Monday, December 22, 2008

As good a time as any for reflection...

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with the Academic Director of my business over what our secret ambitions were and we agreed that we would both like to teach the world reflective practice. If we could only get more people to get over the initial fear of change and the "other" and reflect upon how they could do things better, then much much more could be achieved in this world.

As my first year (OK six months) as a blogger draws to a close I think I should expand upon why I believe this to be important.

In my first ever post I stated that my intentions behind blogging were to "think out loud" and although I didn't realise it at the time, I had already started on a path towards creating a framework for my own reflective practice. I refined my ideas with the commitments I had gleaned from other bloggers in another early post to be 1. Brief 2. Honest 3. Interesting 4. and to connect things where possible. Later in the year I listed the things that I should like to be better at as a person and in this spirit I should like to look at 2008.

1. I have found blogging immensely beneficial as a way to knock the corners off my ideas and build upon those of others. Although I dont think I have many readers, I find the practice of writing for an audience who could call me to account if they so wished, a very good discipline for refining my thoughts.

2. I have been introduced to people and ideas through blogging that I would otherwise never have met, which is a very good thing.

3. I have achieved a number of goals that I had the courage to share, which I might not have done had I kept them to myself.

4. I have engaged with a number of my employees in a more direct fashion than would have been possible in traditional work based communication

5. I have admitted my own shortcomings and taken a number of steps to improve myself.

6. And all the above has probably consumed about 90 minutes a week which is a fairly good return on the investment

In short, I think the experiment so far has been benficial and I aim to continue.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sawing through the branch I'm sitting on

I haven't blogged much in the last couple of weeks partly because I have been turning over a question in my mind that I couldn't quite grasp.

I attended a meeting at Canary Wharf with Jay Cross and other luminaries last week which gave me a lot to think about. One comment from the Head of Learning at a major UK employer in particular gave me pause, "Training providers will become obsolete over the next few years".
This is a shame as my company has just been voted Learning Provider of the Year and Learning Organisation of the Year at the World of Learning Awards in Birmingham. It's bit like being the most highly evolved dinosaur seeing the meteorite coming.

I am inclined to agree with the gentleman in question that emerging free and close to free technologies combined with the pressure of a global recession do not bode well for training providers. I do add the caveats that learning functions of large employers should be included in this set as they are simply in-house versions of their outsourced brothers and sisters and I cannot see an immediate end for professional qualification providers.

But couple this with Tony Karrer's recent post on new models for learning and I begin to see the area that I think we should focus on.

The diagram above shows one way of looking at the total cost of learning and is drawn from a presentation I made a year ago to a client on what the UK learning industry would look like in 2012 (click here for full presentation). Historically I have focused on the inefficiency in the delivery management area under the premise that if we could build greater trust through greater quality, we could spend more time and money diagnosing the actual problem to be addressed. Rather than haggling over the cost of the medicine which may prove to be unnecessary.

Whilst I still hold to this belief, I can now see that collaborative learning also enables efficiencies in the delivery requirement area. In the past this has been the domain of consultants and ISD professionals with the emphasis on the word "design". Social learning allows for solutions to "emerge" from the end users without necessarily needing an expensive architect. Or at the very least significantly reducing the fees that the architects charge. There are also a number of tools emerging that would appear to facilitate this (debategraph being a very interesting example of a meld of mind map and wiki that should enable change consultants to extract information much more efficiently)

One of the other key themes from our discussions in docklands was, "25% more for 25% less" it is interesting to note that I was more ambitious in my presentation a year ago...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Learning in Africa

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of teaching a group of academics from Addis Ababa University who were in the UK on a programme sponsored by Ethiopiaid (a charity set up by the Reed group's founder).

It was a last minute thing as they had some time free before their return flight so I shamelessly pillaged Jane's list of e-learning tools to introduce them to new ways of finding information and learning.

We hung the session on the question, "Where is knowledge?" and I adapted a challenge that Tony Karrer used earlier in the year in that they had been invited to brief the Ethiopian President the following day on the Guatamalan Coffee industry (something I know nothing about and I hoped they would know nothing about).

We had time to work through:

1. Advanced search terms on Google

2. Free learning on YouTube

3. Using Linked In to find information

4. Sharing and building knowledge with Delicious

5. Using RSS feeds and Google Reader to make the information you want find you

6. And blogging as reflective practice

Which was not bad in an hour and a half. As we explored these issues the penny finally dropped for me on the importance of the laptop for under $100 project and web coverage for Africa. I have a feeling that parts of Africa may skip the industrial age altogether.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Acquistion vs learning

Good to see George Siemens giving space to Mark Bullen's blog More NetGen Nonsense in which he debunks the hyperbole around web 2.0 changing the way people learn as having little hard facts to support it. In particular with reference to a recent study at Glasgow Caledonian and Stratchclyde Universities,

"Two British researchers have just completed a study of undergraduate students that found "many young students are far from being the epitomic global, connected, socially-networked technologically-fluent digital native who has little patience for passive and linear forms of learning." Instead, the study found that students use a limited range of technologies for both formal and informal learning and that there is a "very low level of use and familiarity with collaborative knowledge creation tools such as wikis, virtual worlds, personal web publishing, and other emergent social technologies.""

This reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this year with Martyn Sloman of the CIPD about the creeping generational facism surrounding learning 2.0. We agreed that neither of us was aware of any evidence to support the claim that NetGen people learned any differently to their predecessors (please feel free to provide me with evidence to the contrary).

What has demonstratively changed is the ease of access to information (see The Machine is Us for a quick demonstration of how). I dont think I will provoke too many people if I say that human beings "acquire" while they are young (Chomsky et al) until they we have taught them how to learn at which point they become less efficient at aquisition.

The elements I believe are still missing from Learning 2.0 are evolved teaching methods to take advantage of the comparative ease of access to data. If we can teach the world reflective practice (Do - Review - Apply) we might get this ball rolling.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Testing and learning

Reading Harold Jarche's blog on testing today:

"As Clark mentions in his article, if you can demonstrate mastery then training is not necessary. For learning professionals, it is important to design tests that can validate competency. This is an overlooked area of instructional design as too much effort is spent on delivering content, in my opinion. Another rule that we had in military training, though not always followed, was to design the proficiency test before developing any training. The proficiency test had to correlate with the job performance area that was being addressed. In this way, the direct link between training and job performance was obvious. Considering my last post, this could be a good thing for the training department."

This post and your previous one bring to mind a thought I had whilst attending the ASTD Conference in San Diego earlier in the year (where my eyes were opened to P2P learning).
The proliferation of web learning devices, gadgets and tools coupled with the tendency towards open source knowledge may herald the demise or at least modification of a long extant distinction between formative and summative testing.

In short, if you publish a summative test - designed to demonstrate mastery of the learning objectives of any particular intervention it will become de facto a formative test for those equiped with the tools and the motivation to find out the relevant stuff for themselves.

All organisations need to do is be clear about the skills and behaviours they seek to encourage and reward and let the employees do the rest. In a large number of areas (although not all) if they designed and published the assessments and then paid a bonus to employees who passed them, they could probably cut a large section out of their budgets. It would even leave them money to support those who do not have the tools or the inclination to teach themselves and still be better off. Mind you the likelihood of this happening in the near future is small.

Life has become or is becoming an open book test.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ego and learning

I have been watching my three year old daughter a lot recently. Not as the apple of my eye, which she of course remains, but as a learning being. I am constantly amazed by how quickly she learns new things (or to those for whom preciseness is important, how she learns and acquires new things).

I have often felt that if I learn one or two new things a day, then it is a good day. But she demonstratively learns 50+ new things a day. And it is her ability to test and experiment with new words, ideas or actions without fear that helps her do this. Her ability to exist in the moment is a joy to behold. She can be howling with misery at having been denied the opportunity to wear her skimpy summer "blootiful princess dress" when it is 5 degrees outside and the next second giggling at the squirrel that just fell off the fence. Even as the tears still roll down her face she has moved on to the next idea/emotion without its predecessor getting in the way.

Like a computer fresh out of the box that boots up in seconds only to be worn down into a state of quasi permanent nothingness once we have loaded all the unnecessary software to slow it down. It is one thing to read Chomsky's and others' work on the way children acquire knowledge. It is another thing to see it happening.

I look to her for my lessons in learning at the moment. I know I cannot completely recover the childlike enthusiasm for life but trying not to let fears and emotion get in the way of new things can only be helpful. The trick will be as a parent trying not to load her with unnecessary worries, prejudices and rubbish so that she can continue to be much better than me. And so on and so on...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Without pain there is no change...

A number of my recent posts have been about how to translate thought into action. It is all very well knowing something (like eating less fatty foods and going to the gym will make you healthier) the point is doing something about it.

The learning industry is I believe a bit like an overwight couch potato that needs to get off its backside and go to the gym. Our average profitablity is poor, our business models are often predicated on lifestyle choices and the quality of product and service varies appallingly.

I have a feeling the new economic outlook may well be good for us in the long run.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

No prizes for spotting the Shakespeare quote but I notice that I have not been blogging much lately. Indeed I only blogged once in October. Whilst I have personal reasons for being otherwise preoccupied in the last few weeks, my lack of posting in itself have given me cause to reflect on the passing of time and how we chose (and we do chose) to spend each day.

Over the same period my RSS feeds have started to stack up and I currently have over 150 unread items lurking in my inbox. At the time of writing this I also have 114 unread emails in my work in-box and I haven't checked my hotmail account for over a week (I dont really need a Russian bride, cheap Viagra or new garden tools).

So given this piling up of work to be done why am I blogging at 9.56 on a Wednesday morning when I should be running a company?

Well, I just took 10 minutes to scan, skim and read through about 30 items in RSS and already feel energised, enthused and I have learned a couple of things. They had been building up and the temptation to click on the button "Mark all read" and make them disappear was huge.

This is distinct from my email because anyone can send me an email and working through them does feel like a chore sometimes. But RSS feeds are stuff on subjects that I am interested in and have asked to be sent updates on.

One of the most successful training courses we offer is on time management. I have been on many and have even read books on the subject (the irony is delightful). And yet I constantly forget the lessons therein or fail to apply them. The point is it is now 9.59 am and I am in a better frame of mind having read some interesting stuff and reflected on it.

I think my lesson from the last month is spend some time every day doing something that makes you feel good. And reading stuff I am interested in, thinking about it and talking to people whom I respect and enjoy makes me feel good.

So gather ye rosebuds while ye may...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To learn lists, blogs and reflective practice

Returning to a thought provoked by Tony Karrer's Big Question last month on to learn lists, there is a huge distance between understanding and action. A point which Marshall Goldsmith (see earlier posts) addressed in his book and I didn't make the connection.

A list only works for certain people because you can excuse your commitment to a list. Making a commitment in a blog is one step up from this because you are publishing the list. But this depends on whether anyone is reading.

Marshall suggests that you get a personal coach to ring you up at the end of each day and ask you a list of pre-agreed questions. His examples are, "Are you Happy?", "How many push ups and sits ups did you do today?", "Did you eat any high fat foods?" etc etc.

The simple fact of having a person remind you of your commitment significantly increases your likelihood of change.

In the meantime I have managed to cross one more off my list for the year, having passed my motorbike test on Thursday. One thing is clear, once you get out of the habit of taking tests your ability goes down hill fast. I havent been that nervous in years!

Monday, September 29, 2008

What happened to good old fashioned skepticism?

So, I'm another year older and, therefore, entitled to be grumpy. And today I'm grumpy with a capital GRR!

It seems that more and more people, particularly in the media, are prepared to accept things at face value without question.

1. "Fish Oil makes children smarter, study claims" is the headline in the Telegraph (I wouldn't mind if it was the Sun, the Sport or the Mail) despite the fact that if you read article you see the significance of the lurking comma. If you want to dig behind this story go to Ben Goldacre's excellent Bad science page.

2. I'm getting stupider as I get older. My elder niece got 10 A's in her GCSE's this year, of which, five had stars attached. I am very proud of her and would not suggest for a moment that she did not deserve these grades nor that the exams have got easier (I think I got one or two A's in my "O" levels. However, helping with her "A" level history at the weekend, I realised that she does not even have a cursory understanding of the difference between left and right wing politics. This despite the fact that she was being invited to address the reasons for the Labour government's loss of the 1951 election and the conservatives staying in power for over a decade.

Cut a long story short, why argue every year about standards falling, when demonstratively they have not. Ask about the standards themselves. If your yardstick is the percentage of pupils attaining 5 GCSE's graded A-C including English and Maths, then a growth in that is what you will get. Not a growth in the numbers of people who can think for themselves.

3. Blame the spivvy short sellers for the credit crunch. Even the Church denounced short sellers last week despite being happy to profit from it. I got into quite an entertaining discussion with my father at the weekend on this. I suggested that him blaming the hedge funds for the financial crisis is a bit like blaming the little boy in the story for pointing out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. It couldn't be our fault for spending money that we don't have and perpetuating a myth of ever rising property prices, could it!?

He countered that his problem was really the "obscene" amounts of money earned by bankers and that at heart he was really a socialist. I suggested, fresh from my conversation with my niece, that the problem was the dialectic between equality (or if you wish to be British, fairness) and freedom and that you couldn't have both. The crime of the right is disproportionate wealth the crime of the left is disproportionate waste. (come on Andy K you know you want to argue that one...)

Ask more questions, argue and more interesting things come up. Don't believe everything you read in the papers or on the web.

Monday, September 22, 2008

To learn lists - the thought is father to the deed

In response to Tony Karrer's "Big Question" this month:

"Jim Collins, in an essay in Learning Journeys, wrote, “A true learning person also has a “to-learn” list, and the items on that list carry at least as much weight in how one organizes his or her time as the to-do list.”...

...Are to-learn lists really important to have? Are they as important as Jim Collins tells us?"

I don't think a "To learn" list is important in and of itself, other than as an indication that its author places sufficient importance on self-development to actually have one. It would be very easy to formulate a list but it is worthless without action. Most organisations could argue that a reasonable personal development plan (PDP) is a "To learn list". Yet every year when appraisals come round how much of the list from the previous year has actually been addressed?

Equally PDPs are generally created in consultation with a line manager or a mentor. A "To learn" list, however, sounds like a more solitary pursuit and risks failure for the same reasons that personal "to do lists" slip soundlessly into oblivion.

Unless it is published and, by this, I mean beyond the employee and his/her manager being able to see it on an LMS. If a "To learn list" is published in a blog it advertises the behaviour that its author seeks to have and by its nature invites support and advice. It takes unstructured, accidental learning and gives it a degree of intent or at the least opens the door for measurement. How many people lie about whether they have kept their new year's resolutions or even made them when they already lie broken and crumpled in the waste bin.

Much earlier in my blogging life (about eight weeks ago) I committed to change certain aspects of my working behaviour (What to stop). I would call this a "To learn" list and would reflect that I am making some progress particularly on points 1,2 & 6. Potentially this is because I drew attention to it. It may be the case that publishing a "To learn list" in a blog might help individuals get over the initial motivational hump of actually doing something. (see also "Who will drive us "and "A journey of a thousand miles")

At the beginning of the year I wrote my new year's resolutions against which I have had much poorer progress quite possibly because I didn't advertise them. The ones I am prepared to share here are:

1. Get my Day Skipper's ticket so I can take the family sailing in the Med
2. Pass my part 2 motorcycle test
3. Improve my Serbian (my wife is Serb and it is my weakest language)
4. Put together a more structured plan for retirement (PPP's and property are probably not enough)
5. Take all my holiday
6. Complete the outline of my book
7. Work on my work/wife balance

Let's see if I make any better progress now I have shared them. Anyone else prepared to share?

A journey of a thousand miles..

... starts with a single step (or something like that). A couple of ideas collided in my head this morning on my ride into work (yes I have bought myself a new scooter as the insurance money came through and I just couldn't stand public transport into London any longer). Both are related to the question, "How do you get someone to take a step that they perceive as too large?". How do you make change seem less painful in advance?

I met Stefan Gatt on Thursday last week. Stefan apart from being the first man to climb Everest and then snowboard down it is an infuriatingly nice guy. In general, I find I want my high achievers served with some serious personality defect. This makes it much easier for me to forgive myself for not being as good/successful as them. I say to myself, "I wouldn't want to: be a multi-millionaire/swim the English channel/be an award winning novelist/represent my country at sport if it made me that rude/humourless/self-obsessed/insert personality defect of your liking.

Stefan is none of these indeed he is a charming man (I wont embarrass the member of my staff who told me just HOW charming) who appears to spend nearly all of his time doing things that he loves (I think that the answer might be lurking in this sentence somewhere). He leads expeditions, runs leadership and team building programmes and builds challenge courses (the rope ladders, wire bridges, death slides between trees that are now becoming increasing popular throughout Europe).

We have developed a programme with Stefan called the Alpine Leadership Challenge which takes managers and aspiring leaders into the Austrian Alps for five days and, through a variety of exercises, reframes their understanding of themselves and their attitudes to leadership and teamwork. In short it helps them understand that they are capable of much more than they thought and that the only thing holding them back is themselves. It is a truly amazing course!

But that is just words. The essence of the programme is the experience. Actually knowing that you have just done something that you didn't think you could.

Stefan and I met to discuss how to make it more successful. We discussed the fact that the marketing material might be seen as hyperbole or it might just be too big a step to go from a comfortable desk to flying to Austria and tackling the Klettersteig. So I asked him whether he could think of something we could do in London in a morning or afternoon that would give people a facsimile of the experience.

His immediate response was, "Why don't we put a zip line between two buildings? No that's too easy can why don't we walk round the outside of a skyscraper?"

You gotta love this guy. I responded telling him that I knew a company who had two floors near the top of the Gherkin and near the top of Canary Wharf. Minutes later we were in a cab to St Mary Axe to see if we could set up a wire traverse at either of the buildings. The idea is to get people entirely safe but over 100m up walking along a wire on the outside of a building. Conquering fear.

Well it's early days and we may well be defeated by health and safety but this is what we are going to try to arrange.

Then I thought this morning how can we devise a baby step for all those who have not yet embraced collaborative tools in their work because it's just too hard or it takes too long? It is exactly the same problem. Any ideas on how to tackle this or any help on setting up a high wire stunt in London will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not with a bang but a whimper..

The world didn't end last Wednesday when they switched on the large Hadron collider...

Just a thought but how would we know if it did? In any event I got up the following morning and went to work. It would upset me horribly if it turns out that the world has ended and I have failed to notice...

Then the world ended on again on Monday this week with the disappearance of two of the world's largest financial institutions (Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers) and further evidence was provided, were it needed, that we are heading for a spot of turbulence.

The collaborative learning community have been talking for some time about what it will take for the emerging opportunities for learning and development facilitated by the Internet to start to become mainstream. One of the driving forces may just have been handed to us.

Our industry has waffley tendencies at the best of times. Now is an excellent time to show our clients that there are multiple concrete ways to change behaviour and become more efficient. Why commission an expensive manual when you can build a wiki or record a jing file? Why drown slowly in emails when you can collaborate and chat in real time in a Google doc? Why cram for a test when blogging and sharing ideas embed learning more efficiently Why attend a training course either virtually or in person?

Because it will make you more efficient.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who will drive us?

Pulling together a few strands of thought on the bus this morning (my beloved Vespa having been stolen 10 days ago my commute is longer) I was wondering where the motivation element of learning will come from in the future. If collaborative learning and P2P learning really do put the learner in control. How will the learner deal with those days when he/she just can't be bothered?

I think there is a parallel with gym memberships. Gyms dont actually want you to get fit. They want you to pay membership and not use the facilities. That way they can make more profit. People who can afford them, use personal trainers but lots of people cant.

I wonder if there is a model for a personal learning trainer? I think this will be distinct from life coaches or executive coaches as there is a different skill set.

Will greater choice and freedom to learn actually inhibit action? A learning equivalent of slacker culture. Are we becoming mentally as well as physically obese? Do we actually need the harridan teachers and psychotic PE teachers in our lives to push us over the wall?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Customer servile

As my last post earlier this week provoked a repsonse, I thought I would return to it. Clearly my suggestion that the American way of service is to be aspired to was too much for Kevin who,

"couldn't think of anything worse than an american telling me the value of service"

Interestingly, Lucy Kellaway whose article originally prompted my thoughts had a follow up in which she experienced some great service (The pen is mightier than high-tech gadgets). So as Zine and Zein highlighted in their comments, I was generalising and my suggested course would probably not sell to them.

I had the additional thought that the internet might be responsbile for an overall decline in customer service, in the same way that text messaging has destroyed conversation. In that it has moved human beings further apart and therefore further away from an immediate reaction to what thay say or think. Being face to face with someone tends to temper most extremes of communication (think about how often you shout expletives after you have hung up the phone or walked out the door).

But then I immediately challenge myself that this could just be further evidence of myself getting older and heading towards the inevitable day when I moan in exasperation about, "The youth of today!!" (Incidentally you can shoot me when I start doing this). The Internet is not bad in and of itself. The point is what is facilitates (see Michael Wesch's original film "The Machine is Us" for more on this) and it should facilitate even better service.

Maybe it is the fact that 25% of us are unhappy in our jobs and a third of us do not feel engaged. The people from whom I have had the best customer service are the people who seem to care or show an interest, whether in the UK, the USA or elsewhere. Those who feel they are wage slaves are unlikely ever to serve the customer genuinely.

As to whether this is the responsibility of the employee to move to a job that they enjoy and fell valued in or the employer to make the employee feel valued and content, I fear the debate will never end.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Is it really that difficult to smile?

I have been thinking about Lucy Kellaway's article last Monday, "Turning customer delight into disgust" and I have finally conceded to my wife that the British just don't know how to do customer service. My wife, a Serb who has lived in Russia and America and thus experienced the extremes of the customer experience, has long been baffled about how badly we, the British, treat our clients.

I have generally curled my toes in embarrassment and tried to shuffle away from my wife as she berates the latest unfortunate for failing to provide even an adequate response (I don't think what we receive on the whole in this country even qualifies as "a service"). But the point is I am at fault not her. I think the root of it may be generational and lurks within the phrase, "Mustn't grumble".

This spirit was admirable when the Blitz was on and was indeed admired throughout the world as being evidence of our tenacity and spirit. It seems however to have evolved into never complaining to the people at fault and developing a sarcastic streak a mile wide to moan about our unfortunate lives with our friends. It is perhaps why comedy flourishes in the UK. We are not prepared to get off our behinds and confront poor service we would rather create jokes about it.

Lucy's experience at the hands of a low cost airline I have had with other low costs airlines and with flag carriers. I cant remember the last time I had a retail experience that could be classed as enjoyable - indeed my wife and I stormed out of a major electrical supplier at the weekend after wasting half and hour on the completely unreasonable expectation that there would be someone employed there who knew something about anything... I have had to threaten legal action against the company that sold me my scooter before I got what could be called service. And hotels and restaurants leave me cold. I went to a pizza restaurant in Balham with my family and next door neighbours on Saturday and there was a nail in one of the pizzas.

Had the nail been in my pizza or that of my wife or daughter we would have addressed it. However, it was in my my neighbours' elder daughter's pizza and they would not make a fuss. In fact she apologised to the waiter, after I had drawn attention to it and the waiter was already grovelling. My neighbour paid the bill, possibly to stop me from extracting a significant discount and causing further embarrassment.

Now I don't say this to ridicule my neighbour or their daughters, they are amongst the nicest people in the world. But this behaviour in the face of dreadful service goes to show that in the end we get the customer service we deserve.

I have been thinking of developing a training course, "Customer service: the American way" for some time but have held back for fear of offending people and it not selling. But now I think maybe that was just another way of avoiding embarrassment. What do you think?

As a service lead economy should we sort out our act to have a future or am I becoming just another grumpy old man?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are you sitting comfortably?

Reading George Siemens' blog, "Story telling: Why we love a good yarn" yesterday my thinking about the future of the learning and development industry moved on a notch.

It is difficult to know how far to deconstruct the idea as am I far from expert in any of the areas I am about to pillage and generalise (cognitive psychology, post structuralism, politics and psephology, anthropology and the list goes on). But I think that the reason that we humans like stories is that they make life easier. Our brains are essentially pattern finding systems (I told you I wasn't an expert! If you want to know more read Stephen Pinker) they even find patterns where there are none - think of seeing animal shapes in cloud formations or dreams which are you mind trying to make sense of unconnected impulses, thoughts and emotions.

I stumbled across a remarkable programme on BBC radio 4 earlier this year called Jackonory Politics (there is even a link for the full transcript on the page if you're keen). The programme showed how politicians who spin a good yarn win because they are doing the electorate's thinking for them. It explained quite succinctly why politicians don't talk about issues. Because the electorate don't understand issues and don't want to hear about them. I often accuse one of my friends of never letting the facts come between him and a good story or opinion but it seems the same is true for all of us. Never mind the fact that crime rates have fallen consistently in the UK for years and we live in a society that is safer than ever, every single political party jumps on the "hoodies are going to stab us in our beds" bandwagon. Why because fear gets the vote our more than statistics.

We like stories because they tell us what to think. They have structure (which is annoyingly absent from life) which make it easier for us to understand them. They appeal to the emotions which make it easier for us to remember them. They let us sit back and switch off.

So what does all this have to do with the future of the learning industry?

Well, I think we are the storytellers of change. Behavioural change is what we are about; or at least it should be. Helping people do new stuff. But change is painful, complex, seemingly irrational. Facilitating learning (any good instructional systems design) is about putting the required behaviour in a context, helping students practice the new stuff in a supportive environment and then giving them the confidence and motivation to go out and use it in their lives. Making it comprehensible, digestible, less scary.

The traditional classroom methods of teaching may evolve or even fall by the wayside but the process of helping people deal with difficulty in their lives will never end. It is after all why we tell bedtime stories to our children (and if you don't tell stories to your children, start now!). It helps them make sense of the world.

But we must also teach them to question the storyteller and that is where life starts to get difficult. Maybe I'll go back to reading the Daily Mail and have my thinking done for me.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Old dogs and new tricks

On Thursday I took my management team out of the office to rural Wiltshire for an "away day". The subject under dicussion was our course portfolio; which courses do well, which one not so well, what new products should we develop, what new partnerships... You get the gist.

I have done this many times in my life but never before with such a sense of the sheer vastness of possibilities for learning and personal development (see my previous post for more on this). However, this feeling of awe is coupled with enthusiasm. I have also rediscovered Mind Maps. I've been aware of mind maps for years and have met a number of advocates but have never really got on with them.

But while I was waiting for the meeting to start I was looking through some of Jane's recent posts and decided to download "FreeMind". Interestingly this is one of the things you find yourself doing more of when you get into web 2.0. The dead seconds while you are waiting for meetings to start get used catching up on your RSS feed or following the latest trail of virtual breadcrumbs through the internet. As a learning professional and a man I decided to work out how to use the software by getting on with it rather than reading any instructions and set about using it to create notes for our meeting.

Interestingly, I quickly found that FreeMind was a much better way than standard taking of notes. It forced me to use some kind of structure when considering what to write and more ideas were generated when I showed the other members of the group my notes thus far.

For those who work for me you can go and look at our strategy mind map in our Google group (if you dont know where it is ask Alex). I'm afraid everyone else will have to take it on trust.

On reflection the process of re-examining old ideas in a new context and uncovering previously unimagined success could be a metaphor for all connectivist business models.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How do you eat an elephant?

The old answer is, "Piece by piece" but I think I will add to that, "You've got to really want to eat it". You have to be motivated!

Today, amongst other things, I had an excellent one-to-one training session and all-round discussion on web & learning 2.0 with Jane Hart (click on the link to find her blog). At the end of it I felt that there was more in the world that I was ignorant of, not less. If you want a quick visual summary of social media applications out there, simply look at Harold Jarche's recent post. I have been introduced to Twitter, Ning, Moodle, PollDaddy and Jing... (Spike Milligan, "Ning nang nong" anyone?).

The "elephant" of social media is ever-expanding (although fortunately not infinite). This, I think, is the problem for those who have remained on the sidelines, those who say, "It's just too big" or "Yeah fascinating, but how are we going to make any money out of it?".

Many of the discussions on Tony's page recently have turned around whether people are developing new forms of learning; a brain 2.0 to accommodate all these new tools. I think that the bigger issue is motivation and fear of failure. Strangely, I find that my increased ignorance is motivating rather than demotivating. But perhaps that is because I am less concerned about making a fool of myself than when I was younger.

Perhaps the future for learning professionals is more one of cheerleader and performance coach than fount of all wisdom. To go back to one of my all time favourite quotes about learning from the 19th century polymath Wilhelm von Humboldt, "We cannot teach language, we can only create an environment in which language may be learnt"

Anyway, at Jane's suggestion I have lifted posting restrictions on my blog so you can post anonymously (makes it easier) and for those "lurkers" who would rather not, why don't you click on the poll?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time for reflection

I have just returned from holiday in the mountains of Serbia with my family where I successfully avoided the information age for a week, read books, went for walks, played with my daughter and had time to think.

On my way to Serbia I stopped in Germany to go to a friend's 50th birthday party which was a delightful affair at a schloss on the Rhine. This made me wonder about what are the measures or values that matter in life. How can you say you have lived a good life? The only obvious measure left in today's post nationalist world is money. Yes I know there is a nationalist war going on in South Ossetia and the Olympics are on (which might give the lie to this thought). But I think that nationalism is on the wane and the rising religiosity and conflict in the world is partly driven by a lack of identity. Unfortunately, business and large supra-national organisations have not in the past been very good at filling this vacuum as values are things that companies tend only to pay lip service to. But I wonder if the rise in interest in CSR and Environmental issues may herald and end to this?

So what does matter? I think positive choice and responsibility. I suppose that is what the existentialists meant by acting in "good fath". Which is annoying because I've never liked Nietzsche and find Keirkegaard depressing. Why aren't there any decent philosphers anymore? Is it because there is too much reality television?

On micro-economic level, during my holiday, I rediscovered the pleasure of reading. Like the slow food movement, there is much to be said for slow information. I am a relative newcomer to cloud computing but am already needing new strategies to stop my RSS feeds from getting on top of me.

So if you haven't had your holiday yet (and inspired by Kevin who liked my last post [incidentally Kevin you can call me Hugh]) here are a couple of recommended reads:

Dan Ariely, "Predicatably Irrational" - similiar to "Freakonomics "and the "Undercover Economist" this a a wonderfully readable book for those interested in how people actually make decisions

Louis de Bernieres, "The Partisan's Daughter" - a great tale from the author of Captain Corellis Mandolin that examines story telling and truth, read it in a day it was that good

Wilf Self, "The Book of Dave" - hard work to begin with but brilliant and dark reflection on society set up by the conceit of a mad London cabbie accidentally founding a religion

Irvin Yalom, "The Schopenhauer Cure" - a dying therapist re-examines his life and tries to help his biggest failure

And for those of you who think this looks like a politician's summer reading list compiled by his/her publicist

Ian Rankin - any Inspector Rebus novel
Janet Evanonvic - any Stephanie Plum novel, v funny
and for cry laughing cynicism anything by Christopher Brookmyre

Time to think is good... Maybe I'll switch off the Crackberry more often.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Only the good die young...

Randy Pausch died on Friday at the age of 47 (click on his name for more). A colleague, who is also a fan, told me this morning and we shared a moment of sadness. However, if ever there was a person whose life deserved to be celebrated, then it is Randy. Go find out about him!

When I was at university I remember having a conversation about the lyrics of the above named Billy Joel song (that should give you an opportunity to date me or pigeon hole me should you so wish). I remember being immensely proud of continuing the line with, "Only the good die young because they haven't lived" My immediate (inebriated) friends were almost equally impressed and I was convinced this was the first of many aphorisms I would coin that would eventually form a little book of wisdom which would make me famous.

Reflecting on this, once one has got over the shudder of disappointment that I was deconstructing MOR music at university (why weren't we talking about The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Undertones or anything with an edge?) and the hilarious naivety of youth, I have to concede to my younger self that I had a point. A point I didn't understand and couldn't explain at the time. A point expressed by many greater thinkers than myself before and since. But a point nonetheless.

What Randy helped me understand is that my life is in my hands, if I don't enjoy it that that can only be my own fault. A good life is measured in experiences and friends not in years. I have known this for a long time. But as any decent learning professional will tell you, there is a difference between knowing something and actually doing something with it.

I found an echo reading Lucy Kellaway's article in the FT on Monday debunking the "sentimental pap" that no-one ever says on their death bed, "I wish I'd spent more time in the office". Now I am a huge fan of hers, indeed she is the only columnist I have actually written fan mail to (and received a response which surprised me). But it is easy to stand on the side and chuck rocks and I think there are more people with a dysfunctional relationship with work that hurts their life than there are rounded, complete individuals who just happen to get their completeness from work.

As Freud said, "Love AND work" (my caps), not one or the other.

Perhaps that is why I continue to write this blog. It is only by forcing myself to do something that I cannot control or completely understand that I stand a chance of learning something new.

Or as the Doctor Pepper ad says, "What's the worst that could happen?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You can lead a horse to water...

I have been going around my business over the last few days talking about the impact that collaborative working in a knowledge economy will have. I have have tried to enthuse other people without simply being enthusiastic. And as a result I have been reflecting a lot on how to help people embrace change.

I think a lot of the reticence to explore new ways of working, communicating and collaborating stems from the age old problems of learning. That is our attitude to failure and the embarrassment that comes with it. "I can't learn a foreign language" or "I don't do technology" generally means, "I've had a bad experience trying to learn". Of course this is often masked by the standard excuses, "I don't have time", "How are we going to make money out of it?" etc.

And this in turn makes me think about how, as parents, we are bringing up and educating our children. Please notice that I am not amongst the group who think that this is the responsibility of teachers and schools.

I believe that to learn is to fail and vice versa. If you are not prepared to fail then you will learn little. And yet we have contributed, certainly in the UK and the USA, to the creation of a society that is predicated upon measurement, high stakes tests and school performance leagues rather than one in which people are taught to learn.

It is a long accepted business rule that staff will pay attention to the numbers that they know management are looking at. What if society's management is looking at the wrong numbers? When the rate of change of organisational skill catches up with us, we will have a generation of people who know longer know how to learn as all they have been taught is how to pass tests.

I suppose this brings me back to my central belief of parenthood. I cannot protect my child from pain nor should I. I can only convince her that I will be there to pick her up when she falls over. Such that when I am no longer there to pick her up and kiss it better she is not afraid to try and to learn herself for fear of failing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Reading a recent post by gsiemens in elearnspace,

"Trust is tied to reliability and consistency. The "big institutions" - government, religious, corporate - that were the object of trust in the past have, in the last century in particular, been revealed as flawed. While people still pursue religious activities and subject themselves to government, the authority of these institutions is being replaced (is augmented a better word) by personal networks of trust" click here for full post

It occurs to me that lack of trust in "big institutions", whether secular or religious, is hardly a new thing. I would point to Martin Luther, George Washington or Robespierre (it is always fun to remind the French that the American revoltion preceded theirs by thirteen years and if you want to be really annoying that the British one preceded that by a century). In any case, my point is that mistrust is hardly a new thing.

What I would suggest is changing is the access to alternative viewpoints without obvious vested interests. It is widely held that adding user ratings to internet shopping sites was the thing which finally unlocked people's wallets to shop online. With hindsight it is easy to grasp that your average internet shopper was more prepared to accept the view of a complete stranger often from another part of the world than s/he was to believe the vendor or the manufacturer.

We believe "joe1890" or whomever, when he says, "I bought this and it's great, one small problem is changing batteries" because he has absolutely nothing to gain from me buying the same item.

It is the issue of vested interest web 2.0 turns upon. Perhaps large sites that wish to be trusted should declare a register of interests...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Randy Pausch - time management

Those who work for me will recgonise the name. At least those who read my emails.

Incidentally, a word of advice on emails, "The number of people to whom an email is sent is inversely proportional to the percentage of total recipients that will read and comprehend it".

But this post is about Randy Pausch, for those of you who haven't heard of him find a spare hour in your life and click on his name link and watch the You Tube video. I know that Europeans might find the first 10-15 minutes a little American but trust me it is worth sticking to the end.

For those who already know him, find a spare 80 minutes to listen to his lecture on Time Management. Brilliant stuff. I found this at the weekend and watched it with my wife. I am already working on two screens and may go for a third soon.

For advanced Randyphiles see his recent charge to the graduates of Carnegie Mellon University or his home page on which he blogs on his fight against pancreatic cancer.

It is rare that you meet people in your life who change the way you think.

Seek them out!

Does blogging need a narrative

In the interests of narrative congruency, I should tell you that my daughter is now much better. For other paranoid parents out there it is worth noting that Mesenteric Adenitis is much less worrying than it sounds and much better to know this than to see your little mite misdiagnosed with Apendicitis and go under the knife.

But why I am concerned with narrative? Life doesn't have a narrative. Unless you happen to have your own personal voiceover giving sense and structure to the many random things that occur each day. Or are one of those deeply annoying people who talk about themselves in the third person. If you are the former, I suggest you seek help; if you are the latter I am afraid you are beyond it.

But why do I feel the need to maintain a narrative in my blog? I think it is because I feel that I am writing for a reader, rather than myself, and need to help him/her along the way.

It is possible, in this, that I am missing the point of blogging... As a tool for reflection. Thinking out loud with feedback.

But having already confessed to making this up as I go along, I shant worry about this and will continue to meander along my learning path.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Not waving but drowing

I have managed to be quite successful in my first few days of trying to stop my bad management habits. The principle reason for this being that I haven't been at work. My daughter has a rather nasty flu type virus and has been runing a fever of between 37.5 and 39.1 degrees for the last four days.

This really makes you think about what is important. Now I am not talking in the trite and obvious fashion about how much my family means to me and how no-one says on their death bed that they wish they'd spent more time at work. That goes, almost, without saying. I have done my panicky parent bit, done the sleepless parent bit and done the trip to A&E. But I do not believe I am different from the norm in this.

The point I have been reflecting on is the inefficiency of communication as a whole.

I have made a number of mistakes in the last few days by trying to cut corners in my communication at home and at work. But I have also had some successes where by filtering out the unnecessary I have got to the point sooner.

It's something that Marshall Goldsmith (see below post) talks about in his book, that I have yet to finish for the reasons above. If you have any doubt about saying something, keep schtum.

Will social media, the exponential growth of information bring with it an overall improvement in communication skills? Or new skills entirely?

Can we surf or will we drown in an overload of information?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What to stop

I recently saw Marshall Goldsmith (coaching guru) present and was struck by a number of things that he said. To the extent that I bought his book, "What Got You Here, Won't Get You There"

In fact if you click on the link for the book you will find a wonderful example of how web 2.0 keeps you on your toes. I was trying to insert a link with a summary of Marshall's book and I find a post that says pretty much everything I was thinking. So rather than list his idea that as you progress as a manager, the important thing is to think about what to stop doing rather than start doing you can just click on it to see the list.

Another of his key concepts is that if you want to change your behaviour you have to advertise what you are trying to change. Otherwise people will not notice. So for the benefit of people who work with me who haven't posted reponses yet, here is your chance. From his list of 20 are the things that I think I am bad at:

1. Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations - when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point. - I'm very bad at this. Always competing even when it doesn't matter

2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion - I am often guilty of destroying people's enthusiasm by telling them, in detail, the small and picky points they have missed in their idea (see below #6)

3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them - not immune to this either

4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty - I still can't seem to detach myself from the notion that sarcasm is a display of intelligence

5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are - This is probably my biggest failing

8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked. - I do this on occasions but not all the time

14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly - I didn't think that I did this but I know a number of my staff think I do, so I accept that I need to work on this

16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues - On the whole I think I'm OK at this but always need to improve as some people still don't feel listened to...

20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are - I'm sure I'm guilty of this as well

These are the things that I am committing to try and improve. I will try and map my progress through this blog.

Out of 20 bad habits, I'm admitting to 10. This is pretty poor since they're the ones I prepared to admit to. This is an open invitation, without fear of criticism or reprisal, to anyone who works for me, or knows me for that matter, to add to the list. Tell me what I need to get better at.

Go on. Take a swing at the boss!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reality comes crashing in

One of the perils of pseudo-corporate blogging, as I see it, is the damage you can do to your company. Blogging seems to me to be a personal thing.

When a company or organisation comes along and tries to blog it often jars. Possibly because, however much our marketing and branding departments try to anthropomorphise, a company isn't a human and you can't empathise with it.

There is also a social experiment going on here which we, the lab rats (or beagles if you are that way inclined), don't understand or grasp. Whether the altruistic spirit of collaboration in web 2.0 (or whatever you want to call it) will continue or whether it will be exploited remains unclear. Although as a cynic I know which side my money is on...

The advice on blogging I have garnered so far appears to be:
1. Be honest
2. Be brief
3. Be interesting
4. Connect things (either ideas, people or content)

For a nice summary from a more experienced blogger than I click here - thanks to Tony Karrer

I am blogging for the reasons listed below. But also, as the managing director of a major UK outsourced training provider (click here if you're interested) I should like this to be beneficial to my company, my clients and my staff. I hope that wasn't too overt a plug.

One of the things I am struggling with at the moment is how to introduce web 2.0 in a beneficial way to my company. We have created forums for our instructors which are open to everyone but they were only launched last week so I'd wait a bit before going to look. I will be running training courses for all my staff on how to use Google properly, how to set up RSS feeds, how to use Linked In etc etc once I have found someone to deliver it.

At the moment I am not sure I know which way web 2.0 and learning 2.0 are going to go. Only that I am fairly sure that it will have a major impact on our industry. Which is precisely the opposite to what I felt in the first wave of Internet hype.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two steps backwards

It is quite difficult to deal with the fact that while you were otherwise engaged the world has run off and left you behind.

But it is quite staggering to me how much is now out there. I have been feeling my way like a drunken man in the dark trying not to trip over the cat or bring the wardrobe crashing down on me.

In the last few days I have developed a number of new skills. Tony Karrer suggested in his presentation (referenced above) that the audience's Google skills might not be as strong as they thought. Now I had always thought that I was a fairly competent searcher of things...

Then I typed "How to use Google" into the search bar and found out how wrong I was. Then I set myself up a Google account and shared a document with a couple of co-workers. Much more efficient collaboration than the traditional emailing files backwards and forwards.

Now I have set up Google Reader to pick up some RSS feeds but I think I'm still in the shallow end on this one. As I have only really gone about 6 clicks or so beyond the initial blogs I was reading.

I am saving for later in the week as I think my brain might explode. Although I did read this item by Michele Martin: Using to Create an Easy, Always Updated Online Portfolio, which, if I'm honest probably added rather than lessened my apprehension.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Come on in, the water's lovely...

I don't know the first thing about blogging. But I suppose an admission of ignorance is a good thing in the learning world. Nonetheless I am still worried about making a complete fool of myself or more importantly the company that I run.

So, why am I doing this?

Well, I recently went to the ASTD Conference in San Diego at which the conversations about Learning 2.0 made me feel firmly dinosaur-like (to view handouts from the conference click here). I have an innate reaction against blogging as it strikes me as egocentric and attention seeking - why would anyone actually want to read what I have to say? But I was struck by a number of people at the event who appear to use blogging as part of their cognitive thought process (I should nod to Tony Karrer who is the metaphorical midwife to my idea). Essentially think out loud and in public and deal with the reaction. Take risks and be prepared to change.

The process is recognisable to any learning professional. Try, fail, think, test, learn, apply. It is just that the boundaries or the context have changed. Other people can hear you think. If I try to think about this too hard, my head starts to hurt and I wonder how long before we start to inhabit a Philip K Dick novel.

This is SO different from the learning world I was brought up in that I thought the only way to understand this great social experiment is to take part. So I will do my best to post my thoughts about learning, organisational management and occasionally life.