Learning 2009 – Innovation with Elliott Maise

I had the pleasure and privilege recently of participating in Elliott Masie’s innovative Learning 2009 meeting in Orlando, Florida.  This was a gathering of over 1300 corporate education professionals whose job is to make sure that every employee is up to date in everything from corporate policy, new technologies, new products, regulatory requirements and the latest leadership strategies.   Given these times of exponential change and tightened budgets, these learning leaders have challenging tasks to accomplish.

And it wasn’t just corporations.  There were folks from professional societies and universities looking for new ideas.    Many government agencies from the Veterans Administration to the CIA  (The CIA has its own University) to representatives from each of the military services were present.   Like many organizations today the theme was how to do more, better, for less. 

The entire conference is loaded with innovative strategies that help participants learn faster and more productively.  Some examples:

1. During plenary sessions everyone sat at 6 or 7 person round tables.  It’s a huge room, but it is more friendly and encourages discussion.

2. Occasional 2 minute breaks were provided to encourage within-table discussions. 

3.      A Twitter feed was posted on a huge screen behind the speakers.  The MC (Elliott) periodically resteered the conversation to address a question or comment.

4.      An audience response system was employed periodically for assessing audience understanding and opinions, and occasionally to have fun.

5.      Guest speakers were interviewed by Elliott, Meet the Press style, to focus their talk on the learning aspects of whatever they do. 

6.      Guests included Capt Sully Sullenberger (who had never landed a plane on water before his experience on the Hudson), Malcolm Gladwell (talking about high performance outliers) and Betsy Meyers (COO of Obama’s election campaign). Great learning experiences.

7.      A few big names were brought in by low cost, high resolution video for a quick 5 to 10 minute interview.  That’s walking the talk on cost effectiveness.
new balance outlet
8.      The many vendors were organized in a standardized format equipped with large monitors.  The focus was content, application and learning, not hype.  Everybody is a learner.

9.      The majority of the meeting was spent in many small interactive courses run by experienced learning professionals.  This was a great example of harnessing the collective intelligence of the participants.

10. Perhaps the most interesting activity was the presence of 6 students from Champlain College’s Emergent Media Division who were given an assignment at the beginning of the meeting to develop a learning APP for the iPhone (smart phones are an increasingly valuable tool for instant and convenient e-learning.   They were told to interview at least 200 attendees, to select a group of advisors from them and to develop an APP that can be used for “On Boarding” new employees to any organization (history, policy, organization, how to do just about anything, who’s who, where everything is with maps and GPS).  They completed their task by the last day of the meeting and demonstrated it.  It was extraordinary and an incredible example of collaboration effectiveness.


I go to many different types of meetings and conferences all over the world.  Like you I want to use my time well…to learn, to be inspired, to make good new connections and have great discussions with old connections.

Elliott passed this test with flying colors.”

Collaborative Culture + Tools + Strategies = Value

Creating value through organizational collaboration is much like baking a cake – forget a key ingredient and it won’t rise.

In today’s economic climate both inter and intra organizational collaborations are increasing, the potential benefits of which are undeniable.  The issue of course is finding the right recipe to successfully bake the cake.

In order for collaborations to work there are 3 key ingredients: strategy to follow, tools and technologies with which to execute the strategy and the organizational culture to support it. (Paraphrased from Evan Rosen’s “The Culture of Collaboration“.  Follow his blog )

A prime example of a successful (well, there were a few hang ups) foray into organizational collaboration is the creation of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  This futuristic aircraft began with Boeings desire to have only the best of the best working on it’s design.  Ordinarily, Boeing would house all the designers and engineers at their site in Washington.  However, with several international candidates in mind that was no longer a viable option.  So, without comprimising their desire to build the best aircraft with the best people Boeing embarked on a collaborative effort massive in scale and expectation.  Rather than simply outsourcing their parts they made several parts designers and manufacturers around the globe ‘partners’ in this venture.  With sites spanning several countries and time zones nearly every position was shared with others in opposing time zones thus allowing design and manufacture to occur 24 hours a day equalling a savings of a full year of production time!

Boeing introduced the Global Collaborative Environment (GCE), a set of computer and networking capabilities made available via the Web to every member of the 787 team, no matter what their location.  Cutting edge 3D CAD programs were distributed to all participating partners to ensure consistency in design, and regular virtual communication was built into the strategy from the start.  Most importantly however, a global culture of collaboration was initiated by having the multipe organizations involved in the 787’s development as co-designers and producers rather than mere suppliers to support the integrity of the process – every participant had a share in the sucess of the Dreamliner.

There were of course road blocks, including material shortages leading to delayed production that had better global monitoring protocols been put in place could have been avoided.  But, ultimately that is part of the process.  For a first attempt Boeing’s global collaboration effort has become a model for other organizational collaborations.