10L – Laura Overton

About Laura

Laura Overton is an author, facilitator and award-winning learning analyst dedicated to uncovering and sharing effective practices in learning innovation that lead to business value. She is known for leading a 15-year global research programme to uncover and share learning strategies that lead to business success. Laura established #LearningChangemakers and is a co-founder of Emerging Stronger – global initiatives to support the changing world of workplace learning.

So, what do you do dear?  Describe your work to an elderly relative.

This is how my mother describes what I do:  ‘Laura does research about how people can use the internet to learn better’ 

Whilst I ran a global research study for 15 years of my 30+ year career in corporate learning, the golden thread running through all of my work is understanding and sharing what L&D can do to drive business impact in the changing world of work. So overall, I think my mum has pretty much nailed it!

What was your favourite learning experience (Could be work, personal, school…anything is valid)?  What were you trying to do? Why did it work so well for you?

In the late 80’s I hit that normal career challenge that women in edtech hit back in the mid 80’s. Continually being ignored for promotion and career progression despite overperforming. A good friend recommended that I join him out of office hours on a 13 week Dale Carneigie programme (you know the book – how to win friends and influence people!). I invested my own money in the programme and the investment paid off because the learning experience was transformational for me.

The practice of introducing and modelling simple concepts and practicing them in my own context week by week was my first real introduction to the importance of reflection, ownership, and spaced learning in building lasting habits. The community and peer feedback of the initiative (and opportunity to return as a graduate assistant) showed me the power of encouragement and the hard work needed to actually master new ideas that ultimately shaped my decisions and kick started my career.

Nearly 30 years later, I am still applying the principles behind this learning experience working with Michelle Ockers and Shannon Tipton in our Emerging Stronger work. Our 6 week  masterclass and global community focuses on developing the lasting but simple habits that L&D need to take bold action and deliver impact.

Enough already…What one thing do you wish people in your industry or profession would stop doing? (What gets your goat?)

Wheels and bandwagons! Reinventing them and jumping on them and creating tribes around them gets my goat.

I completely understand that new L&D professionals need to be introduced to practices that work in the modern world of work and that old L&D professionals need to keep their thinking edgy and current.

I do not like when we abandon established principles of effective strategy in the rush to build a new model or platform designed to attract the fickle attention of the industry. I do not like the followers of one model dismissing the practices of the followers of another.

This narrow minded but well intended practice means we forget how to learn from history and from each other. We need to get back to the first principles of effective learning strategy in order to explore smarter ways of building a brighter future for our industry.

Same again please…What has changed for the better in your professional world as a result of COVID working practices? Should it be retained for the future (whenever that might be and whatever it might look like)?

Global connectivity – expanding connections, workplaces and opportunities beyond my wildest imagination.

From the good old days…What do you miss most about working life from the pre-COVID world? Do you think it will return?

Post-it notes!

In my face to face work, they represented connection, community and collaboration – each one was a source of data and inspiration that I miss holding in my hands. I know that the experience has been replaced with new tools that do a more inclusive job of gathering collective wisdom but I miss the physical sense-making of moving those sticky pieces of insight filled paper around on my white board!!

Theft is the sincerest form of flattery…Which part of which other industry or profession do you think we should learn from and adopt (or just steal)?

Idea Sex!

The thinking behind Idea Sex is that whilst there is nothing new under the sun, we can generate new innovative ways for driving value by exploring the intersection of existing concepts.

I’ve stolen this for some time now, calling it ‘life in the overlap’ – that place where an unrelated discipline unlocks a deadlock in my own thinking. Credit has to go to James Altucher (writer, entrepreneur and investor) who came up with this name of ‘Idea Sex’ which is a way more provocative concept! https://modelthinkers.com/mental-model/idea-sex

This simple model allows us to explore new solutions at all levels of L&D practice: Can we design solutions that deliver better results if we explore the overlap of design thinking and learning science? Can we improve engagement by exploring the overlap between business priorities and marketing know how? What happens when two departments combine their expertise to creatively tackle a new business challenge?

Idea Sex provides us with permission to explore and to try! It releases joy, community and results.

You know who would be great for this…Which famous person (live or historical) do you want to join your team and why?

The actor Alan Alda – I love his work. But I love the way he’s applied his acting knowhow to help scientists and doctors communicate with the real world even more! He shares some of his ideas in his book ‘If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating’

His humour, experience and example would inspire my team and help them really make a difference.

If only I had…What did you learn from your most recent mistake?

… learned to switch off during a break. Christmas and New Year 2021 was a sharp reminder for me that simply swapping work commitments for family ones can sometimes backfire! I know in theory that we need to look after ourselves in order to be there for others. But sometimes we are too busy justifying why keeping busy is better for everyone else that we genuinely run our reserves too low!

Lesson – hopefully! – learned!

There can be only one…Which one tool or piece of kit would you keep if you could only use one from now on?

Given that my smartphone has to be a given, the kit that I’d need is my pen and paper where ideas can run free.

The picture of success…Which image or picture is a good representation of how you would like to develop your practice over the next five years? 

I took this picture in North Devon last year as it reminds me of the potential impact that I believe that L&D can have on shaping the lives of individuals, teams and organisations.

Fasr waterfall in sunlight

It summarises the ethos behind my work with the Emerging Stronger team and my personal commitment to supporting the next generation of learning changemakers. It represents bold action, underlying purpose, movement and energy that continues to shape and invigorate the landscape that we work, even in the tough times.

Where can we find you?

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