In this second in our continuing series on the role of collaborative learning at events by Christine Renaud, CEO and co-founder of the Montréal-based company e180, and creator of the peer-to-peer learning platform Braindate, she shares the true story of an L&D professional who went on to transform her organization after a life-changing conversation.
Lindsay walked outside in a daze. As a learning and development professional, she had attended many conferences. But for the first time, she was deeply moved by a conversation she had at an event.
Jolene, a young woman Lindsay had just met, had talked with her about her recent transition into a new role at a large technology company. Jolene had described what it felt like to be the new young woman of color in a company (and sector) filled predominantly with white men and struggling to balance her desire to fit in with remaining true to herself. Sometimes, Jolene had said, she just wanted to be, instead of having to educate everyone on so-called diversity all the time.
Lindsay was surprised at how quickly the conversation had become candid. As an L&D professional with a background in wedding planning, Lindsay too felt like an outsider at her industry-leading company. Her innovative ideas had often been disregarded as irrelevant and being on the receiving end of underhanded sexist comments was the norm. Often the only woman seated around the table at meetings, she had to constantly remind herself to be strategic in her interventions — to be firm without seeming “too aggressive” or to be jovial without coming off as “flirtatious.”
But here she was, attending a business conference, sharing very personal stories with a stranger. Dammit, she was even being emotional, and no one made a big deal out of it. Yet, this conversation had felt much more relevant to her work role than many other workshops she had attended. The conversation had transformed her, in a subtle yet profound way. She now felt she had to stand up in her company for all these amazing humans, sometime labeled “minorities,” but who together made up the majority. No diversity master class or opening keynote ever had elicited such a powerful sense of mission in her.
Lost in thought, she followed a crowd toward the most popular food truck for lunch. She noticed a person, younger than she, standing in front of her. She wondered if he (they?) felt welcomed here. She wished she could ask. And this older man there: Did he feel like he belonged?
Lindsay suddenly wished she could talk to every single person in that lunch queue. She turned around, and looked left, looked right — everyone she saw was a source of unique experiences and perspectives that could transform her own thinking.
(Re)learning How to Learn
I met Lindsay at this same event, where she told me about her conversation with Jolene, and how deeply it had affected her. As we spoke, she began to weave the story into a new vision for her own role at work.
For L&D professionals like Lindsay, the challenge is to constantly find new ways to foster growth for colleagues. Yet so many supposedly innovative learning solutions feel insufficient: In fact, they often conform to the classic student/teacher dichotomy that defines our notions of education and professional development. Lindsay had come to the conference in order to find inspiration to challenge the premise behind the way she and her colleagues thought about education.
As she experienced her first braindate, she saw for the first time how another way of learning — more transformative, more relevant, more collaborative, more dynamic — could operate.
Could she take this notion of collaborative learning and become a connector herself? Could she bring a culture of knowledge sharing back to her traditional company? She wanted to create a space in her own community, she said, where all her colleagues would be able to have access to and learn from each others’ unique experiences. What would be the impact of tens of thousands of people letting their guards down, being real, generous, and humble enough to learn from their most understated colleagues?
The answer seemed obvious: It would change their lives. And Lindsay, she told me, was up for the challenge.
Braindating at Work
That experience and chance meeting with Lindsay planted the first seeds for a collaboration that eventually has grown into a multi-year partnership spanning new territory for us both. Since 2017, e180 has had the privilege of working with Lindsay to move braindates outside of a conference context into the operation of the multinational company she works with, as a continual source of internal learning and growth. In that time, Lindsay has become a collaborative learning expert herself, and every day redefines what meaningful learning means for her colleagues.
Christine Renaud, in addition to founding Braindate and leading e180, is a public speaker and author. She earned a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and serves as an adviser to the Harvard Innovation Lab. She also has worked as a podcast producer for Learning Matters Educational Group in New York City.