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chairman, Learning and Performance Institute @DonaldHTaylor

Donald H Taylor I

n the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams)

climbs on to a desk in front of his bemused class and quotes American transcendentalist Henry David Toreau, proclaiming: “Te universe is wider than our views of it”. In case his meaning isn’t clear, he underlines his action more prosaically: “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”. It’s an action I’d recommend to anyone in L&D. You don’t have to climb on your

desk, of course. Tat’s just a rather clumsy visual metaphor for the movies. Tere are many ways of looking at things differently, but they all share something in common. Tey will all make you feel uncomfortable. After all, the point of looking at things in a different way is to challenge and test your assumptions, to force yourself possibly to recast them or even

This month, Don urges us to look at the world in a different way ... although standing on desks is not required

to listen to those with differing views without prejudice. Tis isn’t easy, as it involves putting your own ideas to one side and really listening, rather than waiting for a gap in order to speak. Once you’ve heard what others

have to say, check your reaction. If you are even more convinced of your own view, that’s a bad sign. Ever had a conversation with someone who is utterly sure of themselves and unwilling to budge in their position? Congratu- lations. You just became that person. Instead, explore your reasoning in tandem with the other person. You may be surprised how much common ground you find, how much your understanding is strengthened and widened. After 30 years in L&D – 30 years

If we truly believe in our understanding of the world, we must aim to tear it down

to abandon them all together. If your views mean anything to you, that prospect certainly should make you feel uncomfortable. Despite that, testing ideas is

essential. It is how we make sure they are valid. And ‘testing’ does not mean starting with the assumption that our view is correct and finding fault in any argument against it. If we truly believe in our understanding of the world, we must aim to tear it down. If it is strong enough, it will withstand the attempt. If it is not, we will learn something in process. Te best way to challenge your ideas – and expand and grow them – is

of practice, of reading, of thinking and of challenging my own thinking – I know a bit more about adult learning than I did when I started. But, equally, I am convinced there is more to know than can ever be learned in one lifetime. However, I have always known this: whatever I learn, whatever stances I take, they must be rigorously sound. Life is too short to waste it carrying the baggage of half-baked ideas. To do this, of course,

requires me to listen and to be open to changing my ideas when a better understanding demands it. Although at times painful, this approach has served me well, and I recommend it. You don’t have to stand

on your desk to do it. You have to do something rather more difficult – listen with an open mind.

Donald H Taylor is an author, facilitator and speaker. Visit his website

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