Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fox's Glacier Mints & trashy training

I did something I never do these days - hung around after giving a talk to attend a training course - on ‘Creativity’. Surely, I thought, training must have moved on from the days when all you needed was a bowl of Foxes Glacier Mints, an abstract noun and a flipchart?
Guess what? It hadn’t. The trainers that run these sessions remind me of children’s entertainers, rather too eager and bouncy, and a bit creepy. In this case her enthusiasm was frightening rather than infectious, like some crazy clown on speed. I’m sure that in any normal setting she would have been diagnosed as bipolar – or just plain polar!

And then she was off - like a runaway train. Think ‘out of the box’ she demanded, the first of several dozen clichés that rained down on us over the next three hours. It was like being clubbed into submission by platitudes. Why then, I thought, were we were all sitting in a box (classroom) to listen to this from someone who’s clearly off their box? She then leant forward to show her first Powerpoint slide – it was, guess what – a box! But only one side was visible (she was using an early version of Powerpoint, probably the first) and the graphic was mostly invisible. She rolled her eyes, “Technology eh”. Then back to the scripted jokes and, oh no, my heart sank, the dreaded 'breakout groups'. We were all given coloured pens and the predictable flipchart paper.

“Now for our first challenge on creativity, I want you to write down all the possible uses you can think off for a BRICK!”. Ah well, when in Rome. I got to work, “Penis extension (may need string), instrument of torture (crushing fingertips), trap for killing small mammals (held up by twig), missile at demonstrations (against bankers), prank (place in paper bag and put on pavement for kicking on Friday night), pendant (urban look for industrial rappers), head drop (place carefully on top of slightly ajar door), object of philosophical reflection (does brick exist when no one sees it), Christmas present (for someone you hate), slam into the back of the head of people who stop to answer their mobile in front of you in the street, subject of a mathematical problems (volume, trigonometry etc), drop from top of a building to determine its height (time the drop), breaking open walnuts, hot water bottle (heat and place in bed), break in karate chops…. I was on a roll but our time was up.

Apparently most people manage 3-5 ideas and anyone on eight to ten is borderline creative genius. I was ecstatic, as I’m clearly the Leonardo da Vinci of ‘brick’ creativity. I scored 15! However, I suddenly felt sheepish when she started to ask people what they had written. “Paperweight, , building, exercise weight…” My answers suddenly seemed pathological.

We then had to apply our newly discovered creativity to e-learning. How, she wondered, could we make our e-learning better, through creative thinking. Once again we were forced to, you guessed it; ‘Think out of the box’. “Go to places you never thought of going” she shrieked. On the Powerpoint was written in light green text on a white background, ‘What are the barriers to people using e-learning and how can they be overcome?’ My first though was ‘Delivering a course entirely in light green text on a white background’. No, thought I, don’t be flippant, and so suggested, to our group, who had the obligatory piece of flipchart paper on the table, “Sex, drugs, rock and roll, or Nectar Points”. Our trainer came across, and although she said, “That’s it, think out of the box!” it was a rather forced statement delivered behind a sort of dead smile. We weren’t being serious enough.

And then I saw it, the bowl of Fox's Glacier Mints (Does anyone other than training venue managers buy these things?). I popped one into my mouth - it was saccharine sweet, completely transparent and of no nutrition value whatsoever. It was time to leave.


Unknown said...

I went to some training this week where I was introduced to some new problem solving techniwues: brainstormng and spider diagrams.

Hmmm..these look familiar. Yes, but usually as methods to generate ideas. Now we could use them as probem solving techniques.

Eyes roll heavenwards.

Donald Clark said...

Sadly there's thousands of these so-called courses peddling abstract nouns and vague techniques by people who have no expertise, other than the ability to perform a song and dance act with a breakout group and a flipchart.

Josie said...

I know what you mean.
On the other hand - I LOVE Fox's Glacier Mints. I flock to all presenters and trade show stands that have a tempting bowl on display. But then -I am a Brit in the USA.- Josie http://www.pdscompasspoint

Rob said...

Tsk... you should have stayed to the end, when you could have had the opportunity to sum up what the day had meant to you in one word, and then, if you were really lucky, a group hug...

Janet Clarey said...

"It was like being clubbed into submission by platitudes." (ok then so that's a "1" on the 1-5 evaluation at the end of the training? What would you do if you were put in a box with others and forced to 'train' them on creativity (as if)?

Donald Clark said...

1. I wouldn't even think of running a course on such a wide and abstract concept as 'creativity'. It's far too wide and fuzzy a concept.
2. I'd ask the organisation why they felt the need to run such a course and steer them towards an intervention that suited the real problem. Few organisational problems arise from a deficit in 'creativity'.
3. If the problem was 'managers who aren't coming up with solutions to problems' then a more appropriate intervention may be the quality of the managers themselves or simple problem solving techniques.
4. I wouldn't run any course using just a flipchart and breakout groups - I don't think the 'collaborative' element is necessary. It just results in groupthink.
5. If you want people to think out of the box, show that you can do it yourself, don't shove them into a classroom and use techniques that are as old and leaky as the ark.

To be honest, I'm not sure that the training community know anything about 'creativity' as they so doggedly avoid it in their own profession. Who are the SMEs here. In fact, there's quite a good body of literature on innovation - but this is rarely read or integrated into courses. What we get is a series of parlour games.

My Half Of said...

My word for what you describe here is "fun fascism." ;) Obviously, the "teacher" couldn't take a joke. Which is too bad. Joking around is one of the better ways to get people thinking off the well-beaten track.

In presentation, there's a fine line between undermining the teacher and demonstrating the ability to "think outside the box." Especially if you're a woman in today's society, it's a shame that you can't have both rapport and respect at once. So this is probably what made you hesitate to commandeer the class - but also exactly why the presenter didn't have the ability to improvise and seize the opportunity you presented her to take the class somewhere actually useful.

If you personally were to do a course on "creativity," my suggestion would be for you to teach people how to express themselves in a way that makes other people laugh. This would take some forethought on your part, because your "black humor" talent is quite a thin line between funny, witty and tongue-in-cheeky insult. So insulting yourself would go a long way here.

Used to have a friend who I'd call and ask for the "Terry Delsing School of Comedy." They'd put him on the phone, he'd tell me a joke. My assignment was to figure out why it was funny & make up a new joke that was funny in a similar manner, changing around the particulars for the next call.

However, that's sort of a "break-out group" idea, so that idea probably wouldn't work for your humor class. ;)

Donald Clark said...

Love the phrase 'fun fascism'. But, as I said in my previous comment, I feel quite strongly about the money and time that is wasted on running these courses, and would recommend their abolition, rather than fiddling about with adjustments.

Rina said...

Had a good laugh, apparently I have done the same exercise on brick and the hot bottle one, that I too had thought of, at your level at least they would have gone a notch higher and asked to think 'out of box' on the box! This is hilarious, at least you have mede so many people laugh with this erupting creativity courtesy the course! Hey thanks for this, needed the laughter and I simply love these all pranks you wrote, really cute!

patrick dunn said...

Thanks Donald - I was initially going to play the contrarian card against e-learning's arch contrarian and argue that there's a lot of mileage in this kind of course...partly because I'd invested in such a course this last weekend. But...

Unknown said...

What cheeses me off about all this is that so often the situations that are created for people to practise creativity on are completly unconnected to real life situations.

I think a prime example of this is with Edward de Bono's stuff. Now, I'm not saying there is nothing to be offered by his methods, but I really would like to read about practical problems that have been solved using his methods.

Many of the approaches seem to work OK with his examples, but once tried on real life problems the result is all sorts of wacky ideas which never acutally provide the springboard to something practical in the way they do in the books. I say books, advisedly, since many of his book repeat the same ideas.

On a similar vein, I saw so many trainers come into schools to prepare pupils for the SAT's. They would teach, for example, methods to learn lists of ten items. Now this is all very good for going shopping but 1) Perhaps one of the successes of education in recent years is that there is relatively little rote learning required 2) It's all very well teaching somebody a handy way to remember a shopping list, but I notice they never show how the same system could be used for learning, say, geological eras.

If these methods are as good as they say they are, the trainer should demonstrate them as applied to the things that pupils really need to learn. Not impossible (I did it myself)but all too often the training was fun but far removed from the needs of the students.

And of course, one of the biggest challenges for the teacher is not so much helping children to remember but to understand.

Donald Clark said...

Francis - this is surely right. Elaboration, a key issue in effective memory needs a variety of strategies, visualisation, rehearsal and importantly, deep processing - namely understanding. Simple memory tricks have their place but can't cover the actual ability to understand and apply knowledge and skills.

Anonymous said...

I attended the same training event as you the other week. What you said summed it up - what a waste of an afternoon. Couldn't wait to get out of there. Did you leave before throwing around the snowballs? No group hugs, thank God!

Thanks for giving me a good laugh.