Mind Over Matter

Conferences, Camps Promote a New Way of Thinking

The recent CLO Symposium prompts reflection on the value of going away for learning and development.

Audience at the business conference

This might sound strange to you, but on the last day of this year’s Spring Chief Learning Officer Symposium, I found myself thinking about camp.

As the number of learning leaders thinned for the final day, and people moved about the colonnade in polished but travel-ready clothes, I thought about how strikingly similar this felt to the many last days of camp and summer programs I’d experienced.

I was almost always the kid picked up earlier or later than everybody else. All the things I carried with me from that place would gradually disappear as my family’s car pulled away: the new friends from across the country and the different perspectives they brought with them, the adventures that drew out my bravery, the challenges that called forth my creativity and, of course, lots of songs and chants.

I didn’t see it then, but my mother — and plenty of other parents — made a strategic decision in sending their children to the mountains for some summers, to university enrichment programs for others, and even once, in my own case, to a young leaders program held on a military base. Note: That is not a euphemism for boot camp. The experiences were meant to make us better, teach us new things, sharpen what we already knew, expand our worldview, and, for those who needed it, bring us out of our shells.

In addition to giving them some time away from us, our parents likely thought these away-from-home learning adventures would help strengthen the people who they hoped we’d be in school, at home and in our communities.

You might shake your head at the idea that a professional development conference is some older version of a career camp, but the developmental objective of the two experiences is the same. Call it a conference, a symposium, or a retreat, if you’re lucky — all hold an explicit central mission to strengthen the individuals attending. It’s just that the stakes are exponentially higher as adults. You work, have responsibilities, and manage a team of other adults with responsibilities.

At this year’s Spring CLO Symposium, learning executives networked with a gaggle of prospective new and influential friends, learning from one another in ways that ensured the ideas and practices they uncovered on Amelia Island, Florida, would transfer back to their jobs once they returned home. There’s something about going away to learn that has a sort of psychologically loosening effect, wrote psychiatrist Dr. Marcia Sirota in her blog. In a different place that encourages and in some ways subsists off of divergent thinking, mental walls seem to come down a bit easier. Or “in a new environment, with a fresh perspective, we’re more willing to explore new solutions to old problems,” she wrote.

The learning leaders returning to their organizations can chew over these newly acquired ideas and examples, follow up with new connections, line up new learning with extant company realities, and see what will advance their strategy and move the story forward.

And, like camp, there will be some memories of growth to reflect upon.


Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. To comment, email editor@clomedia.com.

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