Lessons from the track

Over the past few years, I’ve been able to realize a life-long dream of driving fast.  Er.  Driving fast, safely.  Lots of people drive fast – too fast – on public roads.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about going green on a closed track where your only objective is to go as fast as you can.

It started with my friends Mo and Charlie’s invitation to join them in autocross – a straightforward, come-as-you-are time trial on a flat course, dodging traffic cones.  You spend most of the day helping and preparing at the course, and then take 4 shots at the track – each run only lasting about a minute.  After a couple of years of that, and then a few years off with a work assignment that took me away, I came back to the US and decided to get into a form of auto racing that would get me more ‘seat time’.   Hello, Chump Car.

After turning wrenches, busting knuckles, multiple parts store memberships, and a whole bunch of camaraderie, my race team (myself plus a guy who runs a cancer research lab, and another guy that is a senior software implementation consultant) ran two endurance races this year in a car that was, well, manageable for us newbies.

After some reflection, I have realized that you can learn a lot about yourself, your teams, and your approach to the future from doing this kind of hair-raising sport:

  1.  The teamwork is the cake.  As our team spent time together wrestling engine
    engine-race

    Lots of time in this view.

    mounts into place, fussing with cam shafts and draining and re-draining coolant, I think it was Alex who said:  “This is the cake!  The racing is just the icing!”.   Lesson:  Take time with your teams.  Make the drudgery fun.  Realize the value of team discussions, shared responsibility, allocation of talent, and checking-in whenever big choices are in front.

  2. Make sure you can stop.  I learned this long ago, and we should’ve paid a bit more attention to it at the last race, where we ran out of brakes in the last of 7 hours on day  2.  Lesson:  While the glory may be all about forward momentum, the ability to slow down and even stop if you need to trumps ANYTHING that the engine and power train can deliver.  Slowing down to make turns is essential.  Hitting them hard to avoid a pile up is not only great for your personal safety – it keeps you in the race.
  3. Looks ain’t everything.  Look, there are lots of fancy cars out there.  In fact, there were 45 or more cars in the field when we raced. Most of them had a lot more money in them, were later models with bigger engines, better gear, and even better drivers 🙂  But when it came down to it, our time in the garage paid off.  We outlasted half the field in our last race.  Lesson:  Make sure what’s under the hood and behind the wheel are in good shape.  You may be slower than most, but it’s not about ultimate speed.  It’s about how long you’re there, and how many laps you turn.  (See results – Team Integrenader)
  4. Keep your eyes up!  When you’re really cooking down the track, and there are a lot of loud, fast cars VERY close to you (sorry, Miata, for the paint-trading in Atlanta), it’s easy to completely lose it – your body gets incredibly tense, your head drops down, your grip gets too tight, and your eyes focus, oh, about 20 feet in front of you.  That’s bad.  Lesson:  You drive where you look.  This is so terribly true.  If you only look at what’s right in front of you, you will go there.  No matter what.  And the ‘there’ can be another car, a wall, or worse!  Keeping your eyes above the fray, and off to the left, or right, up and down the straight – that’s where you want to be, and your body (and car) will follow.

    car-race.jpg

    The Integrenader post-AMP race

  5. Hold your line.  There’s a crazy dance that occurs, typically at the end of a straight before the first big turn.  Drivers jockey for position and more or less get in each other’s way to try and get through the turn first.  If you picture the optimal ‘driving line’ of a track, you know what the most efficient, and fastest, route is on the course.  That’s what you want.  The ‘line’.  Some cars that are better equipped can take multiple fast lines, but there is one that is optimal.  Even in our slow-ish car, we had to hold the line and make it our competitors’ job to try and find a way around us.  Lessons:  There is an optimal way to do things that maximizes your speed and conserves your brakes.  It’s a ‘path of least resistance’.  Find it and stay in it as much as you can.  Also, not driving that line makes you unpredictable, and dangerous, to yourself and the other drivers.
  6. Give up your line.  If your mirrors are FULL of grilles, fenders and front air dams, maybe you need to step out of the line and let some faster folks go.  It’s called ‘blocking’ if you don’t.  Lesson:  Know when to yield.  Be a grown-up.  Enjoy the sport and the competition, but don’t deny reality.  Remember the long game.  This is just the icing.
  7. Let the pressure off.  When you first start out on the track, everything’s kind of cold.  You are, the engine is, the track is, your brakes are, and so are your tires.  Unless you’re really fancy with nitrogen in your tires, your tire pressures will change (increase) as you heat them up in the first few laps.  That changes how they, and your car, handle.  It changes how much grip you have on the road, and therefore how fast you can go.  Lesson:  It’s good to check the pressure, and if it’s too high, let some of it out.  This is a simple thing about workplace dynamics, project work and relationships.  When work or relationships get to an intense place, through stressful projects and circumstances, find the time to let some of that pressure off.  Stop the madness for a bit and go get a smoothie.  You’ll have much better grip when you get back into it.
  8. If the track is going sideways, you are now likely just a passenger.  I came over a hill after a fast 944 cut my line off in a turn.  I had too much speed, got my right front wheel over the apex into the ‘gators’, and that was all she wrote.  The rear end came around and now I was going sideways down the hill towards the next turn.  I went from driver to passenger really fast.  Lessons:  Know what to do when you have a different role.  Know what to do in a crisis.  This is talked about – the ‘what to do when’ scenarios – in the drivers’ meeting before the race starts.  Put both feet in
    drivermeeting-race.jpg

    Drivers’ Meeting

    (clutch/brakes) and try to keep the steering in a direction that will keep you out of trouble.  Perhaps similar ‘drivers meetings’ need to occur to help your team members know when they need to adjust their roles when a crisis or change arises.  (I ended up in a cloud of dust and grass.  Restarted the motor and became a driver again.)

  9. Cut corners.  Use the whole track.  Everyone is (hopefully) going the same direction, so going wide and cutting corners is REQUIRED if you want to be competitive.  Plus that is the fabled ‘driving line’ mentioned earlier.  Lesson:  Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to drive on it.  The driving line is your strategy.  Find the optimal path to streamline things, and then go as fast as you can.
  10. Never cut corners.  I like to have fun, but I don’t want to die (and neither do my team mates).  So when it comes to safety and preparation, don’t cut corners – even if it slows you down.  We added an additional bar in our roll cage, added 3 fire extinguisher nozzles pointed toward the driver (and 2 at the engine), bought new 5-point harness straps, use a window net, bought new helmets, fireproof suits, socks, shoes and gloves.  Most of this is required, but some of this was elective on our part.  Lesson:  What are the practices, equipment, processes, structures that are non-negotiables?  How can you have the maximum fun with the greatest security?

    team-race.jpg

    Team Integrenader:  Mostly cake, and just a little icing!

 

 

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Coulrophobia

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:asimov

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

*Coulrophobia:  (n) The fear of clowns.

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Education for Effect

Having been in the business of executive and management development for 18 years, I’m quite familiar with the questions clients have about return on investment (ROI).   We routinely include positioning on this in our work proposals, and follow through with components of program design that are explicitly intended to answer that question.  While some program outcomes can be readily measured, others take more time to see impact – so there is a range of applications that can and should be brought to bear as education service providers do their work.

Fundamentally, however, there is often a mindset shift that is required of education service providers.  It is all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the event of education, and not on the impact it should have.  Think about how many resources are wrapped up in answering questions about the who, when, what, where and how of education.   Event planners, internal learning and development staff, assessment experts, systems engineers and support staff – all focused (and rightly so) on the delivery of the education.  But what about the ‘why’ of the intervention?

Mindsets need to change about why we, as learning and development leaders and providers, are here.  We are not here to provide learning events alone.  We are here to drive successful, behavioral impact in the business to improve business performance, on whatever metrics have driven the need for learning in the first place.  This has a few critical implications:

  • Often, different conversations with different stakeholders are needed.   You really need to be asking the question:  “As a result of this learning and development initiative, what organizational performance effect are you hoping to realize?”  That may mean that you need to talk to business leaders, and help forge or strengthen the alignment between the L&D function and the line.
  • Your designs, however beautiful and compelling, will be insufficient as long as they do not incorporate the insights from answering the question above.  No learning intervention design should leave the shop without a clear articulation of how you are going to assess the impact of the learning at the organizational level.

These can be tough conversations, especially in ‘hardened’ organizations where traditional educational models reign and budgets and infrastructure are relatively secure.  It can, in fact, be quite threatening to put your reputation on the line, as a learning and development professional, by putting real business impact metrics in place.  However, this is our responsibility – to do anything less would be a disservice.   And, with the many options we have available to us for ensuring that there is accountability, support and process to favor effective application of learning at work, we really don’t have any excuse.

Further good resources here:  Arun’s work at Design4Performance; Conrad and Bob’s 2012 article on the 5 moments of learning need.

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Towards a Pedagogy of Technology, 2

Next installment in this mini-series.  This one is about critically assessing the pedagogical utility of the technology at hand.

Claim 2:  Every tool has its purpose.  Or purposes.

Effectively – every tool has its purpose.  Some can serve more than one, from a pedagogical standpoint.  Thankfully, some good work has been done on this front:  The SAMR model (thank you, Dr. Ruben Puentedura) gives us a framework for thinking about whether the tech at hand is a

  • Substitute – for some existing method or practice.  Think about how polling platforms on mobiles provide a replacement for hand distributing polling questions, or just counting physical hands.
  • Augmentation – enhancing a particular method or practice.  The same example above can be applied here.  New polling tech doesn’t require people to be in the same physical location.  Polling is now ‘augmented’ to reach beyond a physical classroom.
  • Modification – significantly changing the method.  So, think about using shared Google docs to compose a paper.  The rapid collaborative nature of that approach to composition is significantly different than doing hard-copy edits / reviews.
  • Redefinition – my personal favorite:  tech that allows us to do things that were previously undoable.  Think about digital geo-location scavenger hunts.

More recently, that model informs a display created by Allan Carrington that captures a vast array of modern tech, and classifies them along the SAMR categories.  Click here for a PDF of that.  Carrington has done the yeoman’s task of combining a list of modern tech, aligning those with the SAMR framework, detailing what activities these apps and technologies allow, and also what action verbs (think Bloom’s Taxonomy) are implied in these.

For those of us in the adult education arena, we must, must, MUST not fall into the all-too-common trap of recreating bad pedagogy in new technology.  For example, some years back, a tragic thing occurred when a brand new and amazing technology – 3D, avatar-based environments – came into being.  Universities and institutions around the world leapt into action, and nearly every one that I visited (either in Second Life, or in Protosphere, or others) set as their first task to replicate the very buildings of their campuses, complete with tight classrooms with fixed chairs…. in rows…. facing a wall where, guess what, some version of PowerPoint could be displayed.

I nearly cried.

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Towards a Pedagogy of Technology

This is the first in a series of ideas I’d like to share about how to position technology tools in the design and delivery of education.

Four claims for better learning design:

Claim 1: There is an ‘e’ in learning.  It is time for us to move beyond the 1990’s interpretation of technology-mediated learning design.  We still say ‘e-learning’ and that implies often (unfortunately, and understandably) a sub-standard and lonely learning experience – picture the poor soul subjected to hours of ‘click-and-learn’ under the buzzing fluorescent light of the after-hours office.

E-Learning t-shirt 2001

A t-shirt from 2001 from a very recognizable high-tech firm (who shall remain nameless).

Here’s a simple way of thinking about it: There is an ‘e’ in learning.  You may think it trite, but my contention is that as long as we continue to differentiate what is ‘electronic’ from whatever the rest of the learning is, we will continue to constrain our thinking and handicap our designs.  It is our opportunity, as learning designers, to prove this to the world.

Fortunately, that should be easy with more brainpower devoted to appropriately innovative (attention, here, as innovation needs to follow learner context rather than lead with shiny tech) uses of new technologies, the extensions of learning outside the classroom (as referenced in 70, 20, 10) and care in how we develop the designers in our businesses and our network of education providers to operate in these models.

This calls upon us to go beyond content production and to deeply examine the range of tools available to the learner participants, and assess their pedagogical value.

More on that later.

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Closing the Human Distance

We are a connected people.

Years ago, the telephone was a feared technology.  Imagine the heated debates in the business boardrooms – What in the world will happen if we allow people to have them?  Why, they could call anybody, and say anything!!

By and large, people didn’t, although I feel sure that some fraction of the general population for whom the house or work phone was a new tech did transgress lines of propriety.  Technology is just a set of tools; what we choose to do with them is on us.

And I remember in the 70’s as a young teen, vying for time on the home phone to call that particular friend.  We had agreed at school on the specific time – it had to be within a particular window because there was dinner time, chores, homework, etc. and there was only one phone in a house of seven people.  wallphone

Once on the phone, we would stay on for as long as we possibly could, seeking whatever privacy could be afforded by the length of the cord.  And, yes, some unkind things were said, as young teens will often do.  That telephone technology, though, allowed us to talk intimately about things that were going on in our lives, and in our friend’s lives.  It became an essential channel for connection when we were not together at school, or church, or whatever.

Later, as a nineteen year old on a year abroad in France, that same technology was the only

steve-1982

Me on my way to a year in France – pre-Internet or cellphones!

means of live communication with my parents.  It was expensive, making an international call, so I only did it very occasionally, and always after having arranged weeks ahead of time when that call would be.  ‘Very occasionally’, by the way, means that I only had maybe 4 or 5 phone calls with the US during my entire year. The other means of communication was the postal service, and, if they weren’t on strike in France, the most expedient service still required about 10 – 14 days before receipt of a letter.

And so, on either the house phone of the family where I lived (with ZERO privacy) or at a booth at the local Postes Téléphones Télégraphique (PTT) office, I’d dial a million numbers and wait for the connection, hear a crackly voice on the other end, and dive into a rushed conversation trying to get as many details in as I could in the minutes I had purchased.  Sometimes the connection was amazingly clear, and someone would inevitably say “Wow! It sounds like you are right next door!”

Those were vital moments, though, reconnecting over great distance through technology.

I once observed a public phone in Paris that had a long line of obviously foreign people standing and waiting turns.  That was a clear sign that something had broken on the phone, and that it was basically open for service to any number you’d care to dial.  I waited in line behind I think a Russian man.  Given the fortuitousness of the situation, I did not have anyone prepared to receive my call back in the States, so I just took a chance on my best friend.

When the Russian finally hung up, I dialed the many numbers to get to my friend.  (Remember when you had to remember phone numbers?)  It eventually rang.  He picked up.

Communications technologies today abound.  The sheer number of apps available on portable devices has very nearly made the conventional telephone obsolete.  And with wireless services, we are free to connect just about wherever we are, and whenever we wish.   My sons have never known a world without mobile phones.  They have had their own since they were teenagers.  And they’ve had access to computers and all the good and bad that the Internet provides.

Let’s look at the good power of the mobile phone, coupled with the Internet.

Think about this:  If you know the mobile number of a phone anywhere in the world, and if you have a Skype account, you can call that number from your computer for just pennies per minute.  Say, for example, you happen to have the number for a person in Cambodia, or Rwanda, or Columbia you can, in the comfort of your home (or at a local coffee shop for that matter) call them up.

Think about this, too:  If you have a Skype conversation going, you can use other Internet-based technology to broadcast your conversation to a particular channel on the web.  Kind of like having your own personal radio station.  Other people on computers wherever they are in the world could ‘dial in’ to your channel, and hear your conversation with that faraway person.  And all that faraway person needs is a basic cell phone.  And suddenly, they can be heard by many people.  Indeed, a LOT of people.

And finally:  If you have this conversation happening, and you’ve let the Internet-going listeners know when you are going to have it, suddenly you have a live, web-broadcasted conversation with someone very far away from you (and perhaps from most of your audience), AND your audience can use a chat tool to tell you what questions THEY have for the person on the other end of the line.  A one-to-one conversation suddenly becomes a facilitated one-to-many conversation.digital-cockpit

global-contacts

The ‘digital cockpit’ in my house, and the locations of individuals / organizations I ended up connecting with for non-profit work.

Everyone is learning.  Human distance disappears.   Everyone feels connected.

What if we really are all ‘right next door’?  Would that change how we feel about people that are far away, geographically?

This is the promise of new communications technologies, to bring us closer as humans who happen to live at great distance from each other.  We feel connected to them, and empathize with them.  Just as I felt my friend’s anguish over middle-school drama back in the 70’s, so we feel our fellow human’s joys and sorrows.

The good power of text messaging.

In the late 90’s there were a few chat clients that came out.  Being a person interested in new communications technologies and education, I was (and am) always trying new things.  I downloaded the AOL Instant Messenger client and created an account.  aolrunningman

At the time, you could just see whoever was online – anyone, anywhere.  I remember randomly choosing someone I saw that had an interesting name.   I think I just said ‘Hello!’.   I remember now the nervous giddiness that ensued, waiting to see if I’d get a response.

Bling.

“Hello!”, the answer came.

What followed was an exchange of basic information – who we were, what we did for jobs, where we were, etc.  He was Turkish gentleman, employed at a bank there in Istanbul.  I had never, and have never, been to Istanbul.  He had never been to the US.  We chatted for some time.

Over the weeks and months that followed, we would occasionally just say ‘Hi’ to each other, and ask each other about our kids, work, etc.  I had a connection with this guy, and I had never met him.  I cared about his story – his family, his life, his worries, etc.  I didn’t know how much I cared at first.  Not until the earthquake of 1999.

istanbul-earthquake

Istanbul.  1999.

I must’ve heard about it in the news, I’m not sure.  But the first thing I did when I got to work was IM my friend in Istanbul.  No answer.  Several days went by with me checking in.  Finally he answered – he was quick to tell me that he and his family were fine, but that there was some pretty serious local damage.  We had a short exchange about that.  I was relieved to know he was okay.  And I felt special, to be honest, that I had an insight from someone there.

I honestly believe that if I had not made that early, text-only, connection, that the events in Istanbul would have just rushed past me like so many other news items do – just noise in the background that may cause a moment’s superficial concern.  The connection with my friend there was human, not just technical.

I lost touch with that friend in Istanbul – I’m not sure why or how, honestly.  I think my friends list grew and that the technology changed in some ways that I ended up switching to other services.  But that’s okay; to this day, I still think about Turkey and Istanbul in particular, and feel like I know someone there.  And I care about what happens there as a result.

I believe mine is a story shared by many; and as communication technologies continue to develop, we will very likely have more tools at our disposal for connecting with people in meaningful ways. Connecting carries the possibility of care, and that is a very good thing.  And you might agree with me that care (connection, compassion, concern) is something that we can never have enough of.

I invite you to join me (and millions of others) in closing the human distance that would otherwise be there.   Choose your channel.  Reach out.

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Faith in the back seat

The other night my wife and I were out to get some Sunday dinner.  The events of the weekend having conspired to leave us little energy or food ready to cook, we set out to find something simple at a local restaurant.  That’s when we met Faith.

Turning the corner onto a 2-lane highway, there was a lady standing on the side of the road, shifting and looking nervously back and forth down the road.  Given the time of day (getting dark), location and weather, I pulled over and rolled the window down.

Faith grew up in New Jersey, and spent some time traveling in Europe.  She was at one faithpoint a model living in NYC, and she rattled off the names of ‘haute couture’ designers for whom she had worked.  She could speak a little French, as her mother-in-law was French – we had a good laugh about ‘merde, alors!’.

She raised four children, was divorced years ago, and went to school in Florida following a dream of becoming a lawyer.  Bills piled up and work was hard to find, and she quit school with $90,000 in student loans.

We drove past a house where she thought a friend might be, but the car wasn’t there.  She told us how she was working odd jobs, and was scared to death to get a full time job because the loan collectors would find her.  Her friend owed her five dollars, after partial payment for cleaning a room in the house.

We wound up at a local pizza joint – we were all hungry.  Faith gestured and scratched with the pattern of those under the influence.  I’m pretty sure she was a drug user.  And we had a conversation about history, politics, international culture and kids.  She said she’d probably vote for Trump in the upcoming election because we need a strong military and need to kick ISIS out of our country.

All of this just reminded me of how lucky I am (and we are), and also how much more we need to do to connect with those that are so often marginalized, so that we understand their reality – so that we empathize, and are more considerate in our thinking about those, including Faith, who might be standing in the cold.

 

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