click to print article

Read related materials

Visit Knowledge Navigators and designgrokker (eBusiness collaboration space for professional designers)

Visit Doblin Group

Read The Sun Magazine

Learn about Zen Peacemaker Order

Explore the Buddhist and Shambhala teachings at Shambhala International

Delve into the mystery of the paintings and drawings of Barbara Berry

Look at this year’s opera season (including Pelléas et Mélisande) at the Metropolitan Opera

Sign-up for the United Nations Development Programme’s world-wide community of learning

Visit the Business Intelligence Center at SRI

Check out Excellence by Design, a fantastic book on the use of process architecture to transform workplace and work practice.

Remember the movie 2001 Space Odyssey with the creepy voice of Hal, the computer who controlled the ship’s every movement? Well I’m the guy (technically just one of many guys) who has had to live with that legacy for many years. My name is, in truth, Hal. But unlike my alter-ego, the ship’s voice, I’m not interested in controlling the world. I am, however, interested in having a say in the world around me and learning in an authentic way each day.

I am going to ask some tough questions, rant and rave where I see fit about marketing, PR and cyber world gobbledygook. Hope you will enjoy (and learn from) the article with the same gusto I had in writing it.

What do I really need as a learner?

Let’s start by talking about what learning really means to me….

Learning means surviving—in an economic, physical, and spiritual sense. It allows me to respond to change and move forward beyond my self-imposed boundaries. It gives me the ability to take feedback from people and events and not make the same mistakes twice. It is about understanding myself, others, and the glue to all this we call world. It is about an insatiable curiosity. Mine and yours.

To learn from other people, I need to see and feel their genuineness—the normal ups and downs and vicissitudes of their world—to get context for my own life. I need to find our what they did wrong, how they made their journey to get focus and clarity on their business and life, how they stood out from the crowd to make their own decisions.

So who is this learner?

The learner is me, the 54 year old ex-hippie who needs to learn in order to grow an Internet business, who wants the facts and nothing but the facts ala Jack Webb, and is just curious about a lot of things.

I have been a learner in many traditional contexts—school, university, graduate school, army reserves, and family. Learning in a family has been the hardest for me, as I really have a thick skull and only learn when a brick (like an argument, a nasty comment) drops on my head.

My learning also takes place in nontraditional contexts. As a student of Vajrayana Buddhism and Shambhala for the past 25 years, I have learned a lot from my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, just by being around him and not saying very much. Once I was walking with him on his way to give a talk to five hundred people and he stopped in his tracks with great concern when our entourage inconvenienced an older woman in the hotel. Rinpoche never missed anything (particular when it related to compassion for all beings in even the smallest ways) and taught his students through example and symbol.

In the past few years I have been learning from what shamans call secondary experiences, those unexplained coincidences and chance happenings that are an echo from the world, like a powerful scream to a limo driver 1.5 seconds before a head on crash on the NJ Turnpike. I take these quite seriously, particularly in my business life, such as the coincidence of people calling as I am thinking about them, thinking mean spirited thoughts of someone, not knowing they are behind me in line at a coffee shop.

And, my dear reader, we all need to be more genuine in our business life and stop making believe we are really many different people. There is only one world and that world is ours to appreciate.

Wiser and more mature Hal at a meeting with friends, San Francisco, 1999.

Hippie Hal at Sy Safransky’s wedding, Chapel Hill, North Carolina in a Moroccan wedding dress playing recorder, circa 1975

Am I getting satisfaction?

Am I getting satisfaction in my business learning? Generally no.

In slogging it out as an entrepreneur, I need to grok[1] the highs and lows of the journey and not the same-old plastic versions that appear month after month and say THE SAME THING with articles that go on and on as if they were written by the word.

I need to understand trends based on some thoughtful understanding of the past and present and not simply hear about the latest fad in land. The editors of popular business magazines like Fortune pander to the sentiment of the moment. Here’s how to aggregate and monetize users; oh well, just kidding, here is why’s are dead and you need to drive to Sears to pick up your order.

Since the apocalypse last April, FastCompany and Business 2.0 have slowly gotten more down to earth[2]. Before this, both publications used the big...cojones and huevos theory of life: Here I am, Mr. or Ms. Big shot who makes millions, will never die, always look beautiful among the movers and shakers (do they really shake?). As we used to say in the old country, “Kush in toches arein!”

I need and want to be able to interact with people who have taken or are taking the same journey. I want to really understand (and get context) on how they finally got focus in their business, how they made a tough ethical decision, how they developed the fairy dust that defined the pith of the business to investors, etc. The times I have written to interesting authors and corresponded with them have been great learning experiences for me. For instance, one time I talked with Robert Schaffer about the ethics of taking on assignments that might not be successful and many moons ago I corresponded with Norman Cousins (of the Saturday Review) about the use of shock in making a political point.

When will the trade magazines and leading firms realize that we want an interactive learning experience and not a drive-by data experience? When will they realize we want to talk in a community where we can commune? When I join an online community, I want to have control and find like-minded people and learn—not be “managed” and “monetized” (cyber hip for “extract money from”).

When I go to a trade show I want genuine information, not scripted PR pieces that push at me, treat me like a dodo, and do not in any way inform. The facts are compelling in themselves and do not need biz-dev spin with saccharin biz-dev voices to embellish them. A prominent CEO stated in a public talk that his firm was doing e-commerce to even the playing field for small businesses around the world. After I heard Marx and Engles rattling in their graves, I began to wonder—what does he really mean by this? Is there something to this? I wanted to learn about this, Mr. CEO, and not get a one liner and more biz-dev pitches. (And why do they all wear the same shirts?)

I want to read and connect with people who inspire me, not with CEOs who say, “There are sheep and shepherds and I fancy myself the latter.” We cannot learn or be inspired from people who need ethical and moral reform schools.

We want to learn from people who come clean with their ups and downs, with their hopes and fears. A great example of this is an excellent article about North Carolina professor Jim Johnson who has set up a really innovative and brave program to link up UNC students with kids at risk in Durham. The story goes to the heart of Johnson and what really happened between the students and kids. I could picture myself in the story (especially since I lived in Chapel Hill and Durham) and feel the heartaches and aspirations of everyone involved. It also inspired me to think about what I have been doing (or avoiding) in my life.

So, in the midst of all your ranting and raving, Dr. Hal, please tell us what you are looking for!

Compelling Learning Experiences

I am seeking compelling learning experiences that help me survive, grow, and respond.

I do some work with the Doblin Group, consultants specializing in transformations in strategy, brands, business models, products, and customer experiences through user centered design. They have done some great work in really understanding compelling experiences. They talk about six attributes of compelling experiences:

1.   Defined: Do you know it? Do the pieces hang together? Can you get a clear image in your mind of the landscape, the gestalt, so you have a roadmap to refer to?

2.   Fresh: Is it novel? Fresh? Does it startle, amaze, amuse? Can you make it your own? The Tibetans refer to this as yun, the essence of energy in a thing or place

3.   Immersive: Can you feel it? Does it engage you? You can see it with your mind, but does it register in your body?

4.   Accessible: Get better at it? Can you try it? Is this something you can engage in to move, improve your skills, insight?

5.   Significant: Does it make you remember? Connect? Think? Grow?

6.   Transformative: Do you have something to show for it? Do you want to tell someone about it? Does it take your body and mind to a new, unexplored level—a new place?


Thanks to the Doblin Group for these pictures, and to Barbara Berry for picture 6.

We could get the beginnings of compelling learning experiences from the types of interactivity that I have been ranting about—publications that support collaborative learning among peers and experts, trade shows that inform rather than sell and communities that are co-created by users and managed and controlled by users.

What else do I find compelling?

For over 25 years, Sy Safransky has published brave, heart-felt ideas, and solicited reader input in The Sun Magazine. Last year The Sun held a one-day event to bring together readers and writers. It was great! Although out of my element, with no credentials, I listened to how writers talk about and transform the world with words. It also showed me why marketing communications that do not come from the heart pollute and fail.

At a pilgrimage to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Zen Peacemaker Order in 1998 I felt, I saw, I intuited, I talked, I envisioned more than I could ever talk about.

I have been working with Eilif Trondsen at SRI in Palo Alto to study the implications of community and collaboration on digital marketplaces. The roundtables we hosted with firms such as VerticalNet, Ariba, HP, Autodesk have been uplifting. People left their turf behind and really started looking into the future and engaging in dialogue about these important issues.

The world-wide learning community I have been working on with Gunnar Brückner at the United Nations Development Programme has also been mind bending. We have taken a highly bureaucratic command-and-control organization with 135+ offices around the world and created user-driven communities of learning and practice with over 800 members and growing.

And finally, I really learn a lot from opera. In Pelléas et Mélisande (with Dawn Upshaw and Dwayne Croft) Mélisande, looking from her tower window, sings as she combs her hair. Pelléas approaches, and as she leans forward, her tresses fall over him. Pressing them to his face, he kisses them and sings an aria telling her that his kisses are gently floating up to her. I realized at that moment the essence of romance, boundary, and respect. This was COMPELLING.

If we try too hard to find compelling experiences, we might miss out. We need to be open and curious. We need to observe and experience. The world contains wonders and we need to continue to wonder about them.

[1]grok: /grok/, var. /grohk/ vt. [from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein]: To understand, usually in a global sense. Connotes intimate and exhaustive knowledge.

[2] Read the recent landmark story on John Taylor Gatto, the educational renegade in....FastCompany November 2000

Hal Richman, Ph.D., is President and a founder of Knowledge Navigators International Inc. and when not challenging marketers who can’t get to the real story, he’s busy speaking, building alliances, managing products, and generally pitching something. You can reach him online at



Copyright (c) 2000-2004 LiNE Zine (

LiNE Zine retains the copyright in all of the material on these web pages as a collective work under copyright laws. You may not republish, redistribute or exploit in any manner any material from these pages without the express consent of LiNE Zine and the author. Contact for reprints and permissions. You may, however, download or print copyrighted material for your individual and non-commercial use.