This fall we’re celebrating 20 Years of DevLearn. As part of that celebration, I’m reflecting on the insights I’ve gained from some of my favorite DevLearn keynote speakers over the years. This week I'm revisiting Embracing Technology-Based Creativity with Glen Keane, from DevLearn 2017.

I’m often asked which of the keynotes we’ve hosted is my favorite, and that’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t think I have one specific favorite, as what makes a keynote great varies depending on the context used to judge “favorite”. Is it the insights? The emotional connections? The presentation itself? There are a lot of factors.

In this addition to the 20 Years of DevLearn series, we turn our focus to one of the keynotes that appear on my personal favorite list in also every context: Glen Keane.

Glen Keane is a Disney Legend and a luminary in the field of animation. His keynote at DevLearn 2017 was not just a testament to his storied career but also a rich source of inspiration for everyone in attendance. During his keynote, Keane provided valuable lessons on creativity, innovation, and the fearless pursuit of one's passion. Here are some of the key themes and takeaways that can inform and inspire L&D professionals in their work.

The Power of Imagination and Creativity

Glen Keane's career is a vivid illustration of the power of imagination and creativity. He described his work as "acting with a pencil," emphasizing that an animator lives in the skin of the characters they create. This profound connection to his creations underscores the importance of empathy and immersion in one's work. In the context of L&D, this means deeply understanding and engaging with the content and the learners. It's about creating learning experiences that resonate on a personal level, much like how Keane's characters connect with audiences.

Glen Keane drawing The Beast at DevLearn 2017

Keane's anecdote about the creation of the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast" is particularly enlightening. He spent six months experimenting with different designs before realizing that the Beast's character already existed within him. This revelation came through a combination of elements—a buffalo's head, a gorilla's brow, and a lion's mane—all fused to create a character that felt authentic and relatable. We can adopt this iterative process of discovery and refinement in our own work developing learning programs. It involves understanding the learners' needs, experimenting with various approaches, and iterating until the solution feels just right.

Embracing Fear and the Unknown

A recurring theme in Keane's keynote was the idea of stepping fearlessly into the unknown. He encouraged the audience to embrace the creative adventure and not be hindered by fear. This echoes our ongoing need to innovate and experiment with new technologies and methodologies. Keane's career is a testament to the power of overcoming fear and continuously pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Keane recounted his early experiences at Disney, where he and others helped pioneer the use of computer animation. Despite initial resistance from Disney management, their persistence eventually led to groundbreaking advancements in animation. This story highlights the importance of resilience and determination in the face of skepticism and challenges. We need to develop similar skills as we look to embrace new technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other emerging tools, even when they are initially met with resistance or uncertainty.

Drawing from Personal Experience

Keane's advice to "draw what you know" is a powerful reminder of the value of personal experience in creative work. His father's creation of "The Family Circus" comic strip, based on their family life, exemplifies how personal stories can enrich creative endeavors. Leveraging personal experiences and anecdotes can make learning content more relatable and impactful. Real stories and case studies can bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, making the learning experience more engaging and memorable.

Photo: Terence Patrick

Lifelong Learning and Adaptability

Keane's journey from traditional hand-drawn animation to embracing digital technology is a powerful lesson in lifelong learning and adaptability. His willingness to learn and experiment with new tools, even after decades of success, is a great example to follow. The field of learning and development is constantly evolving, and staying relevant requires a commitment to continuous learning and adaptability.

One of Keane's significant contributions to animation was the development of "Deep Canvas" for the movie "Tarzan," which allowed for a more dynamic and immersive animation experience. This innovation was driven by his desire to create a more engaging and realistic depiction of the jungle. This passion underscores the importance of continually seeking out new tools and techniques to enhance the learning experience. Whether it's incorporating interactive elements into learning modules, using data analytics to personalize experiences, or some other innovation, the goal is to create more effective and engaging learning environments.

Collaboration and Community

Keane's experiences at Disney also highlight the value of collaboration and community. He spoke fondly of his mentors and colleagues who played a significant role in his development as an animator. This sense of community and shared learning is equally important in the field of L&D. Building a network of peers and mentors can provide valuable insights, support, and inspiration. Collaborative projects and peer learning opportunities can enhance the learning experience and lead to more innovative solutions.

Keane also emphasized the importance of mentorship. He recounted how Eric Larson, one of Disney's Nine Old Men, recognized his potential and encouraged him to pursue his unique style of animation. This kind of mentorship is invaluable in any field, and L&D professionals can benefit from both being mentors and seeking out mentors. Sharing knowledge and experiences helps to foster a culture of continuous learning and growth.

Glen Keane's keynote at DevLearn 2017 was a masterclass in creativity, innovation, and resilience. His journey from traditional animation to pioneering digital techniques offers profound lessons for L&D professionals. By embracing creativity, overcoming fear, leveraging personal experiences, committing to lifelong learning, and fostering collaboration, we can create more impactful and engaging learning experiences.

As Keane demonstrated through his characters and stories, the magic lies in believing that the impossible is possible, and continually pushing the boundaries of what we can do in learning and development.

Want to revisit Glen Keane's keynote yourself? This recording is just one of the many keynote recordings that are available as part Member+, our newly enhanced member subscription service.