you are, the less comfortable they will be.  The more relaxed you are, the more they will learn from you.
  • Make it fun. Your audience will come away thinking you’re wonderful if they have fun. It helps if you have real, interesting content, of course. 🙂
  • Know your material, don’t read the slides. The audience has every right to expect you to be knowledgeable about your material and your subject. If you have put the words on the slide, and are reading the slides, then why does the audience need you?  See the note above about fewer words.*
  • Breathe. Seems simple, right? Allow yourself to pause, to look around, to take a deep breath.  A three-second pause will seem like eternity to you, but goes by in a flash for the audience.*

* [added 22 Nov]
** [added 26 Nov]

Body Language

Facilitation, Musings, Presentation | Posted by Doc
Nov 08 2010

Have you ever heard or read this?

  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

Or maybe some variation? Maybe you’ve even repeated it, telling others that 93% of all communication is non-verbal.

First, let’s put this in its proper context. This misinformation is based on research done by Professor Albert Mehrabian in the last twenty years. Here’s an excellent clarification on

Here is the key part:

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.

Note the inclusion of “pertaining to feelings and attitudes” in each of these. Simplified, this says “93% of all communication about feelings and attitudes is non-verbal.”

Also, please note that body language is not included at all!

Here’s a further clarification from Mehrabian himself, from that article on

Mehrabian did not intend the statistic to be used or applied freely to all communications and meaning.

Mehrabian provides this useful explanatory note (from his own website, retrieved 29 May 2009):

“…Inconsistent communications – the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages: My findings on this topic have received considerable attention in the literature and in the popular media. ‘Silent Messages’ [Mehrabian’s key book] contains a detailed discussion of my findings on inconsistent messages of feelings and attitudes (and the relative importance of words vs. nonverbal cues) on pages 75 to 80.

Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages – these are the original sources of my findings…”

(Albert Mehrabian, source, retrieved 29 May 2009)

This clarification, that this research was specifically and only about communications about feelings or attitudes, kills a common misconception. It’s not that 93% of all communication is non-verbal, or even that 93% of communications is about feelings and attitudes. Rather, this was a very focused study that addressed communication about feelings and attitudes.

This doesn’t rule out the importance of non-verbal communication, either in voice, presentation, facial expression, or body language. It just eliminates the so-called authoritative reference.

All of that academic-y stuff being out of the way now, we all know that there are also loads of research about body language. And we also know, and research supports, that a significant amount of communication is conducted non-verbally. As such, I think it’s important that each of us who has interaction with others (hmm – that would be pretty much all of us), and particularly those of us for whom interaction is our professional focus, should have some knowledge of body language and facial expression.

Whether you do presentations or training, coaching or leading, understanding what’s being communicated in ways other than in words is a critical skill. When I’m doing training or delivering a talk, one of the constants is that I’m looking at each member of my audience/class/group. At least those I can see: sometimes a group is so large that you can’t really see everyone. As I’m looking at each of them, not only am I making eye contact (a separate topic), but I’m also examining their facial expressions and body language.

  • Are they looking bored? Hostile?
  • Are they looking confused?
  • Are they looking like they have something to say?
  • Are they looking away? Or working on their computer/phone/iPad/whatever?

Each of these is a cue to me that something is going on. Note that in none of these cases is there any verbal communication. So the non-verbal communication, intended or otherwise, is actually 100% of the communication. And I can use that communication, assuming that I recognize it and understand it, to guide my actions and words.

For instance, if I look around and I see a number of people looking sleepy (usually after lunch 😉 ), I may choose to stop what I’m saying and doing, and have the group do an activity.

If I see people looking confused, I may ask if there are questions, or take a few moments to explain a challenging topic in simpler terms.

Regardless of the specific cues, what’s important is knowing that they exist and how to understand them, so that I can use them to inform my choices and be more effective at my communication.

And, lest I leave out an important part, it’s equally important for me to be aware of my own non-verbal communications. But that’s a topic for another day.

A Culture of Heroism

Agile & Lean, Coping and Communicating, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 11 2010

A while back, I wrote about A Culture of Blame. As I’ve traveled around the US and to other countries, I’ve seen more and more evidence of this, which keeps me thinking. I’m always looking for patterns of behavior, and simple ways to describe them.

When talking about Agile teams as compared to Waterfall teams, one of the things that has become apparent is that Waterfall is also a Culture of Heroism. In fact, in many ways, much of Western culture is about heroism. We laud the star athlete, the exceptional business person, the standout author, and so on. In many cases, it seems to be recognition and acclaim for the individual over the group, or at least the individual separate from the group.

Agile teams foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation. That’s not to say that there’s not room for individual excellence, effort, and achievement. I would say that high performant teams tend to focus on the success of the team over the individual. Is Agile more socialist, while Waterfall is more capitalist? I’m not sure, but it seems that way.

Regardless, there are a number of side effects of a Culture of Heroism:

  • Ego-driven achievement
  • Unhealthy competition (although sometimes it’s quite healthy)
  • Rewards that – in recognizing the individual – discourage the others on the team
  • A focus on the individual rather than the group goals

This is an interesting thing for me, because I’m highly competitive, and am happy to have individual recognition. On the other hand, I believe strongly in subordinating my ego to the purposes and goals of the team, and that the success of the team is what’s important*. Since my ego still wins out at times, I recognize that this is not just a struggle for me, but for others as well.

We’re raised in a culture of individualism and heroism, then we are invited into the Agile fold, and asked to shift our focus and our energy from ourselves to our teams.

I’ll continue to explore this as I get the opportunity to work with more teams. I will say that I’ve seen the culture of heroism everywhere I’ve gone, in one form or another, and believe firmly that the change to a culture of collaboration must come from the leadership as well as the team.

Training is amazing

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Feb 09 2010

I’m at the end of day one of training, doing a custom two-day workshop for a client. The requests were long, so we negotiated it down to what we thought would reasonably fit within two days.

At 11am, I was on slide 4 in the PowerPoint deck. The reason it was moving so slowly is that these people are STARVING for information and guidance. They know they’re doing “quagile” (quasi-agile), they want to move closer to “real” Agile, and they are interested and eager and articulate.

It fascinated me all day, as they took what I was presenting and ran with it. Some heated discussions, some passionate, some involving the whole group of 15, some a subset. It went on all day.

It’s frustrating to me that they’re so eager, and facing such challenges in achieving Agile adoption. And yet it’s the same pattern…

The development team wants it, the QAs want it, the BAs and PMs want it – the “business” and the “customer” want the same old thing.


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