Reflections from May trip to Italy, UK, and Netherlands


I just got home from two dozen days in Rome, (rent Vespa) Perugia, Passignano, Torre del Colle (Bevagna), (return Vespa) Foligno, Rome, London, Malvern, Winchester, Brighton, Amsterdam, Heerlen (Maastricht) in 24 days. Photos.

Brighton, Hastings

Two days of the trip were paid work: One day I keynoted the Learning Innovations and Quality Conference and participated in the launch of the International Council for Open Research and Education (ICORE) in Rome. On another day I led a masterclass in informal learning and 702010 for a high-tech company and its customers in Utrecht. More on this later.

I spent most of my time hanging out with five of the savviest people I know, on their home ground. These folks are also my best friends. When I started the trip, I planned to interview each of them in depth about today’s complex, dizzying world and make a book out of it.

Umbria in Vespa

My second day on the Continent, I rented a bright yellow Vespa scooter in Perugia and rode around Umbria for a week. No traffic, spectacular hill towns, the joy of buzzing by vineyards and olive trees in open air, amazing food. This was vacation and it felt great. I gave up the book interview idea. My goal for the trip was simply to have a great time and learn things with good friends.


At age 15, the Italy I visited seemed decrepit, peeling, disorderly, an unfinished construction job where everything was falling apart. Today that’s what I like.



Assisi is spic-and-span. The interesting edges have been sanded down. (Has Disney been here?) Everything is orderly. Beautiful but unreal.

Umbria by Vespa

I prefer towns that don’t shy away from exposing patches on prior patches to a Roman or Etruscan tile, like some ancient tattoo. The more higgledy-piggeldy, the better. Decadence, decay, laissez-faire. Lack of conformity keeps you alert. (Thank heavens franchise retailers have not made it to Umbria. No WalMarts here.)



Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”


Everything is a miracle.


All parents and students revile school. In the three countries I visited, parents advise their children on how to game the system instead of changing the institution,.

After twenty years apiece in school systems, we all suffer Stockholm syndrome. Where’s the teacher? I need some more mental punishment. We’ve got to break free on the wrong-headed notions that schooling has planted in our heads.



In Rome, I gave a talk at the FAO Building about Push and Pull, matching learning and jobs, and the importance of staying happy.


I suggested that since universities cannot provide the experiential learning people must master to get meaningful jobs, they should relinquish the education on how to do jobs to corporations. A new apprenticeship. Corporations get to see and shape how people work; people decide if they’d like working with those corporations.

College and universities in Europe and America charge more and more for undergrad programs whose graduates can’t find jobs in their fields. This is crazy. Old joke: “I wouldn’t have majored in philosophy if I’d realized none of the big philosophy companies would be hiring when I graduated.” Hundreds of thousands of students earn degrees in psychology and economics, only to discover that business does not hire novice psychologists or economists. I have an alternative.

Umbria by Vespa

Start with Pre-college. The on- or off-campus program includes:

Jobs. Learn the job market and find your place in it. What’s out there? Demand? Prerequisites. Values, Characteristics, Hours, Rewards, Likes and dislikes. Watch interviews. Do interviews.

Personal Assessment. Strengths, values, calling, aspirations, personality, drivers, location preferences. Identify and specify authentic character traits. Life goals. Marry to Jobs component. 

Exploration. Prereqs, build portfolio, join incubator. Builds into apprentice/co-practice plan, internship. When career direction is affirmed, education may continue at the university or depart for a corporate internship.

Basic literacies. Certify language, arithmetic, stats, reasoning, MOOCs.  Bonehead courses. 

A majority of creative knowledge workers will leave Pre-college for a new form of internship, where continuing education and experiential learning co-exist.

Colleges would not be awarding many bachelors degrees. I suggested that bachelors degrees be eliminated since everyone knows the learning never stops.

This lit up the following speaker’s panels, for he misunderstood me and thought I was in favor of abolishing all schools. Too bad we didn’t have time for Q&A.


food1I’ve been in food heaven. The food in Umbria is simple, fresh, and delicious. Affordable, too. My diet was heavy on cheese, fish, and salads. After a few days in the countryside, choosing the spot to eat becomes the most important aspect of life. A shadow form of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs kicks in. The purpose of dining is less filling one’s belly and more enjoying a peak experience.


By following my rule that you need not eat everything on your plate, I actually managed to lose five pounds during my travels.

spelloMy favorite lunch was at the Trombone trattoria in the hill town of Spello. The food was good, the ambience magnificent. My table overlooked a panorama of valley and hillsides. I watched a storm system gather to the north and make its way south across the horizon. I slowly nibbled through a frittata and a plate of cheeses. I wrote in my journal. I was in no hurry, as there were only two other couples on the large terrace.


In the evenings, I was reading Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. Olive oil was the petroleum of the ancient world. Millions of liters of oil changed hands. Olive oil lit the lamps, cooked the food, heated the rooms, and anointed the body. On the Vespa, I was forever passing olive trees. Olives became a major eating focus.





scooter vineyard

Riding around on the scooter, I revised and rewrote my upcoming talks in my head. In both Rome and Utrecht, I had planned to talk about informal learning. I decided that was the wrong wording. What I really wanted to explore and promote was a particular type of informal learning: learning from experience.

The day I visited the vineyard at the end of the long row of cypress trees above, Chief Learning Officer published an article I’d written on The Two Cultures. These are not the two cultures of science and humanities described by C.P. Snow fifty years ago. Rather, I wrote about the culture of the predictable (the subject of schooling) and the culture of the complex (the reality of our world.) Professors can and do teach the predictable. Experience is the only teacher of the complex.

Were I doing it over again, I’d write the book on Experiential Learning, not Informal Learning. I’d focus on the need to create the right environment to learn from and orchestrate the right blend of experiences to develop the street smarts to prosper in uncertain times.



I attended a fantastic dinner party hosted by my friend Jos, the founder of TULSER, in the Netherlands. Jos and I are working together to imbed experiential learning and the 70:20:10 philosophy in Dutch organizations.






A fantastic chef, Ron, prepared a sumptuous yet healthy feast of taste treasures. (I couldn’t sleep that evening until I’d revisited each course mentally.) Yum.

Chefs are my favorite example of organic communities of practice. Ron and I spoke throughout the evening. He was of course dedicated to the profession (“What better thing could one do in life than to make people happy by bringing them great food?”) He always hung out with other chefs, and they continually shared discoveries and sources. (We were drinking wines ordinary mortals cannot buy. Chefs have channels.) He felt the chef’s obligation to help new people grow into the profession. (His grandson was in the kitchen, apprenticing for the dinner.)

Communities of practice can be subtle. Unlike chefs, members of my communities can’t be identified by a uniform nor by the scars from having chopped too closely. While I was oblivious to thinking about it this way at the time, most of my days in Europe were spent in conversation with members of my community.

The practitioners in this community are dedicated to  improving learning, working, schooling, and getting along in life. We break rules because we are dissatisfied with the status quo. We are comrades in arms.


Opening: This is a masterclass on informal learning, but that’s not what I intend to focus on. My objective is to convince you to join the companies that are using informal learning to create resilient, prosperous, responsive organizations where aligned, engaged, enthusiastic employees work in self-motivated teams to delight customers. Managers become coaches, not controllers and workers are treated like people, not cogs in the machine.

This is a set of beliefs, not formulas. There aren’t any silver bullets. Informal learning is less expensive, more effective, and more natural than its formal counterpart, but it requires deep change and a new mindset. If you get the faith, you will see continuous improvement. If you don’t believe, you won’t be saved. There’s not much middle ground.

Let’s talk about what you want out of our time together.

Masterclass Masterclass


Umbria by Vespa

A government sponsored program makes grants to Italian farmers to open their houses to tourists. The money pays to update the infrastructure, build guest rooms, and build swimming pools.

The top floor of this farmhouse a few miles out of Bevagna was my home base in Umbria. Here’s the view from my window. Soooo much more relaxing than a hotel.

Umbria by Vespa


morganVisiting The Morgan Motor Company to see 160 craftsmen building cars from sheet aluminum and ash using hand tools was simply amazing. My photos.


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