ATD 2016 Day 3

Here we go again. Day 3 in Denver.

First up another top notch Keynote speaker, Brené Brown. You may well have seen her on Ted Talks,  over 25 million people have.

Brené managed to be both entertaining and thought-provoking as she spoke about leadership, vulnerability and courage. The key message is that vulnerability is not a “soft” skill but a very hard one, in fact it is the very definition of courage, and it is essential to leadership.

Conference hall from the back with a woman speaking on stage

We spend much of our lives building defences against being vulnerable, because that way we can avoid the associated feelings of shame, fear, anxiety. But we also cut ourselves off in the process from the emotions and experiences that we crave. Most of us choose comfort over courage and see vulnerability as weakness, in ourselves and others. So to expose ourselves to risk, uncertainty, failure takes great courage.

But Brené believes passionately that courage is an essential element of successful strategy and culture change. Leaders need to be able to excavate what is going on below the surface and instigate change, you need to choose courage not comfort, and vulnerability is the shovel.

She argued the need for clarity of values, and living those values. Trust is a theme that has recurred throughout this conference. Trust is built in small moments.  If you don’t trust someone they will not trust you, nor follow you. Brené then talked us through 7 elements of trust – Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgement and Generosity.

A dramatic change of gear for my next session, Karl Kapp, an acknowledged expert in gamification for learning, treated us to the Zombie Salesapocalypse.  Well, what he actually did was to talk us through the journey he and his team have taken in developing an unfinished learning game in an immersive 3D video game style, complete with zombies. Karl was refreshingly honest in revealing the hurdles, false turns, and trial and error process as the game developed.

It was fascinating to see the parallels with our own progress in developing serious games. Unicorn has managed to leap over many of the technical and design hurdles that Karl has faced by partnering with a world class games development studio (in fact we bought them). For me, the holy grail of learning games is to embed the learning into the game such that the two are one. I don’t think the zombie game does that, the zombies are an entertaining device for engagement, but they are also a distraction from the learning. But I’ve seen much worse and very few thus far that are better within the budgetary constraints of Karl and most L&D professionals.

After lunch and another tour of the expo, I joined Megan Torrance’s session titled “Adventures in xAPI”. Megan was very good at explaining the many benefits of xAPI as it breaks us out of the constraints of SCORM. But it was also clear how little real practical progress has been made in applying the new standards. At Unicorn we have had xAPI (TinCan) embedded in SkillsServe for 18 months now, but SCORM still dominates. I’m optimistic that as more companies take up mobile learning and social learning, the corner will be turned, and when it does Unicorn will be at the forefront.

After a return to the Expo hall for the afternoon ice cream break, our final session was another change of gear – Josh Davis on the “Neuroscience of Bias”. Having read Daniel Kahneman’s seminal “Thinking Fast and Slow” and more recently Richard Thaler’s (almost) equally influential “MisBehaving” I was looking forward to this session and it did not disappoint. Karl’s theme was the power and ubiquity of unconscious bias (it even applies to hurricanes), and the demonstrable and striking benefits of diversity in the workplace. He introduced some strategies for recognising and countering our biases. Main takeaway – I must buy his book.

One more day to go tomorrow. The bear has not managed to break in yet but he looks like he’s getting closer!

Statue of a large bear photographed from the inside of a glass building

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