The Conspiracy of High Content

March 3, 2014 Emotional Intelligence

Yesterday I came across a LinkedIn posting “Are you tired of going to xyz conferences that revolve around famous speakers and rah, rah, go team motivational sessions, but don’t have enough hard-hitting sessions on the real world challenges?”

After 16 years as a professional speaker and partner in a non-profit management team I have seen both sides of the high content crusade but if we apply a little System Two thinking there are some very real disconnects to our high content conclusions.


1–First you have to differentiate between high content and high levels of adaptation.  Is high content of any value if it is not actively applied?

2–Problem two is that any high-content that has to be distilled into a matter of hours or even days must be overly simplified and simple answers to complex questions are most often wrong.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
H. L. Mencken

3–Challenge three is attention span which according to Dr. John Medina in his best-selling book Brain Rules is a maximum of ten minutes. If you’re going to keep anyone’s attention you must also be interactive and/or entertaining.  So is entertainment (engagement) value not high content?  It is certainly the most difficult part of the process.

4–Fourth is applying any snapshot of leading edge content over time may be entirely irrelevant.  I have had the privilege of seeing Tom Peter’s frothing at the mouth storm through an audience raging about the undeniable lessons contained In Search of Excellence at $100,000 a speech.  I have also been a devout student of Jim Collins Built to Last.  Yet under the algorithmic acuity of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman the performance of those companies espoused by either of these award-winning authors as clearly superior have turned out to be largely average.*

I am not disparaging the value of any great content speaker.  I work very hard to be someone who helps organizations move from acceptable to exceptional by studying the best practices of the world’s greatest leaders and organizations.  But I also understand that the real value of any great content speaker is not the solutions they offer but the questions they inspire.

The real value of meetings is not education but exploration.  Adventuring outside the confines of our own illusions to consider new possibilities.  The most significant take home value is not content but curiosity because the greatest challenge will not be applying what is new but in gradually, consistently, persistently replacing what is old.

Change is hard but evolution is energizing.  The most important question to ask someone returning from a conference is not “what did you learn?” but what are you desperate to learn.  What will you try?  How often are you willing to fail and where will you look for kindred spirits to share your journey?

Flip SchoolsAssociations and meeting planners need to stop looking for high content and start creating high connection.  Take a tip from flip schools.  Don’t wait for the event to engage.  Share the content in easily digestible bits and pieces all the while encouraging conversation, inspiring experimentation and demanding discussion.

We don’t need more nodding heads any more than we want nodding off.  We need debate, disagreement, doubt and discouragement because these are all the precursors to peak performance.

Use your meeting time and design to bring members together in meaning-full conversation not “hey how doing, great couldn’t be better”.  If it couldn’t be better they probably wouldn’t be there.  Create a community where not asking for help is not acceptable.

We all need and want help…we are just afraid to ask.

why am I afraid30 years ago in my accountants office on Rainier avenue in Seattle I found a book that changed the direction of my life.  The book was written by a priest named John Powell entitled Why am I afraid to tell you who I am.   The book started me on a new direction not because of the solutions it shared but because of the questions it ignited.  Why are so many people (me included) afraid?

Here is to your next high connection conference where fear sharing is the ultimate caring.

* try this for an explanation and alternate viewpoint.

Contact Red Shoe Solutions

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