Thursday, October 21, 2010

In praise of the malcontent

Last night, in a context completely unrelated to the business of learning, my husband made the following observation, "If you don't know what you can have, you'll settle for what you've got."

That remark has stayed with me, and its relevance to just about everything keeps reaffirming itself.

Think about it. If you buy a new pair of boots the very first time you spot them in store A, you might never discover that you could have had them for half the price from store B.

If you don't make enquiries, you may never find out that your student card entitles you to use a certain gym free of charge.

If you're a classroom-based, chalk-and-talk trainer who has never heard of e-learning, or learner-driven learning, or user generated content, or... okay, you get the idea... you'll just keep standing in front of the class, delivering your material to them in as engaging a way as you can, knowing full well that they'll have forgotten most of it by the time they find themselves in a situation in which they need to apply it.

Or maybe you won't.

Maybe you're one of those people who wonders if maybe, perhaps, possibly there isn't another way to do things. Maybe you're one of those people who experiments, who explores, who asks questions. Maybe you'll come to find out that there are other ways to skin this cat.

It seems to me that the essential ingredient is curiosity. And curiosity is not really the province of the contented. The serenely contented person has no interest in what lies behind the doors labelled 'what else?' and 'what if?' It is only the thirsty horse that will drink when led to water. In fact, the thirsty horse will set off to find water.

In my last job, my life was made miserable by a colleague who was utterly unable to conceal his antipathy for me. I'm sure there were many reasons he'd rather have had a slug dropped down his neck than spend time in my company, but the one on which he was the most outspoken was my curiosity. It drove him completely nuts. I thought I was showing interest in things (and people). He thought I was nosy.

The problem is, my nosiness has served me well. It has caused me always to wonder if there isn't another way to do things. It has led me to information that has caused me to re-examine existing practice.

I used to stand up in front of a group of delegates and work my way through the set material (even when I was the one who had set it). Then I wondered if there wasn't a way to make the material more relevant to the delegates, so I started using examples drawn from their daily lives to make my point.

I found that no matter how much the penny dropped in the classroom, it was often MIA when the delegates came to apply the principles. So I wondered if there wasn't anywhere to put examples so that delegates could refer back to them after the fact.

My boss refused to buy me an elearning authoring tool, so I wondered if I could cobble something together using clever tricks with PowerPoint and a cheap screen capture tool. I colluded with the helpdesk to make sure I covered the hottest FAQs.

We didn't have an LMS, so I wondered if I could put the thus-cobbled-together resources somewhere where people could find them, and I found the public folders of Outlook extremely useful!

I didn't enjoy having to plough through materials in a set order using back/next buttons like some kind of mindless sheep. So I wondered if there wasn't a way to make it possible for a user to plot his own route through a resource.

I was unfamiliar with the machinations of a certain application, but needed to include screen capture videos in a learning resource I was designing. I wondered how I might overcome this problem. Would I have to become expert in the application, or was there a more effective way?

These are just a few examples drawn from my own life. Situations in which dissatisfaction and curiosity have combined to send me down a new path.

I don't know what else I can have, but I certainly hope that my reluctance to accept the status quo will drive me to find out.

So to all the malcontents, who are subjected to a hail of criticism for being the squeaky wheel: hail fellow, well met!


V Yonkers said...

I don't know if I agree that all the curious are squeeky wheels or if they are just perceived as so because they my upset the apple cart, so to speak.

I drive my husband crazy because I'm always "speculating". For example, maybe so and so does XYZ because he was dissatisfied or perhaps he heard something from someone that triggered his thought, or perhaps he wanted a better idea. I'm just thinking out loud of all the possibilities. At which time my husband will bring me back to reality with, "You don't know that." He wants the facts; things that are proven and tangible. I'm curious, but my husband sees it a threat if others hear my speculation or speculate to the "wrong person."

The upsycho said...

@Virginia This is a good point, and I think a reflection that we live in a solutions-focussed society. We are no longer comfortable with a creative thinking process that considers (and rejects) a number of different angles, including some completely whacky ones.

He's right that "you don't know that", but let's face it, if you only acted on what you were certain of, you'd never do a darned thing... or at least, I wouldn't ;o)

I have found that - at times - the most workable solutions start with the craziest suggestions.