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What Magdalena Fernandez Taught Me About Learning

Last week, I attended a talk with Venezuelan modern artist, Magdalena Fernandez, at the Phoenix Art Museum. She walked the audience through some of her work and answered questions. I’d try to explain the art style, but I’m not so artsy fartsy as a guy who attends talks at art museums should be. And you can just check it out yourself on her website.

She charmed me with her approach to her art and ability to create large experiential pieces and digital videos without being much of a computer expert. She admitted that part of her process is to go find someone who is an expert at video, or glass or whatever the piece requires and working together to create it.

Her entire catalog of work is intriguing yet minimal, but what really stuck with me was her ability to connect with audiences by taking inspiration from nature and make it relatable to everyone. I (and many others) call this the “human truth”, something that almost everyone can agree on or understand, presented in an novel way.

Her pieces although simple in construction have a deep human truth to them. Whether it’s the way light looks when walking under trees, the sound of a rainstorm or the sounds heard from an apartment window. This makes what could be seen as a bunch of boxes moving around into something memorable.

And this is what is missing from traditional learning and development programs. Using human truth to catch the attention of the modern learner and allow them to connect to the material. It doesn’t matter if the subject is dry and boring. In the right context and presented in the right way, any learning can reach an audience on a deeper level.

One example of how we, the minds at Mindspace, use human truths to engage our audience was a project we did for a certain purple delivery company. One of the learning objectives of the project was to teach frontline employees how to deal with upset customers. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish. There isn’t a script you can get employees to repeat to calm someone down. It takes empathy. It takes understanding the feelings the person is having, even if you don’t know their entire situation.

To create more empathy for employees, we had them go through a digital, gamified exercise called “In Their Shoes” that took employees out of the “memorize the handbook” mindset, and encouraged them to think about the people they would be serving. The activity asked employees to reflect on real-world (not work-related) scenarios and answer questions designed to establish empathy with customers. To get them to relate to their customers and the common, human situations we each face every single day. Ultimately, the exercise provided employees with tools they could use to provide top-level customer service even when dealing with aggressive customers wondering where their package was.

Training that has a lasting impression on employees connects with them on the same levels as Magdalena’s art. Your company’s training can speak to relatable human truth by relating the material to your employees lives.


Illustration by Kyle Davila, Senior Art Director at Mindspace.


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