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Lessons in Informal Learning from a Kids’ Bake Sale

Bake Sale

A few weeks ago, my kids got together with the neighbor’s kids and put up a lemonade stand outside our house. Thanks to several charitable parents and a few good natured neighbors, the kids walked away with $4 in profits that they could split equally among themselves.

This past Saturday, our budding entrepreneurs were at it again, this time with a bake sale. They declared that all the proceeds would be donated to earthquake victims in Nepal.

This morning I will have the opportunity to walk up to my organization’s director of development and hand over about $70 in cash that can go toward re-building efforts in Nepal. It was quite a boost over their previous ($4) effort!

From the perspective of a parent, this bake sale idea to raise money restored my faith in humanity. From the perspective of a learning and development professional, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. I began to ask a few questions about what they thought was the difference between the lemonade stand and the bake sale. I uncovered several words of wisdom from these elementary school kids that talent development professionals would benefit from incorporating into their own practices, such as:

1. Meet people where they’re at. In the case of the bake sale, this was quite a literal lesson. There was an open house for a new property that was hitting the market this weekend just several doors down, so they discovered they’d have more foot traffic if they moved as close to the open house as possible. In professional settings, “meet people where they’re at” is a bit more figurative, but no less fruitful advice.

2. Advertising. The kids made signs advertising the bake sale and publishing the variety of items people could sink their teeth into, then posted them on every telephone pole in a two block radius of our homes. Talent development professionals should also be reaching out to make sure potential learners know what’s being offered. Traditional email is one way. Using tools like PowToon can be a way to add some fun and splash to promotional materials.

3. There’s strength in numbers. Any one of these kids individually turns shy and speechless when trying to talk with adults they do not know. When they were all together, they knew no fear in approaching people to ask if they’d be interested in a baked good. For learning and development professionals, having friends is equally as important – preferably friends outside of the L&D department, since only 7% of employees report that they’re influenced by the L&D department (as opposed to 40% who are influenced by their own managers).

One final lesson that the kids didn’t articulate but that I’ll throw in here is the importance of praxis – not just doing something, but also reflecting on those actions. For the kids, it wasn’t just about doing another sale, but it was also about having space and someone who could ask them to think intentionally about the lessons they could learn from their lemonade stand experience. After all, we were giving up some precious resources of time and chocolate chips in order to allow them to hold a bake sale.

Our organizations are investing a little more than some chocolate chips and flour in our people. We’d be wise to make sure managers, coaches and other talent development professionals help our people to learn from their experiences and improve their performance through reflection.

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