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The Medium is the Message

During my regular weekend run through the park last weekend I saw something that made me chuckle and smile: a running instructor on a bike! This picture stayed with me as the absolute worst thing any leader in learning or change could do. Why? The medium is the message!*

Another example… This year I was invited to join TEDxEducation in Amsterdam. I happen to be a great fan of the format and all the inspiring talks offered online. However, there was something fundamentally wrong with the set up of this live event. With exception all talks pointed out how our current (primary) school system is in fact an old legacy from the industrial age. Literally one speaker addressed the fact that: “one of the most praised qualities of a child today is the ability to sit still – which is very unfavorable for learning since moving works”. It’s time to build upon current knowledge about the effect of playful and collaborative learning. In other words: we should all rethink our beliefs and practices in education. Now guess what we did there almost all day during these talks? Exactly, sit, watch and listen. Apparently it is really hard, even for experts on learning, to match medium with message, although we all know the consistency has a huge impact on the effect.

How do you fully connect medium to message?

Step 1. is about getting absolutely clear what you have to bring forward. If you had only 30 seconds: what would you express?

Step 2. is about the desired effect of your message. What would you like your audience to do, think or feel differently after?

Step 3. is about your actions while you take the ‘stage’. What could you do yourself to show that behavior, thinking or feeling in the room and support your message?

Step 4. is about your approach. What experience, small or large, could you offer your public to invite the desired behavior, thoughts or feelings? Make that approach explicit and let your participants reflect on that, for an experience they won’t easily forget.

An illustration of recent practice: leadership development

Recently, together with a group of talented doctors and colleague Jouke Kruijer, I worked on leadership with medical specialists at MC Slotervaart. Our aim was to experience what kind of leaders the doctors could be. Message in 30 seconds: leadership comes in many shapes and forms and the best leaders know how to shift from one style to another when fit for purpose. The full range roughly lies between control and letting go (step 1). After the program I wanted the specialist to have had to opportunity to practice with this variety of leadership styles and to see what fits them and where development is an option (step 2).

We as facilitators developed these days with plenty of room for different angles and preferences in leadership. We also literally took the time to reflect on our leadership behavior as facilitators in front of the group (step 3). It didn’t stop there. We created a learning environment where participants could be actual co-creators of the training. We supported them by providing tools to take ownership of what was challenged in the group or what themes were explored. We continuously invited them to reflect on that at the same time: how do you lead here, where do you give trust now and where do you take charge in your own way? (step 4)

So the Medium is the Message. Let’s take this statement one step further for the brave reader. Some claim: “Your Mess is the Message” since there is nothing more interesting and insightful than to see the expert or leader struggle themselves from time to time, is there? What could you as a leader through change or learning do to enhance your message?

*Medium is the Message is one of the main principles within Nyenrode Business University. Read more about my current work at Nyenrode Executive Education and Organizational Development.

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