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|Author: Willem G. Krouwel
Publisher: ITOL Institute of Training and Occupational Learning
Format: A5 paperback, 88 pages
Reviewed by: Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
Availability: Order from the publisher (ITOL) or
This ITOL Guidebook is exactly what it claims to be - "A Critical Introduction for the Intelligent Practitioner". It is also more than this because I would recommend it to all Outdoor Management Development (OMD) practitioners - however new, experienced or intelligent! The author actually does have a wider audience in mind. He hopes, for example, that the chapter on Outdoor Media and Course Design will appeal to buyers as well as to practitioners. This book does not claim to be a comprehensive guide. It is more of a selective guide to key issues - which is about the best you can expect from a book this size.
Thin books can be superficial. Not this one. Bill Krouwel homes in on key issues and challenges much common practice and accepted wisdom. His targets for criticism include: inflexible programming, predetermined outcomes, frontloading, routine reviewing, imposed culture change, short courses, isomorphic framing, 'Box 1' problems (such as aerial runways and ropes courses), role play (especially fantasy role play), single kayaks, and anything that resembles the TV game show It's a Knock-Out. A theme running through many of these criticisms is a distrust of fixed or imposed objectives. The author's style is direct:
"OMD providers who offer tightly tailored 'solutions' to people's developmental needs deserve contempt." (p.11)
Such critical views (even if harsh at times) are well argued and are well supported by examples and references. But this is not just a guide about what to avoid. Bill Krouwel also presents clear arguments in favour of certain uses of OMD and certain practices within it.
The guide includes 20 pages of appendices which include four examples of instructions for OMD exercises: Poacher's Escape, Riotous Assembly, Haul of Fame and the Pestera Project. The appendix also includes an essay about the roots of OMD. The author is sceptical about claims that OMD has ancient roots in ancient Greece. He is also sceptical about models that categorise types of OMD into 'generations'. His arguments are persuasive.
One issue that is not really tackled head on is how providers can or should respond to client pressures for shorter courses. Can Krouwel's favoured self-development style of OMD be applied as successfully to short courses as it was to longer ones? I am sure this is possible, but it might require an even more radical departure from OMD traditions to achieve this.
I found it refreshing to find a description of OMD that includes well-founded criticism of practice, and isn't simply a championing of OMD. This small book should make a significant contribution to any debate about the future of OMD. Yes, it is what the subtitle says: 'A Critical Introduction for the Intelligent Practitioner'. It also raises questions that will help providers and users to review current practice and stay ahead of the game - whether or not you happen to agree with the author's own view of OMD.
P.S. Shortly after reading and reviewing Bill Krouwel's 'Outdoor Management Development', I read and reviewed 'Experience AI' by Ricketts and Willis (see below). I was so struck by the number of contrasting views between these two small books that I wanted to lock all the authors in a room to enjoy a wonderful conversation. Better still (and keeping to the outdoor theme) I would like to row them to the tiny 'Isle of Discussions' in Loch Leven where the tradition is that disputing parties are not collected until they have reached agreement - preferably in the form of a newly co-authored book ready for publication.
|Authors: Miriam W. Ricketts, MAS & James E.
Publisher: Taos Institute
Format: A5 paperback, 80 pages
Reviewed by: Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
Availability: Order from the publisher Taos Institute or the authors at Executive Edge, Inc. or
The basic proposition of this book is very attractive. It is that the AI (Appreciative Inquiry) approach to organisation development can be accelerated, deepened, intensified and enhanced if experiential learning is embedded into the process. In the optimistic language of AI it could be said that this book sets out to combine the best of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) with the best of Experiential Learning (EL). These are the 'what ifs' imagined by the authors:
"Now, what if, in conjunction with telling stories about encounters with excellence and while sharing aspirations [AI], people could also experience excellence and make their dreams come alive in real time [EL]? What if the AI process could shift from thinking to doing, from the cerebral domain to the kinaesthetic, from storytelling to experiencing - where dreams from the imagination about working well together [AI] immediately manifest into physical experience [EL]?" (page 5)These are ambitious imaginings, especially because AI (even without any help from EL) is seen as a fast track approach to organisation development. (AI bypasses the analysis of problems and focuses attention on success and what people want.) I wanted to discover whether EL makes AI even faster, and whether there is any downside to the greater speed, depth and intensity that seems to occur when AI and EL are mixed together.
Having combined AI and EL in my own work, I was particularly interested to see exactly how the authors merge these two processes and what successes they have had. Just how much they appear to achieve in events of just one or two days is impressive and is enough to make any training provider wonder how their own events match up to these achievements.
In a nutshell, the integrated process of AI and EL involves (1) people imagining how they want things to be (the AI part) and (2) people instantly making these imaginings come true within the 'micro-world' of the EL event. Examples of the 'micro-world' include:
For a book of only 80 pages the four case studies are surprisingly detailed, even if they do create an appetite for wanting to know more. The authors list 10 benefits arising from the integration of AI and EL. The benefits that EL brings include:
It feels a bit unsporting (even treachorous) to write about problems when a book is so deliberately upbeat and positive in its approach. But I cannot provide a balanced review without drawing your attention to some difficulties ...
I have never seen a book with so many phrases marked with the TM sign. There are nearly 20 phrases marked with TM. These include: Strategic LinkingTM, Project SuccessTM, Process Control ReviewTM, Continuous Learning CycleTM, Self-facilitated LearningTM, Self-facilitated Team LearningTM, and Team Learning JournalTM. The frequency of the TM symbol gives out a very mixed message, as if it should be entitled: "Guidebook: Do Not Use". As a reader I felt untrusted - a particular irony in a book about developing trust. If every writer rushes to trademark common phrases at this pace, there won't be much common language left. This reader would have appreciated some reassurance or explanation about this TM epidemic.
The authors redefine the role of the facilitator - by replacing facilitators with work books! They explain that in Self-facilitated LearningTM it is the Learning JournalTM that guides the process. The Learning Journal (they say) contains everything that participants need to facilitate their own learning processes - activity frontloading, rules and debrief questions. The trouble with facilitators (they say) is that each facilitator may provide a wide variety of interpretations and may even stall progress by providing distractions. Whereas workbooks speed up the process, reduce variation, increase accuracy and produce a more comprehensive result. This substitution of facilitators with work books might be an economy but surely it is not more effective? One issue arising is the desirability of using a factory-like process for organisation development. Another issue is whether 'self-facilitated' is an accurate description of a process that is driven, steered and shaped by a work book. From the way it is described it would be more accurate to call it 'book-facilitated' or 'following instructions' rather than 'self-facilitated'.
In fairness, the authors do confront and discuss these issues. In a section on 'Standardized Experiences' they claim to be following AI on the issue of standardisation:
"Standardization of the experience is another important reason for adopting a self-facilitated learning approach. While this approach is effective with any size group, it is especially effective in large group situations wherein it is important that individuals and groups have similar experiences, as in AI." (p. 64)So it is clear where the authors stand on this issue. Or is it? Because they later attempt to clarify where they stand on the issue of open-endedness:
"One final clarifying point about self-facilitated learning experiences: Self-facilitated learning experiences are open-ended and they are not." (p. 65)Following this deliberate contradiction is an elaborate metaphor about a highway that I have read many times in an attempt to work out what they mean and where they stand. I think the answer is that the trainers draw the map within which participants make choices. Or it is like a multiple choice test where every choice leads to the same destination.
Perhaps I expect too much from a small book, but I would have appreciated more attention being paid to the issues associated with the kinds of practices being recommended. The tendency of providers to be upbeat about their own work is probably intensified when the process they are describing is itself particularly upbeat. Inclusion of some other voices or stakeholders would have added greater credibility and depth and would have saved it from reading, in places, like an Executive Edge brochure. I still like the basic proposition that AI and EL can be successfully combined. I particularly enjoyed the detail of the four case studies - and felt inspired by them. But the arguments for 'standardized experiences' were a bridge too far. I would like to see a message about "diversity is strength" woven into the formula. Most of all I would like to lock up the authors in a room with Bill Krouwel whose views are so different that I am sure they would enjoy a wonderful conversation and perhaps even a constructive writing partnership.
Both books include ideas about accelerating the pace of change and development. Given that clients expect results in ever shrinking timescales, it seems wise to consider some radical changes from outdoor training traditions - some of which include having the time to journey (physically and mentally) at a slower, more reflective pace. Each book offers different ideas for speeding up change using a variety of experiential learning strategies.
I have, perhaps overemphasised the differences. Both books demonstrate faith in learner choice, but in Experience AI choice happens mainly at the start of the process, whereas in Outdoor Management Development, choice is ever present. Both also delight in designing inspirational exercises, but have different ideas about how participants are included in the designing process. Both value the impact of positive experiences that bring people alive and stir the emotions.
Practitioners may well want to know which approach is more effective. This will depend on the kinds of changes that clients want and on the kinds of learning processes that participants will buy into. Experience AI is more about ways of making learning designs work, whereas Outdoor Management Development is more about ways of learning from what is really happening. The best events are probably a mixture of the two - and neither approach is mutually exclusive.
But how refreshing it is to read books in this field that so powerfully argue their case! Colin Beard's Experiential Learning Toolkit (a much bigger book) provides a useful overview of many different possibilities, but each of these two books steers a much clearer course. They are guidebooks taking clear but different routes through the same terrain.
Reviews by Roger Greenaway
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