May 17, 2023

For a long time, I’ve been obsessed with helping companies create different kinds of development experiences that are hyperactive.  Our orthodoxies have been laser-like focused on creating return on the time spent learning.  For example, we’ve often operated under the assumption that the best way to maximize investment is to pack as much into an agenda as imaginable or to ensure that as many corporate initiatives as possible find their way into the program.  For too long, I’ve operated under the belief that money well spent means jam packed, focused skill building.  I’m starting to rethink that position.


Last month, I attended my 20th business school reunion.  As I was entering the campus, I came across a sign that simply read “Linger. Laugh. Learn.”  In an almost flippant way, I brushed off the sign as clever branding for the weekend.  I’m a big fan of alliteration. However, as I reflected on our work at Knowledge Launch, I thought they got the order wrong.  Learn first.  That’s the golden ring.  Then, after we’ve stuffed your brain with knowledge, you can laugh a little and maybe linger at some focused, speed dating like networking event.

However, as the event went on, I found myself undergoing a change.  I learned a lot on campus as we were drawn into topical, engaging classroom sessions on the relevant business thinking being developed by the school.  I laughed a lot as I reconnected with section mates and reminisced about what our younger selves had been capable of doing and not doing while we were in school together. However, I also found that the deepest, most profound development and growth I experienced was lingering at a lunch table for 90 minutes after the session on “Possibility Government” or “Why Startups Fail.”

We didn’t sit together working through a list of discussion questions.  We didn’t force ourselves to make action plans and commitments.  We just sat.  Unhurried.  We simply talked.  There was no deliverable or evaluation.  We just let learning marinate…for a long time.  Then, we did it some more. We let learning soak and stir.  We were okay with walking away with more questions than answers.

So, I have to ask myself, “What does that mean in the context of work where we try to cram ten hours of content into eight hours?” or  “How do we articulate a mindset for allowing learners to go deeper by not just starting to apply new knowledge immediately but sitting with it and seeing where it takes them?”  When we do that, I’m convinced that the return to the client can be greater than the calculated cost of a program evaluated against the marketplace benefits.  Instead, the return can be measured with a more confident, purposeful set of learners that can deliver with more quality, more insight, and more energy.

The organizers of my reunion had it right.  Lingering leads to learning.  So, what are the spaces that need to be created in agendas and in the physical venues you are using to allow for that time and intentional settling of knowledge?  Try it in just one or two places and evaluate the benefits to your learners. Then, try it yourself.  You might just be surprised how much smarter you feel after a little lingering.

John Tolsma