The Social Spark: How Conversation Triggers Creativity and Insight

The Social Spark: How Conversation Triggers Creativity and Insight

The sudden flash of insight that comes in an aha moment brings a sense of satisfaction that humans have valued since mythic times, when Archimedes shouted “Eureka!” after discovering a solution to a real-world problem. Such moments change individual lives and also provide breakthroughs in the world of work. St. Paul reinvented his life when he was knocked off his horse. Sir Isaac Newton theorized gravity when he saw an apple fall. Tchaikovsky said, “Generally, the germ of a future composition comes suddenly and unexpectedly. . . It takes root with extraordinary force and rapidity, shoots up through the earth, puts forth branches and leaves, and finally blossoms.”

So how do we create the perfect conditions for these flashes of creativity in the workplace?

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Who Can We Be?: Resolving to Learn Together in the New Year

Who Can We Be?: Resolving to Learn Together in the New Year

It is not only a simple cliché but also a cultural meme, that at the beginning of a new year, like the Roman god Janus, we reflect on the past and make plans for a different future. This meme represents a fundamental human urge to learn, change and develop new ways of being in the world. Essentially, it is an annual opportunity to focus on possibilities and to say, “That can be me.”

University of Chicago philosopher Martha Nussbaum suggests that two key questions guide our efforts to pursue what we can be: What are we actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities do we have to pursue our goals?

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Rethinking Workplace Learning in the 21st Century

Rethinking Workplace Learning in the 21st Century

For many decades as an educator, I have struggled to describe the kind of lifelong learning that leads to a satisfying and productive life – and the kind of learning that supports institutions and organizations to build a satisfied and productive society. And then this week, a Books@Work participant provided a description that captures what I have attempted to articulate:

“I just think that every employer everywhere [sh]ould say, ‘Wait a minute, I want my employees learning all the time and I don’t care how they’re learning or what they’re learning because eventually that learning will help us.’ As long as you have a workforce that’s learning and growing and expanding their knowledge, it will benefit [everyone]. . . The act of learning is essential to everything we do.”

Do contemporary workplaces embrace this type of continual learning?

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Shared Reading as a Foundation for Inclusive Democracy

Shared Reading as a Foundation for Inclusive Democracy

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of John Dewey’s classic book, Democracy and Education. While much has changed in the last century, much has not: his voice continues to inspire us today as we think about the role that adult learning can play in shaping democracy. Dewey’s lesser-known friend and colleague, Jane Addams, provides important practical perspectives as she combined theory and practice in work that shaped the lives of individual people in Chicago and far beyond for many decades.

Dewey and Addams believed that democracy depends on providing opportunities and resources for every person to build his/her own capacity to contribute to the work at hand in their families, in the workplace and in the larger community.

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The Power of Unexpected Questions

The Power of Unexpected Questions

Three unrelated experiences came together in the last few weeks that led me to revisit an idea that has stayed in the back of my mind for quite some time: MIT Professor Edgar Schein’s notion of “humble inquiry,” which Schein defines as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, or building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

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Learning Life History: Revisiting the Past to Build a Better Future

Learning Life History: Revisiting the Past to Build a Better Future

In Learning from Our Lives, Pierre Dominicé suggests that our life history, especially the history of our learning, can be a powerful resource for understanding the future we want to build. Dominicé exhorts educators to encourage adults to explore their educational biography. When adults reflect on their “life journey in learning,” he says, they “become authors of their lives.”

Each of us is a product of our biography. Can we seize on our learning life histories to learn more about ourselves in the present?

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Learning: It’s Not Just What You Know

Learning: It’s Not Just What You Know

In a TED talk that has been viewed almost 50 million times, Kenneth Robinson says that education “goes deep with people” when it taps into their innate desire to learn and grow. We start with creativity and curiosity that motivates our learning – but too often we lose much of our enthusiasm for “education” along the way. I like to think that each of us actually is an expert on learning. We just need to step away from the idea that learning is simply mastering new information and skills and think back to times when we learned things that really mattered to us and the people around us.

But what is learning if it’s not just the acquisition of new knowledge?

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The Search for Beauty: One Voice, A New Perspective

The Search for Beauty: One Voice, A New Perspective

More often than we may realize, one person’s voice, quietly asserted in a moment, changes how an entire group sees things. I witnessed such a moment a few weeks ago during a Books@Work session that brought together police officers and community members to discuss Gabriel García Márquez’s story “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” The story is a classic example of the literary genre known as magical realism – but this moment in the discussion gave new meaning to that term.

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Beware the Bullet Point: Critical Thinking and Well-Told Stories

Beware the Bullet Point: Critical Thinking and Well-Told Stories

At first, some are skeptical of the role literature can play in corporate settings. After all, a novel (or short story or play) can take a long time to make even a single point about human experience. In Hamlet, for example, Shakespeare expends 30,000 words to provide a window on the pitfalls of decision-making. Wouldn’t a short article (or even a PowerPoint presentation) more efficiently summarize the salient factors that produce good or bad decisions for work teams? But what might we miss?

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A Meeting of Minds: Shared Reading and Lifelong Learning at Work

A Meeting of Minds: Shared Reading and Lifelong Learning at Work

Who doesn’t enjoy a lively conversation? Mortimer Adler, the co-founder of the Great Books program, wrote, “Of all the things that human beings do, conversing with one another is the most characteristically human.” Adler’s How to Read a Book is a literary classic, but less well known is his 1983 companion volume How to Speak and How to Listen. Conversation – speaking and listening – is part of the normal activities of life, but Adler describes a kind of communication that goes deeper, a “two-way talk [that] can achieve a meeting of minds, a sharing of understandings and thoughts, of feelings and wishes.” This kind of conversation is pleasurable and satisfying – but why is it so rare?

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