Episode 2: Less is More

Jane and Val – Owner and Senior Partner at GLP – talk with Alex Ciconello from International Budget Partnership (IBP) about the axiom “Less is More”. Alex was introduced to GLP through his work with IBP in Brazil – his roots with Paolo Freire’s Popular Education made him eager to embrace a learning-centered approach. Together, Jane and Alex explore the depth of this axiom using poignant metaphors for learning and dialogue.


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This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton Jr, with theme music composed by Kyle Donald.

Read the transcripts for the episode below.

JANE: Welcome to Simply True. with yours truly, Dr. Jane Vella. On this podcast, we sit down with dear friends and colleagues from over the years. To do one thing. Explore the simple truths behind some of my favorite sayings in dialogue education.

VALERIE: Hello, I’m your host for today’s episode, Valerie Uccellani, Co-Owner of Global Learning Partners. And today Jane and I are joined by Alex Ciconello, to explore the axiom: Less is more. Welcome, Jane. Welcome, Alex.

JANE: Thank you. Thank you, Val.

VALERIE: Let’s begin, as we often like to with a look back at our history. So Alex, just tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to know Global Learning Partners.

ALEX: First of all, thank you for inviting me for- for this podcast. And so I’m Brazilian, I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And I’ve been working with, you know, civil society organizations and social movements for many, many years in Brazil and other parts of the world. So today, I work for the International Budget Partnership – it’s an international NGO based in Washington, DC. And we work in different regions of the world, like in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, on budget transparency, budget justice – so how can we look at the budget from equity and justice perspective. And my role now, it’s to support and it’s to strength, civil society organizations around the world, promote change, to promote justice and human rights. So that’s a little bit about my background. And I knew GLP, in my work at IBP – International Budget Partnership, because we have been, I think, for maybe now four or five years, intensively, applying the learning-centered approach, the Dialogue Education, in our workshop, in our learning event, in our meetings. That was a huge pleasure to know GLP because I came from Brazil and I came from a place of the Popular Education, Paolo Freire. So –

JANE: Yes!

ALEX: – was amazing to meet GLP in my journey.

VALERIE: Yeah, and great for us, Alex as well.

JANE: Yes.

VALERIE: Thank you. Jane, before we get into the axiom, and which is such a central one to our work, but I wonder if any story or recollection, or thought about the roots of this work. I wonder if anything’s coming to mind for you that the listeners might want to know about this work and its connection to Popular Education and Freire’s good work?

JANE: Well, I met Paolo Freire a few times that I can remember. And somehow, less is more. It’s almost as though it captures the whole of his work, which really, I believe, is the root, so to speak, of our efforts. And it was interesting, because Paolo was a professor. And I don’t think he ever – well, what we do is his work, and it’s accessible as his teaching. It’s like reading The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I had to read the book three or four times before I got it. And it’s the academic language. And I think that what you are doing, Alex, and your colleagues are doing is making Paulo’s vision accessible. And I think Paolo would be delighted. I trust he would.

VALERIE: Thank you, Jane.

JANE: And for someone who talks and talks as you know, Valerie, I’m addicted to talking. So this addiction is- I laugh at it because it- I can name it in someone else. And I have to say “hello, guilty as charged.”

ALEX: Yeah, and I agree with you, Jane, that you know thinking about Paolo Freire and The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, his book. Yeah, so the core of the book is emancipation, is freedom, is how can you see you know the- the power relationship and how can we dedicate your efforts and the education for create awareness amongst the- the oppressed. So this is you know, if you want to create like a summary of his book, it’s all about that. How can we change the power relationship? How you emancipate people?

JANE: Exactly.

ALEX: So yeah, so that’s why y’know “less is more,” because we can write in a very complex way. And but you know, the core of the things are the most important, and they are- the core, it’s not so complex. Everybody can understand the core, each learning and yeah –

JANE: Yeah, it is, essentially, as you speak, Alex, I think of less is more is – it sounds funny – but to me, it is the joy of friendship. I remember, when I was working with people, I liked what I was doing. I was excited about being with them. And it was as if my friend comes to my house now, when I’m an old lady, I am so happy. And it sounds like they’re opposites. But less is more is, to me a sign of friendship. It’s a little jump. But that’s what I’m hearing. And when you are working with folks, and you are friends, in a sense, you speak their language. And that’s a big thing. It wasn’t a matter of how much Swahili I knew. It was how I used the language to communicate. So there was a communion. And that communion is necessary for their learning. That’s a new kind of idea, hey Val?

VALERIE: It’s a great one.

JANE: Yes. Friendship. Wow. So Alex, I’m happy to have a new friend.

ALEX: Me too, Jane. And you know, your idea is so interesting, because when I think about less is more, or- and thinking about friendship, because friendship takes time.

JANE: Yes, dear!

ALEX: To spend time you know, with your friend, you need to do nothing with him or her. Just sit together?

JANE: Oh, yes!

ALEX: Friendship, I think it’s building with time, you need time. And then also, if you think about learning, and- you need time, you need time to reflect, you need time to process. So we can’t just come in with no just a piece of content, we need you to learn, there’s no- give time, give time to learn happen. And with small pieces, the core pieces. And then you know, your analogy with- with friendship is beautiful, because it’s all about  you know, time, time together. Time to process.

JANE: Oh, I love that, Alex.

ALEX: Yeah, beautiful.

JANE: One of the other axioms is, I’m fresh. But I say there are three things that are necessary for this process of dialogue: Time, time and time. In that order. That’s fresh.

VALERIE: Thank you, Jane, for this analogy that obviously gives us a lot to think about that. But that we don’t usually ponder when thinking about teaching and learning.

JANE: Amazing.

VALERIE: Alex, you mentioned when you were talking about the axiom a bit ago that “less is more” is really about getting to the essence, the core. I wonder if you want to tell us a little bit more about that and what the axiom means to you in your day to day.

ALEX: Yeah, and I think nowadays, it’s even more important that we are you know, completely overwhelmed by information and data, and you know, we have internet, television you have, I think we are in a time in our time that we have access to more information that we ever think about it. And then the difficulty to process, to understand and to have like this time to really internalize and make sense of this information that is around us. So it means that the key information or the key learning it’s when you have like a- a very small piece of information, a very small piece of content. And if you- we remember our previous learning experience, if you remember, I don’t know, my elementary school, or a course that I did, y’know what remind- what stick to me, it’s like small pieces of information, that somehow I got it. So I can forget everything, but there’s those core portions of learning that I can keep with me. And then this is, if you think about what is important in our life, what kind of information is important and knowledge, you can see that it is small portions of information that we keep along throughout your life, over your lives. So yeah, so for me, I am a little bit maybe overwhelming by modern information and internet speed. So I would like to go back a little bit and have time to get- for- for dialogue, for conversations, for meaningful conversations and learning. And for me, this is around y’know small pieces of information, small pieces of content, time to reflect, reflect time to y’know dialogue and sit with somebody and discuss. And sometimes in our learning event, we want just to deliver things, deliver content, but I think you need to step back a little bit, and think what is important right now for y’know the participants and the learners to really having time to explore one or two pieces of content. And this can be transformative, this can change their lives. Rather than, you know, fill them with lots of information.

JANE: That’s beautiful.

VALERIE: You know, Alex, what you’re saying to me sheds so much light on the- the role of the teacher in a learning experience, both in the design of it and in the facilitation of it. And, you know, in these days, when – hey – you’re not the only one who’s feeling overwhelmed, I think it’s, I think I can safely say that every one of our listeners –

JANE: Absolutely.

VALERIE: – is subject to that, at least. You know, maybe they have wonderful strategies – and I’d like to know them – for not feeling overwhelmed, but in these days, I think most people are overwhelmed with the amount of information, the amount of possibility and, you know, I think maybe our role as teacher is to, if only for a little while, reduce the sense of overwhelm. To give people a sense of peace around what they’re receiving, so that they can really grapple with it and decide for themselves what’s going to stick as you say, what they want to keep. Thank you for that. That’s helpful to me.

JANE: And may I refer to there’s another axiom, Alex and Val, that I love, and it says, “You can’t teach too little. You can’t go too slowly.” And I remember when I proposed that, a lot of folks were concerned “No, no, you have to cover what you need to cover.” And I said, “Look, if you want to cover it, you can sit on it.” And I said “some people can cover better than others.” And that whole issue of time is so beautiful, Alex. Wouldn’t that be beautiful in a session or a meeting where there was a terrible decision to make if someone said, Let’s just be quiet. Because as you said, Alex, we can be quiet with our friends.

ALEX: Yeah

JANE: We can just sit on the back porch, we don’t have to talk. And there’s great communication in that quiet.

ALEX: Now that’s beautiful. And when you say, y’know, time that you need to y’know to be quiet, it’s not that we want something superficial. So the idea is to go deeper. So the idea is to really reflect on a specific issue or a question or problem. It’s not that- we want to go deeper and to go deeper any time, we need to focus in one issue. And there is many different layers that we can explore. And when you have like different topics and different content, we don’t have the time and this quietness, I don’t know if the word is exactly in English –

JANE: Exactly!

ALEX: Yeah, to really y’know have time to meditate on that specific issue and that specific problem and then open new doors. Because now I think we have this tendency to, “okay, you need to put more and more and more,” and then you don’t have possibility to go deeper and explore the different layers of an issue. So, so yeah, quiet- quietness and time – they’re all essential- or essential when you discuss y’know this “less is more”. So it’s not superficiality. It’s how can we go deeper?

JANE: Deeper. And the issue is that as the people are learning, they have to own the learning. They have to create their renditions, so to speak, of the learning. Maybe we think of jazz. I love jazz. When you think of jazz, each musician is saying, here’s how I hear this. Here’s how I hear this, and they play it. And it’s beautiful when they come together.

VALERIE: Here’s how I hear this. Oh my gosh, I love thinking about that in a room full of folks.

JANE: And they have to do that. According to my friend, James Zull and his work on the brain, we have to own whatever the complex new idea is coming at us. Ooh, and it takes time and quiet for me to- to shape my rendition. And then I play it. And we play together. That is- that is- I think that’s what happens when we’re trying to use dialogue in an education event.

ALEX: That’s beautiful, Jane, your analogy to jazz because it is exactly– dialogue is that. So you hear something, you react, you’re rethinking you know, you start thinking differently, and then you present an idea and somebody gives another argument. So this is the beauty of dialogues. So it’s not one way, so it’s- it’s like in a jazz band. So maybe some other informations and argument and point-of-view is going to change your vision, your perspective. So it’s collective building, you know, you you’re just together in a group, you change your visions and your perspective –

JANE: Exactly!

ALEX: – because you hear, you say, you reflect. So yeah, so that’s beautiful, your analogy, again – amazing.

JANE: Exactly.

VALERIE: I’m gonna jump in because soon we have to go to closing, because they used the “less is more” axiom when they gave us the amount of time for this podcast. But I wonder if before we move to closing, if either of you have a story you’d like to share, that might illustrate even further, this “less is more” axiom. Maybe a time when it particularly rang true for you. A memory.

JANE: Thank you, Val. My memory is is funny one, a group of us were reading Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together. And one of the things he suggests is part of dialogue is suspending, suspending. And I said to the group, you know, I haven’t ever suspended in my life. And they all said, “Yeah”, because I’m a great talker. However, the next week, when we came together, I remembered something and I said, “Wait, I have suspended”. In the year 2000, I sold Global Learning Partners to my friends and colleagues, Peter, Noteboom and Jeanette, and others who shaped it and look at it what it is today, Val – it’s beautiful. And I for 20 years, I have said “less is more.”

VALERIE: I love it. And you know you still are even if the listeners might not know that you are still a prolific writer, Jane. And every day, you just generate these beautiful, insightful writings. And you don’t limit yourself in that you let it all come out and you share it. And yet the “less is more” is saying “hey, here it is, do with it what you will. Think about what portions of this might make sense for the readers at different points in time. Let’s not inundate folks with it.” And yet – Right. – we don’t need to limit what we’re generating. Right. And so I love how you’re still living that axiom in your relationship to the company.

JANE: And it’s our dear Karen Ridout – wonderful. The opposites – hold the opposites.

VALERIE: Yes. Yes.

JANE: Alex, what’s your story, sir?

ALEX: I have one story that it’s, it’s connected with the first time that I was exposed to the Dialogue Education methodology. So it was during my Foundation of Dialogue Education course. And then when I, you know, I’ve, I’m from Brazil and you know, Paolo Freire methodology, Popular Education is embed in our practices in Brazil. But you know, when I see the way you shape it, Jane, you know, the Eight Steps and the principles of Dialogue Education, for me was like a “wow” moment. And then I start to think about my previous practice on, you know, trainings and workshops and adult education in a completely new perspective. So wasn’t so much content, but the way it was shaped and the way we share- uh it was shared in the group and the way we receive it was so intense for me, and then we can talk with Janet about it. So I was like, “Oh, my God. So I did wrong my whole life.” Not that I did wrong, but I started to see in perspective, how many things I put in before. And, yeah, it was so strong, you know, in terms of experience to see the things that I used to do in a completely different way.

JANE: Wonderful.

ALEX: With basic frameworks, and the way we explore it was so so, so, so strong. So thank you. Thank you, Jane, for

JANE: Thank you, Alex!

ALEX: – for sharing with us and with the world you know, these amazing tools and frameworks and perspectives. So it’s so transformative.

JANE: Yes.

VALERIE: Thank you, Alex. And thank you, Jane, for this lovely conversation.

JANE: Thank you, Val. Thank you.

OUTRO (MEG): Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Simply True with Dr. Jane Vella. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton, with music by Kyle Donald. If you enjoyed the show, consider leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or your preferred podcast player. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services or free resources, go to www.GlobalLearningPartners.com. We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue.

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