Today I went to my youngest son’s soccer game, he’s the goalie. I brought my laptop with me because I wanted to write an article about how to choose your sessions at the ATD. I had a story in my head; during half time I would have time to write it down. The trouble is that I don’t always have the time to write down what is in my head. During the day I work with clients and projects that have a deadline. I was looking forward to half time for this very reason.
When I came to the club, I saw four other mothers sitting together and drinking coffee. I hesitated a moment. Should I join them or not? Should I engage in their conversation? I am not often at the soccer games since I have three sons and a household and business to run. It would be good manners to stop and say hello. But I really wanted to write this article.
After much internal deliberation, I choose to sit down, not knowing what to expect because I don’t see these ladies very often. My gut feeling was that the engagement would lead to a better story, but I did not know how and why. I decided to follow my impulse.
I bought coffee for all the mothers and fathers who gathered around our table.
At first I had a super conversation with a father, Stephen, who happened to live on the other end of the same long street I live on. Come to find out, his mother- in- law seems to know us. Our street is very long and connects two small towns. When we have visitors coming for the first time, they sometimes get lost and end up ringing the bell at his mother-in-law’s house. She often has to point them in the right direction. ‘So you’re Adelka’, he said? We laughed wholeheartedly at the serendipity and immediately had a click. That builds trust. One thing led to another and we talked about his company and the coaches he has hired in the past. Our conversation touched the core of my work, and I enjoyed it.
Later on, I had another great talk with a mom who happened to do the same work as I do. She worked in a workspace with some people whom I met during the ATD last year. Great not to talk only professionally but also share how hard it is some times.
Half time was over and still my article was not written. So where did this get me? How did this help me to write about the ATD and how to select a session at the conference?
It helped me to make the difference between two selection strategies: By ratio or by free flow. Choosing by content seems the rational way to go, it is goal-orientated. You can cognitively decide which topic interests you. That gives you a sure outcome and you know what you will get.
On the other hand, if you select by free flow you let yourself be inspired by people. It is engagement-orientated. People who may accidentally sit next to you and start up an engaging conversation. And if you are heading to the next session which you planned, you could let yourself be led by this person. Maybe he or she will invite you for a coffee and automatically you will follow a session where he was planning to go.
This may seem to be a very irrational and non-linear why of choosing your sessions. However, I will tell you why it is a good thing.
Rational thinking is highly overrated, said David Rock, 4 years ago in an ATD conference. That means making decisions from a rational perspective is not always the ‘good’ way to go. Indeed, you can follow it with your brain, you “understand” the choice.
But making a choice by free flow allows you to be flexible and spontaneous. You choose to engage yourself with somebody else and you allow your goal to be inspired by someone else.
In the end, this outcome can be more satisfactory because engaging with other people is the most common form of informal learning that we know. When you engage with somebody, even for a brief moment, it means that you are willing to be influenced by that person and possibly try something new. And you do some great brain-workout at the same time!
So this year when you are attending the conference, you can of course make rational choices about the sessions. Be goal-oriented, use that app and make a plan. But allow some space to become accidentally engaged by someone else; follow someone else’s lead and see where it takes you, it will open up your mind for learning something you wouldn’t think of is worth learning. After the football game, I eventually found the time to write this piece while my son was eating his sandwich. He was proud that he was included in the story. And that nobody past the goal.
Juanita Coble and Adélka Vendl