One size fits all?

I have just finished reading the excellent book ‘Adapt – Why success always starts with Failure‘ by Tim Harford and in it he highlights the 3 different types of error (I think attributed originally to James Reason):

  1.   Slips – or fat finger errors
  2.   Violations – which are deliberate wrong doings

and then the third most dangerous of all

3.     Mistakes – where the error is done on purpose because your mental model of the world is wrong

Over the years I have delivered many knowledge sharing, community building and after action reviewing workshops and along with Dave Snowden, David Gurteen, and many other presenters and trainers I admire, we had come to the conclusion that powerpoint slides should be used in moderation and that it is often important to disrupt linear thinking and change things around a bit. Lately I have been working more with engineers and I had little evidence to suggest that they thought that much differently.

It was therefore interesting to receive recent feedback on my training session that said:

I wasn’t sure about the ‘as few slides as possible’ idea, I like the philosophy, but there was a lot of talking around the first slide with the 4 quadrants. I was finding it hard to concentrate after a while and that maybe we were going around the same content in circles, so I guess more slides also helps the presenter to stay more focussed.

then after an anecdote circle complete with my twisted hazel talking stick [introduced to make the experience memorable, fun and emphasise the traditionality of the method]:

I’m quite passionate about TRIZ not being viewed as another airy fairy creativity tool, I think the hippy style native Indian ‘talking stick’ wouldn’t go down well with a more cynical crowd – I’d say maybe replace with a sleek bit of carbon fibre tube or a nice tube of precision turned black steel that that an engineer would desire some interaction with : )

It just goes to show:

  • one size does not fit all.
  • My mental model of how to facilitate and share learning is flawed, so it is a mistake to assume everyone dislikes PowerPoint slides or will really enjoy passing round the furry ended, feathery, talking stick.
  • Feedback loops like the course assessment sheets are vital to pick up weak signals, different perspectives and highlight possible mistakes.


  1. I love this post. It’s so rare for anyone to expose their practice and how they work to improve it – which quite honestly I find fascinating.

    And I really like how open you are to the weak signal – reading it I was thinking it’d be so easy to use another lazy mental model to dismiss the feedback e.g. like Engineers won’t get my different approaches because they are so rational or worse – they wear anoraks (I can say this because I was an engineer and feel they are misunderstood often!) So the weak signal is weak because the feedback can’t often get through the fortress of ones own way of thinking. But then there is the shadow – how do you distinguish the useful weak signal from the genuinely spurious or off beam red herring? Reading your example I guess it’s because that response just sounds so reasonable and I’m reminded reading it that an engineers first love is ‘to get it something to work’ – read those forms with gusto I say. Love this blog btw – thanks for it.

  2. Thanks Margaret
    I like your use of the shadow analogy as I wondered whether too much consideration of weak signals would make all courses and presentations too safe, bland and middle of the bell curve, scared of challenging the status quo.
    Part of the course is about learning styles but it never really struck me how you could be aware of a wrong approach, until now.
    Cheers, Ron

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