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Scraping the bottom of the barrel


What is it that makes a barrel? Is it the wood, the staves? The metal hoops? The shape? Of course, all of those things are vital but they are not what make a barrel. Interestingly, when you stop to think about it, the thing that actually makes a barrel is the thing that isn’t there – the void inside it. If the barrel wasn’t shaped to contain a void it would be useless; it wouldn’t be a barrel.Likewise, an empty barrel serves no purpose – it is just wood containing a space until you fill that space with something. Then it becomes useful and serves its purpose. The barrel itself, if it is constructed correctly and doesn’t leak, then becomes of secondary importance – what matters is what it contains.

What does all this have to do with training? Well, training is the equivalent of the wood and metal in the barrel; fitted together correctly they contain a void. In the same way that the usefulness of barrel is the void it contains, the usefulness of training and development are the void that they contain – the practical application of what delegates learn back at the workplace. Without that practical application, training workshops or programmes are like empty barrels – pretty to look at, perhaps, but serving no useful purpose and just taking up space.

So what makes training useful is the application. This is an interesting way of looking at the issue and should, perhaps, make those who commission training think more about the application of what delegates learn. However, if this is also the mindset of the development consultant, then it will drive a new set of behaviours.

Just as barrels have evolved into more elaborate and efficient packaging solutions, so too must training evolve. When development consultants are constructing their barrel, they should be thinking very carefully about the space they are seeking to contain and how best to surround that space to the greatest effect. In effect, thinking first about the application of the learning before constructing the workshop to teach that learning. Different shapes require different packages; different applications will require different methods. This focus on application should keep both consultant and commissioner focused on the real purpose of training – to use what you have learned. Sadly, too many training companies are fashioning beautiful and elaborate barrels which remain empty and, therefore, useless.

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