In the last days of September 2023, at a large, elegant Victorian mansion in the Highlands of Scotland, a diverse group of people will come together to celebrate an anniversary. Across a long weekend the discussions they have will inevitably keep returning to the key events that have shaped the 20 years that they have worked together, and above all they will celebrate their unique contribution to the field of experiential learning.
Yes, it’s RSVP Design’s 20th anniversary and we think we’ve got a lot to celebrate!
Everybody involved in that celebration will have their own reasons to be proud of what we’ve achieved; for me, as Design Director, the pride comes from a key feature of how we’ve operated and grown over those two decades; we’ve never moved away from a focus on the practical. In some ways that shouldn’t be surprising, we have a fundamental belief that experiential approaches are essential to the learning that organisations need to deliver to their members, and experiential education is essentially practical in its nature. Yet so many companies who started out espousing a dedication to experiential approaches have been drawn into the mainstream of corporate education - and that mainstream is still predominantly theoretical.
So what’s kept us dedicated to our mission?
I’d suggest that it’s the feedback that comes from growth without reinvention. Let me explain that statement - in the mainstream world of corporate education, whether it’s leadership, organisational development, interpersonal relationships or any of its myriad other sub-categories, success comes from chasing the next new theory, then next new model, the next new psychometric. Go to any of the large gatherings of the L+D industry and the headlines are always reserved for the launch of something new. Clients are encouraged to invest on the basis of the next new thing that will transform the performance and culture of their organisations, and they are encouraged to do so by the ever-so-meticulous research that underpins that ‘product’. It’s a constant cycle of reinvention, and if your organisation’s methodologies are more than 5 years old you are open to the accusation that you’re failing your people by not keeping up with the times.
So let me confess something here - most of the best-selling RSVP Design products we’ll be celebrating when we get together in Scotland are the same ones we developed during our company’s early days. We’ve got lots of new products, but we’re probably proudest of tools like Colourblind, Challenging Assumptions, Simbols, Webmaster - tools that have stood the test of time and sell more today than they ever have. So why, in the industry climate of reinvention, do our long-established products still show the strongest growth? It’s because they are not based on any theory, or research, or angle that can quickly go out of fashion when the industry moves on; what they are based on is something that has taken millions of years to establish - the universal patterns of human behaviour.
This is what I mean when I say that my pride in what we continue to achieve comes from the fact that we’ve never moved away from a focus on the practical. In this sense the practical is observed human behaviour - the reality of what people do in the workplace rather than what they know. Over the decades I’ve worked in corporate education (many more than I’ve spent with RSVP Design). I’ve worked in thousands of organisations across multiple sizes, sectors and geographies. I’ve seen learning theories and approaches come and go. What I’ve never seen change is the performance improvements that inevitably follow when workplace interpersonal relations are considered and positive. The reason that RSVP Design tools really work, and continue to deliver, is that they are the best way we know to build the interpersonal skills that are needed to be a functional part of any organisation, anywhere.
Please don’t get me wrong, we’ve not been sitting still for the past two decades; we continue to conduct our own research and development to ensure that what we offer doesn’t get stale. We’re not above admitting that in creating such incredibly versatile learning tools we might have failed to acknowledge some nuance of human behaviour that clients need to address. We’re developing new products all the time, we’ve opened new channels of delivery and ‘virtual versions’ of our tools, we are always open to challenge and discussion about what we offer and how we do business. We’re confident in our newer tools and we’re confident that the way the market is increasingly embracing experiential approaches will lead us to further growth. We’ll be raising a good Scottish dram to the past 20 years, but we’ll also be toasting a future that looks strong, vibrant and healthy, and working hard to achieve it.
Slàinte Mhath to you all