Instead of thinking of content as noun, view it as a verb.
This is the advice of beCause Global Consulting CEO Nadine Hack, who throughout her career has advised Fortune 500 companies, UN Secretary-Generals, heads of state and international NGOs, among others.
“Content as an action amplifies its power,” Nadine explained. “It is in collaborating that we learn the most and find the greatest innovations. Don’t rest on your laurels of what you already know. More ideas mean better ideas. And, it’s in your connections to others that you’ll generate them.”
Nadine doesn’t view herself as the expert with all the answers despite a lifetime of experience in creating content – presentations, blogs posts, interviews – and associating with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King, Barack Obama, Corazon Aquino and numerous other world leaders.
“Every time I write an article or blog post, prepare for a speech or a podcast, ready myself for an interview, I learn far more about subjects on which I’m a so-called expert than I did pre-prep,” she said. “In formulating and clarifying my thoughts, I begin an exciting discovery journey: what new golden nugget of insight can I mine in this exploration? On every topic for which I’m known (e.g., corporate social responsibility, diversity, sustainability, multi-sector partnerships, etc.), there are a gazillion people far moreknowledgeable on it than I. My unique expertise is connecting the dots between people, projects or initiatives. In seeking that thread, I unearth treasure troves.”
For example, this happened to Nadine back in 1999 when she co-produced the first-ever United Nations global video teleconference that connected the UN General Assembly Hall in New York with Nairobi, New Delhi, Mexico City and the EU Parliament in Strasburg in-multi-directional live connection. Via satellite connection, it was broadcast to thousands of universities, community centers and other sites internationally at a time when technology for this type of connectedness was quite nascent.
In planning this unprecedented event, Nadine recalls a particularly challenging moment. She convened 40 representatives from UN departments and outside vendors to sell the idea to this extremely skeptical group. She listened carefully to objections of why it couldn’t be done, all made in highly technical language. While not having a clue of what any of the high-tech, specialized equipment was, she heard their words and mirrored it back to them.
“Oh my, you are geniuses and you’ve solved the problem: X entity has a TSWP 2680 high-speed switcher, which is exactly what Y entity needs,” continuing to enumerate everything that had been stated despite not knowing what any of those actual things were. They enthusiastically responded in pride of what they achieved and unanimously agreed to work together to make it happen. The next day UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told her how he marveled at what she’d accomplished.
This example and Nadine’s points correlate to content learning: creating thoughtful content – books, reports, presentations, designs, articles, videos, podcasts or social media posts – with the goal to crystallize our thinking, grow our networks, spark our curiosity and inspire us to innovate.
Here are four tips from Nadine on how to create content with the lens to learn and connect.
- Be concise. Mark Twain famously said, ‘I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.’ Compelling narratives convey your ideas far more effectively than lengthy jargon backed up by Excel spreadsheets and convoluted graphs. Stories land with people. We rely on them for meaning-making.
- Use simple language. Avoid cumbersome, obscure “internal speak” grasped only by very few who already know exactly what those words mean.
“Frankly, even for those aficionados of acronyms and pie charts, what you think is completely obvious likely comes across as impenetrable mumbo-jumbo,” she said. “Make concerted, focused efforts to distill complex ideas into simple, straightforward language. In doing this, we discover the essence of what we want to express. As we drill down in each iteration, we learn what we fully understand and where we may not yet have truly grasped the nuances of our ideas. We develop.”
- Co-create content when possible. 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. Many have felt more isolated and disconnected to other humans than at any other time in their life. Co-creating content is one way to foster this connection. It is not only with your peers or individuals who have similar credentials as you.
“Treat every person you meet – from the intern to the CEO – with the same level of respect,” said Nadine. “Each new relationship opens the door to new possibilities. Important ideas and new lessons can emerge from anywhere if you are open and curious. Regardless of what goals you seek professionally or personally, you can’t effectively do anything alone; you must engage others. Most importantly, engagement is the best way to learn and grow our critical thinking.”
- Ask probative questions of yourself and your audience. Whether speaking to audience or reaching them with the written word, engaging them enhances your and their learning experience. “In revealing that I don’t know as much as I’d thought, I also invite those I bring on board to expand their curiosity and contribute their knowledge,” said Nadine.
An example of this is when Nadine guides teams to uncover what they’re not looking at but need to. She often does this in her beCause consultancy and working in IMD Business School executive education programs. While challenging them, she presents her vulnerability by saying things like, “while you have tremendous expertise in this subject and I’m a complete novice in understanding even its most basic fundamentals, I wonder if you’ve considered…” and then goes on to point out what is obvious to her about their blind spot. In framing it within the context of her lack of knowledge, she gives them the psychological security to admit that they have missed a key insight. She calls this her ability to enable others to “self-discover” the insights they already know.
In conclusion, Nadine shared: “The more ways I’ve interacted with people from all walks of life in all regions of the world, the more profoundly content as a verb has expanded my learning while simultaneously heightening the knowledge of those with whom I co-create, sparking an amazingly rich learning mindset for each of us. So, go engage and learn!”
Connect with Nadine on LinkedIn.
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Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Experiential Communications and host of the Learning and Development Stories Podcast. He is the creator of the Global Innovators Academy and course instructor for Interview an Innovator, an experience in which students and young professionals, based on their own interests, interview innovators. He helps organizations instill a continuous learning approach through content learning. Contact Kevin to have him support your organization.