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Excerpt from:
The Training Scene
American Society for Training and Development
Massachusetts Chapter Newsletter

Article by Matthew Carothers and Dick Eaton

The key is to establish a receptive work force, a culture of receptivity. Once a receptive orientation is established, workers can get over the hump of resistance much more quickly to become open to new people, new ideas and new ways of working. The result: a much more flexible, responsive and productive organization.

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training
We were honored to be featured as a Training Magazine cover story a few years ago. There are two sections to the article: the first section focuses on the Leapfrog-designed simulation Novotran™; the second section talks about the entire 8-day American Home Products (now Wyeth) Global Leadership Program in which Novotran was used as a featured component of the Leadership curriculum.

This Ain't No Ordinary Team Building Workshop

By Donna Goldwasser

"Congratulations!" the memo begins. "We've won the contract for the design, manufacture and marketing of the Motorless Vehicle of the Future…" The 35 participants - all senior managers for Madison, NJ-based American Home Products (AHP) - look a bit bewildered as they read the words projected onto the screen. "What do they mean by 'motorless,'" one participant whispers to her teammate. "Is that like a bike?"

It's the end of day two of AHP's eight-day Global Leadership Program, held at the Doral Forrestal Resort in Princeton, NJ. The group has just been called to the central meeting room for a surprise announcement. Up on the projector screen is a memo from fictional President B. Gaweal of Novotran, Inc. (also fictional), explaining the next day's rather unorthodox team building experience: In the space of a few hours, each team will design, budget, build and market a human-powered vehicle, using only the supplies they can "buy" for $1,000. Teams will race their creations during a "track test" at the end of the day. "Sure," says a visibly overwhelmed member of the Green team. "No problem."

"It's a bit of a departure from the rest of the program," admits Matt Carothers, a senior consultant for Linkage, the Lexington, Mass.- based human resource consulting firm that facilitates the Global Leadership Program. "But a useful one."

During the other seven days, participants work with "live" AHP data to make recommendations that will affect the future of its business. This portion, however, is all about team building.

"These folks are not accustomed to this type of cross-functional teaming," says Dick Eaton, founder of Brookline, Mass-based Leapfrog Innovations. Working with Linkage, Leapfrog (a.k.a. the fictional Novotran) is responsible for designing, developing, and implementing this one-day customized exercise. "This experience helps them flex their team-player muscles," Eaton continues. "It lubricates the work process for the rest of the program."

In addition, the Leapfrog program is designed to "bring to life" the 360-degree evaluations conducted for each of the participants prior to the event. "They'll see, in short order, the ways in which they leverage their skills and talents," says Eaton. "Different people will step into the spotlight at different times, and then move back into support roles." In other words, he says, "they'll get to catch themselves being themselves."

In the meeting room, most attendees are surprisingly quick to accept their new roles as motorless vehicle designers. They are, after all, the best and brightest at AHP - fiercely competitive, regardless of the challenge. And although they won't receive complete instructions until the next morning, a few have already begun to sketch blueprints.

"Exactly how wide is the track," calls out a member of the Orange team as the meeting begins to break up. The answer, unheard by the rest of the group, seems to satisfy her. As her colleagues troop off to dinner, she adds another detail to her drawing…

The following [excerpts] chronicle the rest of the story.

8:00 a.m.
With a "budget" of $1,000, each team must purchase the raw materials used to build their motorless vehicles. The "store" sells a variety of items, including PVC piping, wheels, nylon webbing an decorative elements. In addition to designing and building the vehicle, each team must develop a corresponding budget, distribution and marketing plan, including performing a TV commercial with requisite jingle.

8:30 a.m.
This new "challenge" has four versions, each with different risk and reward structures. But before knowing what the actual "challenge" is, teams must bid for the right to select one of the versions. Challenge I has the greatest likelihood of success and the lowest potential reward (108 possible points with helpful hints provided on actual motorless vehicle construction plans), while Challenge IV has the greatest possible risk and corresponding reward (360 possible points with specific, detailed plans on previous motorless vehicle projects.) After a complex series of calculations, the Orange team bids one point.

After the bidding process, the challenge is revealed: One member from each team must climb up and down a 30-foot inflatable mountain as quickly as possible. The team with the highest bid selects its route (the four-sided mountain has varying levels of difficulty associated with each trek to the top). "Can we choose not to climb?" asks a rather reluctant member of the Yellow team, eyes searching for the mountain's summit.

9:00 a.m.
Sound like a survival of the fittest challenge? It's not. In fact, this Orange team member hopes spiritual, rather than physical, prowess will help. Only one member from each team climbs, but the others play crucial roles. You see, the climber has two bowls suspended from ropes tied to his or her back. On each rope is a bowl with a raw egg in it. It's up to the team's four egg bearer's (two per bowl) on the ground to control the ropes' angle and tension to keep the eggs securely in place throughout the climb.

In addition to the egg bearers, there are three belayers (ground safety control) and a "communication coordinator," who serves a dual role: keep the ground crew and climber in synch through the use of two-way radios, and try to catch any egg that might drop out of the bowl. If caught, the coordinator can then attempt to toss it back up to the climber. The egg, it turns out, doesn't have to be in the bowl the entire time. The coordinator can toss it to the climber while he or she hangs from the summit. Surprisingly, only one team tries this.

The Orange Team runs away with the victory and is one-step closer than the other teams in its pursuit of overall victory - as a reward, the team receives the highly coveted, detailed engineering plans and photographs of motorless vehicles (some successful, other rather dubious in design) built by previous Leapfrog clients. The challenge complete, the teams head back to the store, and the manufacturing process begins.

9:45 a.m.
Average store prices: 10-foot PVC piping, $10; 20-inch wheel, $30. Fully assembled motorless vehicles (bicycles!) can be purchased for the bargain price of $600, but remember: The finished vehicle must seat at least three.

Having received a different set of design tips based on how well it did in the mountain climbing challenge, each team tweaks its engineered drawing. The Yellow team, however, decides to stick with its original plan.

While teams do not elect formal leaders, the natural ones emerge - especially during the budgeting process. "This is just like being back at the office," says one Orange team member. "But Clive says 'yes' more often than my manager."

10:15 a.m.
With less than two hours of building time before the marketing presentations, everyone scrambles into action. Most teams decide not to glue anything until they're certain they have functional designs.

Eight fingers and two thumbs," calls Linkage's Matt Carothers, as one participant brandishes a hacksaw. "That's how you all started, and that's how I'd like you to finish." But it's hard to hear him over the sound of the electric drills.

Meanwhile, the Orange team has set up a secure construction site in which to build its secret weapon; a convertible hard top for its vehicle - a feature, members are certain, no other vehicle will have.

11:00 a.m.
Each team is required to prepare a marketing plan and budget for its vehicle - and the discussions are surprisingly complex. "Do you think we need the same warranty in Europe that we offer in the United States?" asks a Green team member.

Orange team members decide that a certificate of safety will be a key selling point for its vehicle. Front and rear passenger airbags, along with seatbelts, are added as afterthoughts.

Blue team members scribble furiously on authentic-looking P&L forms. Currently in dispute is the pricing structure between Europe and Asia. Eventually, it is decided that Asia will be a secondary market.

12:00 p.m.
The construction phase is called to a halt. The finished vehicles complete with side and rearview mirrors - and in one case, a compass - are rolled onto center stage for pretest-track presentations.

Each team has just five minutes to demonstrate why its motorless vehicle of the future should be selected by Novotran for mass production and distribution.

The fair and impartial judges - who make a sincere effort not to laugh aloud - award points based on construction, cost, salability and global marketability, with particular emphasis on the entertainment value of the TV commercials.

1:30 p.m.
[The teams line up on the racecourse for the track test. Ready, set, go!]

The vehicles lurch to a start. The drivers struggle to maintain control (and passengers hold on for dear life) as the vehicles reach 4, 5, even 6 mph. So far, all of the vehicles are intact, but it's the turn - marked by a pylon topped with a raw egg - that will provide the true test.

The Orange team easily completes the turn and gains speed - just as the Green team's vehicle collapses. Orange team members, the ultimate victors and ever-good sports, help remove the other vehicle from the track.

The track test complete, the erstwhile motorless vehicle builders thankfully return to their day jobs. They will carry, rather than ride, their creations back to the meeting area.

The Debriefing "What happened?" Carothers asks the roomful of exhausted participants, still flushed from their recently completed track test. "What did you learn about your behavior on a team?"

The winners, of course, are the first to speak. "We had floating leadership," says Orange team member Bill Reed. "Everyone was willing to hand off control as different people took charge."

Other participants cite "early skill identification" and "flexibility" as key success factors. "Trust," however, is the unanimous choice for critical team behavior. A member of the Yellow team noted, "When we stopped second-guessing and got out of each other's way, we were able to get things done."

Participants are also in agreement about what didn't work - and it's a problem that affects their "real" work as well. "If we had frozen the design sooner, we could have spent more time working on the construction," laments Blue team member Elvira Sanz. Others agree: Major quality problems would probably be avoided if designers refrained from making last minute "improvements" during the time reserved for manufacturing.

Additional lessons learned are more human resources related. "I think I'll be less likely to rely on labels," says Orange team member C.T. Newsum. "I won't assume that people can or can't do something just because of their job titles." Newsum's team members, who had earlier been surprised by the attorney's skill with power tools, agree.

For now, participants are anxious to try out some of their new teamwork skills in their action learning teams. "When we stumble as a group, we'll go back to what made us successful in today's exercise," says Nikhil Parekh of the victorious Orange team. "But we already expect to win—that will help a lot."

Reprinted with permission from the February 2001 issue of Training magazine. Copyright 2001. Bill Communications, Minneapolis, MN. All rights reserved. Not for resale.

Continue with this article: Reinventing the Wheel

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Excerpt from:
FORTUNE Magazine

Smart Managing—Best Practices, Careers, Ideas

The notion is that corporations cannot conquer today's competitive challenges unless creative juices are flowing freely. To get there, Eaton contends, you've first got to get people to loosen up and engage in activities that, "bring out the kid in them."

Eaton insists that his methods are more serious- minded than they seem. "We want to strengthen links, build esprit, and break down barriers," he says. "One way to accomplish this is to take people to the edge of their comfort level."

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On Achieving Excellence
Newsletter of The Tom Peters Group

Beating Boardroom Boredom

The company that laughs, lasts is the guiding philosophy of Dick Eaton, founder of Leapfrog Innovations, a decidedly un-buttoned-down consulting firm that dares corporate America to cut loose and have fun. These programs really help people stretch out of their comfort zone. says Eaton. They get so wrapped up in the fun, they forget they're learning.

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Excerpt from:
The Wall Street Journal

Can your Workers Carry a Bowling Ball with a
Rubber Band?

By James Bandler, 4/12/2000

Emily Allen boards a bus headed for Boston, a rubber chicken peeking from her sweater and a yellow bandanna around her head. She's followed by five other Gen Xers, all sporting yellow bandannas.

"Are you part of a gang?" asks a fellow rider. Indeed they are, they reply. "How do I join?" the rider asks.

"We're sorry," one of them says. "We're an exclusive gang." The group then bursts into song, serenading a bewildered stranger with a discordant rendition of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling."

Ms. Allen, 26, and her merry band are new hires at Mainspring Inc., an Internet consulting company based in Cambridge, Mass. They and 21 other new employees are in Day Three of a weeklong training program. They have just kicked off the "Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Huntä," a manic scavenger hunt designed to sharpen their decision-making skills and foster bonding among co-workers. Four teams have two hours to complete an array of bizarre tasks. They will troop through Boston and use its often-reluctant residents as props. Their successes will vary, and even the best capers will sometimes go awry.

The hunt is the brainchild of Julia Hector and Dick Eaton, co-founders and operators of Leapfrog Innovations Inc., a Brookline, Mass., company that specializes in corporate team-building. Mr. Eaton says activities such as the scavenger hunt can thaw frozen lines of communication. The company that laughs, lasts, Mr. Eaton likes to say. "It helps people drop their guard and, in a sense, open their kimonos to reveal more of their true personalities."

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Excerpt from:
The Training Scene
American Society for Training and Development
Massachusetts Chapter Newsletter

Article by Matthew Carothers and Dick Eaton

The key is to establish a receptive work force, a culture of receptivity. Once a receptive orientation is established, workers can get over the hump of resistance much more quickly to become open to new people, new ideas and new ways of working. The result: a much more flexible, responsive and productive organization.

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Reinventing the Wheel
How American Home Products transforms senior managers into leaders.

By Donna Goldwasser

Nine months ago, Madison, N.J.-based American Home Products (AHP) completed a 10-year evolution—from a holding company of disparate pieces to an operating company with a single focus: provide health care solutions to a global market. But that success left the company with another challenge: transforming managers, heretofore members of distinct, independent business units, into future leaders of the new, integrated organization.

When John R. Stafford joined AHP as chairman and CEO in 1986, most of the company’s h oldings, including a food manufacturing company, a candy company and an agricultural supply business, had little to do with global health care.

AHP’s business integration process has included divesting its non-core businesses and then realigning what was left to reflect the organization’s new vision. Last June, when the company sold Cyanamid Global Agricultural Products, AHP’s structural “reinvention” was complete. For the company’s future leaders, however, the cultural reinvention had just begun.

Company executives knew it would take more than a portfolio of related products to make the more than 47,000 AHP employees feel as though they worked for a unified, international organization. They also knew that the training and development process—a key component in the change initiative—would have to begin with the corporation’s managers. When Tim Fidler, AHP’s executive director of management development and training joined the company in 1997, he immediately teamed up with Linkage, Inc. in Lexington, Mass. to develop a plan for AHP’s future leaders.

This joint effort produced the Global Leadership Program, an eight-day event designed to develop business acumen and leadership skills. In the three years since its inception, 111 managers—all selected for their potential as future leaders of AHP—have been through the program. Of those, 97 percent have stayed with the company—an impressive statistic for an industry in which the war for talent is so fiercely competitive. In addition, more than 70 percent of the program’s participants have since been promoted—some more than once—to positions of greater responsibility within the organization.

The Global Leadership Program includes action learning projects using “live” AHP data instruction as well as basic instruction—from company executives, external thought leaders, and business school faculty members—comparable to the executive development programs offered at Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth, among others. But in the Linkage-designed program, participants don’t work in a vacuum. At the end of the week-long event, future leaders present recommendations for corporate-wide initiatives to a panel of senior executives—and many of those suggestions will be acted upon immediately.

The price tag for the leadership program? Significantly lower than those of the comparable programs Fidler priced. And the investment, according to Fidler, is well worth it for AHP. “The pharmaceutical industry is changing,” he says. “There is more focus on reducing costs. Margins are more controlled, so the industry has to look very closely at how productive and effective its leadership is.”

“These are not people who’ve had training in leadership or management skills,” adds David Giber, senior vice president of consulting for Linkage. “These are scientists— chemists and biologists—who’ve been thrust into management positions. We’ve tried to create a program that helps them develop those skills in a realistic, but safe, environment.”

Of course, the Global Leadership Program is not the first leadership development effort in AHP’s 74-year history. Previous programs, however, have been conducted within AHP’s individual business units. “There was never a unified effort to develop the leaders of AHP,” says Giber.

“Leadership training has historically been handled by each individual business unit,” says Fidler. “Now we’re developing leadership skills together and teaching that AHP is all one company.” As a result, managers are talking with each other—and looking for ways to develop synergy between the businesses.

“The early returns have been pretty spectacular,” continues Fidler. As a result of recommendations from participants in the program, AHP has launched several successful initiatives, including integrated Therapeutic Area Teams for more effective global brand management. And even more importantly, he believes, “We’ve created a window through which different groups can build relationships, share information and mentor each other … there’s really no limit to what they can make of it.”

Global Leadership Program 2000
While the overall objective of the Global Leadership Program—to create leaders of a unified, international company—hasn’t changed since its inception, each year’s “backdrop” reflects AHP’s current challenges. During the first two years, teams focused on global product development and brand management, respectively. Participants in the most recent event, held last October at Princeton, N.J.’s Doral Forrestal Resort, were charged with finding ways to drive business results for the new, integrated AHP.

The development process began with a steering committee comprised of the leaders of AHP’s key business units. Members were polled about their expectations for the 2000 program and asked for suggestions on the key business problems that the company’s future leaders should tackle.

“The program—and its impact—is known throughout the company,” says Linkage’s Giber. “So the executive team wants to be involved from day one.”

Because the internal announcement of the sale of the agricultural products business coincided with the meeting of the steering committee, “Integrated AHP” was a logical choice for the Global Leadership 2000 theme. Two things remained: Linkage consultants needed to adapt the action learning process so that program participants could explore that topic—and increase the company’s competitive advantage along the way. And, of course, the participants needed to be selected.

“We have an annual talent review process that asks business unit leaders to identify their high potential people,” says Fidler. These names go into a database from which candidates are selected. “By design, the program can only take about 40 people. So we usually have about twice as many candidates as we need.” This, he concedes, is a “high-quality problem.” Few training professionals would complain about a larger-than-required pool of talent.

Ultimately, the participants (37 for the 2000 program) are selected based upon manager recommendations—and the willingness of those managers to part with their star employees for eight days. The “back-up” list—the envy of many other pharmaceutical companies—is now the waiting list for next year’s program.

The Event
The information package, delivered a full month before the event, looked innocent enough, but its one-word title, “Action,” was daunting. This was the first correspondence received by all 37 participants of the 2000 program: a 24-page document outlining the projects to be tackled by each of the four action learning teams during the eight-day event. The materials included team rosters, and teammates were encouraged to contact each other and get started. The fears of participants like Page Bouchard, who worried about “didactic and simplistic team building exercises,” were immediately put to rest.

To facilitate the advance work of team members, each team was put in touch with a mentor: a senior executive who would provide advice and feedback both before and during the event. In addition, each participant was prepared for the program with a comprehensive 360-degree evaluation. But these evaluations did more than simply alert participants to their shortcomings, says participant Nikhil Parekh. “I found out what I needed to improve, but also what people really like about my style,” he says. “It was very affirming, in a way.”

Participants discovered more opportunities to see their evaluations in action as they worked within their teams in Princeton. Each team had a particular focus, along with a mission: Make up to three recommendations that will help drive the integrated AHP’s competitive advantage in the global economy. And during the often intense sessions of collecting, evaluating and processing the information that would eventually become part of their presentations, several team members discovered ways in which they might improve their leadership abilities. “I need to involve my subordinates more, so they’ll take ownership of the goals I have established for the department,” says one participant, C.T. Newsum, who realized that he wouldn't help implement a program unless he believed in it.

Just as illuminating was the customized team building segment of the program developed and implemented by Leapfrog Innovations in Brookline, Mass., during which team members were required to work together to achieve short-term, but complex goals.

When the action learning teams weren’t “in session,” team members were getting instruction from some of the most renowned thought leaders in the business world such as Claremont University’s Peter Drucker School of Management professor Vijay Sathe, University of Michigan Graduate School of Business professor Noel Tichy, and Columbia Business School professor Francious Simon. From other experts, AHP’s future leaders learned new strategies for interdepartmental communication, crisis management, and team problem-solving. Finally, participants heard from AHP’s senior leaders, who helped clarify the chairman’s vision for the company.

“The program widened my perspective about who I worked for,” says participant Cynthia Sarnoski. “Historically, there hasn’t been a lot to identify with AHP in general. Now I have a more conscious recognition of being part of a whole company.”

The leaders “conveyed a feeling of single purpose about the company and its goals,” agrees Newsum.

For other participants, the discoveries were far more personal. “I work for a global company, but I didn’t know what ‘global’ meant,” admits Parekh. “Doing business in France is not global. Changing the way you think—from development to design to distribution—can be global. If we want to develop things for a global market, we have to develop them globally. That became apparent during the program.”

The Aftermath
On the last day of the program, each team presented its recommendations—12, in all—to a panel of AHP’s senior executives, many of whom had been involved in the program from the start. Perhaps, if this were an ordinary leadership development workshop, that might be the end of it. But AHP strives to be anything but ordinary.

“Some of this year’s initiatives have already gone forward,” says Fidler. For example, one of the teams proposed an integration of our employee training and development systems across the company. “I’m working with a group on that right now.”

Other initiatives will be implemented on a slightly less global level. Ray Carson, assistant vice president of human resources and a graduate of this year’s program, has already called upon some of his teammates for input into a new management development program. “The relationships we’ve made will have an impact on the company’s future,” says Parekh, one of Carson’s teammates.

Finally, there were a few suggestions that might take a few years to implement. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t do it,” says Fidler. “We’re early in the process. But we’ll get there.”

Action + Learning = Change
“On its most basic level, action learning is nothing more than learning by doing in a controlled environment,” write David Dotlich and James Noel, authors of Action Learning (Jossey-Bass, 1998).

They identify 12 key elements that are essential to the action learning process. And most organizations that have employed this process—including Madison, N.J.-based American Home Products—use a variation of these elements.

Sponsorship. “Without the backing of a significant sponsor,” write Dotlich and Noel, “action learning programs cannot succeed.” Sponsors give the process, and its participants, more clout—and provide some assurance that the recommendations of the team will be carried out. For AHP's Global Leadership Program, sponsorship is provided by a steering committee of senior-level executives, all of whom are deeply committed to the project.

A Strategic Mandate. Company management must define a major business issue that will affect the future of the organization. At AHP, becoming an integrated, global organization is the key to the company’s survival.

A Learning Process. Before giving their full support, most sponsors want a “road map” that outlines how the action learning effort will play out. In the program created for AHP by Lexington, Mass.-based Linkage, Inc., participants spend eight full days involved exclusively in their action learning teams, including one day committed to a “team immersion” activity.

A Selection Process. “As a general rule,” write Dotlich and Noel, “diversity is a goal: The mixture of people from different backgrounds, functions, business units, and levels of responsibility creates tensions that facilitate learning.” Participants for the AHP Global Leadership Program are selected through an “annual talent review” process that identifies potential leaders from all areas of the company, all over the world.

Learning Teams. For maximum benefit, members of each team are chosen for their differences, rather than their similarities. This can create the type of conflict necessary for creative solutions. AHP's participants are divided into four learning teams, comprised of both international and American participants from a variety of job levels.

Coaching. Group problem-solving and conflict resolution skills are often lacking in first-time team members. So each Global Leadership Program team is provided with two coaches: an on-call Linkage consultant and an AHP executive who serves as the team mentor throughout the action learning process.

Orientation to the Issue. This is the educational component of action learning. For the 37 AHP participants, the orientation is conducted by a lineup of company executives, global business thought leaders, university professors and interpersonal skills instructors. In addition, participants receive advance information packets about individual team missions, and they are encouraged to begin brainstorming solutions before the event begins.

Data Gathering. Beyond simply reading reports, action learning participants are expected to collect data and industry benchmarks from anywhere—and everywhere— feasible. AHP's team members call on a variety of resources, from staff members back in the office and long-forgotten computer files to interviews with customers, vendors and industry leaders.

Data Analysis. Despite the title, this is not the “dry” part of the process. Teams don’t just collect data—they evaluate it for relevance and try to understand it in the context of the business issue at hand. “We provide the AHP teams with process and organizational tools to help them sort through all the data and stay on track,” says Matt Carothers, senior consultant with the Linkage strategic consulting group. “Otherwise, it’s easy for them to get bogged down.”

Presentation Drafting. “Part of action learning involves forcing people to think systematically, politically and realistically,” write Dotlich and Noel. With the data collected and bench marking complete, each team must still devise business recommendations that are relevant and actionable. That, says Tim Fidler, AHP's executive director of management development and training, is the challenge for each team’s executive mentor.

Presentation. For the action learning team, the ultimate goal is to “sell” its recommendations to the organization. On the eighth day of AHP's Global Leadership Program, each team presents up to three recommendations to a panel of the company’s senior executives, who then ask questions and make comments. Decisions to act—or not to act—are made immediately.

Debriefing. This process of "facilitated self-reflection" is essential to the action learning process. Linkage provides participants with tools that encourage them to reflect and provide each other with feedback. In addition, John Stafford, AHP's Chairman and CEO, asks each participant to write him a letter describing the experience and suggesting how they might use what they’ve learned in the future.

Reprinted with permission from the February 2001 issue of Training magazine. Copyright 2001. Bill Communications, Minneapolis, MN. All rights reserved. Not for resale.

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IN THE BEGINNING
Many experts attempt to define action learning.

Originated 30 years ago by British professor and business thinker Reg Revans, action learning has always lacked a convenient, definitive description primarily because Revans believes if it’s definable, then it’s not action learning. Without a label to guide practitioners, the schema is often, and wrongly, applied to any form of experiential learning event. The “doing” part of action learning is carried out by testing assumptions and experimenting with ideas, not simply in carrying out a task. Contrived, experiential events on their own, according to Revans, have very little to do with the process. As the companies that have taken advantage of this approach know—action learning is much different.