Rundown: Growing Adaptive Thinking

You had to be in class to understand the significance of this artwork! 

Yesterday, Thom Dworak and I wrapped up a 3-day workshop for police trainers and supervisors. Illinois MTU#3-NEMRT contracted with us to design and moderate Growing Adaptive Thinking - a new twist on instructor and supervisor development.  Twenty students from sixteen Chicago area law enforcement agencies attended the workshop. 

Though Thom and I have known each other for close to a decade, this is the very first time he and I have ever presented or taught alongside one another.  By co-moderating, we bring in a diversity that (obviously) a solo instructor can not. The shared experience was everything I had hoped for!

Thom Dworak explaining the Stress equation. 

The course objectives were relatively abstract in themselves: how to nurture creativity, independent critical thinking, subjectivity, and organic problem-solving in a social environment of change...but inside a culture of increasing standardization, mechanization, data, objectivity, and oversight. This goal was to both grow these traits in the students themselves, but also in how our students would be able to grow these traits in their students and subordinates when they returned to their respective organizations.

I used a Slinky and segmented PVC pipe to depict the OODA Loop, non-linear processing, and corkscrew thinking. 

This course contained the most challenging material and content that I have ever presented. It's stuff we've studied for eight years - a blend of such abstract principles and concrete application.  We struggled beforehand with how to structure the modules, topics, subjects, research, and theories. What made it more chaotic was that Thom and I were committed to allowing the students to steer the course through discussion, debate, and relating their own experiences, education, and training. 

One of our students had CONTROL and CHAOS tattoos. He related well to Rules vs Creative analogy!

Here were some other commitments we made:
  • Allow students to make their own emotional connections. 
  • Slides used would be intentionally designed.
  • Create ideas alongside students via whiteboard.
  • Relate ideas/theories to student life and personal experiences.
  • No (passive) handout - let students take notes & drawings.
  • Flatten the hierarchy of teacher-to-student info dump.
  • Provoke debate.
  • Utilize tactile learning - LEGOs, Matchbox cars, games.
  • Be adaptable in where the content flows.
I tried to convince Thom to run this class without any slides. I compromised. Some of the infographics used:

Some of topics and subjects we covered in class are here in this slide used to debrief with the students at the end of the course. It was an out-of-order listing to help jog memories of what we covered, so they could explain what they related to or valued...and what they did not:

If you're asking how in the world did we cover all these topics - or a step did we connect them all in 24 hours - I guess you'll just have to take our word for it until you attend!

Collectively, the students gave us feedback on the course. Four points of significance that Thom and I recognize as needed adaptions to the next version of this workshop:
  1. More clearly state the course objectives. A portion of the students left class after Day 01 with their heads spinning on where the heck we were taking the abstract theory and research. We failed to give a roadmap or vision of how it would all come together. Thankfully, all those critics said Days 02 and 03 integrated the seemingly random theories into a universal package! 
  2. Redesign the seating arrangements earlier. We left the heavy, cumbersome tables in their traditional lecture positions. This wasn't because we wanted them that way - it was because the tables were clunky and each had electrical cords plugged into the floor. After Day 02, Thom and I went to work and completely redesigned the seating into a town hall or horseshoe design. Feedback from students was that they wished the class would have had that fresh seating design from the start. 
  3. Give printed handouts. We purposely decided to omit handouts, thinking they were passive tools. In hindsight, we should have had a very thin packet with maybe 6-8 pages. Thom and I have already discussed what infographics and templates to include - in an empty framework style - to make the note-taking a bit more purposeful and effective. (In the meantime, we are distributing electronic versions of some of the slides and graphics.)
  4. Push out a pre-reading list to attendees. A few attendees wished we would have published some sort of pre-reading/listening/watching list so they could prime-the-pump and get up to speed with some of the more challenging content, analogies, and material. This feedback tells me this: students want to grow their abilities, learn this stuff, and want to engage with it more fully and robustly. This feedback is promising and positive for me. 
I was mentally exhausted after each of the three days. But after it was all done, I left emotionally energized and invigorated. I'm looking forward to seeing where this course heads and proud of its growth potential.

A special thanks goes out to Shelley Johnson of NEMRT. She took some serious risk in endorsing this workshop. Shelley helped with the syllabus, recruited attendees, and encouraged Thom and I to break conformity.

And to the students: Thank you for what each of you brought into the learning environment. I hope you left believing it really was your class. 

I most definitely failed a few times over the three days. But I categorize those failures as small bumps on a scenic road that twisted through some terrific terrain and vantage points. It was so worth it.


If Growing Adaptive Thinking is something that you'd like to bring to your area, please reach out to Thom or me. We'd love to customize the course to meet your organization's needs! 


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police training unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr


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