Leading by Teaching and Learning

Teaching and learning are both an integral part of our culture and vision at XPLANE.

Teaching and learning are both an integral part of our culture and vision at XPLANE. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as a design consultancy, we’re automatically comprised of people with a natural curiosity wanting to know the big picture as well as the details, and always looking for the human story in things. As such, XPLANErs seem born with an insatiable hunger for learning, no matter if it is a brand-new methodology or the latest customer insights.

But just taking in new information feels like a selfish act and as long as XPLANE has been around, we have been keen on sharing our knowledge as well. Over the years, thousands of people have attended our Visual Thinking School: every other month, we open up our doors to anyone interested in spending two hours with us to tackle challenges with design principles and visual thinking tools in a fun and collaborative workshop atmosphere. These well-attended events are a great casual way of teaching.

Beyond this informal sharing platform, several of us formally teach what we do at different colleges and universities. One of our consultants from the Amsterdam office teaches guest classes at several universities throughout Europe. Our CEO, our Director of Consulting, and myself teach at the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts (PNCA) in Portland, OR. As instructors and mentors at the MFA in Collaborative Design, we share our knowledge and experience in creative workshop facilitation, research methods, design entrepreneurship and knowledge visualization. Recently, I led a semester-long data visualization workshop where students collaborated with a non-profit organization, Hack Oregon, to redesign the way the public understands and interacts with political campaign funding data in our state. These engagements are great opportunities to pass on the knowledge and insights that we as XPLANErs have gathered over the years.

As a member of the Board of Regents at the Da Vinci Schools in Los Angeles, I’ve witnessed the amazing results of top engineers from Northrop Grumman and designers from Mattel sharing and collaborating with eager high-school kids. It was honestly hard to distinguish who was teaching and who was learning.

That blurred boundary is exactly where the value lies. Teaching others presents the enormous opportunity for us to learn: sharing what you know with a group of developing problem-solvers that bring a fresh pair of eyes, and a natural inclination to question and challenge, is a scary and worthwhile reality check. The reward of teaching to a new generation at the same time becomes the gift of learning from them. It keeps us connected and keeps us on our toes, and is thus worth the challenge sometimes combining this with our full-time business engagements. The rewards are invaluable.

I would encourage every business leader to look for an opportunity to get involved in their local community to share/teach (and learn!), and encourage their teams to do the same.

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November 23, 2016
Roel Uleners