Another big, fat, useful, mistake...

Recently I have been rolling out some customer care training for a national retail client. Rather than bring their staff into central venues, the company decided to hold the training in each branch, in the evening, after work (pizza provided!) As the branches are all different sizes, sessions are held with groups as large as about 20, and occasionally as small as 3.

As part of the training, I run an exercise where I ask the participants to work in groups to come up with a whole load of ideas on a particular topic, write them down on Post-Its, and stick them up on flipchart sheets. The other day I was working in a very small branch, in a tiny room, with just 4 people. There was no space to hang flipchart paper, it didn’t seem worth putting them in groups of just 2, and so I didn’t bother with the Post-Its either. As the company was also suppying branded lined notepads to each person, I suggested they just write down their ideas individually in their notebooks. Another great mistake to add to my long, long list!

It was only when all 4 partcipants started moodily chewing the ends of their pens, staring at me with sullen looks, and muttering that they couldn’t think of anything to write, that I realised what I had done. Standing by big sheets of paper, drawing on coloured Post-Its with fat marker pens, all feel like fun, like play, and encourages creative thought. Sitting alone with a book and a pen, and being watched while being instructed to write things down, feels like school, feels like work, feels like judgement, and immediately shuts down the creative flow in case we “get it wrong”.

Well, on this occasion I was the one that “got it wrong”. I quickly asked them to close their books, and moved instead to a talking and sharing exercise in pairs, to release their flow again. I already know that all the best learning takes place when people are in a playful and open state. Now I have learnt that I must work to maintain that state at all times, even if it means taking apparently superflous and uneccesary steps.

The only useful response after making a mistake is – notice it, put it right, don’t do it again. I did, I did, and I certainly won’t!