‘Wait time is making space for authentic learning.’ (Takayoshi & Van Ittersum)
A key skill in Action Learning is an ability to wait. It calls for patience and a positive tolerance of periods of silence. Imagine the presenter who receives questions from peers yet answers them too quickly or too easily, without allowing the questions enough time to sink deep. Such responses can sound and feel like surface-level learning, where a presenter knows, or is reasonably easily able to work out, a solution without much need for consideration.
A metaphor that comes to mind is that of the UK innovator, Barnes Wallis who, during World War 2, designed a revolutionary bomb to break through dams. ‘The bomb would spin backwards across the surface of the water before reaching the dam. The spin would then drive the bomb down the wall of the dam before exploding at its base.’ It took time and patience from the moment it was released until the cracks began to show, but then… breakthrough.
This principle of allowing time for questions to sink deep often proves critical to a presenter faced with complex problems in achieving their own breakthroughs: those profound moments of insight and agency that transform everything. It calls for discipline from peers, to wait and hold silence for the presenter before posing a next question. For people who find silence difficult, this entails learning to sit comfortably with discomfort. It’s well worth the wait.
‘Anticipation is a gift. Anticipation is born of hope.’ (Steven L. Peck)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry tells the entrancing, magical story of a Little Prince from a faraway world who visits Earth and makes friends with a wild fox. When making preparations for his visits, the fox explains to the Prince earnestly: ‘If you come at four in the afternoon, I'll begin to be happy by three. The closer it gets to four, the happier I'll feel. By four I'll be excited and worried; I'll discover what it costs to be happy! But if you come at any old time, I'll never know when I should prepare my heart.’
The fox’s yearning resonates with a love poem by an unknown author: ‘There’s a moment between a glance and a kiss where the world stops for the briefest of times. And the only thing between us is the anticipation of your lips on mine. A moment so intense it hangs in the air as it pulls us closer. A moment so perfect that, when it comes to an end, we realize it’s only just beginning.’ It’s that not-quite-yet sense of an I-can-almost-touch-it moment; filled with tension, desire and anticipation.
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) draws on the visceral power of this anticipation phenomenon in its intriguing half-smile technique. An anxious person is invited to begin to start to smile – without allowing it to become a full smile – then to pause and hold the half-smile for a few…brief…moments. Subconsciously, we associate the physical sensation of an almost-smile with an anticipation of a positive mood and experience, and this can create a positive shift in how we feel.
How well do you deal with waiting, with harnessing anticipation?
[See also: Wait; and Instant]
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