Nearly 3 years ago, the way we lived, worked, and learned turned upside down. We were in the grip of disruption (little did we know!). No precedents had been set.We rolled our sleeves up. We made bold decisions, fast. We did our best. We learned a lot!
That period of pandemic craziness kick started a new journey of discovery for me that continues today.
The quest? How can L&D not only survive disruption but emerge stronger from it?
And it started a journey that I continue to share with intrepid explorers around the world.
The start of a journey of discovery
Back in June 2020, Michelle Ockers invited me and Shannon Tipton to co-host a series of interviews for her Learning Uncut podcast to explore our response to disruption and how we might emerge stronger from it. 30 incredible practitioners and thinkers joined the early journey, working out loud as they shared their experiences.
Patterns began to surface from those interviews. It was clear that those thriving through disruption viewed their circumstances in a way that turned their challenges into opportunity. Specifically, they were using 4 major lenses to see things differently.
Looking through the data lens helped them reprioritise, the community lens surfaced ways to reconnect, the technology lens helped to reinvent (not just to repurpose), and the experiment lens opened opportunity to seize the moment to reenergise and reimagine. It was also clear that the attitude and thinking habits of these pioneers steered their approach to disruption and the choices that they made during this time .
Following this initial journey we were then joined by over 200 L&D professionals and partners from around the globe as we explored our changing workplace through these lenses Together we shared our collective experiences through a series of webinars, roundtables, podcasts and masterclasses.
The irony of running a ‘masterclass’ on how to emerge stronger through disruption was not lost on any of us! Our circumstances were completely unknown, no-one had been through a pandemic before, let alone emerge stronger from it! Those intrepid souls who joined the journey took up the challenge to think differently, look at opportunities differently, experiment and grow.
Lessons learned ….so far!
2 years on, it is time to pause and reflect on the journey. I have already shared 8 lessons that I have personally learned so far about what it takes to become a smart bold L&D profession  but here I want to update those lessons with insights from my fellow travellers!
Lesson 1 – Be intentional about seeing things differently
Providing ourselves with the lenses (tools) and permission to look at our circumstances differently taps into intent and creates opportunity. Rather than being constrained by disruption our cohorts started to use the lenses to identify and test new ways to explore coaching, onboarding, remote working and rewriting their business case: - a plethora of initiatives to help their organisations become equipped and ready.
Our Emerging Stronger alumni have already testified that actively using different lenses has been ‘game changing’ helping to challenge bias in decision making and improve connection with the business.
The lenses shifted my point of view which helped me frame significant board communications to broaden their perspective and improve their impact.
Lesson 2 Data is your mentor not your nemesis!
One of the things that I have observed in general is L&D’s current and relentless focus on data – how to get it and how to analyse it. And yet we fear it and continually lament our lack of data analytics skill. Don’t get me wrong, I know that data is one of our power tools. But data is just information, it’s not insight.
I’ve been involved with data for a while now 😊 But this journey has shown me that when we consider data as a lens to inform and support our decisions, we relax and our focus shifts more naturally to outcomes vs inputs. Data, from a wide variety of sources then takes on a role of a mentor, informing and guiding the way we connect, design, and improve. And I wasn’t the only one!
The data lens has strengthened the position I take and the way I approach different activities, helping me start better conversations and lines of enquiry.
Lesson 3 Get curious about yourself!
Our organisational development colleagues are very familiar with the concept of the ’use of self’. Our attitudes and very presence impacts the outcome of our work. Awareness of how we bring ourselves into the room determines how we read and work the room.
Following the original podcasts, I started to spot some patterns across the high performing teams of my pre-pandemic studies and the experiences of our podcast guests. This surfaced 5 professional thinking habits that could potentially influence our approach to work and response to disruption. 
Identifying the current thinking habits that underpin our professional behaviour helps us to be curious about ourselves - what holds us back or propels us forward. Using that personal awareness to build new habits takes time and encouragement but builds courage and connection.
Whilst the business first thinking habit had the most impact on our alumni’s approach, the map also provided a trigger to be curious about ourselves!
I use the thinking habits framework to remind myself to be curious about my self!
Lesson 4 Cultivate curiosity by bringing the outside in
It was clear from the outset that the common characteristic of our fellow travellers was curiosity. In a time of total disruption we were willing to broaden our horizons and connections in order to find a path through. A critical element of our journey involved bringing the outside in. We were fortunate enough to work with external partners who brought fresh perspectives to our thinking and to stimulate curiosity.
Partners such as Blinkist, Go1, ModelThinkers, BestAtDigital, Stellar Labs, Capability Group, StoryTagger and Redthread research also provided access to current business thinking, mental models, and research assets to help us proactively target our curiosity. Embracing ideas from the outside world created breakthrough moments – fresh thinking that we could convert into action!
Seeing my own confidence grow, I learned that having a curious mindset, listening to others and being open to risk was just as important as having theoretical knowledge behind you.
Catherine Tibbs Assoc CIPD
Lesson 5 Be open to the unexpected
Our masterclass and roundtable participants were curious but also committed to taking bold action that delivered impact. They came from all backgrounds and time zones. It made for logistical challenges but opened the door to creative contributions and unexpected connections!
Some were new in the industry and others were regular speakers on the conference circuit. They represented the private, public, and not for profit sectors. Some were from big global institutions and others from nippy start and scale ups. We each brought our own work projects and challenges and used the lenses to explore new ways of working.
The world around us is shifting – the ability to use the lenses to shift our perspective and use experiments to discover new solutions has become critical for me to explore where we need to be in the future.
Some were initially intimidated by their peers, but the lenses provided opportunity for each to provide an insight or a breakthrough moment in each other’s work. Everyone’s contribution was valid - this was the community lens in action!
Lesson 6 Embrace the mess!
We used a worked example in our masterclass to practice seeing things differently – it always helps to explore someone else’s problem first in order to embed new ideas. Many thought that the case we had chosen was unrealistic, complex and that no organisation would work in that way!
In actual fact, the case was lifted directly from one of Michelle’s podcasts but anonymised for the class. What’s more, the L&D leader from that organisation joined the class anonymously to listen into the findings & often took something new away!
The fact is that all of our situations are messy and complex, there often isn’t a single perfect route through, despite what we hear at conferences! Embracing the mess vs fighting it creates the opportunity for breakthrough and releases us to explore several avenues of action. Complexity and mess provide us with permission to adapt and experiment – let’s use it!
You don’t have to get everything right! Data shows you trends you don’t expect, communities help you explore but not always confirm, technology always there to enable and, hey, experiments can prove you wrong. You don’t have to know everything and get everything right all the time – just dive in!
Lesson 7 To improve impact, stop preoccupation with proving your worth
Decades of research with high performing L&D teams had already engrained in me a ‘business first’ mentality. To add value, L&D have to prioritise business outcomes!
The trouble is, focussing on a business need brings exposure and risk. Our tendency in risky moments is to jump to a solution that we think will work. When we do that, we have an overriding ‘need’ to prove that solution is right! We’re shackled from the start!
I observed that working with the experiment lens can release us from the burden of proof at the early stages of identifying the right intervention. If we let it! Small experiments that go wrong are brilliant! They provide essential data that paves the way for getting it right.
We can’t just sit outside and watch things happen, we need to be involved, and the lenses gave me a fresh approach to design and implement plans that have a direct impact on the business. My recommendation - keep challenging yourself – keep an open mind. Practice makes us perfect and failure makes us stronger – enjoy the ride!
Lesson 8 Build your safety net
What does it take for you to feel bold? Fully aware of the influence of our thoughts and feelings on behaviour, this was a question that we asked a year into our journey. The answers varied. Having a firm ‘north star’, using evidence to create confidence, permission to fail, guidance by mentors, support of peers all contributed to how bold we felt.
As we journeyed together, all of these elements started to interlink to create a safety net across the community to enable us to think bold, feel bold and act bold, the ingredients of emerging stronger.
‘Its easy to stay in our own safe box, but the community is there to refresh, reenergise and remind you of our true potential as L&D professionals’
Miriam Speidel FLPI
Next steps in our journey
When Michelle, Shannon and I started the podcast series mid-2020, we did not image we would still be journeying together now. We’ve realised our ability to emerging stronger isn’t a knee jerk response to the pandemic. It’s our core ability as learning professionals to embrace change, spot opportunity, let go and take smart bold action that delivers impact.
And we continue to be curious as to where that will land us!
We’ve learned so much from the process so far, and I remain curious as there is plenty more to come!
This is our story of emerging stronger from disruption. What resonates with your experience and what would you add?
The Emerging stronger team continue to work out load - you can join our new series of global roundtables looking at the lenses (running November - Jan), download our ebooks and check out the stories from our alumni at Emergentmasterclass.com
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