In May, I traveled to San Diego to present at the Association of Talent Development’s ATD ’23 conference which featured over 250 sessions to educate and inspire professionals in the talent development field.
This is a terrific conference for Learning and Development (L&D) leaders to share insights, research, and best practices, and when my colleague Rita B. Allen, and I learned our presentation was accepted for the conference, we were thrilled. (Rita, author of Personal Branding and founder of Rita B. Allen Associates, has presented at the conference before and says only a small percentage of submitted presentations are accepted, so this was music to our ears.)
Our session, titled Think Like an Entrepreneur: Foster Creativity in Your Organization, aimed to help L&D professionals take lessons from entrepreneurship and apply them to their organizations. This is different from the audiences of entrepreneurs I usually present to. With this audience, there is an opportunity to bring some frameworks that might help foster the entrepreneurial mindset in their organizations or unleash their inner entrepreneur. For that, I am grateful for the opportunity.
Since this message is something that we’d like to share more widely, I’ll be writing blog posts on the elements of our presentation, including disciplined entrepreneurship, an antifragile and entrepreneurial mindset, and energy leadership. Before I dive into those topics, however, I’d like to share four highlights of the conference – and positive messages that I walked away with. These are not in any particular order, other than they build on each other.
If you’re not already a fan of Adam Grant, he is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, a best-selling author, and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife. If you don’t follow Adam on social media, I suggest you start – his practical advice on work/life balance is a breath of fresh air. Adam hosted the opening general session, titled Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. He covered a lot of ground, but three things stood out from his keynote:
- Invitations into your network should be given to “disagreeable givers” — blunt people who aren’t afraid to tell you hard truths, but who also have your best interests at heart. An example for those familiar with the Ted Lasso TV series is Roy Kent.
- “Unlearning” often focuses on making room for new learning. This lets you address things you are doing that are not servicing you or others. Adam explains it takes courage to unlearn. Unlearning requires the integrity to admit that you were wrong yesterday. Learning is how you evolve. Unlearning is how you keep up as the world evolves.
- As an entrepreneur, Adam also discussed scientific thinking and its impact on startups. Thinking more like a scientist, having the ability to pivot, individuals with the humility and curiosity to search for information all support entrepreneurship success.
Facilitator, strategic advisor, and author Priya Parker presented on The Art of Gathering. Priya presented a new – at least new to me – way of thinking about how you hold meetings and gatherings. She spoke about how these gatherings should be intentional and benefit from setting expectations around the goals of the meeting, party, or gathering. The intent in the design is critical to ensure that both the host’s and guests’ experience is as intended.
This made me think about how I am designing my summer entrepreneurship classes with MIT/Dalhousie with specific learning content. I do focus on the experience for the students, but the classes are much more focused on the content. This talk offered me a fresh look at hosting and attending events from now on, putting some boundaries around what is acceptable. It works best if you are super-specific about the intention of a meeting (or another event) and specify what you intend to accomplish. Priya recommends starting with a strong opening and closing as opposed to covering logistics.
Known to the training community as “the trainer’s trainer,” Katrina Kennedy’s session was titled It’s All About Retrieval and discussed the retrieval of information. She explained that retrieval is more than just recall; retrieval is accomplished in a way that you have context for the information. Learning needs to be varied, spaced, and interleaved. The retrieval practice needs to focus on learning. How many times have you re-read material several times and still not been able to recall the information when it is required?
Retrieval in practice is what we refer to as “use it or lose it.” If you want to play a piece of music and it is difficult to start, the struggle to learn to play it is actually a “desirable difficult” process that helps you solidify the learning. This isn’t about repetition. It is about spacing and breaking up the learning. In the classes I teach, I use breakouts to discuss further and debrief concepts as well as games to reinforce learning. Still, this retrieval discussion brought both the unlearning and learning of new ways of teaching and the intention to gather for a class together. The most memorable experiences will be those in which you have “desirable difficulty.”
University of Pennsylvania Chief Learning Officer Ed.D. Program
One personal highlight at the conference was the scholarly presentations of University of Pennsylvania Chief Learning Officer (CLO) doctorate graduates. I graduated from this program with an M.Ed. ’13 and Ed.D. ’14 and couldn’t be prouder! I wanted to give a shout out to these amazing presentations by my fellow Penn CLO grads:
- Dr. Carol Henry (Implications for Practice: Behaviors and Competencies for Future Leadership Development Programs)
- Dr. Jennifer Neumaier presented her dissertation: A Perspective Study on Cultural Conditions That Enable Social Learning.
- Dr. Kandi Wiens, is a Senior Fellow and runs the master’s portion of the program at Penn, also presented the Ed.D. program and her research which will be out in her book due out next year, Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work. (Read her recent HBR article on Has Cynicism Infected Your Organization?)
If there was any concern that COVID slowed down the Penn CLO program, it was clear that this was not the case! Applications are up, the strength of diverse cohorts was showcased, and the quality of the research adding to the field of Learning and Development and other areas was on display at ATD ‘23.
In closing, post-COVID travel to a conference can often feel tougher than before, yet the amazing and energized professionals I met, and the concepts discussed at gatherings like this were worth the effort and can unexpectedly warm your heart.