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Late last night, long after the participants have left for their rooms, the whole facilitation team is still working hard at transcribing, organizing, and illustrating material to update the journals to be printed and ready tomorrow morning.
It's a surprise to see almost two dozen people appear. During the days, the entire crew has been almost invisible, even to other crew members.
When the team puts their work aside and circles up a ring of chairs, it's to start an intense conversation about how the DesignShop session is going, compare their expectations for today with what actually happened, see how far along the participants are, check what still needs to be done, and decide on the plans for how tomorrow's session will begin. Not only are these people suddenly visible, they're noisy. They are talking a mile a minute, unleashing pointed observations about today's session -none of them has missed a thing-making razor-sharp insights about various organizations' problems, and jumping up to the work walls to sketch out ideas on what to do tomorrow.
This theme of the invisible becoming visible, of the hidden pattern of work emerging, helps explain how the DesignShop process works, and why the entire support team does what it does.
Let's take a look at the most visible parts of the invisible.
Matt Taylor begins: "The basic elements of the facilitation process are easily learnable. They are very systematic, uniform practices of how you do support work. With a straightforward understanding of the DesignShop process, as we've described it in our DesignShop facilitation manual, you can facilitate at a 50% or 60% level, in almost any situation you run into.
"Beyond that level, to get the remaining 40% requires a level of mastery, art, understanding of psychology, understanding how the creative process works, business issues, content issues that come from study and experience."
Even looking at the most straightforward parts of the facilitation process resembles peeking behind the scenes at a play, or visiting a special effects workshop for a movie set to see just how they work the magic. It is a science, but it is also an art. In a brief glimpse, we can come to understand at least some of the basic parameters.
The support work done in a DesignShop event is based on:
Those processes include a new range of support services that haven't been available before. Support team members:
Because of the close coupling between environment, tools, and processes, "facilitating" can mean making use of any and all of these aspects. Let's take a concrete example: What can a facilitator do when it's time to get the group to change their pace? You could stand in front of the room in the traditional manner and make an announcement. You could type up and hand out messages. You could change the light levels in the room. You could even put a particular piece of music on the sound system to effect the change. Let's say the group is blocked and distracted: you could use body language, tone of voice, present a model, or get them "pumped up" as immediate ways of managing the group's energy-again, it's all facilitating.
"To do a truly excellent job at providing this kind of intellectual support," says John Poparad, "you would be a combination of a very fine professional valet, a Socrates-like mentor, who understood when to enter the process and when not to, and a little bit of Van Gogh would not hurt-a little craziness and an understanding of when to let craziness go-when not to. Find somebody who has life experience, intellectual ability, and a high energy level."
Chip Saltsman talks about recruiting Ernst & Young people to become facilitators:
It depends on their frame of mind. Half of the people say, "you couldn't pay me enough to do this work." The other half say, "this is the coolest thing I've ever seen; I'd pay you to let me do this."
You either love or hate the idea of a job that is part improvisational actor, part psychologist, part business consultant, scribe, artist, stage hand, researcher, writer...all in one package. For those who love variety, it is the job they have been dreaming about all their lives but "knew better" than to think that anything this eclectic, challenging, fun, and productive was realistic.
DesignShop staff members "cross-train" so that they can scribe, run the video cameras, do research, structure scenarios, speak to the entire group of participants, modify the environment, build the knowledge wall, create and produce take-home work products, understand the creative process, analyze complex business issues-handle all aspects of the process. This calls for people who are generalists, but who can also go to specialist depth in multiple areas.
In any DesignShop event, people "step up" to particular tasks-ones which they find they have passion for-often in their areas of specialization. But even as they focus most on one particular aspect, they are still trying to monitor how the whole event is going. Rather than limiting themselves, their capabilities, and their responsibilities to specific niches, they are always ready to swing over and help in another role-running a camera, moving walls, writing exercises, scribing for a breakout group. Within particular task areas, one person may be in the responsible lead position, and count on all other team members to assist, but the lead in one area also "flies as a member of the flock" to support work in other areas.
When the team cooperation is really clicking, you will see the support team change tasks and direction seemingly without a word being spoken. It's like watching a flock of birds move suddenly east, then sharply south. You can also see leadership change from hand to hand in the team, almost like a flock of migrating birds, where one leader merges back and a new leader simultaneously flies forward to lead the V formation.
The transitions are smooth because team members all stay in contact with the event and with each other. The Process Facilitator coordinates with the actions of the Key Facilitator-the person doing the stand-up work in front of the room. Everyone stays in touch with everyone else. Even the front-of-the room facilitators are in continual touch with the rest of the facilitation team-getting their perceptions, opinions, and ideas-iterating and reformulating the design as they go along. Many times, in the middle of the Wharton DesignShop, we saw Matt or Gail Taylor go around to all the other team members to ask what they see or think is going on. "I do not just go on my own perception," Matt says.
Many times the communication between the facilitation team is non-verbal. Patsy Kahoe, Process Facilitator for the Wharton session, explains:
When I am using music facilitation to call the participants back from their breakout team work, I change the type of music, the tempo, and gradually increase the volume. Everyone starts gathering, usually talking loudly. Meanwhile I am watching the main facilitator-say, Matt-at the front of the room. He is reading the participants, judging the timing of when the group is ready to focus on the next piece of work. It might be as soon as thirty seconds or as long as five minutes after a critical mass of participants is in the room. When that point is reached, I will get a very brief eye contact and an almost imperceptible nod from Matt that means bring the volume down slowly, which creates an empty audio space that he then moves into by speaking to the group and capturing their attention.
The communication can also be non-direct. For example, let's say Gail is up front and mentions a recent article particularly relevent to the current dialogue. Depending on how she says it-the emphasis she uses-a knowledge worker might retrieve the referenced magazine from our library, then stand in the back of the room holding it up so Gail can see it. This gives her the option of taking the magazine and reading an exact quote to the group. A lot of our work is "just in time"-getting information to participants or facilitators as they need it. It's all about being attuned to the environment and the people you are supporting-both participants and fellow facilitators.
Working on a DesignShop team also calls for people who are sensitive to mood and focus, as well as alert to barriers to full performance. The support team does nothing disruptive or destructive to mood and focus, whether it's loudly crunching potato chips, arguing with a fellow support staffer, drifting off into a distracting conversation with a participant, or running within sight or earshot of participants and distracting them from the work.
They need to remain sensitive and responsive to the participants' moods, but always remain clear that the task is to guide the participants safely to being creative, cooperative, and able to achieve the event's goals. A large part of this requires sensitivity on when to be visible or invisible, and how to be visible in the times when visibility is called for.
Jon Foley tells about one DesignShop for a group of distracted, unfocused people, and how facilitation actions, rather than words, can make a huge difference in mood and focus. Jon was Process Facilitator, and responsible for the entire process running smoothly. As Jon watched the Key Facilitator standing in front of the participants, he noticed a problem. As he looked around the space to see how the rest of the support team was doing, he noticed the same problem again and again. "The participants," he figured out, "are infecting us" with their distraction. Part of the job of every member of the DesignShop team is to act as a model of creative, cooperative people, to exemplify that kind of behavior, and encourage that behavior in others. Here, just the opposite was happening.
He called the entire DesignShop team together and told them what he had observed. "We need to take back the energy," he said. "We need to surround the participants with our energy and our focus." The entire team took up positions standing behind the chairs of the participants and just listened. But they listened intently, bringing lots of interest to the task. As the participants began to unconsciously synchronize with the team, they also started to move out of their distracted state and into focused activity. Setting an example, "exemplifying a behavior," is one of the basic ways that people learn. Here, by doing nothing more than standing and listening in a way that encouraged that behavior in others, was a silent piece of facilitation.
Does something like this really work? "It works," says Chip Saltsman of Ernst & Young. "I am as left-brain as they come, and what gets me in a DesignShop is the power I have seen, heard and felt resulting from this process."
The positions that go with a DesignShop event are unique. The names don't fit any job titles you've ever heard before. We just looked at "Process Facilitator," but the rest are equally strange. What is a "Wall Capture Team"? What is a "Knowledge Lead"? Out of the 1215 people who might be working a DesignShop session, we are highlighting these spots to show the range of facilitation that can bring home a result for the participants.
Well, we all know what a project manager is, right? This well-understood role can serve as the start of our understanding of the role of the logistics coordinator for the DesignShop event. This person coordinates and directs the efforts of the support team, deals with the site of the conference regarding things like food and air-conditioning-logistics...that's straightforward enough. Right? Well...maybe that's not all.
The staff brought a large part of the environment with them: the furniture, wall systems, lighting, computers, libraries, art, toys, tools, recording equipment. But the event is taking place in someone else's building. The MG Taylor team begins with an audit of the hotel's environment to identify areas of neglect. They look for adequate natural light and full-spectrum lighting, flexible illumination levels and glare control, fresh air, flexibility in the control of temperature, humidity, and environmental pollution, and high quality acoustics conditions. How many hotels provide great environments? Not many.
If it's missing, they add it. If it's broken, they get it fixed. If it's wrong, they have it removed. With every DesignShop event, the hotel's maintenance staff has to be added to the support team, and must be trained on how to work a DesignShop session. So does the hotel catering staff.
"Our purpose is to create high performance that services the client. This includes the caterers," says Patsy Kahoe.
She explains that due to the importance of the environment, the logistics behind the event can make the difference between success and failure. The critical nature of the role they play is such that the hotel staff is drawn into becoming a motivated and contributing part of the DesignShop staff. No one has ever pointed out to the caterers before that the row of barren tables, not due to be set up with the lunch chafing dishes for another two hours, constitutes a small island of ugliness and boredom that won't help participants focus. Think about going to the movies or a play-you disappear into the story, into the emotion and the experience, until some flaw breaks your concentration, jarring you out of the experience. (If you want a guaranteed example of how little it takes to disrupt your attention, try attending a play by an elementary school class where the little performers don't yet have stage discipline. You can't help noticing the motions as their eyes shift over the audience, looking for friends and family instead of focusing on the performer.)
At Wharton, the hotel staff brought their all to the event. They worked absolutely silently-you couldn't hear a sound that would tip you off to the fact that a bunch of people were setting up or clearing away a buffet lunch for 100. They worked with the DesignShop team to make sure the buffet tables were never an eyesore or even a visually dead spot. In between meals, they instantly dressed the tables in fresh linen, arranged plants, magazines, and tools attractively on top. The first time, a DesignShop knowledge worker showed them how. After that, they had grasped the notion and were doing their own creative, stimulating decor. The catering team working breakfast educated the team working lunch, and they in turn taught the dinner team. Beverages were always available; meals were absolutely punctual; presentations were impeccable; service was superb.
Patsy Kahoe explains how this happens:
My dialogue with the hotel caterers generally starts four to six weeks in advance of the actual event, and focuses on both menus and service. Since everyone will be working long hours, the menus must be planned carefully to sustain energy yet be healthy. I also begin outlining to the catering manager what we are going to be doing, and that we want to incorporate his staff into our team to facilitate the success of the event. Intrigued, they assign us their best people.
The manager and I meet a day ahead of the event with as many of the catering team as possible, from the chef to the busboys. I describe in detail our needs and our reasoning behind those needs, and answer their questions. By this point, everyone is excited to be involved in something out of the ordinary, and they are motivated to be flexible and even more service oriented than usual. By the end of the first prep day they are starting to become part of the team, by halfway through the session they normally have become one with our team. In some instances people from the catering crew have become so involved in the process that they help with tasks that have nothing to do with catering-at one session I found the chef on the floor with our knowledge workers stuffing FedEx packages in a mad rush to beat the FedEx pickup time!
At some DesignShops, the photos of the hotel staff end up on the wall and in journals as acknowledgment. Patsy describes Mary, one of the caterers at a DesignShop that was long ago and far way, who became a part of the team that contributed to the success: "They take great pride: 'this is our work.' The client feels it. Quite literally, the exemplars of what people could be at their maximum and the DesignShop environment encourage the hotel staff to be unusually cooperative and creative. The catering team is inspired, and the participants benefit."
So, rather than being disturbing in its ever-changing nature, the evolution of the environment to support the work at hand happens almost magically via the DesignShop facilitators-invisibly, soundlessly.
When the support team is working well, the food, the pens, the hypertiles appear before they are needed. The participant's reaction might be, "How did it show up? How did that happen? That table was not here. There was no silverware, and now there is."
If the magic is really working, then the participant is completely unaware of the graceful facilitation that made their modeling equipment appear or their empty dishes disappear, or made the breakout room bigger and added a table. Instead, the participants are rapt and focused on their work, just as a theater audience is caught up in the drama and unaware of the stage technician back in the wings running the fog machine. It seems a right and proper part of nature that the lighting should have changed just then, that a fascinating article should appear up on the Knowledge Wall just when you needed that exact information; that you put out your hand and there are the tools that are most useful.
The closest images that we have are of the butler, who soundlessly appears at your elbow with the cold drink just the moment before you realize your thirst, and the valet laying out precisely the right clothes for the day, so you get dressed without hemming, hawing, and discovering that the shirt has a button missing. Now imagine the same level of service provided for your mind.
The goal of all these forms of graphic facilitation is capturing the essence of the participants' thoughts in words and pictures. This work organizes and documents information. It translates discussion and words into vivid, memorable content, images, sequences of images, and relationships.
At the simplest level, the artist is illustrating or reflecting what someone is saying. However, it's more than just an assist to group memory. It is making information useful to others: making lists, charts, spreadsheets, maps.
It is also extracting information. Says Michael Kaufman, "If you see somebody who has an idea but can't get it out, just draw it for them. Don't force them to do it themselves." If the graphic documentor leads the group in developing diagrams, flow charts, maps and visual models, the process may be helping them think through and communicate key concepts and ideas.
A graphic representation can chart the group's evolving ideas. As a session progresses, and as the artist draws pictures of what the participants have to say, concepts begin to appear on the work walls. Then circles and arrows begin to lasso concepts, connecting them to each other, linking them to facts and data lists. As the images accumulate, the group can often see new patterns within its own information.
John Poparad notes: "There is some artistry, but it really requires skill in listening. To do that well, you must understand the essence of the dialogue as well as be able to do the translation into graphics. The deeper the 'artist's' training in logic, communication skills, business concepts, science, and the specifics of the business being discussed, the more value can be added and extracted by the graphics."
Over the course of a DesignShop session with a good crew of scribes and artists, you can see a visual language develop: icons and images to represent key and recurring ideas. Think of a Chinese character-a pictograph-that captures entire paragraphs of information in one or two characters. Write the same information out in English text, and you have pages of information before you arrive at the concept level. With an icon, you have one character, one image, telling a story of central importance to you.
An alert artist can facilitate and crystallize a management change: Chip recalls how, at an E&Y DesignShop event, an artist heard the group seize on the recurrent theme of "escape from Los Colinas," a business unit several participants were trying to leave in order to join a new enterprise.
Escape from Los Colinas: it sounded like film noire, a B movie, Now Playing At A Theater Near You, something right out of the 1940s or 1950s. In minutes, the artist had completed the movie poster that captured the story, the drama, and presented it to the participants.
This quick graphic turnaround is part of the magic that makes DesignShop sessions successful. It is powerfully rewarding to have your ideas become "real" very quickly. The graphic shows that they have transmitted their idea successfully. Now, with art in hand, they have the ability to do it with other ideas. The feedback that they can get fast graphical implementation of their ideas is tremendously motivational.
The value of having an artist, scribe, and modeler on hand, quickly becomes evident to participants. In just a little while, they start grabbing the artists to capture their work. By the end of the DesignShop event, when tactical plans are being developed, the demand for artists soars. Says Chip, "They'll need to convince others about their ideas, or just to transmit ideas like a meme-an idea that goes into another mind and replicates. Very often artwork does the job."
It's not uncommon for the experience to be so valuable that an executive decides that a specialist in knowledge work is what is needed as a personal assistant back home. At one point in Bryan Coffman's career, he worked for man whom he describes as "a one-man DesignShop, a visionary who knows where the financial ends meet. He would come up with an idea, and I would sketch it out for him to give him visual feedback."
Michael Kaufman adds, "What Bryan is doing is creating feedback loops, and iterating the information at different levels-lower or higher." So the graphics can take the ideas, and feed them back more abstractly, and then as more detailed representations. The originator of the idea gets to look at the drawing and say, "Is that what I mean? Is there a piece missing? This makes sense at the abstract level, but what about when we drop to detail? Do I have something else in mind that needs to be captured as well?"
Here the artist was helping the executive iterate his own thinking and develop his own ideas. Just as most of us have a dominant hand, we also have dominant talent sets. This kind of knowledge facilitation helps us at our sticking places. Someone who has been trained in creative process issues will pay attention to how you manufacture an idea, and learn what parts of the process you need help working through.
Michael talks about another person filling a similar role in a different company. But here, the graphics are leveraging the executive's ability to communicate:
There his role is translating the executive's thinking into useful material for other people. He'll do slide shows, desk top publishing, charts, whatever. It scared him a little at first to find himself at high-level or even board-level meetings.
The key was getting things out very fast-making the ideas accessible and available so other people could use them. Without him, the executive probably wouldn't be as effective at getting his ideas implemented.
If you're ever short of ideas of what you want as a bonus or perk, just think about how someone might facilitate for you.
Matt Taylor says: "As the knowledge workers get better at writing the exercises, at doing the graphics, at selecting the music...there is less work to be done by the standup facilitator."
The obviously visible position of Facilitator-whether the Key Facilitator who stands in front of the room, or the Facilitators in breakout groups who may metamorphose instantly from Scribe to Facilitator to Modeler-begins to take us a further step into the invisible patterns of the process.
Rob Evans of Ernst & Young gives his perspective: "What the person in the front of the room does is more about design than facilitation. I would call the person a 'designer.' The term 'facilitation' is misleading. It suggests that people who consider themselves facilitators already have the skills, and they can step into this environment using their old processes and get DesignShop process quality results."
The Key Facilitators have worked in-depth with the sponsor to come up with a design which will become the journey for this DesignShop event. Over the weeks prior to the session, the design of this journey has been further discussed, explored, rethought, and reconfigured by the entire support team until it has matured. The entire team has come to have a common vision of the goal of the journey and a sense of the shape that journey will take. The Key Facilitator's knowledge should be the most in-depth imaginable.
The nature of the design and the vision of the journey rest on several foundations:
As the Key Facilitator stands in front of the room, as the Process Facilitator watches and "takes the pulse" of the participants, as scribes scribe and writers write, they all keep two images in mind simultaneously. One is the vision of where the participants have to be to achieve the goal; the other is a no-nonsense evaluation of where the participants are right now. Are they learning? Are they stuck? Are they where they need to be?
As long as learning is going on, and the participants are moving toward the goal, the design for the DesignShop activities is considered valid. The Key Facilitator is there to keep implementing the design: to keep the learning going, to exemplify desirable behavior, to prevent dysfunctional behavior, to keep the group working the problem until they have extracted maximum value, to urge them on if they have come to closure too soon.
DesignShop facilitation calls for a different type of interaction than what is customarily done by people called "facilitators" or "management consultants." The Key Facilitator role, in particular, is a wonderful lens to use in focusing on just how different this style of work is from the way things are normally done in a non-DesignShop environment.
The facilitator is not the star. The ideal facilitator would be invisible to the participants; the environment would be so compelling and the exercises so engaging that the work of the facilitator would never actually be noticed.
Most traditional rules of facilitation are designed to protect the facilitator. For example, traditional facilitators are not supposed to be engaged, and they aren't supposed to be knowledgeable about content issues. They are just watching the process. This, in effect, is to protect the facilitator from the participants.
In a DesignShop session, the facilitator needs to be a model, an exemplar of being cooperative, communicative, and creative. Hiding out behind a wall of rules, not engaging in discussion, not contributing ideas, not disclosing feelings and thoughts isn't going to cut it. Rather than being buffered by and sheltered by these facilitation rules, the facilitator is called on to place himself or herself on the line and in the path of direct conflict, if that is what it takes for the objectives to be met, for the company to succeed.
"In certain threatening circumstances," says Matt Taylor, "I will deliberately show complete openness, expose my vulnerabilities to the whole group, at a very early point. It tells them it is OK. I have to exemplify the behavior I want them to display."
An obvious implication is that facilitators experienced in traditional techniques need to dump their standard intervention strategies for controlling behavior. A traditional facilitation technique classifies people according to "types" and justifies mistreating them in ways that lets the facilitator control their behavior-say, by moving up in front and turning his back on a "dominator type." Other forms of encounter groups "legitimize" facilitator safety while brutalizing participants. Not acceptable here.
Chip offers this comment: "This is not an encounter session. It is not an intervention. It is not a 'group-grope' and it isn't brainstorming." None of these traditional methods exemplifies the behavior of people being creative, cooperative, and performing at their maximum.
People are not "types" to be controlled-they are individuals who all have the potential to be creative, cooperative and full of good ideas. Chip exemplifies this attitude when he talks about facilitating "difficult types": "I love it when a breakout team complains that one of their members is being cynical and shooting down ideas. Because once someone cynical latches onto an idea, he or she can really take that idea and run with it. And a cynic adds value through not letting the team get carried away on a positive tide of groupthink."
Traditionally, facilitators learn to split between process and content. They are also taught to believe that they can be "objective"-detached and indifferent to the content, focused purely and cleanly on process. But consciously or subconsciously, any facilitator is going to make process decisions based on content. So unless facilitators understand that they are unavoidably in the content already, they are doing a disservice to the client.
Here, everyone is in the game with participants; no one stands on the outside. DesignShop facilitators contribute their own content ideas if they have them, but they don't pretend they are content-neutral. And as we've seen, DesignShop facilitators offer outstanding business insights.
Facilitating a DesignShop event doesn't require any single style of facilitation. Facilitators can and do work in a variety of different styles. Different styles are often much better at various points during the process development. You pick your strengths, and from that set you develop your style of facilitation. Any style is appropriate as long as the facilitator is willing to invest in the design process, to take risks, to be very open, to be a co-designer, to collaborate in the work, and to stay focused on the outcome.
People who have done facilitation work before tend to miss the integration of environment, tools, and processes that make the DesignShop experience work. Sometimes they identify a particular feature, understand its importance, but then assume that this will give them all the magic. They'll say, "Hey, those big work walls are great. I'll get those and then I'll have the whole thing." Although big work walls are a tremendously useful tool, there's a lot more to the DesignShop process than just this.
Other folks will notice some aspect of the process and think that this is the magic ingredient. "Ah," they'll say, "I'll take my standard exercise and add this detail to it." Or they will think, "Oh, the big deal is that it is interactive, so I'll make my exercise interactive." Or, "Hey, the exercises are written, so I'll make them written." Or, "I get it-stay in Scan a long time." True, very true, but that's not all.
Traditional facilitators walk in with a preset program which they are going to run participants through. That is not what is going to happen here: the journey changes to accommodate the needs of the participants.
Or, "traditionalists" will try to turn it into a rote formula. This is like saying, "The Wharton DesignShop facilitators used these exercises in this sequence, so I'll just tweak this a little and use it for solving our unique business problem." This is a guaranteed waste of time, and possibly even harmful.
The problem in all these examples is that people are seeing the pieces without seeing how a DesignShop event comes together as a whole.
Back within the circle of the facilitation team, there is no question that they see the design as a whole. They understand the creative process issues that have been woven into it, and how to evaluate where the participants stand and where they need to go. The analysis is roaring along and appearing on the workwalls-multiple conversations all focused on these issues. Consider these diagnostic comments the facilitator team made: "They are having a problem with their identity; they aren't sure who they are now that the situation has changedthey need to spend more time with their vision...this group is confusing the bottom line with their motivation for being in business." The team put their fingers right on the areas of weakness for each group. Figuring out what experiences, what exercises, what adventures need to be created to help the participants solve their problems tomorrow is a primary function of the facilitation team.
What is going on here is happening at very high speed. But if you filmed it, and then slowed it down, playing it frame by frame, you could see that for this work they are using the same design and process principles on themselves that are being used in the DesignShop event at large. It is happening so fast that the stages all seem to blur together... What are we here for...the parts of scan...focus...act...test...back to scan...vision...identity...building...testing...revisiting the cycle again.
Tomorrow, all external signs of this design process will disappear. Instead, there will be exercises and work groups, but not a mention of theory. But the theory and its implentation had better be right. If any of the participant groups are going to walk out of here with a tactical plan in hand, it's got to happen tomorrow.
1. Record any ideas that stood out to you while reading the chapter. Write down key words that describe seamless facilitation experiences you have enjoyed-workshops, hotel, obtaining information by phone, returning merchandise, going out to dinner. Have there been times when the facilitation was blatant or incompetent? Describe these experiences.
2. What can you do to "create high performance in everybody you touch in the service of the client"? What does it mean to facilitate and provide knowledge work support to your colleagues at work, or to your family and friends? What skills do you bring to this area of knowledge work, and what skills would you like to learn? What people and skills do you need to have around you to best support your own knowledge work? How do you find them?