Hello.

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This post is the first in a series on social learning, and focuses on the pure experience.

Not fleeing, nor invading, just running late…

For a handful of days a year, the Melbourne winter actually gets as cold as what it typically looks like outside. On Wednesday evening I found myself bolting across the soulless Docklands precinct from the safety and warmth of my company’s cavernous, Brutalist-style building. My destination: the head office of one of our direct competitors. As I slowed down towards the entrance, puffing dragon-breath, I surveyed the faces of the 6pm exodus out of morbid curiosity. Their countenances were exactly the same as my colleagues from up the road.

So this is what it looks like…

I walked in through some invisible walls, looking up, around (blowing any cover I might have been attempting, had I been a spy and been surveilled). The building was dark, chocolatey with gold nuances and a bit of a rabbit warren until the concierge desk loomed up in front of me. “Here for the change function, sir? Up that way.” After going up that way, several friendly, familiar faces from a few similar functions last year greeted me. “Hello Paul, here is your lapel tag. Have a seat wherever you are comfy.”

It’s OK, I’m not my job after 6pm…

I was at the Change Management Professionals quarterly professional development evening, organised by a bunch of enthusiasts and hosted in a different corporate office each time. I hadn’t been able to make the first for the year, but this one – on wearing the conflicting hats of coach, mentor and counsellor within the Change Manager role – really attracted me. I also loved the surface perversity of learning from some employees of my competitor, in their house! Simultaneously though I knew it to be the transient enjoyment of a person who has now stuck with a social learning approach for good, because social learning works. I wasn’t there representing my employer (nor were 3 other colleagues I later identified), I was representing me.

Thank god I don’t have to schmooze these people to sell them something…

It is beyond cool to be able to hang out in that way, with such industry peers, with a common love of something, with status irrelevant. It was lure enough on Wednesday for me to miss the start of the Ashes cricket series (that is BIG, by the way!). But what about the barriers? Well, as an introvert, I’ve rationalised down to four the things that mitigate my (otherwise omni-present) fear of networking: At an industry PD session, I generally know who will be there, I know my role, I know why I am going and I know any performance pressure is minimal.

Oh, I’m actually not a change manager, but I work with some…

Social learning is so disarmingly primal that the removal of edifices in itself makes us feel a measured little dose of vulnerable; enough for a frisson of trust-building over an hour or two. All you need to be prepared to do is share. So often though – and for something so natural as gatherings with people – we don’t quite know what to do with our new knowledge, connections and context at the end of a social learning experience. As things wrapped up on Wednesday evening, people murmured in clumps about what to do now. Some were going for drinks and dinner. Some were still writing notes from conversations and then stuffing their notebooks into handbags. I took photos of the flip-charted outcomes to ponder on later. As I walked out, I said good evening to @jenfrahm and we both mused that we may both write blog posts about the evening. Driving your own learning doesn’t come with a roadmap, but the best way to inform your gut-feel is to know how you like to learn.

I didn’t think of it that way before…

I didn’t know what I was going to get out of the discussions beforehand. I didn’t know the discussion structure. I did know was that I was going to hear new perspectives that I don’t hear day-to-day at work. I did know that ideas come to me in the middle of intellectual discussions. With a few minutes left on Wednesday evening in the formalised discussion on our table-groups, I was frustrated at not getting the difference between coaching and counselling in a change context. So I kept myself out of discussion for a little bit, reflected on what the table had said and then *bing*, I uttered: “…I’ve got it!” as I formed a proposition. Here it is, as displayed visually a minute after by the table facilitator:

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Sure, holes can still be picked in the above broad concept, but it survived the rigour of the room. Where else can you get an agenda-less exploration and validation of an idea that efficiently?

Wow, there is more to being a change manager than I thought…

Social learning is about sense-making through the perspectives of others. It builds social intelligence in an accelerated fashion, because it taps the motivation in feeling part of something and feeds the desire to share for other people’s benefit. It therefore has a developmental benefit exclusive of any other reasons for turning up. For something that relies on pull factors to get people there, this is a handy articulation of up-front value.

Why is this way of learning so easy outside of work…

Wednesday night was a pure experience. The next questions are how to properly interlock social learning within the complex web of corporate learning, how to facilitate these sessions within a culture of compliance and how to translate the cosiness of in-person interaction into available technologies. I’ll attempt to deal with these questions in a series of posts in the coming weeks.

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