The Genesis of Outbound Training


Two years ago as I was designing an Outbound training program, I became curious about the evolution of this extraordinary learning format. As I researched, I learned that Dr. Kurt Hahnfounded ‘Outward Bound’ in 1941. During World War II, Hahn used the tumultuous waters of the North Sea to provide young sailors with the exposure and skills necessary to survive at sea.Thus getting them ready to handle the vicissitudes of war.

The success of this exercise birthed the ‘Outward Bound’ methodology. ‘Outward Bound’ is a nautical term that indicates a ship’s departure from the certainties of the harbor. Interesting term as the only certainty of an unpredictable journey in a volatile sea is left behind in the harbor. In the Outbound training format, the office is comparable to the harbor and the unbridled outdoors is comparable to the sea.

The secret of success of learning through experiences lay in the unique selection and combination of the principles that Hahn believed in and, most importantly, Hahn’s charismatic energy and persuasive ability to put his ideas into action.

Below are some of the key principles of Kurt Hahn’s experiential learning:

Education is about the development of intellect as well as character:
– Hahn believed that the purpose of education should be twofold: the development of both knowledge as well as character. He felt that the concept of experiential learning in nature would provide the experiences to enhance self-esteem, discover untapped innate abilities, and develop a sense of responsibility toward others.

• “Your disability is your opportunity”:
– At the age of 18, Hahn suffered severe sunstroke for which he had a long recuperation period and left a degree of permanent disability that Hahn nurtured for the rest of his life. Hisadage “your disability is your opportunity” became the foundation for his thoughts on experiential learning. Hahn felt that when you are faced with challenges and you are in the depths of despair, at that time you have a great opportunity to either give up or make a decision to grow.

Strengthening physical abilities help people make moral choices:
– Hahn believed that each child is born with innate spiritual powers and the ability to make correct judgments about moral issues. However, in the progression through adolescence, the child loses these abilities because of the ‘diseased society’ and the compulsions of adolescence.Hahn trusted in helping students to strengthen their biological physical abilities, which will help them to overcome natural physical weaknesses. Hence his belief in exposing people to nature that naturally provides the opportunities for each person’s growth.

One phrase Hahn used to sum up his philosophy was, “There is more in You than You think” (plus est en vous).

Having understood the passion and purpose behind Hahn’s thoughts, we at MMM Training Solutions pay him homage through each one of our outbound training programs. Each activity is carefully designed to include the three principles of Hahn and the objective is simply to help an individual discover their inherent capability to handle all the vagaries of life.

Understanding Empathy: Lessons from Cyclone Phailin

“My shop has been badly damaged in the showers and the wind, but I had promised my customers I would serve them food from today itself. Hence, I have opened my shop,” stated Rahul Kant, an entrepreneur, one day after Cyclone Phailin. Rahul runs a south Indian eatery on the beach in Gopalpur, which was the epicenter of the cyclone.

I was amazed to hear about the attitude and commitment of this man who wanted to open his shop a day after a major cyclone had struck.

As a training consultant, I am always asked the question, “Can you provide a training program on ‘Fostering Ownership’?” Sounds easy on the surface, however, we all know that one training program is not enough to do so. Ownership and Accountability are what we term assoft skills, which, put simply, are the skills paramount for effectual interpersonal relationships.

Where does ownership come from? I keep looking at the statement made by Rahul Kant and I ask myself the question – “What within him is driving him to overlook his safety and focus on the needs of others and open his store to provide food for his community?” I think the answer is empathy, a soft skill that is a key part of Emotional Intelligence. Empathy helped him to prioritize the ‘need of his community’. Empathy enabled him to take ownership for the recovery of his people.

I believe the key to fostering ownership is giving people a cause to believe in. One that is bigger than themselves, and connecting it to how they play a role in contributing to that cause i.e. the ‘bigger picture’. This clearly explains why enhancing soft skills is a major focus of leadership programs today. The ability of a leader to see the bigger clarity and lead his/her people there is imperative to the success of an organization.

The cyclone Phailin that hit Orissa in India brought out some wonderful examples of people suspending their personal agendas and working together to contribute to the ‘bigger picture’. The Hindustan Times reported that 30,000 electricity workers in state of Andhra Pradesh, who had been on a strike to protest the division of the state (the Telengana issue), came back to work to deal with the emergency situation. also reported that Hindu and Muslim communities in Orissa joined together in offering prayers for the safety of the people of the state.

There is nothing better to bind people together than a common goal. The disaster prevention efforts for Cyclone Phailin have been termed a success because everyone saw the ‘bigger picture’ and took ownership to make a contribution in the roles that they could play. I believe the key in corporate business is the same. People need to see the ‘bigger picture’. That is why in leadership training programs today, leaders are encouraged to answer these questions:

• What is the ‘bigger picture’ that our organisation is contributing towards?
• How do we enable employees to understand the ‘bigger picture’ and their contribution towards it?
• How do we connect their ‘inner picture’ to the ‘bigger picture’ of our organisation?

Cyclone Phailin has left a lot of devastation in its wake but it has also given us the opportunity to witness the goodness and courage in people like Rahul Kant. I am proud to be an Indian!