The TLL Goes to BIF

by: Brandon Pousley

“How can an ex-offender entrepreneurship program help redefine blended learning?”

“Why might we consider a Bittorrent bundle a good business decision?”

“And what in the world is a block chain?”

BIF StorytellerThese were just some of the questions asked at this year’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF) Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, Rhode Island. Two and half days of powerful stories about business, history, education, art, adventure, and more brought together 400 innovators to think about how we might reimagine social systems in a rapidly changing world. BIF is focused on catalyzing new approaches to tackle complex challenges. Their annual summit is an opportunity to share the stories of those leaders who are creating change and connect those from across industries and roles to build community around active problem-solving in the social sphere.

Given our mission at the Teaching and Learning Lab, I was eager to learn how diverse organizations are approaching similar challenges, find and explore connections with others, and reflect on my own work. Here are three key takeaways I explored at BIF and three related challenges for the work we do in the TLL.

BIF Takeaway #1 Stories are the most powerful medium.

BIF StorytellerThe only rule for BIF presenters: tell a story. Help us understand who you are and why it is you do what you do. And it works–precisely because there is no gimmick or contrivance. We care about the speaker, and therefore the story because they let us into their world, express authenticity, and tell us their story. The medium of the story engages us by providing a familiar arc that employs emotion and develops empathy. It allows us to understand the journey and not simply the outcome.

TLL Challenge #1 How do we share the work of the TLL so that our audience is equally informed and inspired? How do we position our message so that it is not simply an additional stream, but a valuable and actionable resource?

BIF Takeaway #2 Human-centered thinking enables transformative problem-solving.

Education SketchEvery challenge discussed at BIF2015 appeared remarkably complex and seemingly intractable. Indeed, when looking head-on at any modern social system the opportunities for change are elusive, at best. However, it is by shifting our viewpoint from system to individual that we can achieve clarity. From this new vantage we see that the system is made up of individuals who have unique needs, circumstances, and desires. At this human-scale, we still see challenges, but the possible solutions become smaller, more flexible, and testable. When we begin with the individual we discover new entry points, we consider new opportunities, and we can imagine a path forward.

TLL Challenge #2 How do we discover the most pressing challenges in our community and identify and learn from individuals? How do we best incorporate these findings into our deliverables on high-priority projects?

BIF Takeaway #3 Successful communities thrive because of active members and shared values.

BIF AudienceAs powerful as the BIF storytellers are, the true value of the summit derives from the various connections amongst attendees. The ample breaks, meals, and receptions enable participants to assimilate the stories, reflect on one’s own work, and explore opportunities and challenges with others. It becomes clear that there is a shared understanding–perhaps vulnerability–between participants that facilitates deeper discussion beyond ‘What do you do?’ Communities become tangible during a summit, but that is not the only opportunity for impact. Today there are numerous channels to connect, share, and learn from others. The necessary ingredients are a shared understanding of goals and commitment to presence and action.

TLL Challenge #3 What does a TLL community look like at HGSE and beyond? How do we facilitate active engagement among its members for shared growth?

Photo Credit: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

See also: Event, Organization