Tag: innovation

Crazy Eight

Is it just me or is every year a “big year”…?

Well 2018 marked a decade of blogging by yours truly, and that alone is something that I’m proud of.

Throughout the highs and lows that life gifted me this year, I was able to share another 8 thought bubbles in addition to my annual list of conferences.

I call them my Crazy Eight and I recall them here for your enjoyment and critique…

An eight card on a poker table.

  1. Battle scars – We can’t fight an “ism” with yet more ism.

  2. 25 more real-world examples of Virtual Reality – Yes, VR is being used in the real world.

  3. My decade of provocation – 10 years ago I made one of the best decisions of my professional life.

  4. The foundations of innovation in L&D – The 70:20:10 model informs the building blocks of long-term efficiency, flexibility and creativity.

  5. The best of both worlds – I love Design Thinking because it’s evidence based and it delivers.

  6. Gift horses – Let’s empower the experts whom we have hired to practise their expertise.

  7. Back to the future – Add these museums to your bucket list.

  8. Figure it out – Instead of being the expert who knows the solution, be the one who solves the problem.

I’d be delighted if you were to add a comment to one or two of the above, either in support or offering a constructive alternative point of view.

In the meantime, I wish you joy and safety over the Christmas season, and here’s to a big 2019!

Gift horses

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.

Horses 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

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

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.

The Average Joe imperative

There once was a time when I thought Second Life was going to take over the world. Well, the virtual world.

I was so impressed with the technology – and amazed at its availability for free! – that I saw it as an unstoppable force.

Yet more fascinating for me was its implications for education. Web conferencing was starting to become popular around the same time, and while these days Skype and FaceTime are de rigueur, back then webcamming introduced a sorely needed human element to distance learning.

However, I noticed something peculiar with web conferencing. While the webcam presented the human face, the learning experience remained undeniably isolated. We were all together, yet each alone.

Second Life was different. Its animations reproduced not only the full human form, but also the learning environment: chairs, tables, stage, etc. Now (at least visually) we were all together. The irony was that by making the interaction entirely artificial, it made it more real.

A virtual learning session in Second Life

Alas, Second Life had an Achilles heel. While it was drop-dead easy to participate as a consumer, it was relatively difficult to participate as a producer.

For a start, if you wanted your own space, you had to buy your own virtual real estate. But worse, it was surprisingly hard to make stuff. I remember trying to build simple objects using the developer tools, but I struggled. So I’d give up, go back to it later when I could steal some time, only to abandon it again. Until I finally gave up for good.

Now I’m a fairly tech savvy kind of guy. While I can’t hack into NASA, I’m confident enough to give any software a go and not be put off by shiny new toys. But I was put off by this. And so too, it would seem, was the rest of the L&D world.

The moral of the story is deeper than the Gartner Hype Cycle. In fact, while we experienced a peak of inflated expectations with Second Life, and then the trough of disillusionment, I don’t think as a profession we ever reached the slope of enlightenment, let alone the plateau of productivity. Sure, some educators such as Sydney Medical School are doing wonderful things on the platform, but that’s hardly universal.

So what happened?

To me it’s simple: Second Life failed to accommodate Average Joe. If Joe wanted to attend a virtual conference or a meetup, he could do so with ease; however, if he wanted to host a virtual conference or create a meetup venue, that was beyond him.

And so Second Life sailed off the edge of the virtual world.

Statue of Achilles Thniskon

Compare Second Life’s journey to that of other products that have emerged recently. For example, everyone says that Articulate Storyline looks and feels like Microsoft PowerPoint. Well guess what… that’s the point.

Love it or loathe it, PowerPoint is easy to use. So hundreds of millions of people use it.

Articulate’s master stroke was to piggyback the usability of PowerPoint for their own purposes. And the proof of the pudding is in its eating. I am seeing Average Joes everywhere who wouldn’t touch other authoring tools with a 10-foot pole expressing an uncharacteristic willingness to give this one a go. That’s not by accident; it’s by design.

I predict a similar fate for other emerging technologies, be it Tin Can, augmented reality, responsive e-learning, or whatever else lay on the horizon.

Address the Average Joe imperative. Lest your Achilles heel becomes your fatal flaw.