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Alastair Rylatt

Learning in a 15 Minute World

by Alastair Rylatt

This article is an excerpt from Alastair's latest book, Winning the Knowledge Game - A Smarter Strategy for Better Business in Australia and New Zealand

If you are serious about growing better business, individuals and teams need to learn smarter. Whatever your business goal you need a game plan to open hearts and minds to better learning, growing competitive advantage and ensuring lasting success. Without this capacity you will struggle to make the necessary improvements and progress.

What makes this challenge so demanding is the pace and frenzy of modern change. To put this in context let us explore the following story.

It is 4.45 pm on a typical working day for Carol and Victor in their office. At the front door is a courier tapping her foot expecting immediate attention. But for the moment both Victor and Carol are pre-occupied. In the next 15 minutes Carol needs to finish a search on the World Wide Web. She needs this information for a telephone conference call scheduled at 5.00 pm with her major client and she is expected to contribute some intelligent comments on the export potential there. Victor is also frantically trying to get on top of his workload. He is already two days behind in his e-mails and the taxation department is chasing the latest financials. On top of this he is struggling to prepare for an upcoming exam at University. He is seriously thinking of dropping out and enrolling in an e-learning program instead. Needless to say Carol and Victor are feeling swamped. The courier has her demands too, she is expected to complete four more deliveries before 5.30 pm. She wants to make the fast train home, so that she can make her commitment to coach the local girls basketball team at 7.00 pm.

This story is very indicative of what most of us face on a daily basis. We are living in a 15 minute world where people struggle not only to do their job well and meet their obligations, but also do the learning and activities they desire to keep up to date and fulfilled.

In the 15 minute world you are expected to respond and act to meet every obligation. It can at times be uncompromising and holds no punches. If left unchecked you can quickly become burntout and unproductive. You can easily become so busy that you never discover better ways of doing things and as a result, quickly fall into the trap of living a life full of 'busyMess' and not 'busyness'. This is a central challenge in modern business and has profound implications on how we learn.

Of course the 15 minute world may not be all that bad, there is a certain excitement and engagement that comes from a busy fast paced life. However, if our desire is to live a smarter and more enjoyable existence we must put our thinking caps on and avoid some potential traps. These include trying to do too much, being too busy to really notice what is going on, failing to prioritise and not reducing unnecessary costs and activity. So what can we do to respond to such challenges? Here are three key ideas.

Going beyond speed

Most of us have heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, where the tortoise calmly walked during the race, eventually beating the much faster and frantic rival. Such simple wisdom, that we need to reflect and catch breath is vitally important when it comes to putting knowledge to work. Speed and being fast by itself is not enough!

I remember presenting my first training session in Singapore, where I was using a combination of PowerPoint slides and small group activities. The briefing that I had been given was that in Singapore it was customary to present very fast with many visuals and minimal interaction. I was told that learners wanted to collect the information quickly and leave with the collected ideas for future use. At the time this raised a tremendous dilemma for me because over the past twenty years I had observed that the best learning occurred when you stop racing and you create opportunities for people to interact, share insight and collaborate.

As I adapted my training style to the Singaporean culture, I quickly discovered that my assumptions were also correct in their culture. All I needed to do was to spend a little more time gaining permission for involvement and making sure people felt safe before expecting them to express their views and be actively involved. As a result my newly adapted style led to greater learning and flow because the training delivery was correctly paced and people were able to share key issues and discoveries as they occurred. Interestingly, the insight of gaining permission helped me with other cultures as well.

The lesson behind this training scenario translates into other situations in business. It could be a team meeting, a chat over a business lunch or having a conversation on the Internet, all of these need the right level of permission, interaction and openness for faster and deeper learning to occur. Moving from a world of speed to one of combining speed with depth, will for many people be an unnatural act. It requires people to break lifetime habits and develop new skills of reflection and review.

Mastering your storage and retrieval

In a world of mass information it is becoming increasingly difficult to remember everything you need. One moment you may feel you are on top of the world in what you need, then all of a sudden you can feel overloaded, smothered and very vulnerable.

During our school days much emphasis was placed on developing our memory to get us out of trouble by remembering facts, principles and formulas. We may have learnt a variety of techniques to help us including rote learning, mnemonics or some other technique. Such techniques have been helpful but in times of rapid change we need to go one step further and place greater emphasis on our storage, retrieval and access rather than relying on memory. We need to create systems to recall vital know-how (ie principles, stories and facts) at a moment's notice.

Let us concentrate on what you can do to personally store and archive your knowledge. Without a doubt, learning how to archive knowledge has been the turning point in my consulting and training career. There was a point some years ago when I realised how confused I had become by the mass of information stored in my head and in my office. I was experiencing enormous difficulty in keeping a tab on the abundance of resources available to me in the form of office books, notes and files.

Each day, instead of putting all my energy into marketing, I allocated a portion of the day to archiving some of the knowledge I had collected. Then over a few months I started building a living archive of my knowledge in the form of stories, training exercises, latest facts, statistics, best practice organisations, great web sites and working smarter tips.

The result has been truly transformational! Instead of relying on my memory I now have a system that enables me to recall things at a moment's notice from my computer. Even when I am tired or struggling for time, I can in most situations find answers that has some merit. The great news is this system is based on Word Files and is not sophisticated. For example, when I decide to do a subject search, I key in a word or topic and ask the find instruction in my software to retrieve what I have stored. This method has given me instant access to knowledge that is essential in my profession as a consultant, speaker and author.

The make up of your personal archive will vary depending on your interests. To assist you in building your personal archive for training here is a list of some possible headings.

  • Best practice organisations or better practices you have noticed
  • Discoveries from your learning journals
  • Experiential activities and games
  • Facts, Statistics and Trends
  • Favourite Quotes
  • Universal wisdom including key reminders on what is important in your in life
  • Vital procedures and checklists

Managing your personal knowledge archive is a discipline that gives you the foundation for longevity in your career, whilst also providing a solid grounding for any hobby or pursuit in life. I found it to be the best safety valve I could have in my profession. Of course, there will be times when your archive does not help you or you feel you need a second or third opinion. You can go to the World Wide Web or contact someone for an answer or view. Either way, you cannot lose, having an archive that will travel with you through life.

Exploring Push and Pull technologies

Finally, if one is serious about faster deeper learning, one should be accessing as much knowledge in the world of digital technology as one can. In recent years there has been a significant shift in the connectivity and accessibility to the Internet via palm tops and mobile phone networks in addition to the PC.

Taking the conversation a little further, it is timely to mention Push and Pull technologies.

Push technologies — help you to be informed in an area of interest when it becomes available. Like getting a letter in the mail, push technologies come in various forms including voice mail, short message systems, discussion groups, e-mail and electronic newsletters (ie. e-zines). For me, this means being on the distribution list of various e-zines on topics relevant to winning the knowledge game. These services are often free but increasingly you are expected to pay for the better knowledge.

Pull technologies — is where you do the searching yourself and extract the information you need. Search engines vary but I have found most value at www.google.com, www.askjeeves.com and www.dogpile.com. Increasingly, you will find businesses providing sophisticated search capacities to employees, suppliers, strategic alliances and customers to help them find instant answers, contacts or advice. Knowledge resources and learning portals are made available to assist suppliers, key customers and employees in their business. The big danger here can be the assumption that people know how to search the Internet, Business web sites, Intranets and Portals. Very few businesses teach the skill to their employees, suppliers and customers. Greater effort needs to be taken to help people capture simple tips and deeper insights from cyberspace.

Copyright © Alastair Rylatt

About the Author
Alastair Rylatt

Alastair Rylatt is the Director of Alastair Rylatt Consulting in Sydney, Australia. His book published is titled Winning the Knowledge Game – A Smarter Strategy for Better Business in Australia and New Zealand, McGraw-Hill, Sydney – ISBN 0 074 71342 6 – Book also international edition. Alastair may be contacted at alastair@alastairrylatt.com or visit his website at www.alastairrylatt.com

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