Category Archives: Learning

How we learn best

Pixar gets it

The Holllywwod way of organizing a movie is by using only contract labour. The vast majority of movie people, from grips and gaffers to high-paid actors, are in essence self-employed and are hired for one movie at a time.

Pixar goes against this trend, by focusing on people:

Contracts allow you to be irresponsible as a company. You don’t need to worry about keeping people happy and fulfilled. What we have created here – an incredible workspace, opportunities to learn and grow, and, most of all, great co-workers – is better than any contract.

We’ve made the leap from an idea-centered business to a people-centered business. Instead of developing ideas, we develop people. Instead of investing in ideas, we invest in people. We’re trying to create a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners. It’s no trick for talented people to be interesting, but it’s a gift to be interested. We want an organization filled with interested people.

Says Randy S. Nelson, the dean of Pixar University.

Among the advatages cited are:
* People learn to work more efficiently together through long-term collaborations
* People can better support each other through difficult creative processes
* A culture of learning
* People have more fun

Also check out the amazing offices at Pixar.

Socratic teaching

Rick Garlikov tried something new teaching a third grade math class:

The experiment was to see whether I could teach these students binary arithmetic (arithmetic using only two numbers, 0 and 1) only by asking them questions. None of them had been introduced to binary arithmetic before.

17) How come we have ten numerals? Could it be because we have 10 fingers?

18) What if we were aliens with only two fingers? How many numerals might we have?

19) How many numbers could we write out of 2 numerals?

20) What problem?
THEY COULDN’T DO THIS [he holds up seven fingers]

21) [This strikes me as a very quick, intelligent insight I did not expect so suddenly.] But how can you do fifty five?
[he flashes five fingers for an instant and then flashes them again]

The result:

Their teacher told me later that after I left the children talked about it until it was time to go home.

The chief benefits of this method are that it excites students’ curiosity and arouses their thinking, rather than stifling it. It also makes teaching more interesting, because most of the time, you learn more from the students — or by what they make you think of — than what you knew going into the class. Each group of students is just enough different, that it makes it stimulating. It is a very efficient teaching method, because the first time through tends to cover the topic very thoroughly, in terms of their understanding it. It is more efficient for their learning then lecturing to them is, though, of course, a teacher can lecture in less time.

Here’s a though: Rather than asking why many kids don’t like (or actively hate) school, we could ask how we might create schools that are so much fun, that we couldn’t possibly keep the kids out, no matter how hard we tried. And this is certainly one way!

Death to PowerPoint

Creating Passionate Users is the best blog I’ve found recently, and Kathy Sierra’s post on how not to use PowerPoint is very funny and smart.

Sometimes the best presentation is… no presentation. Ditch the slides completely. Put the projector in the closet, roll the screen back up, and turn the damn lights back on!

Especially if the slides are bullet points. Or worse… paragraphs.

The second you dim the lights and go into “presentation mode” is the moment you move from a two-way conversation to a one-way lecture/broadcast. It’s hard to be interactive when you’re behind your laptop, at a podium, watching your slides on the small screen.

Read it!

No need to succeed

My main tool in coping with all the stuff going on in the Happy at Work Project right now has been to remind myself, that I don’t need to suceed. Every time I start to stress a little I think “This does not need to work out. It does not need to be a success. It is OK if it fails.”

I tried it at a workshop with a customer the other day. I had about 30 people there, and it felt like I wasn’t really reaching them. They weren’t complaining or anything, I just felt like there was a huge distance between me and them and that I wasn’t communicating as clearly as I wanted. So I did two things:
1: As above, I reminded myself, that I don’t have to suceed. What a relief :o)
2: I consciusly focused my attention on what was going on.

All our workshops have lots of sessions where the participants work in small groups, and I spent some time not thinking or planning ahead. I simply tried to notice what was happening tight now in as much detail as possible. From that came a sense of calm and a feeling of reconnecting with what was going on in the room at the time. The workshop was a great success. I even stuck in an exercise I’d never tried before, one that’s really designed to be used on one person – I just modified it on the fly to work on 30 people :o)

The question in my mind is whether I’m honest with myself. I’m telling myself that I don’t need to suceed – to enhance my chances of suceeding. That seems like cheating, somehow. But it works!

Book review: Smart Love

I try to gather input for the Happy At Work Project from many sources. Web sites, books, movies, magazines – whatever may give me some new angle on what makes people happy at work. So please don’t read too much into it when I tell you, that I just finished reading a book called Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent & Your Child a Better Person by Martha and William Pieper :o)

I saw the title, and thought that any alternative to discipline might be a nice thing to know about, in the search for ways to create better work environments. Indeed, much of what is says CAN be transplanted from the world of bringing up children to that of working together on the job.

The obvious notion NOT to take with you, is the one where managers take on the roles of parents and employees become the children. Where knowledge, authority and responsibility is seen to lie only with some people (those who happen to be leaders) and employees are expected to do as they’re told. Fortunately this mindset is slowly disappearing.
Continue reading Book review: Smart Love

A little story from Rhodes

This story was sent to me by Maria Bakari, who I met at the Kaospilots conference in January. She’s greek and I’m half-greek, so we had an instant connection. Maria does not have a blog, so with her permission, I’m posting the story here:

Yesterday I had the special pleasure to meet Mr and Mrs De Montalembert. The parents of the Marc de Montalembert Foundation which has been established here in Rhodes in 1994. The Foundation was created in the memory of their son, Marc, who passed away in a sailing accident outside Rhodes, near the Turkish shores in July 1993. His parents, French-born Marc Renee and Italian-born Manuela, have made it their mission to carry on the ideals that they feel Marc would have wanted to promote. They say of Marc: “He had a vision of the world animated by tolerance and inter-cultural understanding”.

The Marc de Montalembert Foundation, offers young people under the age of 30 the opportunity to win a 7,000-euro grant to travel around Mediterranean countries and pursue research on their subject of choice. The winner of the grant is also given the chance to stay for a period of up to six months at the Foundation, located in the Medieval town of the island of Rhodes.

The couple believes that the grant enables young people from Mediterranean countries to bring down barriers and raise awareness of cultural similarities and means of communication with people who appear ‘too different’. “Young people are particularly able to bridge over differences and overcome the anxiety when faced with the unknown, they say. Overcoming isolation and ignorance is the greatest challenge. This is why a major activity of the Foundation is the annual grant, enabling a Mediterranean youngster to discover and study the cultures of the region”.

I truly felt privileged to be able to be in touch with this vision, this beautiful ?in many aspects- dream and the magnificent beauty of the summerhouse and gardens where the Foundation is hosted combining elements of the cultural diversity (particularly Byzantine, Ottoman and Medieval) of this blessed island. While being guided in the garden and listening to the story of the place being restored and transformed (from an abandoned property to an inspiring pavilion) I could feel the honour, the integrity and the respect that this space holds.
Continue reading A little story from Rhodes


I’ve been spending the last 4 days at a yoga retreat arranged by the Art of Living. We’re talking four days of getting up REALLY early, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, talks and various other exercises.

And the most interesting thing was that two of those days were spent in silence. No talking, reading, music, TV, emails, phones or communicating of any kind. Just long, loooong hours spent in silence and meditation. Beautiful. And frustrating. I’ve tried it once before, and I wrote about the experience here.