The smackdown model for learning makes sense

Posted by Shawn Callahan - August 17, 2005
Filed in Communication

Kathy Sierra’s smackdown model for learning made me smile AND nod—what a great idea. I agree, we should be presenting multiple views rather than insisting there is one way forward. As Kathy argues, when we present two conflicting views people are encouraged to think and make up their own minds: learning occurs.

While the smackdown metaphor of two wrestlers in the ring, one trying to knock the other down, might be a little over the top, the idea of entertaining/exploring multiple perspectives is particular important when dealing with complex issues. As you might remember from previous posts (here, here and here), complex issues have many connected parts, are characterised by small things triggering large events and vice versa and are constantly in flux—like most organisations we know. In a complex system we can’t rely on what worked in the past because the landscape has changed. We need to try new ideas—experiment. Smackdowns should be in our kit bag.

The next time you here someone ‘telling you how it is,’ challenge them to argue the other perspective or ask someone else to help the group explore some of the other possibilities. This can only increase the level of interest in the discussion and people will hear more than just ‘blah, blah, blah.’ You never know, people might learn something too.

About Shawn Callahan
Shawn is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

2 Responses to “The smackdown model for learning makes sense”

  1. Matt Moore Says:

    I can actually vouch for the power of this approach. A typical example might be getting participants to argue that cost, quality or time is the most important issue in a project management course. Or to argue from a client, employee or company perspective on a customer service course.
    The main lesson as a trainer/facilitator I have experienced are:
    – Participants may initially resist this (esp. if the perspective is new) but if the trainer is firm they will follow it.
    – The scope of each perspective should be clear.
    – Encouraging an adversarial approach between perspectives (even when they are complementary) drives debate.
    – Debriefing the debates between different perspectives is key. The multiple perspectives can then be synthesised into something greater than the sum of its parts without necessarily being fully resolved.

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