Friday, May 24, 2013

Becoming an expert learner... by leveraging ignorance

Getting ready for another ethnography project - a week-long training session with a group of folks preparing to launch a new life and work in a European city. Heading over there at the end of July. The friend and colleague I'm working with came up with a clever acronym we may use to organize the training... and maybe his rewrite of a 1995 manual, Exploring the Land.

DELVE: A model to learn about the peoples of your city

D: Discover (background work)
E: Explore (go out and make observations)
L: Learn (get into conversations, ask questions, delve into deeper issues)
V: Verify (pool what you get, study it, and confirm it with others)
E: Express (share what you found with stakeholders and supporters)

Like it?

As we launch the first part of D: Discover, I'm a little impatient. I'm sure there's a lot of info out there and want to make sure we learn all we can before we dive into field work. And I'm a little insecure: I've never been to the new host city, except for hanging out in the airport in transit to Africa or Asia, and I know very little about it. On the other hand, I've done this kind of work in a lot of places and am at least as comfortable in the role of a learner as in the role of an expert. Guess I've been doing this long enough that I'm becoming an expert learner.

Maybe that's why, in building bridges with people, I find myself alternating between volunteering information to show I'm savvy, and asking big, open-ended questions as if the other person knows everything and I know nothing.

All things considered, I think leveraging my ignorance works better than leveraging my knowledge. Probably because there's much more of it!

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