Out of the Mouths of Babes

scouts honor

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to accompany my son to the Boy Scouts of America’s annual Camp O’ Ree. Over the weekend, the Scouts planned activities that included fire starting, survival, ready man, rope climbing, etc. What caught my attention was how the activities were planned and run by the Scouts, not the adults. It was the older boys’ responsibility to teach the younger boys – 12-17 year olds were teaching 9 and 10 year olds. They weren’t directed by troop leaders, and were in charge of determining the best methods of learning on their own.

I observed them weighing different techniques like lecture, hands on, simulation, full immersion and demonstration, and it struck me as oddly similar to corporate learning. Something that takes corporate learning executives countless hours of study to understand, the Scouts seemed to figure out so quickly. Even more fascinating than the preparation, was the knowledge transfer. The younger boys learned in a day what they could learn from an adult in six months. None of the boys cried, became frustrated or lost interest. If I tried to teach my son as the older Scouts did, I would have seen a meltdown of epic proportions at the first station of fire starting.

We hear talk these days of flat, leaderless organizations and how it promotes innovation, teamwork, productivity, collaboration. This is exactly what I observed at Camp Snyder.  The scouts are very structured with leaders based on tenure and rank, but within a specific task there was full collaboration and no single leader. Take, for example, the Scouts’ quest to send “Cricketnauts” into space. Basically load live crickets into a model rocket and send upward a couple of hundred feet into the sky. Within minutes, three Scouts and two younger boys decided who would collect the crickets, pack the rock

et, launch the rocket and act as a runner to retrieve the rocket. That would have taken five Project Manager’s (no offense to the PM’s of the world) days to come up with a plan and execute.

So how does my ranting apply to teaching customers and employees? How do our more experienced employees train and share best practices with the younger generations? Do we fully understand how people learn within our companies?  Do we spend the time to find out? As learning professionals, we position ourselves as experts and specialist who will develop solutions to solve our customers’ problems.  But if we do not understand how they learn within their organizations, how can we develop an effective solution?  So much can be learned by watching and observing others… and not always where you think you need to be observing.

The key to success for the Scouts is the peer to peer learning versus relying on the adults to teach them everything.  Employees do this every day in the office but totally unaware of how much knowledge they are receiving from their cube buddy. So if you are a Learning Leader, go horizontal and not vertical to unleash your knowledge transfer. You wonder to yourself, where do I start?  Now is your opportunity to relive your days as a Scout. Start with forming Scout Patrols – employee peer groups to discuss assigned topics, peer based book groups, communities of practice, informal coaching and mentoring partnering.  Also, if you happen to be a learning technology geek like me, you can easily pull the Patrols together with employees located around the world with the right technology platform and tools. Time to get started and start racking up your collection of merit badges.

So what did the Boy Scouts teach me? If you take the time to watch how others learn, you most likely will learn something yourself.

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FOT Background Check

Dan Carusi
As current Vice President & Chief Learning Officer for Deltek, Dan Carusi doesn’t know which he likes more – teaching or learning.  A father of two, Scout leader and coach, Dan is often learning as much from the kids as they are learning from him (or possibly more).  With more than 20 years of experience, Dan is responsible for overseeing Deltek University and the Talent & Learning organization, where he oversees all aspects of talent management, curriculum development, operations & delivery, global employee & customer education and Human Capital consulting – often using what he learns from the kids as tools for teaching, with the end goal of making life-long learners out of everyone.  Teach Dan something at “email”, LinkedIn or @DanielCarusi.

5 Comments

  1. Duane Bailey says:

    Great post! As a former Scoutmaster here in the National Capital Area and the proud parent of an Eagle Scout, I can tell you Dan’s observations regarding the effectiveness of peer-to-peer learning are spot on. What makes peer-to-peer learning work is the trust the adult leaders and the boys place in the boy leaders, many of whom are elected by their peers. As adult leaders, we allow the boys to learn by doing and showing others, even if sometimes it means allowing them to fail. Our intervention is limited and reserved mainly for when their safety could become an issue. No doubt, there are many business leaders who could benefit from Boy Scout adult leader training and the value of allowing their employees to learn from each other.

  2. Barbara Jones says:

    It is truly amazing to see what we can learn from the younger generations and in this case, the Boy Scouts of America. As someone who works in the Project Management sector, I understand the importance peer-to-peer learning and collaboration is to the success of the project. The majority of learning does not happen in the classroom but from working side by side with a peer. The boys seemed to have figured this out so I would encourage Learning Executives to embrace this approach and incorporate it into their corporate learning cultures.

  3. Al Malinchak says:

    Dan your keen sense of observation and the related knowledge transfer of what you learned through your story solidified several trends for L+D in 2013 and beyond as discussed by the Learning and Performance Institute webinar in December 2012. The key take away for me was how the learning was rapid, informal and not structured by an organization, rather the organization provided oversight for the learning to occur naturally. Well done, Thanks Al

  4. Fina says:

    Hmmm perhaps, we adults, tend to complicate things because we believe we live in a more complicated world. Kids on the other hand, have a different take on how the world should be run. They ask a question because they want to know something, and they expect someone who knows the answer will share the information with them. They dont care about budgets, turn around times, or resource allocation.

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