Empathy as Innovation: Reflections from #LSCon 2018

Nina in front of conference sign
April 04, 2018

Innovating organizational excellence isn’t a catchphrase for EnCompass; it’s the ongoing journey and the ultimate goal. As innovators, we are at the forefront of aligning the latest research in adult education with the growing library of technologies available to support talented human beings contributing to their organizations in smarter ways.

Kai Kight, the first keynote speaker at the eLearning Guild’s 2018 Learning Solutions Conference & Expo, asked the 1,500 attendees to consider our role from the musician’s perspective:

“Mozart was a rebel, an inventor, an outcast. We do him a disservice to play his notes exactly as he wrote them. Instead, let’s compose our own. Because when a performer takes the music forward themselves, there’s no telling where the music can go.”

I’ll take Kai’s word on Mozart’s intention, since he’s a classically trained violinist. His walk into the room allowed us all to experience the power of music and innovation in real time, as if to remind us that learning extends beyond mental activity.

Prize-winning photographer Platon encouraged a similar moment of reflection when he powerfully described photographing an Army widow as she opened the box of her husband’s belongings. At first misinterpreting her tears as resistance to being photographed in a tender moment, Platon soon learned she was crying because the Army had washed his clothes, and she had been hoping to smell her husband one last time.

“Did you feel that?” Platon asked the audience.

Indeed. We did.

In that moment, we felt immense compassion for that woman’s loss. It is in that response of compassion where Platon believes the gem of storytelling exists. That is where empathy begins.

Throughout my time at this year’s Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando, Florida, I held these themes of composing my own notes and considering the role of empathy in learning. My two contributions to the conference, as a panel speaker examining the Present and Future of Virtual Classroom Tools and as a concurrent session presenter on Web Conferencing for the Low-Tech World, I referenced these themes, keeping them in the forefront of my mind.[1]

It’s easy to be distracted by the latest success stories at DemoFest (where new technologies and software to support adult learning were on display), learning research from practitioners, or development processes from the more than 50 concurrent sessions. Not to mention the Expo Hall, which was filled to capacity with software tools to build anything from e-learning modules to translation apps to an entire learning management system. Yet how do they fit into the larger ecosystem of a lifetime of learning experiences? And, perhaps more importantly, how do they fit into the larger scope of my life?

It wasn’t until the final keynote that some of these pieces fell into place. Nancy Giordano, a strategic futurist and self-described optimist, described her three requirements for innovation toward a future that works: processes embedded in empathy (such as design thinking), collaborative tools, and the integration of compassion. I realized that our work at EnCompass reflects innovation in its core, because these themes are essential to our values. Our success invites empathy and compassion to sit at the table, giving a voice to what was once voiceless. The systems we use internally and with our clients reflect this, as do the learning experiences we design. I see this integration not as “nice to have,” but as fundamental to distorting “business as usual,” because, as Nancy says:

The “EnCompass Love” that our clients praise doesn’t happen by chance: we embed it purposefully to guide us toward the visions of success our clients desire. We are careful to expand traditional definitions and integrate the diverse aspects of our clients, learning participants, and ourselves in order to create a resilient and hopeful global community. As EnCompass continues to innovate toward excellence, I feel affirmed that our industry is moving toward a whole-human approach to learning. 

[1] Slides from Nina’s concurrent session presentation are available on the Conference Handouts & Resources page.

Images c/o Nina Talley Everflow and EnCompass LLC. All rights reserved.


Laurie Jones Ne...

Great blog post, Nina. I'm so glad other folks got to sample some of your amazing talent and wisdom at the conference! 

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