If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
I’m fascinated by this quote that Henry Ford may or may not have uttered.
In The best of both worlds I promoted Design Thinking as a means of using customer insights to inform strategic decision making. However, as the above quote suggests, customers don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes it takes an expert to show them.
In an era in which the very existence of the L&D department is attracting evermore scrutiny, the role of the “expert” in our context is becoming increasingly pertinent. I have long been of the opinion that L&D professionals should dispense with being the SME of what is being trained; and instead be the SME of how it’s being trained.
Under this paradigm, we are the experts in the science and practice of learning and development, and we consult the business accordingly.
This resonates with me because beyond the education and research I invest in myself, I’ve been around the block a few times. I have a strong idea of what will work, not only because I’ve read up on it and thought deeply about it, but also because I’ve seen it play out with my own eyes.
I also get paid to focus on my portfolio every day. I consider it not only my mandate, but an ethical obligation, to originate and innovate.
So I’m more than comfortable with L&D professionals pushing the envelope on the basis of knowledge, curiosity, creativity and experience – so long as these activities are put through the Design Thinking cycle too.
By this I mean be confident that your idea is a sound one, but not so arrogant as to instil it with blind faith. Put your one-man (in my case) fruit of ideation to your customers to check it will work for them. While you’re at it, confirm the problem statement is indeed one that needs to be solved.
So much for Design Thinking being linear!
Then proceed with prototyping and testing, prior to launching an MVP, and iterating and evolving it.
In this way, the promise of expertise is tempered by an agile approach. It hedges the bet not only by building confidence pre-launch, but also by minimising potential losses post-launch.
If Mr Ford had resigned himself to breeding faster horses, he never would have launched the Model T.
In our admirable quest to utilise our customers as a source of innovation, let’s balance that approach by empowering the experts whom we have hired to practise their expertise.
There’s no point landing the perfect plane at the wrong airport.
That’s an analogy someone shared with me several years ago to explain Design Thinking, and it has resonated with me ever since for two reasons. Firstly, it exposes the solution-first approach that pervades the corporate sector; and secondly, it challenges our obsession with perfection.
When I look across the business landscape, I’m continually surprised by the decisions that some companies make on behalf of their customers, without those decisions being informed by said customers. It’s more prevalent then you might think. We humans are beset by bias, prejudice, arrogance and self-importance. We make assumptions and just know what is best for others. So we launch blind. No wonder so many initiatives fail.
Likewise I am continually surprised by the great lengths to which some companies go to ensure their product is flawless. All that time spent prior to launch represents time out of the market. And all those eggs put into the one basket means if it fails, it fails hard.
Design Thinking promises to overcome these problems by recasting the customer as the source of innovation rather than merely the recipient. Moreover, it’s agile – in the sense that it combines speed to market with continuous improvement.
Perhaps the most widely recognised variant of Design Thinking is the 5-stage framework espoused by Stanford University’s d.school. I won’t bother delving into its details when countless others have already done so. Suffice to say it involves empathising with your customers to find out what they really need; using those insights to define the problem you’ll solve for them; generating ideas for a potential solution; prototyping and testing (and modifying) the solution; prior to launching a minimum viable product (MVP).
Design Thinking is an iterative process, with an emphasis on cycles of learning: informing your decisions with intelligence; trying them out; failing fast; failing cheap; adapting; approaching ever closer to designing the right thing, and designing it right, to maximise its probability of success.
And it doesn’t end at launch. The MVP is a starting point, not an end point. In the heat of the market, the cycle of learning continues, and so the product evolves.
Of course Design Thinking has no shortage of detractors. One commentator likens it to syphilis (!) while others are even more offensive, calling it linear.
Much of the disdain appears to stem from the evangelism practised by fanbois who worship the idol of Design Thinking, the healer of all ills (including, no doubt, syphilis).
I also find the language of the protagonists sometimes misleading; for example, IDEO – the proponent of Human Centered Design, Design Thinking’s alter ego – claims “you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process”. I know what they’re getting at, and I agree with the sentiment, but anyone with a freshman’s appreciation of statistics understands you can’t possibly know an outcome based on a sample. The best you can do is infer; or in layman’s terms, increase your confidence.
Nonetheless, I’m prepared to see past the breathless zeal and call myself an advocate of Design Thinking. Why? Because I consider it the best of both worlds: it’s evidence based, and it delivers.
Do your homework to check you’ll add real value, but get on with it and start adding that value now.
There are two sides of the innovation coin in corporate learning & development: technology and pedagogy.
The former is rather obvious and is often conflated with the term innovation. Futuristic hardware and magical software that educates everyone at the press of a button are tempting “solutions”. Some folks call this mindset Shiny New Toy Syndrome, and by golly, it’s a pandemic.
The latter is less obvious because it involves thinking, and I’m not being facetious when I say that thinking is hard. Traditional ways of learning in the workplace are, by definition, ingrained in the psyche of the vast majority of the workforce. Changing the concept of how we learn and redefining how we can help people do it better involve shifting the organisation’s culture, and that is a challenge greater than any IT implementation.
So it was with much surprise that, upon starting my new role in a global bank, charged with innovating its learning & development offering, I encountered the reverse! I had envisaged an arduous intellectual slog trying to convince my colleagues in the L&D team – let alone in the broader business – of the value of evolving our pedagogy to become more effective in the digital age; and of leveraging technology as an enabler of the outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se.
Instead, I found everyone already on board with contemporary ideas. Terms such as “flipped classes” and “microlearning” emerged unprompted in my conversations with them. My colleagues are evidently well read, open minded, progressive thinkers. Yet I saw little evidence of anyone having actioned these ideas. They appeared stuck on the content treadmill cranking out yet another course, be it a face-to-face workshop or online module.
Which – I finally realised – was why I was recruited. Not to introduce innovative ideas, but to make them happen.
While reasons for the disconnect between idea and action in corporate L&D abound, one of the most insidious I think is a variant of Shiny New Toy Syndrome called Bright New Idea Syndrome. When we aspire to do everything we think of at the same time, frequently flitting from one idea to another, we generally end up doing none of them – or at least none of them well.
Just as we must learn to walk before we can run, so too must an organisation lay the foundations of innovation before it can reach for the stars. Though not a sexy as their more tweeted-about alternatives, these foundations are the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.
So what are the foundations of innovation in L&D?
I will hereby attempt to answer this question by looking through the lens of the 70:20:10 model. Whereas previously I have advocated this approach when designing a solution for a specific learning objective, this time I’m elevating the approach to the strategic level, with a view to designing a future-proofed solution for all the organisation’s learning objectives.
From the get-go, a false idol that must fall is the belief that the role of the L&D department is to create all the training to meet the organisation’s learning needs. These needs are so diverse within and across all the different job roles that the task is an almost comical impossibility.
Moreover, a large proportion of these needs is generic; despite what many organisations think, they’re not that special. Analytics is analytics. Decision making is decision making. Difficult conversations are difficult conversations. The nature of such content is universal.
So my first building block is a third-party content library. There are many players in this space, and sure it makes sense to pick one that matches your organisation’s profile, but their pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with immediate access to an extensive suite of learning assets, covering a broad range of topics, on demand. Such a resource empowers self-directed learning which, in the language of 70:20:10, can be done on the job, just in time.
Another false idol to fall is the myth that all the information we need is at our fingertips. Clearly, not all our needs are generic. The organisation is special in the sense that has its own products, processes, systems, policies, etc, which a third party will never cover.
So my second building block is an in-house knowledge base. Whether the underlying technology is an intranet, CMS or wiki, again the pedagogical purpose is the same: to provide your people with on-demand access to bespoke content that improves performance.
Despite the best intentions of a content library and a knowledge base, they will never meet every conceivable learning need. An enterprise social network covers the “in-betweens”, principally by empowering everyone to ask their own questions to the crowd, and to keep abreast of emergent knowledge in the moment.
The building blocks in the 70 and the 20 spearhead an informal first approach to learning and development which lifts a mountain of weight off the shoulders of the L&D team. Freed from the burden of training everything, we can now focus our attention on what should be trained.
Furthermore, these building blocks enable change in the nature of the training. With the bulk of the content hosted elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be shovelled into the course. The class can be flipped, the narrative pared back to key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.
In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.
By no means do these building blocks exhaust the 70:20:10 model, nor do they represent the extent of innovation in L&D. Rather, they form the bedrock of further innovation.
User-generated content has a home, not only where it can be housed, but also where it can be governed.
Blended learning goes beyond pre-work online modules by integrating social activity and ongoing performance support.
Corporate MOOCs have a delivery vehicle.
Micro-learning and micro-assessments have a rich source of reference content to which remedial feedback can link.
If the content library, knowledge base and ESN are mobile accessible, they support mobile learning.
Any reduction in training volume creates more space to explore emerging technologies such as AI, VR and AR.
An orderly, structured L&D service offering provides the basis for a proper consideration of the value that a next-generation learning management system may add (or not).
So while I remain an advocate of ad hoc innovation, I see it as a necessity in the absence of a plan. My preference is a much more strategic approach, bedding down what matters most to meet the immediate needs of the business, prior to building additional innovative initiatives that stand firmly on that foundation.
In this way, not only do we innovate now, but we have a platform for innovating into the future.
It was a welcome message pitching my corner of the World Wide Web as “a forum to share my thoughts and ideas about everything e‑learning, to explore new tools and technologies, and to highlight trends and changing behaviours in the online world.”
I initially titled my blog Ryan 2.0 – hence the URL – because “on a personal level, it represents my next big step in our evolving participatory culture. Just as the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 represents a change from one-way transmission to two-way participation on the Internet, the shift from Ryan 1.0 to Ryan 2.0 represents a similar change in myself.”
But it hasn’t all been beer and skittles. As a result of my blogging, I’ve been insulted, trolled, condescended to, and talked at. On the flip side, however, I’ve also been validated, supported, engaged with, and commended. I’m pleased to report the latter interactions have far exceeded the former. By a country mile.
Over the years I’ve encountered peers with a growth mindset, and peers with a fixed mindset. Some of their comments have been constructive, others less so. I’ve agreed with many, disagreed with many others. Plenty of folks have convinced me to change my mind, or at least tweak my original thought. And so I’ve grown intellectually.
Through my various interactions I’ve acquired an allergy to absolutism. I now have the wisdom to recognise declarations such as “X is dead” or “Y doesn’t work” to be nonsensical. What is “right” for you may not be right for me, and vice versa. It’s all circumstantial.
I’ve also significantly raised my profile – both locally & internationally. When a stranger approaches me at a conference to praise my blog, it still blows. my. mind.
Yet at the end of the day, I don’t think I’m that clever. I just strive to be open and honest, sharing my ideas and experiences while respecting those of others.
I also like to think I add a dose of courage. Otherwise I never would have pressed that “Publish” button in the first place.
The inaugural #VRwolweek unearthed 20 real-world examples of the emerging technology, and the enduring popularity of that blog post tells me that we are hungry for more.
Loath to disappoint, I hereby present 25 more real-world examples of virtual reality, drawn from this year’s and last year’s events. I thank everyone who contributed to the following list.
Kicking off with the Colonel, it would be remiss of me to omit KFC’s virtual escape room The Hard Way. Widely criticised for its evil genius paradigm, I urge us to appreciate the game’s otherwise authenticity. If used as a primer for training in real life, then it’s an engaging example of setting up an employee for success.
South Wales Fire and Rescue uses interactive 360° video to train its new recruits on extricating a casualty from a road traffic incident.
The Dutch Fire Department uses 360° video to teach the public how to react in case of an emergency, while on the other side of the flames in Australia FLAIM Trainer combines VR with haptics and heat-generating clothing to immerse firefighters in realistic situations.
This charming Kiwi uses 360° video to record pov tutorials for mobile productivity apps. “See the apps and devices in action, in the context of where we work, live and play.”
A group of middle school students has used 360° photos to create a virtual tour of Fort Vancouver, while the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust uses 360° video to take you on a tour of their Age of Sail galleries.
Have you ever wondered how a self-driving car senses the world around it? Wonder no more with the Waymo 360° experience.
Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Storytelling, Pearl is a beautiful 360° animation that heralds the future of narrative.
Virtual reality isn’t new to gamers, but now it’s social. Check out Evasion and Poker VR.
I’m continually amazed at what can be achieved with CoSpaces Edu, such as the Virtual Reality Learning Lab’s uber cool reboot of Frogger. And while we’re going retro, have a laugh at Mario in real life.
Topshop allows their customers to ride a virtual waterslide over the black cabs and double-deckers of central London.
SeaWorld hybridises the real world with the virtual. Patrons of The Kraken Unleashed ride a rollercoaster while wearing VR headsets that plunge them into the abyss.
It reminds me of Batman Adventure at Australia’s Movie World back in 1992, when we all sat on moveable seats in front of a big screen simulating the batplane screaming through Gotham City.
A rollercoaster ramps the immersion up a few notches, to say the least, and I can see why it’s the perfect vehicle for a pre-recorded experience because the timing is precise.
In Norway, Audi lets you test-drive their new Q5 in a giant virtual sandbox. It took me a while to work out the prospective customer would dig the racetrack in a real sandbox, which was then scanned and transformed into virtual reality. It’s a modern-day twist on Daytona USA presumably intended to attract the Amazon generation in-store to be worked over by the sales reps.
Incidentally, I see the clever Scandi’s have now moved on to Augmented Reality with the Quattro Coaster app, which lets you build a road and drive a mini car on it in your living room.
VR needn’t have an Audi-sized budget to be effective for marketing. A product manager in the medical industry created a WebVR experience to promote the hi-tech material in her range of surgical gowns. Given her name you may deduce I know this person, so I can tell you this impressive project was done on a shoestring.
Finally, these other examples of virtual reality in healthcare – for autism, disability and pain management – must surely turn the most ardent of sceptics.
Oh how far we’ve come since Hugo Gernsback strapped on his teleyeglasses back in 1968. Long may this wonderful technology continue to evolve!
There’s an ugly trend on Australian television that’s been going on for quite a while. I hoped it would fade away but it only seems to be getting worse.
I’m referring to the ever-increasing number of commercials that depict males as incompetent fools who are put straight by their female companions.
Maybe it’s been happening in your country too.
Like the proverbial boiling frog, most of us have probably been oblivious to it. But, just as when you want to buy a particular make of car you suddenly spot them everywhere, when you are aware of this trend you can’t un-see it.
I’ve never understood the battle of the sexes. Bias against women affects men’s partners, mothers, sisters and daughters. Bias against men affects women’s partners, fathers, brothers and sons. Everyone loses.
So I caution against promoting one demographic at the expense of another. Propping someone up by pulling someone else down is a zero-sum game.
In other words, we can’t fight an “ism” – be it sexism, racism, or something else – with yet more ism. Instead of resolving the problem, it perpetuates it.
We need to call out prejudice against women and men. Otherwise I fear a downward spiral for the latter, which will inevitably scar us all.
2017 was a whirlwind for me. I started a new job in a new sector, made loads of new friends there, learned heaps, and finished said job 10 months later before starting another one back in financial services.
I haven’t had much of a chance to scratch myself!
As a consequence, I haven’t blogged as frequently this year as I have done in previous years. However, while my posts may have been fewer, I dove deeper into a couple of topics of interest.
Data science was one such topic that captured my attention, not only because it’s white hot, but also because I believe it will inform our practice like never before.
I also focused my mind on capability frameworks. Not the most exciting topic, I know, but in my opinion a driver of business performance.
Somehow I also stole enough time to share my thoughts on virtual reality, journals, games, conferences, and the employee lifecycle.
My last couple of blog posts have argued in favour of extracting value out of organisational capabilities. Due to the nature of my role I have posited these arguments in terms of employee development.
However, I further advocate the use of organisational capabilities across all parts of the employee lifecycle.
Using the 4+4 Part Employee Lifecycle as my guide, I will share my thoughts on some of the ways in which your capability framework can add value to your organisation’s activities in terms of recruitment, onboarding, performance, and offboarding.
Everyone knows that change management is hard. Culture eats strategy for breakfast; an organisation’s culture doesn’t change over night; something about herding cats; the change curve; etc. etc.
We’ve heard it all before, and yes it’s probably true.
But there’s a big elephant in the room: the power of recruitment to accelerate cultural change. That is to say, bring in from the outside the people whose capabilities you desperately need on the inside.
Which begs the question… what capabilities? Well, organisations that focus like an eagle know precisely the capabilities to assess each candidate against, because they are the ones that align to their strategic imperatives.
If your organisation needs to become more collaborative, recruit collaborative people. If it needs to become more innovative, recruit innovative people. And if it needs to become more digitally literate, recruit digitally literate people.
This approach may seem too obvious to mention, yet I dare you to examine your organisation’s current recruitment practices.
Onboarding is one of those pies that everyone wants to stick their fingers into, but nobody wants to own. Yet it is crucial for setting up the new recruit for success.
From an organisational capability perspective, a gold-plated opportunity arises during this phase in the employee’s lifecycle to draw their attention to the capability framework and the riches therein. The new recruit is motivated, keen to prove themselves, and hungry to learn.
Highlight the resources that are available to them to develop their capabilities now. This is important because the first few weeks of their experience in the organisation colours their remaining tenure.
Ensure they start their journey the way you’d like them to continue it: productively.
Capability powers performance, so the capability framework is a tool you can use to improve all four subparts of Performance in the 4+4 Part Employee Lifecycle.
Effective performance management complements development planning to provide the employee with guidance on improving said performance.
When seen through the lens of the capability framework, an employee’s performance appraisal can identify meaningful development opportunities. Performance weak spots may be (at least partly) attributable to gaps in specific capabilities; while a strengths-based approach might also be adopted, whereby an already strong capability is enhanced to drive higher performance.
To inform these decisions with data, I’d be keen to correlate capability assessments against individual performances and observe the relationship between the variables over time.
It’s all very well to have a poetic capability framework, but if learning opportunities aren’t mapped to it, then its value is inherently limited.
If the framework’s capabilities align to leadership stages, I suggest the following question be put to the user: Do you want to excel in your current role or prepare for your next role?
Not only does this question focus the user’s development goal, it also identifies the relevant leadership stage so the capabilities can be presented in the right context.
A follow-up question may then be posed: Would you like to browse all the capabilities – useful for those who want to explore, or already know which capability to develop – focus on our strategic imperatives – useful for those who are time poor – or assess your capabilities – useful for those who seek a personal diagnosis.
The answers to these questions lead to a selection of capabilities which, beyond the provision of clear descriptions, outline the opportunities for development.
Resist the urge to dump masses of resources into their respective buckets. Instead, curate them. I suggest the following approaches:
KASAB is an esoteric extension of the KSA heuristic in teaching circles, and I like it because it includes “B” for “Behaviour”.
For example, help your colleagues move beyond the consumption of teamwork videos, design thinking workshops, and moocs on digital business; by encouraging them to contribute to communities of practice, submit ideas to the enterprise idea management system, and participate in the company’s social media campaign.
Health & Wellbeing
I see organisational capabilities applying to health & wellbeing in two ways.
The first way concerns the impact of employee development on mental health. Given the satisfaction and pride of building mastery drives engagement, the capability framework presents opportunities to improve mental health across the enterprise.
The second way concerns the composition of the capability framework. Given a healthy employee is a productive employee, why isn’t Wellness itself an organisational capability?
I’ve seen with my own eyes the impact of employee development (or lack thereof) on retention.
Given the sense of support and growth that the investment in people’s learning brings, the capability framework presents opportunities to retain talent across the enterprise.
Capabilities that align to leadership stages are useful for succession planning. Not only do they identify the capabilities that someone needs to succeed in their current role, but also the capabilities they need to succeed in their next role. Assessment of the latter informs the readiness of the employee for promotion.
Conversely, when the employee leaves the team (or exits the organisation) the capability framework can be used to assess the skills gap that remains.
Wow, my previous blog post elicited some rich comments from my peers in the L&D profession.
Reframing the capability framework was my first foray into publishing my thoughts on the subject, in which I argued in favour of using the oft-ignored resource as a tool to be proactive and add value to the business.
To everyone who contributed a comment, not only via my blog but also on Twitter and LinkedIn… thank you. Your insights have helped me shape my subsequent thoughts about capability frameworks and their implementation in an organisation.
I will now articulate these thoughts in the tried and tested form of a listicle.
If you are building, launching or managing your organisation’s capabilities, I invite you to consider my 7 tips for custodians of capability frameworks…
1. Leverage like a banker.
At the organisational level, the capabilities that drive success are strikingly similar across companies, sectors and industries. Unless you have incredibly unique needs, you probably don’t need to build a bespoke capability framework from the ground up.
Instead, consider buying a box set of capabilities from the experts in this sort of thing, or draw inspiration *ahem* from someone else who has shared theirs. (Hint: Search for a “leadership” capability framework.)
2. Refine like a sculptor.
No framework will perfectly model your organisation’s needs from the get-go.
Tweak the capabilities to better match the nature of the business, its values and its goals.
3. Release the dove.
I’ve witnessed a capability framework go through literally years of wordsmithing prior to launch, in spite of rapidly diminishing returns.
Lexiconic squabbles are a poor substitute for action. So be agile: Launch the not-yet-finished-but-still-quite-useful framework (MVP) now.
Then continuously improve it.
4. Evolve or die.
Consider your capability framework an organic document. It is never finished.
As the needs of the business change, so too must your people’s capabilities to remain relevant.
5. Sing from the same song sheet.
Apply the same capabilities to everyone across the organisation.
While technical capabilities will necessarily be different for the myriad job roles throughout your business, the organisational capabilities should be representative of the whole organisation’s commitment to performance.
For example, while Customer Focus is obviously relevant to the contact centre operator, is it any less so for the CEO? Conversely, while Innovation is obviously relevant to the CEO, is it any less so for the contact centre operator?
Having said that, the nature of a capability will necessarily be different across levels or leadership stages. For example, while the Customer Focus I and Innovation I capabilities that apply to the contact centre operator will be thematically similar to Customer Focus V and Innovation V that apply to the CEO, their pitches will differ in relation to their respective contexts.
6. Focus like an eagle.
Frameworks that comprise dozens of capabilities are unwieldy, overwhelming, and ultimately useless.
Not only do I suggest your framework comprise fewer rather than extra capabilities, but also that one or two are earmarked for special attention. These should align to the strategic imperatives of the business.
7. Use it or lose it.
A capability framework that remains unused is merely a bunch of words.
In my next blog post I will examine ways in which it can be used to add value at each stage of the employee lifecycle.