70:20:10’s Identity Crisis

Since my last post, “What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?” I have been fortunate enough to engage on Twitter, in face-to-face conversations and responded to a slew of comments on my blog. Additionally #LrnChat featured the topic last night which further helped me see what people are thinking about 70:20:10. All have led me to believe how and to whom we present 70:20:10 can help or hurt it’s opportunity to impact organizations.

Last night’s chat asked the important question – is 70:20:10 a Model? Framework? Concept? Approach? Other?

I am left thinking that 70:20:10 is not suitable as a model, a model can be defined as a “simplified version of something“. So yes, one could accurately say 70:20:10 is a model of organizational learning but the connotation that we can’t control creeps in and too many, “model” implies something we build, something we scale, a representation to emulate. This is where things go wrong as 70:20:10 becomes something applied or an approach. It’s also my opinion it’s not inherently a framework (although that’s the best way to support it).

At my last employer I was asked to create a Corporate University. I chose to work within the concept of how learning happens at institutions as opposed to creating the traditional “training center.” I presented 70:20:10 to the organization as a fact and supported this through an internal survey that confirmed the raw percentages. I put forth the assertion that learning at University happens in classes, the commons, and the library (as well through ones creative work). I then worked to reframe my role to be more a performance consultant, working with managers and changing mindsets around training first beliefs. And then put social at the center of our organizational learning. You can read about it more here and in Clark Quinn‘s book Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age.

For me then I think 70:20:10 is best presented as a principle. More specifically as an organizing principle like that of Wirearchy, it’s foundational relation which 70:20:10 compliments. A principle is a basic truth, and Jon Husband, the man behind Wirearchy, describes an organizing principle as:

“…something that holds true across a system, and is defined to address the essence of the system; not a solution or method or best practice.”

Why is this important?

Wirearchy, as an organizing principle “informs the ways that purposeful human activities and the structures in which they are contained is evolving from top-down direction and supervision (hierarchy’s command-and-control) to champion-and-channel.” Similarly 70:20:10 informs the ways we can and should support today’s work-learning structures. With the vast majority of our learning in organizations directly tied to our work (70) and the interactions we have with others around and about our work (20) a shift to champions and channels is needed.

If 70:20:10 is presented as a model to L&D, then you are at best going to get blended learning and at worst an argument. However, when presented to the right audience as a principle it is positioned as a natural law, something that can’t be dismissed as much as it must be dealt with. Organizational leaders and managers (the right audience)  can approach the 70:20:10 principle like an archaeologist and not an engineer; 70:20:10 needs to be unearthed not created.



Disclaimer, I am not a 70:20:10 expert, just a curious practitioner having engaged in organizational design efforts emphasizing 70:20:10. It’s my assertion that a new business, those on the long tail, cannot lose sight of this principle and if looking to transform a traditional organization around work-learning then a Re-Image should be considered. For 70:20:10 expertise I strongly suggest you look at the seminal work of Charles Jennings who consults with organizational leaders on 70:20:10 strategies and also see The 70:20:10 Forum, an organization that provides detailed pathways and resources to help individuals advance organizational change.

9 thoughts on “70:20:10’s Identity Crisis

  1. Thanks for pursuing this discussion and your thought leadership here Mark. I do really like the idea of 70:20:10 as a guiding or organising principle – not rigid, but something that informs, challenges and underpins an approach to:
    1. building and sustaining capability/performance (at an individual, team, process and organisational level),
    2. working with others to develop holistic performance solutions,
    3. developing the mindsets, capabilities and operating models required to support workplace learning (and understanding the need and opportunity for change).

    I must admit to finding this debate somewhat frustrating, as it feels like we’re wasting time arguing semantics instead of focusing on how we can do a better job of helping people perform and develop. This is especially the case when most people arguing against 70:20:10 don’t seem to offer an alternative, let alone one that makes sense and genuinely speaks to people/workers. I do however, appreciate the importance of debate in furthering the cause and developing shared understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and how we can get there individually and together.

    1. Andrew, thanks for reading as always. I don’t disagree on the semantics issue one bit. I was taken to writing this post as in some comments I read recently one person referred to 70:20:10 as a model, a theory, and a concept in the 1st paragraph! What it is and where it “fits” are important and I think until we do accurately refer to it as what it is, it’s the definition of insanity.

      I’m trying to reframe to eliminate debate and move 70:20:10 out of the confines of L&D to really move it forward.

  2. Honest Mark, I’m impressed.

    You are one of the rare proponents of 70:20:10, with Arun (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-reasons-why-702010-solutions-fail-what-we-can-do-arun-pradhan), who took the time to treat the objections to 70:20:10 with empathy and made the effort to be flexible to find objective responses, tune the language to allow people to change their positions. I’ve read from a distance so many proponent replying with “I believe”, sarcasms, elements of language, denial, down playing opponents, calling for divisions or rallies that I was a bit despised. For myself I will takeway this expression “Education, Exchange and Experience” and leave behind 70:20:10 and the debate internal to L&D. After all, my domain is Knowledge Management and Self Directed Learning, not Workplace Learning, as I’ve reminded twice.

    How comes Learning professionals don’t know that you cannot convince without treating objections with open mindset? I was bluffed. I think you have done the hardest part. A bit more work, removing any possible confusions on names and language and we can all put his behind with a much larger consensus.

    Good luck.

  3. Ahh… now I understand the reasoning behind your reluctance to call 70:20:10 a “model”. I agree that 70:20:10 is not suitable as a model in the sense of something that we build — like a model aeroplane. I’ve been thinking of 70:20:10 as a model in terms of a representation of a system — like a hydrological transport model, though obviously not as complex.

    1. Thanks Ryan. It can all be semantics in the end I guess but as I reflected on my own past experience in my example I never presented it as anything but “what is” and let the organizations own input support the assertion. I turned then to point out that learning at a university is mix of formal, informal and social to solidify my point. So in a way the University was the model of 70:20:10 in action. I appreciate your contributions to the discussion!

  4. Hey Mark. I recently ran across (for a second time) this “Demystifying 70:20:10” white paper [See http://deakinprime.com/media/47821/002978_dpw_70-20-10wp_v01_fa.pdf%5D while studying Bersin by Deloitte’s continuous learning model [See http://www.slideshare.net/jbersin/talent-management-revisited/46-46_The_Continuous_Learning_Model%5D. You’ll see Jennings listed in the Deakin Prime paper as a contributor among many copanies. The paper mentions possible origin dates of 70:20:10 and Jennings himself references the origin to Lombardo & Eichinger at The Center for Creative Leadership [See https://www.702010forum.com/Posts/view/podcast-background-and-early-research-part-2?fw%5D. I have deep respect for Charles’ work but to say it’s the seminal work??? Really? He pays homage to the work of many prior researchers that get at his core message behind his 70:20:10 Forum business [See https://www.702010forum.com/Posts/view/podcast-background-and-early-research-part-1?fw%5D.

    1. Thanks for reading Janet, and for the links. I will certainly look at the research.

      I see seminal as influential and although the research (not his own) fuels his efforts, its his work in providing resources and direction for organizations that I find a major creative contribution.

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