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A Gardener's Wonders of Instructional Design

Francis Laleman
Approach your learning and development issues with the logic of a Japanese gardener.

Author: Francis Laleman


How to properly prepare the grounds for an efficient learning track?
 How to avoid being tricked into the training vendor’s simple logic of selling you as many billable training days as she can, instead of offering a guarantee on (corporate) learning done?


Approach your learning and development issues with the logic of a Japanese gardener.

  1. What is at hand, is 庭木, Niwaki: the pruning, training, and shaping of the trees in the (corporate) garden. You want the result to look natural, dynamic and effortlessly grown – but within the boundaries of a properly outlined garden wall (結界, Kekkai), and with the condition that each and every element within that confined space exudes its full potential, entails quality and meaning, and adds added value to the whole.
  2. While working down into details, you always keep the overall concept in sight. Sit in your summerhouse (東屋, Azumaya) and absorb the view. It is this meta-view, this mental retirement, that allows you to see when and where a stone, or a pebble, or a plant or tree needs relocating rather than training or pruning.
  3. 根回し, Nemawashi. Before moving them about, or even expecting them to show a new set of qualities - meticulously prepare the individual root systems of the organisms you are mobilizing. You will need to study the architecture of the root systems first. Then, cautiously, and respectfully, uncover them. Make sure that each root is given individual attention, and readied for the impending change. Care. Water. Talk. Whisper.  Prune – but sensibly. Encourage – but not too boldly.
  4. In the process, enthuse and ready the organisms for the learning at hand. Trust that all the parts of the whole will want to get better in a better whole. Move on.
  5. Redesign your garden, step by step – but not unless the season is right. Know exactly when what to do or not. Go slow.
  6. Move. Prune. Train. But gently. Never act without the action at least appearing to bedone by choice by the organism impacted by it. Delicately, grow.
  7. Keep track of your trials and errors. Document even the least of your interventions. Learn from the organisms you have toiled into your growing game. Roots were pruned unnecessarily, or with pain. Branches were cut too early or too late. Learn. Learn yourself. A gardener is ever surprised, amazed, and in wonder.
  8. ワビサビ, Wabisabi. The job was never perfect. The job is never done. The best learning track is the one unfinished.


Next time you talk to a training vendor, or training partner, or training fix-it-upper –think instructional design. Think garden. Think Niwaki, Nemawashi, Wabisabi.


The photo above shows the Enkoji Temple Garden, Kyoto, in early autumn.


Japanese garden concepts in this post:

  • 庭木 – Niwaki - the pruning, training and shaping of trees.
  • 結界 - Kekkai - a boundary, and more so: the place where we meet.
  • 東屋, Azumaya - a roofed garden shed, with viewpoint on the broader outlines of the garden.
  • 根回し – Nemawashi - the careful preparation the root systems.
  • ワビサビ – Wabisabi – beauty, always unfinished, impermanent, non-scalable.

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