eLearning to dance

The dimensions of child protection come to life in an animated visual with the addition of an English speaking Indian voice to reflect the international nature of the issue.

There is a plethora of software out there now to create online learning experiences. My new toy is Articulate for that purpose. It was very easy to learn and full of nifty ways to make the content come to life through audio, visuals, animations and video. Like quilting or stained glass, it allows you to take a range of individual elements and weave them together into a creative and engaging whole.

But the task of online learning goes much beyond the actual mechanism. Learning is an active process and must combine meaningful interaction with the content together with ways to connect with colleagues and subject matter experts to embed knowledge in real life situations.

It helps create a pathway for a bunch of facts, policies or methodologies to take up residence in the working memory of staff so that they can apply their learning to the situations they face on a daily basis.

It can be a very useful part of broader strategies to build capacity across an organization. Here’s what it has going for it:

  • It knows no time zones, and location and distance are not an issue—learners can access the materials at their convenience
  • It can create a number of pathways through challenging material to accommodate different learning styles and interest levels
  • Adding audio and animation to visuals helps create better memory links to important  information in people’s heads
  • It gives you many mechanisms for highlighting critical information and grabbing a learner’s attention
  • Building in time and questions for reflection and application to real life situations helps create meaning for the learner.

The flexibility of the online learning platform also allows you to deeply respect the most important tenet of communications and learning—keeping the audience at the centre of the design process. Good learning is rooted in understanding the compelling core needs and circumstances of your audience. Good online learning makes that understanding start to dance.

“Learning experiences are like journeys … [but] the end of the journey isn’t just knowing more, it’s doing more.”
                                                 Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirkson

On the theme of iterations

Iterations are repeated processes that allow you to move forward in thinking or designing or problem solving of some sort. Sometimes iterations lead to baby steps forward; sometimes to leaps. Most fruitfully, these are collaborative processes where one person’s idea creates a starting point for the next idea.

This was vividly illustrated in an energetic group exercise I facilitated in the Fall. The group was newly formed—bringing together a number of different departments into a larger whole. In three separate groups, they set out to solve a task using marbles, pipes and a race course. The three groups ably accomplished the task by using different methodologies within widely different time frames. Some followed the rules; some worked around the rules. You could see the various personalities at work.

Then we ran the exercise a second time, only they had to do it as one whole group—and they couldn’t use the same methodologies as they had in the first iteration of the exercise. This is where the marvelous came in. Rather than being stuck and taking much longer, this ignited the larger group. Animated discussions ensued.

New ideas, drawn from the first iteration, were launched, considered, dismissed or accepted. Once a new idea was accepted, it was immediately vetted by the group and new suggestions or improvements were made in rapid-fire fashion. In a substantially shorter period of time, the group as a whole came up with yet another very creative solution to the problem and executed it successfully.

There was a good deal of dancing and triumphant arm-raising at the end because collectively they beat their individual times. Everyone won.

This was a powerful experience to take back into the workplace. We saw and felt that everyone had something to add; that working collaboratively and openly, we can come to remarkably better solutions; and that the energy of a well-functioning group can be much greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Let them speak

Introducing World Vision staff to the potential and possibilities of children telling their own stories. (used with permission)

World Vision is embarking on a new direction with its communications between children and the sponsors who support the work in communities where they live. Taking advantage of the technology that already exists and is used by many children, the organization is encouraging children to tell their own stories of development—their own way.

I was able to visit a group of children in El Salvador recently who were fully engaged in communications in their community. With great enthusiasm, a number of them ran a weekly radio program—telling jokes, singing songs and talking about social issues in their community. Their confidence and passion for their message was infectious. Proud parents rimmed the room where they performed.

We worked with World Vision to put together a video for internal consumption that outlines this new direction and inspires the possibilities it has to offer. In order to drive home the point, we had the voice over done by a child journalist from Goa, India. She did a great job. The talented Matt Ternoway designed and animated the video to be playful and a bit child-like. Have a look and a listen.


Happy new year!

Haliburton blue sky through birch

Haliburton blue sky through birch on the first day of 2013.

2012 was rich and varied–full of challenging projects, interesting clients, stimulating material to absorb, new tools to learn and good relationships to build on. We are grateful for those who journeyed with us and look forward to all that 2013 has in store.

May 2013 be a year that is more about peace, more about understanding, more about caring for each other and for the earth. And may you find a safe and fulfilling path through all it brings.

The myth of brainstorming

Brainstorming is the brain child of Alex Osborne. It comes from his 1948 book called “Your Creative Power” and it was an immediate hit.

It was introduced in Chapter 33: “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” Brainstorming, he wrote, “means using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.”

The essential element that distinguishes brainstorming from other group activities is the total absence of criticism and negative feedback. The theory is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll just clam up and not say anything.

In the late 1950s, researchers started poking holes in the practice. Over the decades since, research has verified that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than individuals who work first on their own and then pool their ideas.

Researchers also tested the premise about not criticizing and found that a healthy amount of “authentic dissent” generates far more ideas.

The enduring lesson from brainstorming is, however, that human creativity is increasingly a group process. Some of the elements of the process may change, but as our world grows more populated and more complex, we have to collaborate to find answers to the most difficult problems.

The challenge is to continuously create space for this kind of creativity to take place. It can be as structured as Steve Jobs putting the only bathrooms in the atrium at Pixar or as free-flowing as a well facilitated meeting.

These thoughts derive, as per the previous blog, from the January 30, 2012 New Yorker article on “Groupthink” by Jonah Lehrer.

Human friction

The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together.
It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

This comes from an article in the January 30, 2012 New Yorker (I’m actually not behind in my magazine reading … just random) called “Groupthink.” The question for me has been: how does this happen when our virtual work environments keep us largely online and on Skype rather than face-to-face?

Urban theorist Jane Jacobs and Steve Jobs both recognized the importance of physical proximity and chance meetings leading to incidental conversations known as knowledge spillovers. Whether it’s walking in a neighbourhood full of front porches to the local shops or running into a colleague at the only set of bathrooms in the Pixar atrium, they both recognized that people need to randomly run into each other.

Ironically, both Jabobs and Jobs worked hard at creating intentional spaces for random spontaneity—places where people had to run into each other and let their ideas rub around. Some of the most exciting developments of our time have come about through chance conversations.

I’ve worked almost entirely virtually since 2000. While Skype has been a tremendous boon to maintaining conversations and connections around the world and across the country, it’s not enough. It’s why I am so drawn to good facilitation. A well-planned gathering is like a Jane Jacobs neighbourhood—a well-laid out space and process that opens the door to constructive group think.

Conversations may happen by chance, but not the environment that creates the random pathways that draw the most creative of ideas out of people’s heads. That’s the point of a well planned meeting for organizations whose people aren’t rubbing up against each other on a daily basis.

Let Kabisa help you plan your next gathering. We’ll get some sparks flying!

From my father’s desk

I’m sitting at my father’s desk. He had it built once he retired and it always held a place of honour in his houses. It exudes his essence and tells of a time past. The calculator with a roll of paper behind it. The prodigious roll of stamps waiting to accompany bills and birthday cards to their intended destinations. The pens and legal pads of an era before computers. Check registers going back to the 70s detailing every one if his expenditures.

As I weeded through the drawers, I came across a file with my name on it. In it he had saved every card and letter—and email—I wrote to him and my mother. I have three brothers, but my file was the biggest because I moved far away and then travelled like crazy for a period of time. I, of course, didn’t keep any of my emails. They disappeared into the cloud before the cloud existed. But my Dad kept everything because he was a print kind of guy.

I loved writing to my Dad wherever I went because I got my sense of adventure from him. I knew he would love being where I was and seeing what I saw. At least that’s what I imagined. And now I have a chronicle of my adventures that I had forgotten existed. A lovely treasure to discover as I work to dismantle and disburse a life well lived.

Sitting at this desk of his, I also recall his counsel when I launched my own business five years ago. He was the managing partner at a successful law firm in Spokane, Washington. He used to tell me how he would sit at his desk and wonder what the next phone call would bring. Apparently the phone always rang and brought new business because he did well. As I work on getting my version of the phone (email and skype) to ping, I think about him doing the same thing and it gives me valuable perspective.

This desk is going back to Guelph. It’s a pig. One piece with a glass top. It won’t be easy to get out of this current study (it got in—it’s gotta go out again!) nor up the stairs into my office—not to mention across the country. But it resonates with me. It’s a piece of my dad I can’t leave behind.

The Potential and Perils of Branding in an International NGO

While the process of developing a brand within an international NGO is fraught with perils, the end product of having a trusted global brand is well worth the effort. Brand is not sugar-coating. Brand is a deep understanding of the essence of an organization, married with the capacity to articulate and deliver that essence to a wide variety of audiences with integrity and consistency.

Read my white paper on this captivating topic.



One of my favourite clients just received her black belt in communications from Melcrum (Congrats, Christine!)  In recalling the effort, she reminded me of an important communications dictum to keep in mind:  Know, feel and do.

Before that first tap on the keyboard, a good communicator carefully considers what the audience needs to know, how they should feel, and what they should  do as a result of reading what you’re about to write—be it a story, a report, a communications plan, a brand positioning, a marketing piece … or a blog. These three words drive a world of concise and purposeful communications.

Let me give it a go here:

  • I would like you to know that I know a thing or two about communications and that I hobnob with black belts
  • I would like you to feel a level of confidence in my abilities to tackle any of your communications or branding needs
  • And I would love for you to contact me to help with your next project (ellen@kabisa.ca)

It just as well applies to the art of facilitation. In planning a meeting or a discussion, I map out the “rational aim” (what I want the group to know, produce or decide) and the “experiential aim” (how the group or members of the group should be or feel at the end of the session), and a space for the actionable decision or resolution—what the group will do once they leave the meeting space and time.

This all leads to what everyone wants—concise and purposeful meetings.

Know—feel—do.  How does it apply in your life and work? Do let me know.

We appreciate YOU!!

With almost five years of business firmly under our belt, Kabisa would like to thank the people who made it all possible—YOU—our clients!

We’re grateful for your continuing support, the opportunities to learn from and with you—and the fascinating and challenging projects you send our way.

We’d like to show our appreciation by offering you either a 15% discount on the next project you book with us or a complimentary half day of our services for every new client you refer who books a project with us.

And if you’re an entirely new client … well, have we got a deal for you! Contact info@kabisa.ca to find out more.