Skip to content
Big Think+

3 key takeaways from ATD 2023

ATD 2023 encouraged L&D professionals to create a world that works better – whether by rethinking old assumptions, optimizing how we gather, or creating new measures for success.
ATD 2023
Credit: Blake Cale; Wikimedia Commons: Jamey Stillings, Priya Parker, The Tony Awards

The Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) 2023 International Conference and EXPO is officially in the bag. Held in San Diego, California, the conference united over 8,000 Learning and Development professionals from around the world for four days of collaboration, networking, and, of course – learning. 

While the conference boasted a diverse range of activities, workshops, and expert panels, for many, the biggest draw was the highly anticipated keynote speakers. This year’s headliners were Adam Grant – organizational psychologist and best-selling author, Priya Parker – strategic advisor and author, and Leslie Odom Jr. – Tony and Grammy award-winning actor and singer. 

All three offered valuable and inspirational insights. Here are a few key takeaways from each. 

Adam Grant – “The best way to keep learning is to invest in un-learning.”

During Adam Grant’s session, he shared that while teaching at Wharton, he was approached by a student who pitched a business idea and asked for his investment. Grant made some assumptions about himself (“I’m not an investor”) and the idea (“It’s impossible to sell glasses online”), and decided he wasn’t interested. It turns out, the student’s idea became Warby Parker, a company now worth over a billion dollars. 

Leaders must make the space to unlearn assumptions and question best practices. 

Grant recalled witnessing the leaders of companies such as Borders Group and Blockbuster, both of which have since gone out of business, make the same mistake. These leaders, like many others, were good at thinking but not so good at rethinking. He proposed that for leaders to keep up with our rapidly changing world, they must make the space to unlearn their assumptions and question, or even abandon, traditional best practices.    

Priya Parker – “Don’t gather more, gather better.”

In her keynote, Priya Parker proposed that gatherings are temporary rituals where one can decide what world they want to build. Whether hosting or “guesting,” she encouraged participants to be intentional about the impact they can have in building that world. 

The 3 success factors of top leadership development programs
Closing the leadership gap how to build a pipeline of leaders.

Many leaders assume that the purpose of a meeting will be obvious, however, Parker suggested that for group experiences to be transformative, it’s necessary to clarify the actual need for the gathering. Parker also urged the audience to not only think about how they host, but how they guest. Guests have the power to shape meetings simply by how they show up for one. 

Leslie Odom Jr. – “Make the scorecard you give yourself your most important measure of success.”

Before taking the stage to sing some Hamilton classics, Leslie Odom Jr. sat with ATD’s content weaver Holly Ransom. He shared the qualities of a great mentor – time and honesty, what makes a championship team – exceptional leaders, and some advice from his trainer – “always give 100%, but know that your 100% may vary from day to day.” 

Always give 100%, but know that your 100% may vary from day to day.

Odom Jr. also urged attendees to rethink success. When it came to pursuing his own passions, he shared how he permitted himself to fail. Recalling a particular audition, he said that even if he fell on his face, he would still grade himself an A+. That’s because based on his own scorecard, the marker for success was the risk itself. Luckily, the risk paid off. 

Final thoughts

ATD 2023 encouraged Learning and Development professionals to create a world that works better. Whether by rethinking old assumptions, optimizing how we gather, or creating new measures for success, the keynote sessions were a reminder that this is not only possible, but necessary. 

Join the #1 community of L&D professionals

Sign up to receive new research and insights every Tuesday.