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Coffee Summit

Learning From the Job?

Everyone learns differently. Some prefer a classroom setting, while others like the hands-on approach. Just give me the facts, some would say, while others need context and analysis to get the whole picture. Hitting the books is one way to go, but learning on the job is another.

But, what about learning from the job? In a way, that describes the novel approach taken by NCA’s Coffee Summit. Rather than sit through long presentations filled with facts, figures – and, oh yes, charts – coffee professionals convene around current topics as well as issues they bring to the table. Rather than getting textbook pablum and theory, they come away with real-time solutions to real-life issues they face in their businesses each day.

How? By participating in an interactive, collaborative setting blended with expert insights into timely industry topics. This year’s Summit covers the hot-button topics of the exploding single-cup segment, the growing challenges of a sustainable supply chain, and techniques for managing risk in a volatile market.

Experts share their knowledge, but then the floor is open for professionally facilitated collaborative discussions. By sharing individual knowledge, experiences and perspectives, participants can turn the facts and figures into solutions and strategies. In other words, the learnings are filtered through the realities of business applications to yield practical, deployable solutions.

The process is deceptively simple, yet richly complex. Summit participants come from all sectors and niches along the supply chain, each bringing their unique body of knowledge, skills and approaches. Together, they can examine an issue from all angles – seeing how the problems trickle up or down or present themselves differently to professionals in different roles. In other words, the issue to a roaster may look quite different from the purview of a supplier or importer/exporter – and the solution to the problem may lie in seeing the problem in a different way.

On top of this collaboration on topical issues, the Summit also incorporates the effective technique of “open-space learning.” Dedicated sessions are set aside to enable participants to bring their own “big questions” to the table to be dissected and debated by the group. In this way, that elusive solution you’ve been seeking for a nettling problem may emerge from collaborating with other coffee professionals who see it from a different angle. And, in the professionally facilitated sessions, groups are put together in various ways – around common questions, at random, or to achieve a cross-section of roles. Others are self-directed by participants themselves.

Past experience has shown that the format really pays off. Among attendee comments was that the format offered a chance to interface with colleagues they wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk to – like a roaster sitting down with his supplier’s logistics pro, or a retailer chatting with his wholesaler’s packager. Participants found this intermingling to be a unique opportunity that was both an eye- and door-opening.

Other feedback noted the extraordinary networking the format allows. With multiple pairings among groups, attendees are brought into constant, rotating contact with others. One participant noted that it was the only meeting at which he got to meet every other attendee.

This year’s NCA Coffee Summit takes place on October 2 – 4 at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. Speakers include Ross Colbert, Global Strategist Beverages Sector at Rabobank International covering developments in the single-serve segment and Tracy Ging, Director of Sustainability at S&D Coffee, presenting on the challenges of a sustainable supply chain.

So, if you have a business challenge that needs fixing, you may want to jump in and learn from the job in this novel new approach to learning.

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