Figure it out

Posted 5 November 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: wellbeing

Tags: , , , , , ,

I can honestly say I’ve never suffered from imposter syndrome.

I’ve always been the type of person who likes to work out how to do something hands-on, so I can talk about it with confidence.

I suppose I’ve been lucky in the sense that, throughout my career, I’ve been able to align my curiosity and sense of direction with the needs of the business.

Having said that, I also suppose I’ve created some of my own luck by keeping a few steps ahead of the business.

Einstein bobblehead

It is in this light that I read this fascinating article about consultants. Initially I considered it an alarming exposé into the fake-it-til-you-make-it culture of professional services.

Upon continued reading, however, I increasingly sympathised with their discomfort of not feeling on top of their game.

In the knowledge economy we can never know everything. For me, there is always another thing that I don’t just want to get my head around, but also deconstruct and reconstruct to understand deeply. When busy-ness gets in the way, the discomfort grows.

Over time I’ve learned to embrace the discomfort. It’s paradoxically liberating to recognise that I will always feel uncomfortable; that’s the nature of this kind of work.

It’s not like digging holes when at the end of your shift you can forget about it until your next shift. As a knowledge worker, you never clock off. Anywhere, anytime – or more accurately, everywhere all the time – you’re thinking about it. It consumes you to the point that it becomes way more than just a job; it’s a lifestyle.

So yes, I sympathise with the consultants in the article. They’re dealing with multiple clients while under pressure to deliver at speed. To this the client will say “We pay you because you’re the expert.” And to a certain extent I agree, but I also appreciate the expert must adapt his or her expertise to the context of the client’s environment. This takes time and cognitive effort, especially when you need to lay the foundations and start building up to the maturity level the client thinks they are already at!

Friends and peers have been urging me for years to do my own thing – to become a consultant – and while it’s still on my radar, thus far I’ve resisted. The benefits of a steady paycheck aside, I haven’t so much feared knowing everything as knowing enough.

Client needs are so diverse, it puts the fake-it-til-you-make-it construct into perspective. Perhaps it’s nigh on impossible for an external agent to do anything else?

Besides, I love driving the agenda from within – executing thought leadership, getting hands on, experimenting, starting small and scaling up – to effect positive change.

Yet as day-to-day business for regular employees like me gets ever more insane, must we eventually adopt a similar construct?

I sincerely hope not, but I must temper this view with the realisation that on occasion, I’ve had cause to question my own capability. More often than not, that’s been due to unreasonable expectations or poor job fit; nonetheless, I’ve been proud of my readiness to call out the shortcomings of my own skillset whenever the need has arisen.

This apparent courage, I think, is largely due to my confidence in my ability to learn what needs to be learned. And so this leads me to propose an alternative construct for knowledge workers: figure it out.

Instead of being the expert who knows the solution, be the one who solves the problem. This subtle but powerful shift transforms the objective from a noun to a verb. Solving involves thinking, researching, designing, deploying and evaluating.

When we do this to build upon what we already know, all impost is lost.

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Back to the future

Posted 24 September 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: history, innovation, museum

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m both a science nerd and a history buff, so naturally I’m fascinated by the history of science.

When I visited Bern several years ago, the Museum für Kommunikation was at the top of my “to do” list. This captivating institution is dedicated to the history of technology-mediated communication, from the cuneiform tablets of the Sumerians, through the gamut of the postal service, telephony, telegraphy, radio, television, computers and the Internet. Upon my return from Switzerland I eagerly blogged my highlights from the museum.

More recently, I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK, where of course I continued my exploration of geeky curiosities. I was delighted to have discovered three excellent museums, from which I will now share some of my highlights.

My first discovery was the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, which houses “an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments”. Indeed this institution houses a wide diversity of vintage apparatus – from microscopes to telescopes, abacuses to astrolabes.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer age of some the artefacts, such as the spring-operated prosthetic hand (Figure 1) which is thought to be from the 1500’s!

Artificial hand

Figure 1. Artificial Hand, 16th Century?

My second discovery I wish to share with you, which I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t originally on my “to do” list, was the Science Museum in London. Tight for time, I had bigger fish to fry, but my good friend in Kensington urged me to visit this place a mere tube stop away. And boy I’m glad I did.

If the Museum für Kommunikation and the Museum of the History of Science are impressively stocked, the Science Museum is the mother lode. I could have spent days poring over its expansive collection, and I intend to return to do so.

I think the strength of this collection is the sheer fame of some the artefacts. For example…

Faraday's magnet and coil

Figure 2. Faraday’s Magnet and Coil, 1831 – that’s Michael Faraday. You know, the godfather of electromagnetism.

Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector

Figure 3. Lumière Cine-Camera and Projector, 1896 – the type of camera which recorded that ground-breaking footage of a train arriving at La Ciotat.

An Enigma machine

Figure 4. Enigma Machine, 1934 – a suitable corollary to Faraday’s magnet and coil, this ingenious electromagnetic device needs no introduction for anyone who’s watched The Imitation Game or The Bletchley Circle.

Watson and Crick's 3D model of DNA

Figure 5. Watson and Crick’s 3D Model of DNA, 1953 – the glorious double helix.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

Figure 6. Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2, 1985-2002 – in the 1980’s, the museum began building Chuck’s 138-year-old design for a mechanical calculating machine, finally completing it in 2002.

My third and final discovery I wish to share with you was the Wellcome Collection, yet another destination which was inexplicably omitted from my “to do” list. The only reason I visited it was because my wonderful wife pointed it out as we were walking past.

This institution founded by pharmaceutical magnate Henry Wellcome specialises in human health. Hence I think the strength of this collection is focus, particularly the “Medicine Man” exhibition including the following array of medieval surgical equipment (Figure 7).

An array of medieval surgical equipment

Figure 7. Centuries-old surgical tools.

There’s just so much good stuff in these museums, highlighting more would make this blog post a mile long and might breach some sort of copyright regulation. For more of their artefacts, including several that are relevant to financial services, follow me on Twitter where I’ll post them over the course of the next week or so.

Unlike the “vintage future” whereby people of the past predicted a largely fanciful civilisation, each of the objects I have highlighted here offered a glimpse of our real future. In their respective moments in time, they weren’t theoretical constructs or figments of imagination; rather, they were manifestations of advances in technology upon which further advancements were rendered possible.

Which begs the question: What will be our next advances in technology, given the manifestations we see in this moment in time?

While we await our brave new world, I hope you have the opportunity to visit the museums I have mentioned and embrace your journey back to the future.

Gift horses

Posted 16 July 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: innovation

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

A horse in a pasture

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.

Ford Mustang emblem depicting a galloping horse

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.

Lest the L&D department be put out to pasture.

The best of both worlds

Posted 11 June 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: innovation

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

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.

Design Thinking is at the intersection of evidence and delivery

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.

Over time, the value will grow.

The foundations of innovation in L&D

Posted 14 May 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: innovation, strategy

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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.

I see technology as an enabler of the pedagogical outcome, rather than it being the outcome per se. And 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 as 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.

The Foundations of Innovation in L&D: content library, knowledge base, enterprise social network, and performance-oriented training

The 70

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.

The 20

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 10

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 its key messages, and a scenario-based design adopted to train not the content, but its application.

In this way, the training becomes performance oriented.

A man working on a house frame

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.

For example:

  • 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.

My decade of provocation

Posted 27 April 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blogging

Tags: ,

On this day 10 years ago, I pressed the “Publish” button on my first ever blog post.

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.”

A cupcake with 10 candles.

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.”

Early posts such as Text ain’t half bad and Don’t convert… transform! were about getting ideas off my chest and seeing how they fared among my peers. Later posts such as Collateral damage and The 70:20:10 lens have been more about reflection and sense making, accompanied by the joining of dots to generate fresh insights.

I soon re-titled my blog E-Learning Provocateur, not only for unique branding, but also to better convey my intent to provoke deeper thinking in the digital learning space and across L&D more broadly.

Some of my posts have been contrarian, others counter-contrarian. Some such as Taxonomy of Learning Theories and Online courses must die! have proved surprisingly popular, while my annual list of E-Learning conferences in Australia has become somewhat of a tradition.

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.

25 more real-world examples of Virtual Reality

Posted 5 March 2018 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: virtual reality

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A couple of years ago I started up Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week to promote real-world applications of virtual reality.

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.

A virtual hand grabbing a virtual drumstick.

  • 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.

  • Anchor Construction uses virtual reality to train its construction workers, while UPS uses it to train its truck drivers.

  • 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.

  • In Africa, Meet the Soldier aims to increase empathy among warring cattle farmers, while Cisco and Dimension Data are helping save the rhino.

  • 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.

  • This Australian agency creates virtual tours and visualisations for the mining, architecture and tourism industries.

  • 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.

Hugo Gernsback wearing his teleyeglasses.

Oh how far we’ve come since Hugo Gernsback strapped on his teleyeglasses back in 1968. Long may this wonderful technology continue to evolve!