Monday, March 16, 2009

Wherefore Passion?

Dave Ferguson has revived the Working/Learning Blog Carnival and has asked for thoughts on "work at learning: learning at work". Here's what's on my mind this rainy Sunday.

My dissertation research focused broadly on communities of practice (CoPs), and narrowly on a single community comprised of workplace trainers who gathered voluntarily to “stamp out bad training”. The group, now in its 24th year of evolving membership, has served members well as a vehicle for developing skills and camaraderie. They worked together to develop workshops and a lengthy train-the-trainer course; they used meetings as an opportunity to “dry run” new programs or activities and get helpful feedback from other practitioners; they learned by watching one another work and by working with one another. The CoP provided them the opportunity to learn about their work while learning while doing their work. (The whole dissertation – be warned, all 345 pages of it – can be found here )

While my interviewees offered myriad motivations for joining and participating, virtually all of them, thinking back on their time as novices, expressed frustrations with being hired, or placed, into positions for which they admitted they did not feel qualified or were inadequately prepared, expressed their lack of clarity about what a trainer did and how one knew if one was doing it well, described their feelings of isolation at being the organization’s only trainer -- or the only one in a training unit interested in improving -- and reported what seemed a shocking indifference about their job performance on the part of their supervisors.

While this may be where they began their work as trainers, by the time they were in my interview pool most described themselves as “passionate” about their work. Where does passion germinate? Why does one worker become passionate where another gives up and moves on to another role? While it was beyond the scope of my study, the matter came up enough for me to start asking, “When did you become passionate about training?” Without fail, the answers tied to feelings of confidence and efficacy. This was not necessarily tied to expertise – some interviewees said they became passionate long before they felt they had achieved mastery – but to a feeling of effectiveness: “When I saw that my training really made a difference.” “When I saw my first ‘a-ha’ moment in a learner’s eyes.” Is it, then, confidence that generates passion? And in turn, is reasonable to infer that it is passion that drives the desire to become more expert? And another thing: Is it a matter of achieving, and feeling comfortable with, the state of "conscious incompetence"? ("I know I don't know everything, but I'm confident that I have the ability to learn more, and I want to?")

Confidence and efficacy over mastery and expertise. Role clarity, feeling one knows what one’s job is, and whether one is doing it well. Finding outlets for overcoming feelings of isolation and the indifference of a supervisor. Comfort in the "I don't know now, but someday I may" zone. Passion may be what drives the desire to achieve mastery.

What does this tell us about our role in developing more passionate learners?


Anonymous said...

Passion seems to fuel so much. A great book about passionate work is "Transforming Work: The Five Keys to Achieving, Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace," by - you guessed it - me, and Patricia Boverie. We use the term "Occupational Intimacy" to describe work one loves in a place that loves them back.

I teach at a university these days, and when I see a doctoral student who is passionate about learning - inquiry, discovery, opening his or her mind to new ideas, when they find themselves going down research paths they had never imagined before - I know I have a potential scholar.

I also have done considerable internal and external consulting and training, and when I see an organization or employee who is eager to learn I know they are going to be much more prepared to adapt to the future than those who are just trying to make it through.

Passion isn't everything, but it's a lot.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Jane

Enthusiasm and passion are not the same. Their juxtaposition bears a similar relationship to that of jumping and flying. In one, the activity is periodic. In the other the vigour is absolute.

W H Auden, when interviewing potential scholars, would ask them why the would want to write poetry. He would not enlist the students who proclaimed they had something to write. He reserved that privilege for those who claimed they had a fascination for words.

Passion is about fascination for the mundane elements of what makes up the thing that one may be charged with being passionate about.

The passionate scholars are like the hero in Auden's poem from The Quest:

"The only difference that could be seen
From those who'd never risked their lives at all
Was his delight in details and routine:

For he was always glad to mow the grass,
Pour liquids from large bottles into small,
Or look at clouds through bits of coloured glass.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth