A fundamental skill of any type of teaching and coaching in order to cause learning to take place is curation. Curation is a form of creating context. Without proper curation, learning is impossible because we get discouraged, distracted, and are at risk of drowning in content overload.

 “Context is always superior to content because it determines the meaning, focus, emphasis, and, even, appearance of content”

Benjamin Hardy, Personality isn’t Permanent

There is no denying that self-generated learning is easier and more accessible now than ever before. The internet houses an endless amount of content on almost all subjects one would want to learn about. However, because of the saturation of information that is available, more effective and efficient learning requires subject matter experts to pre-filter the shortlist of additional resources that will best support one’s education on a given subject. Without this prefiltering, students risk losing the opportunity to expand and/or change their perspective on said subject. 

Another way to think of curation is “orchestrating attention” (term coined by Sarah Hendren). Jenny Odell talks a lot about this idea in her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy . “The only habit worth designing for is the habit of questioning the habitual way of seeing and that is what artists, writers, and musicians help us to do” (Jenny Odell, Podcast episode with Ezra Klein). Moreover, in conversation with Jenny Odell on his podcast, Ezra Klein describes explanatory journalism as “being focused not on the new things but on the surrounding things.” This is how I think about effective teaching and coaching. Novelty will always take precedence and be a distractor of deep work unless there are those brave enough to have a compelling point view to frame content with useful categories.

How many times have you seen a list of stuff to consume? Top 100 movies to watch during Quarantine… Top 10 TV series of 2020… Top 100 books to read that will change your life. In a small way, all of these examples provide some context (quarantine, 2020, changing your life). However, there still isn’t enough specificity of curation to help someone to digest the information in such a way that they are more likely to be MOVED to do something with the information received.

Today, I got sent a 100 book reading list from EntreLeadership –“Top 100 books every small business owner needs to read.” I was skeptical at first.. However, as soon as I looked at the list I was IMPRESSED and INSPIRED.

Why?

Because of the level of curation. The books were categorized into 20 different sub categories: biographies, business skills, communication, company culture, creativity, customer service, goals/productivity, hiring/firing, inspirational, leadership, leadership development, personal development, market disruption/innovation, marketing, money, relationships, sales, strategy, unity/trust, and audiobooks. Even if I do not read one book on the list, I have gotten value out of this list because it has given my brain scaffolding to more effectively think about categories of reading that I may find valuable and applicable.

Building off of this idea, let’s say someone asks me “what books should I consume that will help me to become a great coach?” Instead of giving them specific books to consume, I can say “here are four themes I recommend reading about that will help you to become a great coach–Purpose, Mindset, Team/Organizational Culture, and Habits.” This is less direct than recommending specific books; however, this is analogous to “teaching a man to fish” vs. giving a man a fish.

Creating context helps to orchestrate attention and attention that is orchestrated with generous and pedagogical INTENTION is the act of powerful curation.

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