Nomadic Learning in action

- the 4 principles

By An Kramer, Program Director at de Baak

Leadership and Bread – A Visit to a Bakery     

Fifteen young man in suits, covered with aprons, are kneading dough. Laughing out loud and giving it their best. Fred the baker walks around and sticks his finger into the dough. “You should add some water; and you, you should go on longer, it's not elastic enough yet.” His recommendations are followed up with intensity.

This episode is part of a three-day program for young trainees at a bank. The program’s focus: leadership and entrepreneurship.

While the bread is in the oven, we talk with Fred. He is one of the owners of the bakery. He is very open about his intuitive and stubborn way of working, sharing his successes and his failures. The trainees’ questions: “What is your revenue? Are you a client of our bank’s?” His honest reply: “I'm no longer with your bank, I wasn't treated the way I liked. At every single step, I was asked for money. But: at your competitor’s, it's the same story.” He continues: “The car with chauffeur I had was nice, but I chose more freedom. Now I live in an old house, in the middle of nature. Lots of repairs. I never wrote a business plan, instead I gave the authorities a documentary film about the bakery. They accepted it and gave me the license I needed. We still use a recipe for the bread from 1896. It is written on every wrapping, so you can copy it if you like. In my little café, you are free to sit without ordering anything. That isn’t like anywhere else.” The trainees respond with surprise, enthusiasm and also skepticism.

We part with warm breads in our hands. Some of the trainees take a bite straightaway.
A little further down the street, we enter an old newspaper building. In the former boardroom, everyone writes the headline for their stories about the experience. We finish with an engaged discussion about the lessons learned, and more specifically, what they learned for their leadership:

The Four Principles of Nomadic Learning as experienced at the Bakery

1. Insert as much reality as possible
In meeting and connecting with the baker, the trainees meet an inspiring example of leadership and entrepreneurship. It is a real-life lesson, not abstract theory. There is sufficient recognition, and sufficient controversy at the same time. Nobody can stay neutral: they cannot but have an opinion, whether it be from inspiration or annoyance. In making the newspaper headlines, they get the opportunity to question and express that opinion. In the discussion afterwards, they reflect on their own situations and opinions in a natural and direct way.

Because of their surprise by the experience, the need for reflection comes naturally, and does not need to be dictated. Questions feeding their learning come up spontaneously: “Why are we doing this? What can I learn from it? What does this have to do with leadership?” They are master of their own learning, a huge motivational advantage. Their learning attitudes become clear in their reactions to the reality involved. They can see their patterns of conduct directly, and the effects they create.

Bread is so basic and common a food item for these people that they all immediately connect to it. This effect is increased by them making the bread themselves. All the senses are involved. It activates the right brain hemisphere, thus making the experience more intense, and the impressions last longer.

2. Bring in multiple perspectives
There is rather a difference between the baker’s circumstances and the trainees’ bank context. Natural multiplicity occurs, giving the trainees the implicit permission to discover their own perspectives. They do not have to adjust to an expert, but instead are allowed to develop their own views by sharing perspectives and discussing them, creating even more diversity.

The shared experience creates a good group cohesion without the need for explicit and stand-alone 'bonding excercises'. At the same time peer pressure – often strong among young male participants – is lifted by the presence of a 'stranger', like the baker in this example. Issues like the courage to speak up or to differ from others are overt in the subsequent meeting. Do you have the guts to be critical when everyone else is excited, or vice versa? Because of the unexpectedness of the experience, participants are more explicit in what they share. To be able to do that is considered an important leadership trait.

3. Create a strong interconnection between ‘action’ and ‘conceptualization’
There is no theory that needs to be proved. The baker shares his concepts, lessons and ways of working. The trainees share their opinions and interpretations. No theory 'interferes', or has to be learned. The trainees experience ‘continuous learning and conceptualizing’. This provokes a learning attitude, 'even at the bakery'. It opens them up to the unknown, makes them curious. The unknown is nearby and all pervasive. Where ever you are, there is the possibility to learn: by asking questions , by learning about the situation, by wording and expressing your own response and interpretation.

4. Make the learning horizontal
Of course, this kind of intervention surprises the trainees. There is absolutely no logic to it, no rhyme or reason, from their perspective. In a leadership program, this kind of visit is currently totally unexpected. By explaining very little in advance, we create an even bigger surprising effect. In doing so, we implicitly communicated our way of working: we do not explain, yet dive into the experience. In not being too well informed, participants get in touch more with their right brain hemispheres, passing by the more analytic hemisphere. The trainer is present as a facilitator. In the conversation with the baker, the trainer merely structures the process, but does not interfere in the conversation. The direction is in the hands of the trainees. They do not 'talk about', but practice their leadership on the spot.

Are you interested in Nomadic Learning? Contact An Kramer, , or call our Training Advice Bureau: +31 (0)343 - 55 63 69

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