What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?

70:20:10 seems like common sense to me. Just glance around your work environment and you can see that this IS how people learn. The majority (+/-70%) of learning to do our jobs, about the culture, how to navigate the hierarchy or the best time to get fresh coffee in the break room happens through just doing it; the experience. Beyond that we watch others, interact with with them, get informal mentoring, etc (+/-20%). And lastly we gain some new skills and knowledge by completing periodic elearning modules and required courses (albeit aided by conversation and application (the 20% and 70% again). Yet I either get puzzled looks or a dismissive responses from people when I talk of 70:20:10 and the shift that needs to be made.

Charles Jennings, the leading authority on 70:20:10 has been speaking, writing and consulting for years on the topic. His organization, the 70:20:10 Institute, and organizations such as the 70:20:10 Forum are making headway in helping people move to a 70:20:10 framework. As for me, I think it is exactly what’s needed for the 21st century organization and here’s why:

It’s the answer to complexity
The world and world of work, markets, technology are changing constantly. Adopting permanent approaches, structures and tools makes no sense. Best principles not practices are needed today, agility and speed win. 70:20:10 reduces friction on the workflow by allowing learning and work to be more closely tied.

It’s simple
70:20:10 requires no new software, training or infrastructural changes. It’s a mindset shift from compliance, completion, attendance and direction to support, enablement, guidance and modeling. Once we let go of industrial era approaches to performance improvement, we see that those were artificial structures that often created unnecessary layers. 70:20:10 is ultimately about paving the cow path not creating new roads.

It’s not about learning
If you go by the numbers, about 90% of 70:20:10 is in and around work. 70:20:10 is about work getting done better, faster and more efficiently by making work more visible and encouraging people to connect and collaborate. It’s about reflection and thinking about the work being done and being conscious of the new understandings gained through doing the work.

It’s about autonomy
In a world of ever-change, a 70:20:10 framework doesn’t dismiss the importance of hiring right but it adds the requirement that new hires need no hand-holding. As adults that, if offered freedom to explore, connect, question and contribute, they will. 70:20:10 also doesn’t dismiss the value of training, rather it ensures that it’s not the default response by organizations to performance problems with the additional (and futile) burden of trying to control and measure learning.


However, for the same reasons 70:20:10 is the right approach, it’s the reasons why it’s not right… right now. And here’s why:


It’s the answer to (future) complexity
Talk around 70:20:10 is like talk around Climate Change – most people don’t act because there is no urgency. Discussions of dangerous weather projections, increased drought, floods, coastal area issues, etc are all “future talk”. Climate change hasn’t really effected us and it’s impact has yet to hit people in the wallet so therefore the status quo remains. Likewise only the most progressive are preparing for changing markets and processes. Most organizations however are in a “If it don’t look broke, don’t fix it” mode and 70:20:10 looks like a solution seeking a problem.

It’s (too) simple
People can’t let go of the numbers. Others use terms like Education, Experience and Exposure to reframe the discussion so we aren’t nitpicking about percentages but even then that still arguably makes it simple, and simple is often suspect. We live in a data driven world and frankly the hard data on 70:20:10 is often in question. Finally, all to often, leaders fall in love with tradition, packaged solutions, and plug and play. 70:20:10 is none of these. Its a principle and at best a framework that guides but doesn’t dictate. But people don’t buy principles, they want to buy features and functions and packages wrapped in poetic hyperbole, falsely leading to a belief that if there is a lot to it, well then -there must be a lot to it!

It’s not about learning (but it’s about learning)
It’s really not about learning it’s about performing but since the word learning is at it’s core, there is a disconnect. Executives hear learning and subsequently push it out to L&D to “implement” and systematically and wrongly spun into some form of blended learning solution. It’s not about implementation and it’s certainly not about L&D! 70:20:10 is no more about L&D than Social Media is about Marketing. The former, an organization-wide strategy. The latter, an organization-wide tool. 70:20:10 is suffering the same drag as “social media” does; seen by most as a push marketing vehicle.

It’s about autonomy
Organizations are still very much “command and control” centers. Managers are still expected to task manage not guide and support, leaders dictate, HR demands compliance. A strategy built on a cornerstone of letting go is not only foreign, it’s threatening. The vast majority of 70:20:10 is about self-direction, trust and moving freely outsides of an organizational and technological hierarchy. Few organizations are ready for that.


The issue is that its a problematic answer to a problem few recognize. People trust their gut or common sense until it butts up against an immovable object like tradition. And breaking through traditional beliefs and mindsets has never been quick or easy. Historically speaking most major change took a long time to become the new norm. Change, real change that is sustained, is evolutionary not revolutionary and it happens as Euan Semple says “one conversation at a time.” I’m confident 70:20:10 will ultimately be adopted… in many forms, under various names when people and organizations recognize it’s reality and the pain of the status quo is unbearable.



It’s the little things

Hey! What are you doing?!”

That was my reaction after seeing my kids and their cousins poking at a spider web.
The children, all under age 8, were intrigued by a very large and fierce looking spider on a web among flower garden daisies. The gut reaction by one of the kids on this oddly humid fall evening was of course to squash it. All the kids, creeped out or in awe, were in silent agreement until I said let’s look it up.
In a matter of seconds I pulled out my smartphone, snapped pic, studied it (as the spider itself was getting a bit antsy by the continual poking). As the desire to smash it grew, I quickly “Googled” it’s general description and VIOLA!

If there is one thing these kids hated more than ugly bugs it was stinging and biting ones.  This Common Garden spider was quickly determined to be our friend. A steady diet of wasps, mosquitoes and bees made him an ugly ally in the war on those who ruin outdoor fun.  The spider had a stay of execution! Furthermore the “eeews” turned to “ahhs” when it was noted that each night the spider eats its web and builds a new one! How efficient.

I couldn’t help but think of all the big campaigns, films, and curriculum aimed today at educating our youth on helping slow the destruction of ecosystems. Frankly I’m not sure how successful it all has been but I do know a lot of time, money and resources has been spent on all of these efforts. 
But this is the real power of our technology today. In a matter of seconds a small group learned something valuable about their world while in their world. A myth dispelled, an answer know, maybe a broader lesson learned for future application of this new knowledge. A smartphone, a camera, a browser (and a level head). All combined, these increasingly common tools just might make a difference for a world at risk.
In my last post I touched on how social tools have the ability to make the big smaller. It’s hard to really to measure the impact of these small spontaneous events, rife with emotion. But if little actions like these (Trojan mice) are released frequently, everywhere maybe a real difference will be seen in our ecosystems.

“Unleash Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.” – Euan Semple (see full post here)


If this spider lives and reproduces > thousands of offspring are born > the mosquito population in check > pesticide spraying is reduced, etc, etc. Hard to trace back to 5 kids in a Syracuse, New York flower garden but who knows.

In our organizations we have the same social and informal learning opportunities on an equally small scale.  In the littler moments, not in the classroom or through a curriculum, we can reach for performance support within our peers and in our tools. We no longer have the excuse “I didn’t know” for most information. At our fingertips we have what can help us make better decisions and our reactive nature can put in check. 
And yet even with all the tools available to connect us and our knowledge, someone still needs to ask…

 “Hey what are you doing!?”