Category Archives: ADLT 610

What I Found Out

My first post this semester posed the question about the connection between consulting and education. Change seemed to be the commonality, and while I do still think that facilitating change is an important part of the role of both the educator and the consultant, I now see other connections, too.

During my first class in this program, I came to the realization that it was not just the students who had the opportunity to learn — that as a teacher / facilitator, I had the chance to learn something from each class, too. I was reminded of this when I read Ward Mailliard’s story in Block’s book. Ward brought Block’s ideas about flawless consulting to the classroom in a way that gave his student more control over their own learning. In turn, he wondered, “What could I learn from my students that would allow me to be more effective in the learning environment?” I wondered the same thing when I was designing a volunteer training program and decided that I “have the opportunity to learn from each session in ways that I can use to rework the program for the next time around.”

Block writes that “our job [as consultants] is to be a learning architect. At our best, we design settings that lead to insight, resolution of differences, and change” (p. 300). This reminded me of what Maryellen Weimer wrote in her book Learner-Centered Teaching that faculty should be “instructional designers who put together challenging and complex learning experiences and then create environments that empower students to accomplish the goals” (p. 18). For me, though, it’s not just the shift from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered environment. I hope to take it one step further to create a learning-centered environment where we all have the opportunity to learn from each other.

So how does one create such a setting? It seems to come back to dialogue and asking the right question: why?

The questions that heal us and offer hope for authentic change are the ones we cannot easily answer… the why questions are designed for learning and change… It is in the dialogue about these questions that change occurs (Block, pp. 305-307).

The ‘why‘ question is a powerful intervention because it often forces the client to focus on something that he had taken entirely for granted and to examine it from a new perspective (Schein, p. 51).

Getting an honest answer to the Why? question… controls your responses to all the [instructional] design questions that follow…We ask the Why? question before determining appropriate content and learning objectives… Inattention to this step in design can result in inappropriate or irrelevant content (Vella, pp. 33-34).

So asking the right questions is the key to learning. Wait, I think I’ve written about this before. Yes, it was in a post about Action Learning. Great questions always lead to great reflection. Great reflection always leads to great learning. And great learning always leads to great action. So now, not only do I have a better understanding of how learning about consulting skills can enhance my role as an educator, I have also discovered ways in which being in the consultant role can provide me with learning opportunities, too.

Bring on the Capstone class!

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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in ADLT 610


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Thinking about Dialogue… Part 2

Several areas of my recent readings about dialogue prompted me to think about ideas I had wrestled with while reading Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget including collective wisdom, fragments and bits, and of course the cephalopod.

Collective Wisdom

Both Edgar Schein and Nancy Dixon discuss the benefit of dialogue as resulting in a better and more creative solution than any one person could have contemplated. While I tend to agree with this, I do see that when taken to extremes, collective wisdom can become group think which can lead to what Lanier calls the noosphere or hive mind. Lanier argues quite emphatically against the idea that quantity, at an extreme scale such as you would find on the Internet, will produce quality. While Schein and Dixon are not talking about dialogue on a scale that large, it begs the question that Lanier asks “whether it is possible to map out where the one is smarter than the many” (p. 56).

In support of the collective wisdom of the group, I give you Gamers who come together in online communities and have solved some of the most perplexing problems through cooperation and collaboration. For a quick overview, read this blog post; for a more exciting look into this online community, view Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk. (I wonder what Schein would think of these groups and their prowess at problem-solving as I’m reading now his ideas on the interpersonal processes involved in building and maintaining groups… perhaps something to explore in a later post.)


I was quite taken with Dixon’s summary of David Bohm’s theory, and I was pleased to see that Schein based much of his discussion on Bohm’s work. As a physicist, Bohm views the world as an “unbroken flowing whole” (as quoted in Dixon, p. 10). Dixon goes on to describe Bohm’s frustration with the way people see the world not as a whole but as bits or fragments. Bohm’s “objection to a fragmentary view of the world was that it disposes people to think of the divisions between things as absolute and final rather than as having a limited utility and validity” (p. 11).

Lanier spends a great deal of time laying out his ideas about how we present ourselves in bits and fragments to the point where “the deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits” (p. 20) and “this information underrepresents reality” (p. 69). It would seem to me that Lanier might agree with Bohm (and Schein) that “dialogue is a way to apprehend the meaning of others and to thereby experience the wholeness of the world” (Dixon, p. 11).

The Platypus and The Cephalopod

Schein retells the story of when the platypus was discovered and the ensuing controversy about how to classify it — was it a mammal, a reptile, or perhaps a bird? While this speaks to the natural inclination of people to look at things as fragments, trying to fit something new into an existing schema, this story also reminded me of two areas Lanier discusses — language and what Lanier calls post-symbolic communication.

The more direct comparison is with Lanier’s discussion of language, which he describes as “built up from entries in a catalog, not from infinitely morphable patterns” (p. 165). He goes on to say that “while language has become richer over time, it has never become absolutely precise” (p. 169), thus our inability to define the platypus. This leads me to one of my favorite quotes from Lanier’s book: “it seems pointless to insist that what we already understand must suffice to explain what we don’t understand” (p. 51) — an idea I think Bohm would support as he claims that “we have to have enough faith in our world-view to work from it, but not that much faith that we think it’s the final answer” (as quoted in Dixon, p. 11).

Which brings me finally to the cephalopod and Lanier’s ideas of postsymbolic communication which could “give rise to a vivid expansion of meaning” (p.190). Watch as this cephalopod morphs into its surroundings:

Suppose we had the ability to morph at will, as fast as we can think. What sort of language might that make possible? Would it be the same old conversation, or would we be able to ‘say’ new things to one another (Lanier, p. 190)?

And what implication might that have on dialogue?


Dixon, N. M. (1996). Perspectives on dialogue. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Lanier, J. (2011). You are not a gadget. New York: Vintage Books.

Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in ADLT 610


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Thinking about Dialogue… Part 1

As I read both Schein’s and Dixon’s views on dialogue this week, I was making connections back to two of the more influential authors I’ve read during my coursework in this program — Jane Vella and Jaron Lanier. As often happens when I think about Lanier’s work, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how to integrate his views on language, communication, and how we process information with what Schein and Dixon say, so I will start with the connections I made to the work of Jane Vella.

Dialogue and Education

In her book, On Teaching and Learning, Vella introduced me to dialogue education, which she defines as “a state of mind, moving us to listening, respecting, doubting, reflecting, designing, affirming, considering options, and celebrating opposites” (p. 11).

The dialogue Vella advocates is not between teacher and student, but amongst the learners, one of whom is also the teacher. However, Vella is quick to note that this is not a learner-centered model, but a learning-centered model. As with much of what I read about dialogue from Schein and Dixon, it is about creating the process by which decisions can be made, problems can be addressed, or as Vella would advocate, learning can be achieved. The teacher or consultant takes on the role of facilitator rather than expert, leaving the real work to be done by those participating in the dialogue.

A Safe Environment

According to Vella, “dialogue education springs from a place of goodness, integrity, and commitment to equity” (p. xii). Only in such an environment are learners willing to share their experiences as freely as they are to admit to their questions. How many times have you stifled a question because you didn’t feel safe to ask it?

Both Dixon and Schein discuss the notion of safety as a cornerstone of creating successful dialogue. Dixon describes the outcome of dialogue as unpredictable and warns that “if a forum is created in which dialogue can occur, it must be accepted that some of the beliefs that people hold sacred will be challenged” (p. 31). Her view is that dialogue is a relationship “in which the other is valued, trusted, and an equal whose ideas are respected if not always agreed with” (p. 28).

Schein speaks to this idea of the safe environment more from a perspective of creating equality within the group by incorporating basic group dynamic principles:

  • Group members need to feel equal in that setting even if there are status differences outside of that setting
  • Group members should be given equal time to speak and contribute to the discussion (although once the actual dialogue starts, Schein says it is okay to “suspend” or refrain from talking if you are taking note of how you are processing the dialogue in terms of your own tacit assumptions and are open to hearing differing opinions)
  • Group members will likely need to draw on personal experience to begin to frame the idea of dialogue (p. 206)

This last point reminded me of what Vella calls induction or “anchoring the new content into their context” (p. 62). Dixon points out that dialogue is not an unfamiliar idea. She and Schein both base their theories on the assumption that everyone can recall a time when they had good communication. It is from that shared understanding that they build their theories about how dialogue can be brought into the workplace.

The Collective Good

Is the group greater than the sum of its parts? Schein states that “an important goal of dialogue is to enable the group to reach a higher level of consciousness and creativity” (p. 203), and Dixon talks about how through dialogue “the result is likely to be an understanding of the issue that is richer, more integrated, and more creative than any one individual… is likely to produce” (Johnson and Johnson as cited in Dixon, p. 35).

While Vella feels that the responsibility for learning always lies with an individual, she says that “learning is supported and nourished by the small group” (p. 67). In her discussion of learning tasks, she says it’s not about the group working together to complete the task as much as it is about creating learning for all through the task (p. 68). This echos the idea of promotive interaction — “individuals encouraging and facilitating each other’s efforts to achieve, complete tasks, and produce in order to reach the groups’ goals” (Johnson and Johnson as cited in Dixon, p. 18).

Preview of Part 2

This idea of the collective good is where I think I may start when I tackle the post about integrating Schein’s and Dixon’s theories of dialogue with Lanier’s feelings about collective wisdom. And I will be remiss if I don’t take the opportunity to springboard off Schein’s discussion of naming (and the platypus story) to share Lanier’s views on communication, computationalism, reality… and cephalopods. (How’s that for a teaser!)


Dixon, N. M. (1996). Perspectives on dialogue. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Schein, E. H. (1999). Process consultation revisited. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

Vella, J. (2008). On teaching and learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Posted by on November 3, 2013 in ADLT 610


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Those Who Can… Do. Those Who Can’t… Consult?

You’ve probably heard that title phrase before, whether in relation to consulting, teaching, or coaching. But is that really a fair statement that consultants (teachers or coaches) can’t do the task? Or is it that they shouldn’t be doing, but rather helping others to do.

Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner at Connecticut-based Schaffer Consulting recently asked a group of MBA students to define what it means to be a consultant. He says, “they quickly rattled off phrases such as ‘trusted advisor,’ ‘problem-solver,’ ‘objective 3rd party,’ and ‘subject matter expert.’ What was interesting was that none of their definitions mentioned the word ‘results.'”

At first glance, that omission seems to be okay within the confines of what I’ve learned so far about the particular type of consulting known as process consulting. The idea behind process consulting, as Schein says, is “how powerful it is not to tell people what to do, but to create a situation where they have to think it through for themselves.” Schein postulates that the client should own both the problem and the solution. “At the core of this [Process Consulting] model is the philosophy that clients must be helped to remain proactive, in the case of retaining both the diagnostic and remedial initiative” (p. 20). But does this really mean that the consultant is off the hook for what does or doesn’t come from their work?

In Flawless Consulting, Peter Block takes a very direct approach in terms of the consultant’s role. “Your responsibility as a consultant is to present information as simply, directly, and assertively as possible and to complete the task of each of the phases of the consultation” (p. 50). He says that taking on responsibility for tasks that belong to the client are detrimental to the consulting process. “In the final analysis, you [the consultant] are not responsible for the use of your expertise and recommendations. If consultants really believe that they should be responsible for implementing their recommendations, they should immediately get jobs as line managers and stop calling themselves consultants” (p. 46).

Let’s go back to Ashkenas’ notion that “shielding of consultants from the responsibility to achieve results is potentially dangerous both to the consultants and to the managers who hire them.” This would seem to be in direct conflict with Block’s approach. And yet, if we really dig into what Ashkenas see as “results,” we find a concept that he, Block, and Schein can all agree on.

Ashkenas says the consultant’s work should “focus more on what’s possible and has the best chance of making an impact – instead of on what’s theoretically ‘right.'” Block says consultants need to “understand enough about the politics of the situation to see how it will affect your project and the implementation of your recommendations.” And, I believe, both of these ideas are echoed in Schein’s second principle — always stay in touch with current reality — which takes into account that “current assumptions and perceptions create that reality and how they [consultants and clients] should best deal with that reality in terms of the client’s intentions to improve the situation” (p. 6). Therefore, the result that consultants should be held accountable for is to deliver a recommendation that is achievable given the current environment and constraints.

This all hits home for me as we start planning for our initial meeting with our client this weekend. What will we actually be offering the client? A plan? A solution? Something even more tangible such as a new website? What does the client think we’re offering? What deliverable will have the best chance of making an impact? How can we begin to discover the politics that might affect the implementation? What should we be listening for to begin to piece together the current reality?

It seems to me that doing something — creating a new website or writing press releases about upcoming shows — might be easier. But if we don’t bring the client through the process with us such that he understands how to keep driving traffic to the website or how to write a compelling press release, then we’ve failed in our attempts to help our client. Consulting takes “doing” to the next level and leaves the clients with the tools to do for themselves.

I started with a quote that was not so flattering, so I shall leave you with one that is much more flattering, and to my mind, much closer to the truth.



Posted by on September 28, 2013 in ADLT 610



The Connection Between Consulting and Education

I have spent much of the last four years making connections between my marketing career and my academic pursuits in adult education. While I wondered at first if pursuing an M.Ed. after a 20 year career in marketing “was a hard left-hand turn down a completely new path,” I soon realized the myriad similarities. So it is again that I find myself trying try to wrap my head around the connection between consulting and education.

A few weeks before class started, I came across an interview with Dan McGinn, Senior Editor for Harvard Business Review, who wrote an essay entitled “Inside Consulting’s Black Box.”  During the interview, McGinn mentions a book by Martin Kihn who worked for a few years at Booz Allen, one of the big consulting firms. According to McGinn,

The book actually sheds a lot of light on the [consulting] industry… and [Kihn] really does describe what it’s like to live the life where you wake up at the crack of dawn on Monday, your suitcase is all ready, and you fly into some company you know nothing about and work really hard to try to figure out something smart to tell these people.

Exactly… and what does this have to do with adult education?

Peter Block says, “Your goal or end product in any consulting activity is some kind of change.”  And change is something I can easily connect to education. Change often requires the input of new information and some type of implementation phase where you get comfortable with what is new.

But change is scary, and let’s face it… who among us feels they handle change well? I admit, I don’t always. And yet I have been drawn to this field of adult education where things are changing so rapidly that one of the most talked about forces in education today — MOOCs — only came on the scene five years ago.

So how do I as an educator — consultant — facilitate change? How do I get someone comfortable with change — which has been described as “often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and, more often than not, terribly unforgiving“?


I don’t know. But I’m here to find out.


Posted by on September 7, 2013 in ADLT 610


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