Last year, I stumbled across a simple educational story while thumbing through cookbooks in the Boston vacation home we rented for the Academy of Management Annual Meeting.
In the preface to The New Legal Seafood Cookbook, Roger Berkowitz recounts his experiences as a student in a continuing education program at the Harvard Business School. One of the Harvard professors asked Berkowitz what kind of business he was in. His initial answer was restaurants. The professor encouraged Berkowitz to reconsider. By the end of his formal learning experience, Berkowitz concluded he was in the fish business, and he adopted the concept of offering customers the freshest, highest-quality fish available as the central principle of his enterprise.
This simple educational story has stuck with me for a year. I think its power lies in the generative question it invites learners to wrestle with: What business are you in?
If someone asked me what business I was in when I started learning informally about educational development over 10 year ago, my answer would likely have been teaching and learning methods. If you had asked me five years ago, when I started working as an instructional designer, my answer would have been evidence-based educational practices. Today, I am in the coaching and consulting business. The people I work with are educated, successful professionals. All but a few have little time for formal learning, so I am persuaded that the future of learning and development lies in informal, social, work-based learning. Professionals, in the academy and industry alike, need less formal, didactic instruction and more just-in-time, in-the-moment performance and social support.
What powerful, thought-provoking stories have you encountered in unexpected places? What are your thoughts on the the raison-d’être of learning and development work?