A long time ago, in a space far, far away….

Like many boys who grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I went to the theater this holiday season to recapture a glimpse of my childhood through the new Star Wars movie. It was a chance to pretend for at least one night that I still lived in a world where light sabers fashioned out of flashlights were the ingredients for hours of fun.

However, the point of this post is not a nostalgic trip down memory lane. After seeing the new chapter in the film saga, I couldn’t stop thinking about how this simple story of galactic good vs. evil was able to capture the minds of millions. The words of the first Star Wars movie’s opening crawl are etched in our minds forever: “A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away….”  These words not only began the film but also set the stage for a story that would transcend both time and space.

The power of those simple words reminded me of an essay that has had profound impact on my thinking, especially as it relates to story telling and collaboration. In his short essay, Campfires in Cyberspace, David Thornburg, Ph.D, sets out a very simple but powerful construct for how we should think about our story telling and learning spaces.

“Learners have long gathered around campfires, watering holes, and have isolated themselves in the seclusion of caves. They have experienced all these learning environments in balance and, if the balance is offset, learning suffered.” – Campfires in Cyberspace, David Thornburg, Ph.D

He paints a clear picture of three distinct places in which humans originally learned to learn and suggests that those distinct elements should continue to thrive even amidst our now hyper-connected world. The first is the “campfire” in which we sit out in the open and learn from an expert who uses the power of storytelling to teach lessons that last. Dr. Thornburg then describes “the watering hole”, a space in which we as humans gather due to a common need (i.e. water) and take the opportunity to have meaningful collaboration. At the watering hole each person becomes both teacher and learner by bouncing ideas off of each other. Finally, Dr. Thornburg recognizes our inherent need for self-reflection in a space aptly named “the cave”.

In my experience, Dr. Thornburg’s theory on learning spaces is important not just in traditional teaching environments like schools and online training programs. Including each of Dr. Thornburg’s elements into any environment in which learning, training, or collaboration occurs is important. For example, we built these concepts into Think Space because we knew that each of these was missing from many business meeting centers and conference rooms.  We also knew that they can play an important role in increasing productivity by stimulating one of the most important elements of collaboration: deeper learning from each other.

I highly recommend giving Dr. Thornburg’s essay a read. It will likely change how you view the spaces around you. It may even inspire a change in the design of your own office or home. The next time you are stuck in a conference room listening to a colleague give a presentation, you may realize you would be better off  “a long time ago, in a place far, far away…”

Check out Dr. Thornburg’s essay here: Campfires in Cyberspace

– Dave Seitz, Cofounder of Think Space (www.thinkspacelab.com)