Page 20                                             Winter 1994 - 95


Buzan and Gelb Try to Change the World

by Teaching Juggling to the Corporate Elite

by Bill Giduz


Tony Buzan and Michael Gelb, two highly successful corporate motivational speakers, use juggling as a metaphor for teaching clients how to learn better and quicker. They've set their sights rather high, too. Gelb explained, "Our mission for the past 20 years has been to create 'the learning planet.'''


Toward that end, they've aimed their program not at school children or festival crowds, but at the world's top executives. They want to maximize their influence by teaching people who control vast resources and hold influence over many others.


Gelb and Buzan have recently made their high-price corporate seminars more accessible to laymen by condensing its messages in the new Harmony Books volume, "Lessons from the Art of Juggling." The book has been selling extremely well, with the publisher naming it as one of its "hot books" of last fall. One reason may be that Gelb taught the whole sales staff at Random House how to juggle!


Gelb believes that jugglers already inherently understand a fact that most corporate moguls need to learn - that relaxed concentration is the secret of high performance in business and life. "The more we learn about juggling, the more convinced we are that it is the perfect metaphor for learning how to learn," he said.


Buzan added, "Learning is easiest when it is approached with a spirit of joy and wonder. Juggling awakens that spirit and offers a practical metaphor for business

success and personal growth."    ..


Global corporations are constantly seeking ways to deliver high-quality service at a competitive price, and that requires more efficient use of resources. "The result is a new emphasis on human potential, and this is the positive side of capitalism," Gelb said. "They are desperately in need of learning how to juggle as a metaphor for a better way of doing business."


Gelb and Buzan have developed long­term consulting relationships with firms such as National Public Radio, Du Pont, Amoco, Management Center Europe and Merck to try to change their whole corporate climates to better support individual creativity. The success that the pair has enjoyed can be measured in part by the many sets of bean bags they say are now found on the desks of executives in those businesses.


Since 1978, Gelb and Buzan have trotted around the globe handing out tennis balls to corporate managers, then telling them to drop them on the floor. They want to teach that learning moves toward success, but that progress incorporates ups and downs. To effectively learn, student must embrace the process of trial and error at higher and higher levels. Beginners must lose the fear of dropping balls, and experts must learn to analyze their actions through continual self-reflection.


Veteran jugglers might discount this pair as Johnny-corne-lately intellectuals jumping on the juggling bandwagon, but Gelb in particular has paid his dues. He learned to juggle as a 20-year-old in 1974 while a graduate student at the International Academy for Continuous Education in England. "I saw someone juggle and it looked like beautiful, moving sculpture," he recalled. "But the guy wasn't as good a teacher as he was a juggler. He told me to take three balls, throw them up, and don't let them drop! It took me a while, but eventually I learned. Since I was carrying on studies at that time in how to accelerate the learning process, I decided to develop my own more effective way to teach people juggling."


Gelb returned to the states briefly and teamed up with Stuart Haber, an accomplished juggler and Harvard math student, as "The Juggling Fools," doing street shows in Cambridge, Mass.


He returned to England to study The Alexander Technique for mind and body coordination, and stopped juggling entirely for three months. But his Alexander training helped him quickly advance his skills when he again picked up his props. He also applied the Alexander Technique in learning to sing, dance, write, speed read and ride a unicycle.


He learned five balls and began working as a jester in a nightclub, "Beefeater by the Tower," to fund his studies. One day he followed a rubber chicken he saw flying above the crowd and found Lloyd Timberlake tossing it up and down. They formed an act that, through happenstance, led them to an evening's performance as the opening act for The Rolling Stones and another night on stage with Bob Dylan.


He conceived his "juggling metaphor method" in 1974 also, a year before he met Tony Buzan, another enthusiast for everything that expands horizons of human potential. Buzan had originated a system of "mind mapping" for improvements in planning ability, recall, organization and creativity, and Gelb immediately recognized it as an insightful way to "juggle ideas."


Buzan recalled, "I had always wanted to be a juggler, but had failed at it. Michael showed me how to do it, and I learned so quickly it was amazing. It was a perfect example of the brain being given a correct formula and learning from it, whereas if you give the brain an incorrect formula, you get worse the harder you try."


They developed a five-day "Mind and Body" seminar in 1978, co-taught their first seminar at a posh Swiss resort and spent the next four years traveling around the world presenting it to senior managers.


Juggling lessons were, from the beginning, a basic part of the curriculum. Buzan explained, "With juggling you've got an immediate demonstration tool for our learning techniques. It's something most people think is difficult, but which most can actually learn easily. There's a lot of assumed complexity and a lot of fear. It's a beautiful metaphor to show how you can learn from your mistakes."


Buzan used the same learning methods previously to help improve performances of swimmers, rowers, dancers and runners, but found juggling to be a much more portable, approachable and achievable metaphor for group instruction of business executives than any other athletic skill.

Gelb and Buzan

Buzan and Gelb

(l-r) Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan at a books signing last summer during the IJA festival in Burligton, VT.

(l-r) Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan at a books signing last summer during the IJA festival in Burligton, VT.

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