Brilliance by Design: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 12th, 2012 by bobmorris

Brilliance by Design: Creating Learning Experiences That Connect, Inspire, and Engage
Vicki Halsey
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2011)

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read; rather, they will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Alvin Toffler

This is one of several books published in recent years that discuss design principles that are relevant to the business world, notably Roger Martin’s The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, Thomas Lockwood’s Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, and Tim Brown’s Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. In this volume, Vicki Halsey explains how many of the core principles of design thinking — with appropriate modification — can be effectively applied to almost any learning situation in schools, college, and universities as well as to corporate education programs. It is also worth noting that many of the same principles are among the cornerstones of education at the U.S. military academies.

She recommends a four-step process to create or increase “brilliance” in both teaching and learning. How does she define the term? “Brilliance is not a random act. It is the result of learning over time — having the space to dig deep into preexisting learning and combine it with new knowledge, resulting in unique thoughts. It is about people, content, and a structure for learning designed to connect, inspire, and engage.” Think of brilliance as being, at least potentially, multi-dimensional illumination. It can occur suddenly (“Eureka!”) or over an extended period of time and countless setbacks, as when Thomas Edison and his associates eventually invented (no pun intended) the first commercially practical incandescent light.

Halsey has devised what she identifies as “The Brilliance Learning System” (BLS) whose model consists of seven components or steps in an acronym, ENGAGE: Energize learners, Navigate content, Generate meaning, Apply to the real world, Gauge [or Measure] and celebrate, and Extend learning to action. She devotes a separate chapter to each and readers will appreciate an abundant provision of various exercises, checklists, and boxed reminders of key points. She also offers supplementary resources: a free assessment (“The Building Excellence Survey”), “Getting Started Creating Brilliance by Design” (e.g. running a meeting, designing a workshop), and “Do-It-Yourself” templates.

These are among the dozens of passages that are of special interest and value to me:

o Brilliance Is a Relationship (Pages 2-3)
o Design a Structure hat Supports Optimal Learning (5-6)
o Rebalance the Learning Equation: The 80/30 Principle (11-15)
o Help People Be Smart (26-30)
o Shift Beliefs and Break Through Barriers (40-44)
o Connect-Inspire-ENGAGE (52-56)
o During the Session: Energize Learners Upon Arrival (66-76)
o How to Navigate Your Content (81-89)
o Teach to Diverse Learning Styles (90-95)
o Benefit from Feedback (123-128)
o Celebrate Brilliance and Assessing Learning (134-141)
o Part I Review: Keys to Success in the Virtual Classroom (170-172)

Although Halsey does not mention it specifically, I presume to suggest that, in months and years to come, those who learn and then practice whatever is most valuable to the given objectives will themselves become most valuable wherever they are, whatever they do, regardless of the organization with which they may be associated. For thousands of years, the best teachers have been the most avid learners. Socrates once confided, the more he learned, the more he realized what he did not know. Brilliant learning can illuminate the “unknown unknowns” and that may be its single greatest benefit.

As indicated earlier, “The Brilliance Learning System” (BLS) – with appropriate modification – can be effectively applied to almost any learning situation in schools, college, and universities as well as to corporate education programs. That said, its advocates must be both willing to think differently about thinking differently. The BLS requires a mindset that repudiates what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Vicki Halsey provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of her and her work. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read it and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the information, insights, and wisdom could perhaps be of substantial benefit to them and to their own organization.

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One Response

  1. Vicki Halsey says:

    Thanks for this amazing review Bob. You really captured what I feel so deeply about: enriching lives through learning. I am so glad you mentioned the philosophy as well as the tools and strategies as it is such a gift when you learn from someone who helps you create knowledge as well as share it. Again, what a great synthesis! Thanks!!

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