Five lessons we learnt at LearnFest

Rich and friends at learnfest

A couple of weeks ago, Rich and I packed our bags and headed off to a festival, ahem, conference, like no other: LearnFest.

Three days of learning and adventuring on the banks of Lake Windermere was a recipe for fun – especially when you throw in the seriously diverse group of people we were with, ranging from bankers and car-makers to reggae teachers and mountain climbers.

Here are a few things we took from it…

Never give up

The quality of the speakers at LearnFest were so good that they made you feel inspired and an under-achiever in equal measure. From Fraser Doherty, aka Jam Boy, sharing his inspiring journey from making jam with his grandmother to selling millions of jars worldwide, to Hamish Wilson fighting Ebola in tough and complex conditions in Sierra Leone.

The one lesson I drew from these inspiring tales was, no matter the challenges, if you believe in what you are doing, don’t give up…

…unless your job can be turned into a flowchart

However, another of the amazing speakers, the futurologist Ben Hammersley, warned us that jobs that were just really big flowcharts would soon be done by Artificial Intelligence – even jobs you would consider as complex such as doctors and lawyers. If you see technology that you think is rubbish now, chances are in a few years’ time it will be disrupting your business.

If you don’t believe that, just ask Kodak, who invented digital photography, but thought the image quality was so poor that they ditched it to focus on making more film. Ouch.

Lighten up and let a bit of yourself shine through

“People fall in love with your eccentricities and idiosyncrasies” starts Catto in the final keynote session. “You never hear people saying, ‘Have you met Brian? Ooh, he’s so appropriate’”. Despite this we try and hide these slightly crazy versions of ourselves from others, instead following the silent contract that we should all be ‘normal’.

The environment at Learnfest means that you quite easily shed these barriers and let a bit of your true self shine out, whether it be while you are wild swimming, learning how to make a reggae track or joining lots of other ‘professionals’ to have a boogie on the dance floor.

Catto highlighted how we tend to take off these masks of normality at events like Learnfest and questioned why we do this for just three days a year and are serious for the rest. Although, if this means next year’s LearnFest will instead be SeriousFest, it will not be half as much fun!

However, I don’t think we have much to worry about at Do Nation – we let our idiosyncrasies shine through pretty brightly.

Use your fear

For the first time since 1994, I sang in public. Not since my primary school singing teacher took me to one side and asked me to mime the words “otherwise I might ruin the school concert” has anyone heard me sing, other than by accident or alcohol.

Until LearnFest, that was. Let me explain. We’d been doing a workshop with Steve Chapman on “failing happy”, learning to combat our fear of failure. It had begun with us all shouting out silly actions and rhyming words, each trying to be humorous but not too risque in our improvisation. Throughout this, some childish fear had taken over me and I’d been too scared to utter a word, in case shouting “chair!” might cast some terrible light on my personality.

But then Steve cranked it up a notch, and got us all to incorporate our improvised words into a nursery rhyme, that we were to sing in turns around the big circle. Sing, I heard. Solo. In front of 20 – 30 people (all of whom I was essentially hoping to turn into clients). I couldn’t imagine anything more painful.

It came to my turn and I was so terrified that I didn’t even think about the improvised words that came out of my mouth. But in fact, they were quite good (albeit deafeningly out of tune). Funny, even. And rhyming.

The point being that my fear of singing had overshadowed my fear of improvising, and as a result finding good words actually became easy. So what have I learned from this?

a) That singing didn’t kill me.

b) You can use your bigger fears to help you conquer your smaller ones. Which makes me think, perhaps I should be using my fear of us not finding a solution to climate change and sustainability to combat my fear of making sales calls.

Mixed motivations

And finally, a lesson from our own workshop: when it comes to forming new habits, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint one specific motivation for the change.

We discussed various behaviour changes we’d made, ranging from stopping lunch-time boozing to using reusable carrier bags, and tried to isolate the main motivation. Did they make the change for their own personal good, the greater good, or because of some form of social pressure?

There were almost no examples where it was that simple – once again, that phrase that I mastered during History GCSE came into it’s own: it was down to a combination of factors.

Generally, competition is a great way to encourage people to turn their heads and give it a go, but finding a personal motivation to keep it up is the real key to long term behaviour change – whether that’s health, convenience, fitness or finance. Meanwhile, a thought of the greater good sits quietly but firmly in the background, keeping us on the right track.

So there we have it. Five lessons from LearnFest. It was going to be six: it also taught me to make space for a little bit of adventure every day. But it turns out that’s just not so easy down in London – wild swimming in the Regent’s canal doesn’t have quite the same appeal…

Impact International have also put together a short film showing some of their highlights LearnFest 2015, see if you can spot any of the Do team:

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