L&D Advice from Gary Vee

He’s raw, he’s real, he’s hyper, he’s crude. According to his website, Gary Vaynerchuk is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia. I’ve been reading and listening to him for a little while now and it dawned on me that what he’s advising businesses to do could really help learning and development.

At it’s core his advice is simply be fast and be real. He is also all about quantity but with authenticity and value. He get’s social media but more importantly he gets “social”. He recognizes that the human story is compelling and the less polished the better, equating it to why TV programs like The Kardashians and Real Housewives knock it out of the park in ratings as sitcoms come and go. Finally, he is about the person over the product. Where Simon Sinek advised to start with “why”, Gary Vee starts with “You.”

For example Gary would have applauded this. I was recently looking for a newer used vehicle and engaged with a dealership a few hours from here. After a couple of emails about a vehicle I was interested in I got this from them the next morning.

Volvo C30 Tour by Wendy 

(sorry, I don’t have a video player for my theme. Can you recommend one?)

This personal video told me more about the person behind the emails. I got to look into the car and hear it’s doors shut. I learned that the back cover was a bit tricky and could see at the moment it was mentioned that the car was recently cleaned. And again, “personal.” This video was made specifically for me.

Did I buy the car? No. But that’s only because my wife and I shifted to a vehicle that was more practical for a family of four (don’t ask.). But I’ll tell you this, I remembered this video and this dealership over the other 6-7 I was poking around.

Here are some of Gary’s tips I think L&D should latch on to now.

Document don’t create. In marketing terms this means stop looking for the perfect product pitch and start sharing your process. As for L&D, they still spends a ton of time on their courses and infographics and classroom design worrying over font, image choice and color scheme while their audience goes off and figures stuff out. Maybe just put a camera or a microphone in the face of an expert and ask them compelling questions, then put it out there ASAP.

Start now. Listen, ADDIE lives. The talk of it’s death are greatly exaggerated. The analysis, design, develop are all still happening just repackaged but everyone is still doing them. Enough already. If you’re less on the compliance side of L&D, shift to the Probe-Sense-Respond model presented by Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework. This is his answer to being successful in complexity and don’t fool yourself, business is complex. Listen well, boil it down to the immediate needs and put a solution out there. If it works, scale it. If it doesn’t kill it.

Be Human. 99% of the time the highway is backed up is not because of the car accident but because everyone wants to look at the car accident. They want the emotional story to share, they are looking for the drama. If they weren’t you’d actually be going faster after a wreck! Flaws are real, mistakes happen and they are all a part of the human condition. Tell more stories, find more stories and share them, but more importantly help others to start sharing their stories without fear or the need for perfection. We have been learning through story for centuries. We are built to tell them and to dissect them. Don’t fight evolution.

Know your audience. Yea, yea I know you’re thinking this is about personas and focus groups and surveys and… No, it’s more a reminder to look at your product and really ask, “who is this for?” Are you really meeting the need of the struggling employee or are you fulfilling the wants of your manager or your own ego? The moment you utter the words “this is a cool feature…” you should punch yourself in the face. You’re selling now not solving. You’re either selling to yourself or some mid-level manager who signs your paychecks and feel good that she got her voice-over narration in your course.

Set your pride aside, stop being afraid, get real and real fast.

I’ll end with this quote from Gary. You can sub in the words L&D and learning where you see fit.

In a world where there’s an enormous amount of [social] content, if you don’t make someone stop what they are doing and create a response, you are going to lose. Whether that’s an action or an emotion, the true test of storytelling is how you feel or what you do after you consume it.

Conversation Brings Change, Naturally

I’ve been thinking about Media Naturalness theory for some time. Well, more often it just pops up because it’s not like I’ve invested all than much effort into it. In short, if you’re not familiar, Media Naturalness Theory is the idea that human beings were built for face-to-face communication over thousands of years of evolution. Our gestures, voice inflection, eye movement, body language all contribute to giving and receiving information. Therefore anything that shifts away from this “medium” impacts our ability to effectively communicate. There was a lot of study around this with the introduction of email. To learn more I found this Wikipedia article a pretty good place to start.

Being more into the media rich New Social Learning (i.e. learning through social technology), I haven’t put much stock into Media Naturalness theory but I had a bit of an epiphany at a recent meet-up here in Syracuse. I’m a member of a local Bloggers Facebook group. We comment and exchange posts as well as ask for advice, etc. I was wanting to meet some of these fine people in person and pick their brains about blogging and why they do it, how they do it, tools, approaches, etc. I think I’m somewhat of an outlier in this space as I don’t blog for money, I do it for myself (although if the occasional speaking gig arises I usually don’t say no), my topic is a bit fringe, and I’m a bit of a purist in that I focus exclusively on my writing/reflecting and do nothing in regard to researching tags, SEO and monetization.

Meeting virtual friends face to face is always pleasant and since we didn’t engage much in long discussions in our Facebook group the opportunity was there to sit, have a beer and just hear each others voices if nothing else. Upon my arrival I moseyed up to a trio and introduced myself. After exchanging pleasantries I was asked by one, Joe I believe, “So what is it you write about exactly?” Without missing a beat I rattled off something like “I write about organizational social. How increasing transparency and openness can improve performance. You know, how social tools can be used inside an organization for sharing and collaboration.”  As I sputtered out my final words I realized, but didn’t feel compelled to add it in, that I said nothing about learning. I hadn’t even whispered the term that has defined my career for over 20 years now. No ID. No elearning. No L&D. No training. Nothing.

Blogging has a unique pressure that really only strikes you when you hit “publish.” Even as comments to your posts come in, you can pause almost indefinitely and ponder a reply. But in the heat of a face-to-face conversation, with real human eyes cast upon you and ears finely tuned, your response is unrehearsed, visceral and probably the most honest you can give. I write so much on my interest, beliefs, observations, efforts, etc that I really haven’t even given conscious thought to the transformation I have been undertaking. In reflecting on this moment over the past week I started looking back at my conversations online, my blog posts over the past few months and years and the pattern was obvious; I have slowly shifted away from being L&D-centric and have been seeing the whole organization’s role in impacting individual performance. Learning is a part of the work not apart from it. And thus learning is mostly indistinguishable from the other activities that make up the work we do, it is an unconscious underpinning. No longer does learning, in the formal sense, dominate my thinking and practice any more than communication, human interaction, culture, leadership, and trust.

Change happens one conversation at a time or in this case, change is made obvious through conversation. And why not – we’ve been learning about others and ourselves this way for thousands of years.

From The Business of Learning to The Learning Business

As you may have heard, about 3 weeks ago I joined the eLearning Guild and will be working closely with the learning community and onsite events. It’s a small step in my employment journey but a large leap in my career. So, how’s it going so far? Really good. I am getting immersed in the processes and people that make up this organization and contributing immediately where I can. I’m also being very patient with myself so I can better ensure that I have a good understanding of all the connected parts.

When I was first approached by the Guild I was of course intrigued and flattered. The eLearning Guild is a leader in this space, the “learning” space. I’ve been a member for years and spoken at several of their events. Of course when I speak, I speak about how I’ve used social technology in the organizations I’ve worked for. Therefore joining the Guild could be seen as a bit of a departure for me as it is the “eLearning” Guild after all. A colleague even remarked, “You’re like the social guy, I wonder how this will be received?” But I and others saw it differently; not as a departure but more like a merger.


eLearning today does not mean what it once did and the Guild gets this. In the early 2000’s the eLearning Guild answered a growing call for more information, ideas, technology and approaches in the then budding eLearning space. eLearning is continually transforming and today, driven by the interest and practices of the community, it can no longer be seen as just courses and classes delivered online. Due to expanding consumer technologies, mobile devices and the advent of Web2.0, elearning has become ubiquitous. The community conversations around eLearning have shifting rightfully to be more about Learning than just the vehicles that deliver or augment it. 

Web 2.0 in particular ushered in a populous movement across the Internet and has given rise to a New Social Learning. Growing learner autonomy and global interdependence has hastened the decline of a dependence on traditional learning approaches. The new Social Learning however will not be the nail in the coffin for traditional elearning or training, nor should it be, as formal learning is still very much needed. What the reinvigorated (or new) Social Learning has done is bring balance to the beliefs and practices around learning and put formal in its rightful, more limited place. Social learning is forcing a community conversation about how formal learning must improve its quality and impact to remain relevant.  

The Guild was designed as a platform to encourage this and other conversations where members can openly share their thoughts and ideas and then the Guild can communicate this back through research, resources, and events for the community. Community and conversation are at the core of the eLearning Guild and because of this they (ah hem…) we are positioned to help hasten the changes needed and help organizational learning to keep up with the speed of business.  

I’m excited to be more a part of this conversation and to be able to bring my own practices and beliefs about learning to the Guild. I look forward to taking part in the larger community, working with you all, and helping to better see and be the future of organizational learning.

L&Ds Business Is Not In Driving Social Business

I’m becoming more convinced that organizational efforts to help people build social networks and personal knowledge management skills should not involve L&D any more than the Accounting department. And it appears it not just me. Sam Burrough and Martin Couzins recently co-led a MOOC on Social Learning and asked the question in a final Tweetchat: “What role should L&D play in Social Learning?” which for me is a small one. Additionally, in a recent Tweet, JD Dillon made the point that in organizations, many are really doing similar things:

However, I think James Tyer put it best in his blog post titled “Who Owns Organizational Learning? You.” and I encourage you to read it.

My take? As social tools become more commonplace many people today are already (unconsciously) building networks and have developed processes (undocumented) to manage fluid knowledge without much assistance. These people may not be as effective as they could be, or will be, but the way to learn this is not through training which arguably L&D still looks to as the first choice. What people need is to be more conscious of their behavior and then they need encouragement to make their tacit knowledge (processes) explicit for others. This should not really be exclusively L&Ds charge, which organizational leaders tend to default to because when the word “learning” is uttered all eyes tend to turn to L&D. 

Social learning is structureless, the opposite of formal learning. Social transcends the traditional organizational boundaries of departments and divisions. It knows no hierarchy or roles. To help social tools and behaviors to be more a part of worker’s activity, it must simply become more a part of the worker’s work. Learning the work is done by doing the work and this happens best within the work itself not outside of it where L&D typically sits. 

My thoughts on this were further cemented by Dion Hinchcliffe‘s recent article in ZD Net “The Growing Evidence for Social Business Maturity“. This article highlighted the move of organizations from social adoption to adaptation (of open, collaborative work). It spoke of the importance of organizational culture, the significance of executive commitment, business partnerships with operations and IT, goals and KPIs as keys to progression. It was all about the business, the business leaders, the use cases, ambassadors, CoPs, and community management. There was no direct mention of L&D… but for an implied mention when speaking of training – but it was more specifically termed “viral training”; Helping people use the platform’s features and functions peer-to-peer. This would be a significantly minor role for L&D, especially if the tools are intuitive as the should be and even then, motivated folks figure the complex out.
Today there is much focus on trying to convert learning professionals to new understandings and practices using social tools and encouraging social behaviors. This is a mistake in my opinion. Many learning professionals don’t engage or understand the practices any more than any other organizational roles – why assume they will be best suited? Connecting, communicating, curating, etc are not exclusive to a single department. The learning of effective social practices and tools is best done socially; through observation, experimenting, feedback and conversation. This will take time and mistakes will be made of course but I think less control is the best path to longterm success. It’s a higher up decision that patience and trust are to replace command and control. So render unto L&D that which is formal and render unto the entire organization the social efforts that truly surround business execution. 

Practice Makes Permanent

James Tyer and I co-authored this post to share that we are hosting a workshop in Orlando on March 24th at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2015 conference ‘Kick-start Your Personal and Organizational Social Learning Journey‘. We have created the agenda based on our experiences developing and supporting personal and organizational social learning practices. The workshop has a simple premise: 


If you don’t practice social, you can’t support it.


Why? Social learning is natural, but the addition of social technology adds a layer of complexity for many. Unfortunately, because of the technology used to extend and expand social interaction, the conversations frequently turn to be about the technology rather than learning. Personal social practice is challenging as it requires an openness that may feel uncomfortable. On top of this, if you haven’t developed successful practices, you can’t support others to develop the same. 

How can you make sense of all the information from vendors and consultants? What really works, or doesn’t work? There is no one-size-fits-all answer and social learning is not, as many claim, the solution to all organizational performance problems.

Our workshop is meant to help you find your own answers. Split into two parts, the morning workshop is about your personal practices; in the afternoon it’s about extending these to your organization.

We will draw upon our own experiences to help: stories of success and failure (about 50-50 it always feels!). We invite you to take a look at our agenda and we’ll answer any questions you may have before you sign up.

Morning:

  • An introduction to digital literacy and fluency and why our changing world requires a new mindset for all (including L&D/HR).
  • Forging your career – finding your purpose, learner autonomy (we can’t depend on organizations to build our skills any more), and mastery
  • The internal and external barriers to personal social practice
  • Identifying the current state of your network(s)
  • Participating in online social learning events
  • Reflective practice: blogging and working out loud
  • Building, growing, and sustaining your personal networks


Afternoon:

  • Understanding the barriers to others developing a social practice
  • How social practice fits into newer L&D models: 70:20:10, performance support
  • Understanding your organization (business or purpose) and culture
  • Communicating value to your peers and leadership
  • Identifying and empowering your key organizational partners
  • Some starting points: not just adding social to courses
  • Organizational roadblocks

Post-Workshop:
A significant component of this workshop actually follows the workshop. We aim to continue our conversations afterward in a format decided by the participants, checking on each others’ progress, encouraging new social habits and sharing stories, resources and ideas. 
Let us know what questions you need answering or what you would change to make it more valuable to you!