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Information or Knowledge?

Smart business people keep up with best practices. It’s a competitive must and emblem of personal and professional pride. There’s always something new to learn. And, increasingly, there are more and more ways to seek it out. It’s a long and growing list that includes conferences, online courses, e-seminars, podcasts, and more. Just check your email inbox, and you’ll probably find more than one a day.

But information alone is not always enough. Facts, figures and presentations can make you more informed. But, information doesn’t always become knowledge. Often, it’s not what you know that counts, but how you put it to work to make changes, reach goals and solve problems.

That’s the premise behind the NCA Coffee Summit, which was held last week in Philadelphia. It’s a hybrid learning platform that combines traditional education with collaborative thinking and “open space” engagement. The facts and figures are filtered through the prism of the expertise and experience of fellow professionals. The output is knowledge that’s ready to put into play to solve nettling problems you face each day.

Say you’re a small café owner who wants to deliver a new coffee experience to customers. Or, a micro-roaster who wants to promote sustainable coffees. Or perhaps a maker of coffee-related accessories who needs to keep on top of consumption patterns and brewing trends?

The NCA Coffee Summit is designed to bring together diverse professionals from up and down the coffee “supply chain.” Bringing a spectrum of perspective to each discussion, participants mold raw information into workable strategies to solve real-time business challenges. In this way, participants can attack individual challenges from the different angles that come from their different business roles and functions. In turn, participants can go home with strategies and solutions that have been put through the business filter of professionals who know how things work.

Program
This year’s Summit teed up three topics with special currency – sustainability, the single-serve format and risk management. Four, short presentations on the topics were followed by opportunities to interact with the expert speakers, as well as brainstorm on the topic with other attendees.

The Summit also featured a collaborative Learning Exchange. Three broad questions were raised by the professional facilitator to spark thinking and discussion on the topics. Each table of 10 participants captured their collective thoughts on flip charts, which were posted publicly for all to review. After each question, participants were shuffled to maximize attendee interaction.

Another important element of the Summit’s design is “open space” discussion. Two sessions were held, during which participants were encouraged to pose their own “big questions” to engage others in problem-solving discussions. The sessions are designed to cull the expertise and perspective of colleagues who share your concerns, and put them into play to tackle your problems. Often, insights emerge when issues are approached from the viewpoints of those who fill different roles along the supply chain.

Interactions among the participants were dynamic and fruitful. The group generated over 100 pages of flip-chart notes, which will be shared with all attendees as well as transcribed into a report. Speaker presentations will also be made available.

Clearly, the NCA Coffee Summit is a dynamic PD choice for coffee professionals in all functions and sectors. It’s a chance to explore industry issues, get your big questions answered, and go home with some practical solutions.

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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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