An AGES-old learning technique to help you learn something new

An AGES-old learning technique to help you learn something new

As you might imagine I am often talking with my team and with clients about ways to design learning programs so they maximise results.

This week's discussions led me to discover a new framework which made perfect sense to me and which I am confident will help you as you go about building your own skills too.

The framework is developed by renowned neuroscientist, David Rock and is called AGES.

Here is how it works:

Attention: This one is I think obvious in the general sense, but for precise neurological reasons that I had not thought much about before.

When learning something new, we must not multi task, but rather pay attention to it. This way our hippocampus, the centre of our brain in charge of learning, knows what to focus on and we are more likely to retain what we learn.

Generation: We must take an active approach to our learning. By taking notes, doodling, asking questions and generally interacting with the material in front of us, we are creating a ‘web of memories' which radically increases the chance that our brains will remember what we were trying to learn.

I saw a stunning example of this during the week where an eight year old completed Barbara Oakley's Coursera Course that I have also completed, called Learning How To Learn.

It's excellent and this young fellow captures a couple of critical ideas rather well. Click here to watch his short video.

Emotion: If we enjoy what we are learning, or experience a strong emotional response (perhaps find something funny or even strongly disagreeable) we are more likely to remember it. The emotional response seems to alert the hippocampus that the idea is important and should be retained.

Spaced: We need to learn ideas in small pieces over time if we are to retain them. We have all completed thoroughly enjoyable whole-day workshops only to leave the ideas in the room along with the mint wrappers.

David Rock's research indicates that just like cramming at university, trying to learn everything at once is an ineffective way to get results.

Our experience with both Clarity First and our corporate programs supports this 100 percent. The results we started getting when we moved away from whole-day workshops were amazing.

I thought the Neurolinguistic Institute's article on the topic was rather good, so encourage you to read it and click through to some of the supporting research.

Have a great week,
Davina

PS – I am holding a free ‘Help and Learn' session on 25 August 2020. Click here to learn more.

This Tip was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas for more than 20 years.

She began this work when a Communication specialist at McKinsey & Company and has since helped experts of all kinds strengthen their communication skills. 

Why you should ditch your corporate templates

Why you should ditch your corporate templates

I had a wonderful session with a team of engineers from an energy company this week.

They told me they had done something risky and that it worked.

They ditched their corporate template​​ when preparing their business case and got a ‘fast yes'.

“We managed to have 6 people working on the business case at once. Everyone knew their part and how that fitted in to the overarching storyline.

“We had two years of supporting information that we were able to quickly sort through and synthesise.

We ended up writing and getting it approved within 2 weeks which was an amazing outcome.”

Charles, team leader

In the past they had thought they had no option but to fill in the sections within the business case template even though they hated it. It was frustrating to use as it caused them to repeat themselves while also including all sorts of irrelevant information.​

The template was typical: it included a long list of ‘pots to throw ideas into', or categories they needed to fill in. You will be familiar with the sort of thing. It's useful for collecting ‘data' and making sure the team has thought of everything during their analytical process.

Background

Proposal

Goal Statement

Scope

Approach

Key Milestones / Deliverables

Enterprise Architecture (interfaces)

Constraints / issues

Dependencies

Financial consideration

Summary

Assumptions

Benefits

Non-financial benefits

Benefits management plan

Risks (3 types)

Change assessment (many types)

Next steps

Recommendation (at the very end …)

The template design created extra tension for them as they were caught between ‘filling it in' and a leadership team that wanted them to keep it short.

So, the team decided to do something different.

Here's what they did instead.

Step 1: Agreed the storyline structure. The team leader sat down with one other senior team member who was also advanced in their use of our techniques to think through the high-level storyline structure they needed to prepare.

They went back to first principles to think about what they needed to achieve and where their audience's ‘heads were at'. They then thought about what they needed to explain if they were to achieve what they believed they needed to with this presentation.

Although they then discussed some ideas around the messaging, they didn't fill in the structure. They just made a call as to which of our seven storyline patterns suited their situation the best.

Step 2: Brainstormed the messaging for each part of the storyline. They then called a team meeting to talk about preparing the paper for the business case. During this meeting they used the storyline as a framework for the discussion, which led to a brainstormed list of points to be discussed under each of the four key messages that supported their main point.

Step 3: Wrote it up. Four people took away one section each to write it up, which turned out to be fast and easy to do. Why? Because they all

  • Had a clear view of the overall story
  • Understood how their piece related to the whole, and so avoided overlapping with what their colleagues were to contribute
  • Were confident in the messages they needed to convey within their own area
  • Were able to tell the story in a logical, cohesive way that enabled them to support their single point of view without feeling as though they need to discuss topics that were not relevant to their story

Step 4: Finalised and presented the paper – and got a ‘fast yes' from the leadership team along with a series of compliments. Here are just two:

“I didn't even need to read the whole thing. The thinking was so clear and transparent at the top, I knew I could trust what you were saying.”

“This was super easy to read”

Interestingly, none of  the leaders complained that they had deviated from the corporate template.

The team was also pleased that the story flowed with what they felt was a ‘unified voice' even though different people had crafted different sections.

So, there you have it. 

A great real life example of where a business team thinks from first principles about ‘getting things done' rather than following procedure because it's the norm.

 

 

This article was prepared by Davina Stanley, founder of The Clarity First Program and author of The So What Strategy.

Davina has been helping experts communicate complex ideas for more than 20 years.

She began this work when a Communication specialist at McKinsey & Company and has since helped experts of all kinds strengthen their communication skills. 

3 Decision Traps and How to Overcome Them

3 Decision Traps and How to Overcome Them

 

You will have seen over previous weeks that decision making is something of interest to me, in part because when helping improve client communication, I need to ask sensible questions to make sure that their material is not only presented well but that their content ‘stacks up'.

I might ask, for example, whether when making a recommendation someone has reviewed a complete set of options, or has used a full set of criteria to evaluate them.

So, I was pleased to find a terrific book summary on the topic that I think will help me, and hopefully also you, ask better questions.
If the summary of Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work by Chris Heath and Dan Heath is anything to go by it looks like a great read.

(Do let me know if you have read it – I am wondering if I should get a copy and read the whole thing).
Here are a few comments that stood out to me that I hope interest you also:

  • Sparking constructive disagreement is underdone, possibly because it is hard to do. It is hard to make others feel comfortable to disagree with us, so a great way to do that is to ask this question:  “What would have to be true for this option to be the very best choice?”
  • Asking disconfirming questions is invaluable. I can think of instances when I very much wished I had asked this sort of question before launching into a new venture: ‘What’s wrong with this idea? Why won’t this work?’
  • Trusting the ‘outside view', or what people outside your inner circle might think. Simply put, this requires us to ask how have other people in our situation fared? This is quite a contrast to ‘how do we assume we will fare'?

This is just a snippet of what I think is a very good article. It's not too long and well worth a read.

>> Click here to read the full article << or here to learn more about how we might help you turn your communication skills into an asset as part of the Clarity First program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Am I crazy trying to do handstands at my age?

Learning to do a handstand as an adult is providing me with some interesting – and at times frustrating! – reminders about what it is like to learn something new.

I have been reminded that not all goals, and definitely not all practice is equal. Even when learning to do handstands.

Let me explain.

I recently set myself a goal which I did not achieve, which was to be able to do a 30-second handstand before a
certain big birthday.

Despite attending my gym regularly and doing exercises which appeared to be helpful, I have not yet done
a 30 second free-standing handstand.

Why not?

Firstly, you might ask: why bother at all? True.

But it seems like a fun if random party trick and lots of people at my gym can do mighty perfect handstands. So,
I’d like to do one too. (Just so you can see I am not totally crazy, click here to ‘how to’ videos … I am not alone!)

Besides: how hard can it be? I could do one as a kid and it looks easy enough for someone who is reasonably fit.

Given I am strong enough, at the beginning it didn’t seem that hard.

So, having decided that I’d like to do it, I didn’t break the task into chunks. Nor did I take it seriously enough
to set mini deadlines and measure my progress against them and trigger those dopamine hits that I mentioned in a recent post. 

I did make progress and am proud to report that I can consistently do a handstand if I take a bit of a walk up and a skip before hurling my feet skyward. I can also hold that position for a few seconds (especially if I know there is a soft mat for me to fall onto when I am ready).

This was an easy cop out, though.

After all, I could do a handstand of sorts for the first time in decades.

But … is it what I had set out to achieve?

Nope. And I knew I was kidding myself.

It wasn’t what I wanted and was becoming disillusioned. Why could ‘everyone else’ do this and not me? Am I not strong enough? Am I not flexible enough? Why can’t I do this thing that I could do as a kid?

I had persisted and practiced for a long time and not progressed as far as I would like.

It turns out that not all kinds of practice are equal. Repeating the same thing the wrong way in no way improved
my ability.

Given my gym instructor is both friendly and knowledgeable, I decided to actually ask him what to do and listen to his advice.  

The first thing, he assures me, is to stop trying to do the handstand as a whole. Focus on micro skills instead.

The next thing is to get my balance right. To balance the majority of my weight not on the heel of my hand as I was doing, but smack bang in the centre of the palm. This week I achieved this for the first time and boy, it felt good.

Not a full handstand but measurable, definite progress. And now that I know what it feels like, I will be able to do it again.

Not only that, one of my gym buddies commented on ‘the nice line’ I had created as I was upside down practicing my stance with my feet against a pole.

Thank you, dopamine.

My instructor tells that I also need to increase my shoulder, hip and hamstring flexibility so that I can elevate my legs smoothly and without curving my back. This will help me create and hold a line with much less effort. And that would probably happen faster if I spend less time at a keyboard. Of course he said that!

I have made progress here too (not with the keyboard part!) and will keep at it until he says I should try again.

My hope now is that this mix of purposeful practice based on guidance from someone who knows more than me, micro success and a tiny bit of positive feedback will keep me on track until I do succeed in getting my feet properly skyward.

So, crazy I might be, but I am now enjoying learning to do a handstand, and also learning more about learning.

What new learning challenges have you set yourself lately?

If building your professional communication skills is on the list, check out the Clarity First Program. We can help you turn your communication skills into a career-boosting asset.

Caveat – this picture is aspirational! It is not me!

 

  

 

 Davina Stanley is Managing Director of Clarity Thought Partners, and founder of The Clarity First Program. She and her business partner Gerard Castles collaborated to write the The So What Strategy which offers a simple strategy for communicating clearly as well as the seven most commonly used storyline patterns in business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to take the drudgery out of building a new skill

How to take the drudgery out of building a new skill

It is no secret that dopamine hits are seductive.

They trigger a very real and frankly delicious biological response that make us want more.

This is why Facebook introduced ‘likes’. This is why gamification of social media is a major focus of all platforms.

This is why success feels really really good.

Until recently, however, I had no idea how much this everyday hormone impacted my day to day work.

Why do I enjoy grasping new concepts? Why do I love finding new and different ways to help others grow as communicators? Why practising a new skill feel so boring?

It turns out that harnessing dopamine is hugely powerful in helping us persist so we go beyond knowing about something to doing that thing well.

Experience tells me I am not alone in this, so I wanted to share some simple and practical ideas that will help you master skills that matter to you.

Here are two suggestions to help you go from knowing to doing:

  1. Learn to ‘rig’ your own dopamine hits
  2. Magnify the ‘hits’ by setting milestone rewards

Access the full details within our free Clarity First Base Program.

When inside the portal, search ‘dopamine', or come back and click this link if you are struggling to find the post.

 

Davina Stanley is Managing Director of Clarity Thought Partners, and founder of The Clarity First Program. She and her business partner Gerard Castles collaborated to write the The So What Strategy which offers a simple strategy for communicating clearly as well as the seven most commonly used storyline patterns in business.

How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication skills

How to use your critical thinking abilities to turbo charge your communication skills

When I first joined McKinsey as a communication specialist, I was astounded at how quickly consultants came up with rigorous ways to think about new issues.

Over time I came to see how they did it and wanted to share one related strategy that will help you with your communication.

Thinking top down boosts your impact enormously while also providing a useful framework for doing justice to your analysis when communicating.

Here are three ideas to help you put that into practice:

  1. Understand what top-down thinking is about
  2. Get into the helicopter first
  3. Make like a porpoise

I'll run them through in more detail one by one.

 

Understand what top-down thinking is about

Top-down thinking is about identifying the things that matter most before either deciding what problem to solve or building the supporting case for your point. 

In practice, it’s a bit like when you go to an experienced tailor: they don’t tally up each measurement and then look at a chart to know that you are a size 42 regular.

They take a quick look at you and have a hunch that you look like a 42 regular and then test that hypothesis by taking out their measuring tape to check that they are right.

If their measurements disprove their hunch, they adjust their thinking to conclude that perhaps you are a size 40 disguised in baggy clothing.

In problem solving, this means thinking through the roadmap before digging into any particular aspect of the analysis. 

Consultants rely on previously used frameworks to give them ideas for identifying what that roadmap looks like. You can also do this by adopting the standard framework used in your industry or discipline and complement that by grabbing hold of the HBR guide to Key Management Models.

In communication, this works largely the same way. With experience, we can identify the communication pattern and then test it using a set of principles to check that our message and supporting points do their job. We outline both the patterns and a useful test in our short and practical book, The So What Strategy.

Top-down and bottom-up strategies complement each other but starting with the top magnifies our impact and saves us significant amounts of time.

So, let’s look at how you do that.

 

Get into the helicopter first

As with many things, the idea of thinking top down isn’t that hard.

Doing it, however, is not as straightforward unless you have a process to follow.

Here is how I think about it when preparing a piece of communication.

When thinking through my strategy before I draft anything, I focus on absolutely nailing two things: my purpose and my
audience.

This is information that doesn’t appear inside my communication, but rather shapes it.

In going through this process, I ask myself many things to confirm each element. When thinking about my audience though, there is one critical question that I always ask: What would they need to know to agree with me, or do what I need them to do?

I then brainstorm and prioritise my thoughts so that I end up with a high-level list of no more than five points that I must focus on.

I then work top down as much as possible to craft my communication, and work bottom up to test that the ideas are in the right place.

In the Clarity First Program we teach you exactly how to do this.

This brings me to my next point.

 

Make like a porpoise

Have you seen the way a porpoise bobs up and down as it swims?

This is a useful image for me when I think about how I make sure I take full advantage of both top down and bottom up
thinking when I prepare my communication.

As discussed above, I first sort out my top-level messaging.

Having now been helping people prepare their communication for a couple of decades, I am a bit like the tailor I mentioned earlier. I default to key storyline patterns to fast track this process wherever possible.

I then iterate up and down through the hierarchy of my thinking until I am confident that all if the ideas I need to communicate have a logical place in my storyline.

This played out real time in today’s coaching session.

I worked with a team to prepare a short but contentious email outlining some changes to their priorities that partner organisations needed to know about.

We started thinking through our strategy, mapped out our high-level messaging and then as we worked our way toward the end, asked ourselves whether each point was in the right place.

To do that, we assessed the links between our ideas and the inferences we were drawing at each stage.

We checked that the introduction would draw the audience into our main point quickly, that the ideas that supported that main point are organised to be MECE (mutually exclusive and cover everything).

We also double checked that the words on the page achieved our initial purpose and addressed the concerns of the most important audience members.

The team will then communicate the message top down.

They will begin with a short introduction and follow with the main idea and then the right depth of carefully mapped ideas to support that idea.

They will enable their audience to get the big picture quickly and follow the argument step by step.

Click here to learn how to do this for yourself.

  

 

Davina Stanley is Managing Director of Clarity Thought Partners, and founder of The Clarity First Program. She and her business partner Gerard Castles collaborated to write the The So What Strategy which offers a simple strategy for communicating clearly as well as the seven most commonly used storyline patterns in business.