Archive for category Michelle Works Out Loud

Where to Post

I have a new website being setup in May.  Yesterday I was reviewing posts on my current business site to decide which ones to move to the new site. A dilemma I’ve struck before reared it’s head again.  I’m uncertain where to put my daily dispatches (aka Working Out Loud) posts.  I’m concerned about putting them on my main blog page as they will potentially detract from the stronger opinion pieces and calls to action related to my services.  However, WOL posts do contribute to the change I want to make through my business – about enabling more fluid, agile, high impact learning.

As I reviewed past WOL posts yesterday I realised it has given me a lot of pleasure to create and revisit them.  I thought I could use my personal website for them instead.  In the morning I posted that I was going to Live Out Loud on my personal website … and that felt like the right thing to do for several hours.

I went about my day, then returned to reviewing WOL posts on my current business website in the evening.  I had to decide for each post whether it would move to my new business website or be archived.  I couldn’t bear the thought of any of it disappearing into the ether forever.  At the very least I wanted it archived – to know I could access and reuse it if I wanted.  It was really hard to figure out what to do with each post.

It hit me that I had tried this once before.  In late 2017 I moved my WOL posts to a separate website.  Then I moved them back again.  The key reason I moved them back to my business site was authenticity and integrity.  In part the strength and value of my work is related to me visibly practicing what I advocate, for all to see regardless of my relationship or potential relationship with them.

Earlier this year I engaged a marketing strategy and support agency, Unusual Comms, to help me.  They reviewed my website.  Their comment on my Daily Dispatches page was

  • It’s unclear the specific purpose this page serves – especially as there is no overview.
  • The posts read like informal blogs, so it’s not clear why they need a separate page to your blogs.
  • If you’re planning to keep up the daily dispatches then I would make clear through an overview what these are so it’s clear to visitors why they aren’t included in your blogs. Or alternatively these could be included on your blog page.

I’ve decided to go with the last piece of advice.  I’ll keep the page and provide an overview.

However, I also like the idea of using my personal site again.  I created a flowchart to help me make consistent decisions about what goes where.  I’ve just applied it to figure out that this post belongs on my Daily Dispatches page.

Note to self – Keep this flowchart stuck to the wall in front of my desk.  While not locking myself in to this as a ‘forever’ strategy, stop thinking about it for the foreseeable future and just get on with it.

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Getting to Grips with my Newsletter Tools – for Now

I had wanted to start a newsletter for over 12 months before I finally did it.  I had completed a newsletter ‘toolkit’ session with my mentor Katie Mac (from Katie Mac Publicity) over 6 months before I published my first one.  What stopped me was (1) making time to develop content, and (2) not having the skills to design and create the newsletter template.

I addressed both obstacles by engaging someone with the skills to co-design the newsletter look and feel and then set up the template in MailChimp.  Paying for this service increased my motivation to find and protect the time to develop newsletter content.  I tend to work best to deadlines, so created an arbitrary deadline of July 2018 to release my first monthly newsletter.

I’m currently working on content for my September newsletter (a little later than I had intended to, but will release it this week).  I decided it was time to take over the technical newsletter production tasks.  My designer provided an online demonstration of how to replicate a previous newsletter and update both the content and design elements.  It’s actually very straightforward.

I’ve also used Canva for the first time to edit titles for articles within the newsletter.  This is an unexpected bonus as I’ve been looking for a reason to learn how to use Canva.  I often see attractive visuals online that other people have created using Canva and have yearned to be able to produce my own.  Today I took my first baby step toward this goal.

The general approach that I’ve used to developing skills needed for my newsletter is one that I commonly apply to get things done in my business.  Where I don’t have the time to figure out how to do something myself I engage someone who can do some setup efficiently then get them to train me.

I also recognise that while it makes me feel good to master new tools it may not be the best use of my time.  Particularly as I am shifting how I work and adopting a business model rather than a solo practitioner model, my time will be better spent on strategic, high leverage activities such as business development, marketing and sales, product development and some delivery.  I may end up outsourcing technical newsletter production again or engaging a team member who does this work alongside other operational and administrative tasks.

PS: September 2018 newsletter theme is social learning.  Newsletter goes on on 21 September – sing up now on website to receive a copy.

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I Travelled to Get Unstuck

From January to August this year I lived on the road with my 13 year old daughter.  We travelled around the east coast of Australia, as far south-west as Discovery Bay in Victoria and as far north as Port Douglas in Queensland.  I drove around 12,000km as we moved from one Airbnb to another, or stayed with friends.

Our trip ended a month ago and we’re settling into our new city – Brisbane.

I’m currently writing my September newsletter, and want to reflect on what I’ve learned about my work in the introduction.  I was having trouble getting started writing this piece yesterday so turned to ‘travel quotes’ on Pinterest for inspiration.  Thanks to the Bohemian Bowmans blog I came across a quote that perfectly captured why I travelled.


While my imagination and capacity for enthusiasm hadn’t completely eroded, this quote got me started with my opening paragraph:

I embarked on an extended road trip because I felt stuck. I lived in a busy, expensive city. I worked hard on consulting projects to pay the rent.  I rarely socialised.  I was struggling to support my child contend with an alienating school environment.  I felt my choices, freedom and vitality being stripped away from me.  I travelled to get unstuck.

You’ll have to wait for (or sign up for) my newsletter for the rest of the article.

Spoiler alert – yes, I did get unstuck.  The extended period on the road has opened up new ways of working and new opportunities.  I’m currently in that ‘in-between’ stage, the ‘unfrozen’ stage, where I’m exploring possibilities and alternatives for how I want to work and reshaping my business model.  My mindset is open and expansive, and I’m excited about the options I’m exploring.  (More on this in upcoming Daily Dispatches.)

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Personas as an integral part of how I work

I’m noticing personas popping up more frequently in my work.  Two years ago I wasn’t using personas in my work.  A year ago I would have made a very deliberate choice to use a persona to explore an aspect of a problem or opportunity.  Now there is a fluidity to when and how I use personas that has embedded itself in how I work and think.  In part this is a consequence of having  developed and delivered the ‘From Order Taker to Performance Partner’ workshop four times with Arun Pradhan earlier this year.  Development of personas was a step in the performance-based process at the heart of this workshop.  Perhaps this level of exposure and repetition has just ingrained the value of personas as part my process.  They’re an efficient and effective way to undertake people-centred exploration of issues and opportunities.

Example – Thinking about augmented workers

Last week I got ‘stuck’ writing a blog post about Industry 4.0 and tacit knowledge.  When this happens it sometimes helps me to hand-write, exploring what I know about a topic and what questions I have.  As you can see from my note-book page below I started to explore what people need to learn to become an augmented worker (people working closely with robots and Artificial Intelligence).  I very quickly drew up a small human shape and symbols to prompt me to brainstorm what a person would need to think, feel and do to be effective as an augmented worker.  While this is just a rough first draft, it illustrates how I used a persona to get a human-centred perspective on my question.


Example – Designing a New Operating Model

In July I ran a workshop with a software training team whose leader wanted to define a more sustainable operating model.  I wanted to introduce them to personas as a tool for designing learning and performance solutions.  I also saw a personas as a useful way of exploring the needs and motivations of different groups important to design of a new operating model.  It is easy to overlook the experience of the team itself as a stakeholder – so this is where we started.  I facilitated development of a persona for a representative member of their team.  I used an expanded version of the persona for this where we identified their motivation, pain points and needs in doing their job and providing a service.

Where and How Are You Using Personas?

A number of recent guests on my Learning Uncut podcast have spoken about how they use personas in their work.  Although the tool originated in design of products and services, it is being adopted by more Learning and Development professionals.  Personas are rapidly becoming a mainstream tool in learning and performance solution design.  I note that Connie Malamed wrote an article about using personas for Instructional Design way back in 2009.

How are you using personas?

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Preparing to Facilitate Social and Collaborative Learning Essentials

Earlier this year I facilitated the Social and Collaborative Learning Essentials course for the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) for the first time.  This is an eight week online course that helps participants get more intentional with social learning.  The course is conducted using social learning approaches.  Participants engage with content, each other and the facilitator (me!) in a number of online platforms and a series of webinars.

It was the first time I had facilitated the course, which was designed and curated by Patrick Phillips in 2017.  As I start to prepare for the next session to kick off on 25 September, I’m reviewing lessons learned from last time.

The course includes an action learning project which is the critical to support participants to apply their learning.  This project asks participants to develop or update the social learning strategy for their organisation.  They can do this as a standalone strategy, or integrated in their broader organisational learning strategy.

Several participants were active in the course online platforms (Curatr and Slack) early in the program, discussing  the challenges and opportunities that they felt social learning may help address.  It was these participants who went on to create the most comprehensive and well-considered strategies.  Their ideas and approaches formed progressively throughout the course and they used each other and me as a sounding board.  I built on this by adjusting the fortnightly webinars to  be hosted discussions rather than content delivery sessions.

I was surprised by how well the participants’ strategies came together in the final two weeks as they synthesised the entire course content, their discussions and insights into their own organisational context.  Each presented their strategy in a different format and style, and emphasised approaches and techniques that suited their context.  I’m confident that the participants who actually presented their strategy in the final course webinar got the most value out of the course.

The next time I facilitate the course I shall present a summary of some of the strategies developed by previous participants in the introductory webinar (with permission of course).  My intent is to give people a sense of what is possible and motivate them to working on their action learning project.  I shall also adjust some of the discussion questions in the initial modules to help participants clarify the organisational issues or opportunities that they would like to apply social learning to address.

One aspect I’ll give more thought to in the coming week is how trust built among the participants who were more active.  I’d like to identify what factors or dynamics helped to build trust, and consider what I can do to nurture this among the next course cohort.

You do not have to be an AITD member to complete the course.  Register here for the next course.


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Is there a better word(s) than ‘learners’?

Words have power.  They shape perceptions.  They trigger emotions.

This morning I was reviewing a capability framework, reading skill descriptions aloud.  One statement contained the word ‘articulate.’  When I read it the word just felt satisfying with it’s hard edges emphasising the sense of clarity that it alludes to.  I tweeted about how it felt to say this word.

Articulate is also the name of an eLearning development package, so it had a very different association and emotional impact on someone else as their reply indicates.

As an aside, I like the word malarkey too.  What pictures form in your head when you read this word?  I think of a group of noisy cockatoos.

On a more serious note …

The words we use to label objects and groups of people can convey messages or be perceived by others to contain meaning that perhaps we had not intended.  In another Twitter conversation occurring simultaneously someone was talking about ‘learners.’  Debate about use of the word ‘learners’ within organisations is not new.  One ground for objection to the word is the point raised by Nigel Young below that learning is pervasive and simply a part of being human.

Picking up on the ‘learning is pervasive’ point, I grapple with the word ‘learner’ because it reinforces the mental model that learning and working are separate activities.  Clinging to this model is the antithesis of continuous learning.  It impedes the critical adoption of more agile ways of learning for businesses to maintain the momentum in today’s volatile, fast-paced environment.

Despite my aversion to the label ‘learners’ I find it challenging to find a suitable alternative when I need to describe a group of people whose performance and learning I’m endeavouring to support.  The tweets below give some options.


Interestingly, one of the participants in this conversation was from academia and had a different view on the label.

My final insight is that choice of the most appropriate label depends on context.  In an organisational context I shall continue to find words other than ‘learner’ wherever I can as I think it goes to the heart of a very important shift required for Learning and Development practitioners to let go of control and support continuous learning as a core part of their role.

What words (if any) do you use to replace ‘learners’?  If you still use the word ‘learners’ what is your rationale?


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The Thrill of the New Notebook

In 2017 I worked with a person who made beautiful hand-written notes of meetings and conversations.  She used an A4 notebook with unlined pages.  Her lovely handwriting flowed over the page, brought to life with symbols and clever little illustrations and symbols.  Once I noticed that she had almost filled a notebook and had a fresh one sitting on her desk, ready to start.  I asked her whether she would leave some pages empty in her current notebook so she could use the new one sooner.  “I’m resisting the new book … but probably not.” she replied.  We spoke about the delight of opening an empty notebook, the delightful anticipation of using it, imagining the conversations you might record, and how you would make your note-taking better than your last book.  The potential represented by a new notebook is thrilling.

I had a similar sensation yesterday when I walked into my apartment.  It was empty.  Pristine white walls.  Freshly cleaned carpets without any imprints from furniture resting on it.  Ready for my daughter and I to create our new home after 214 days on the road.  We have a few pieces of furniture to come out of storage, limited kitchen equipment and no decor.  A rare opportunity to create a space from scratch.

I am relishing the potential for creation.  I want to linger a little in this phase – imagining what might be, creating a vision and direction to guide choices about what I bring into the home and how I set it up.

I often feel this little rush, this thrill of what might be, at the start of a project or creative process.  This includes in my professional life where I create things like mentoring programs, workshops, learning strategies, online communities, newsletters, articles or presentations.   It’s enjoyable to bring the vision to life too, especially when the output or outcome is even better than you imagined.  However, I find a deep thrill in the early stages when possibilities are wide open and you get to design (or co-design) and plan something new.

Is this sensation familiar to you?


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Thoughts on Thought Leadership

Last year I was part of Thought Leaders Business School.  I undertook this program to help me figure out how to build an independent business practice where I help others whom I want to choose to work with to create value in my field based on my expertise, insight and experience.  However, I didn’t tell a lot of people I was undertaking it.  I felt uncomfortable about the ‘Thought Leader’ part of the title.  I was concerned that because I was undertaking the program it would sound like I was wanting to claim the title of ‘Thought Leader’ for myself.  It’s a label that has a lot of negative connotations if someone applies it to themselves, and it made me cringe a little.

A recent post by Helen Blunden titled You Are Not a Thought Leader touched a nerve with me.  She described how she had “begun to tire of the self-claimed accolades of “thought leadership” ” which she characterises as being about people building a following through publishing and speaking in order to gain credibility and a reputation in their field.  I had to read her post a few times to get beyond my emotional reaction and see that it is the superficial reputation-building through slick marketing that she is criticising.  Her response is for people to build credibility through action, and to let their body of work and the impact that it makes on others be the basis of their reputation.

I agree with Helen’s view that credibility and reputation need to be earned through valuable contribution.  However, we live in a society with a bias to action and we struggle to make enough time and space to think.  The success of Nancy Kline’s book series ‘Time To Think’ is indicative of how we struggle to create conditions conducive to thinking.  There are people who make the time and effort to think deeply in a way that challenges the status quo who make a valuable contribution and impact upon others.  Harold Jarche’s body of work on Personal Knowledge Mastery and Jane Hart’s on Modern Workplace Learning are examples of this.

A month after Helen’s post I came Dr Liz Alexander’s perspective on thought leadership.  This was via one of Tanmay Vora’s wonderful sketch-notes, which he created after interviewing Dr Alexander about her book on thought leadership.  Her definition of a thought leader is someone who disrupts others habitual approaches to issues that concern organisations, industries or society at large.  Like Helen, she asserts that if you are calling yourself a thought leader you most likely are not one.  “It is other’s assessment based on your ability to shift their thinking.”

I’ll leave you to read Tanmay’s interview with Dr Alexander for yourself.  What struck a chord with me was the spirit of intent she ascribes to thought leadership – that it’s about curiousity, courage, and challenging established points of view in order to provoke meaningful change.  Ironically, this is a spirit I see in Helen.  It is also a description that would make me comfortable to one day truly earn in the eyes of others.

(Please have no doubt that this post is not a disguised plea for others to tell me I am a thought leader.  Think of it more as a post exploring my aspiration to become a much better thinker in my field so that I may be part of a network of people who are contributing to positive change.)

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The Power of Continuous and Consolidated Reflection

I’ve read several end of year blog posts about ‘What I Learned This Year.’  I enjoy reading them as I’m interested in how others learn, and also find that it sparks ideas for my own development.  When I sat down to write a similar post about what I learned in 2017 I made a list of areas I had developed in, and was surprised by how long it was. It’s been a year of rich learning, and I don’t have time right now to sit down and cover everything in a single post.  Actually, given my list of projects and priorities, I’m not sure when I would make time for this.

The second realisation I had was that in most instances my learning in different areas / topics is incomplete – it’s a work in progress.  This makes sense as learning is continuous, and is part of being human.  While you may protest that you know someone who never seems to learn, as humans we can’t not learn – just some people do it more consciously and effectively than others.

The continuous nature of learning is why it’s important to reflect often, and one of the reasons that narrating your work and learning is so valuable. I learn quicker and better when I think about what I am doing and how I could do it better on a daily and/or weekly basis.  Recording my narration in writing or on video (generally via Snapchat) leaves a trail that I can follow to see how I moved from one point to another, including all the meanderings, double-backs, side-tracks and dead ends along the way.  By recording my narration I create a resource for further reflection and learning.  This record helps to fill in the gaps and inaccuracies in my memory of what I did, how I did it and what the experience was like as I was doing it.  It informs my future direction and next steps, as well as my learning methods. Where I choose to Work Out Loud and share some of this with others I have the opportunity to deepen my learning via feedback and discussion.

There is also benefit in looking at my progress and patterns over a longer chunk of time.  This helps to consolidate my learning and look ahead to how I can apply this and what I want to learn and create next.  I find three months is long enough time to gain useful insight, particularly when combined with a quarterly planning cycle.  The transition from one year to the next is a point where many of us slow down a little and is a natural point in the calendar to review and plan.  This is why there are so many ‘what I learned last year’ and ‘my goals for the coming year’ style of blog and video posts.

Instead of one long post to mark the passing of 2017 and arrival of 2018 I will do a series of shorter posts focussed on one specific topic per post.  I may chunk it down even further and post about one aspect of what I’m learning about a topic….

Wait!  I think I just said I’m going to Work Out Loud on an ongoing basis.

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Podcasts for Learning & Development Professionals

I find podcasts an interesting and easy way to stay abreast of trends and developments in Learning and Development (L&D).  When scrolling through episodes of one of my regular podcasts recently I noticed a “You Might Also Like” feature on the Podcast app which suggested other podcasts that I might be interested in.  This has nudged me to expand my listening menu.  I’ve subscribed to the set below (some old favourites, mandy new) and am listening consciously to several episodes of each podcast with the intent of writing a review.

I started this process about a week ago and have two immediate observations.  The first is that it’s easy to identify ‘hot topics’ in the industry as they are being covered by different podcasts.  These topics include Virtual Reality, curation and xAPI.  The second is that a varied listening diet is healthy.  Although there may be some common topics, each podcast brings different perspectives to it based on the people who feature on the podcast and the style or tone of the show.

Please let me know if there are other L&D podcasts you like to listen to so I can try them out too.