Willingness vs. Ability to Change

Dave Kelly @LnDDave wrote an interesting post comparing Blockbuster’s demise to the changes facing Learning Professionals due to technology advancements. I think he’s right, there are learning professionals resistant to change …but the lack of change is not always due to internal denial as it can be a result of …girth. So, in the case of Blockbuster Video I’m think girth more than denial was the cause and don’t completely agree that they failed to accept that the market was changing. (Although, in all honestly, I don’t have any data to support my beliefs, so humor me). Can we consider then that their downfall was less about a conscious choice of denial and maybe a bit more about an inability to be agile?

It seems to me that Blockbuster was like a big, lumbering Brontosaurus that thrived in an era with few predators (competition), an abundant food supply (limitless market), and a warm earth (strong economy). The need for speed and flexibility was not even a consideration. In the end it’s not that poor old Brontosaurus (Blockbusterosaurus?) didn’t hear the asteroid hit…it’s not that she didn’t feel the weather getting colder …being so big and entrenched in their model and in their world she just couldn’t evolve fast enough. She was built for an era that was suddenly & quickly ending.

Likewise I think that this happens in many L&D departments too; entrenched in formal, top-down models being THE solution – approaches that may have worked well in “warm earth days.” This belief is built upon years of indoctrination by the “Training-Industrial Complex”, snake oil solutions, Industrial Age mindsets, and archaic internal processes, hierarchies and politics abound.

I think that another kind of asteroid has struck the L&D world …it’s called a global financial crisis. The weather is getting colder but the good news is that we are not Brontosaurus. We are not our Organizations …we are not our Departments, we are individuals within who are built to anticipate change, accept change, and be agile of mind. We can work within our systems to change them.

Evolve or die.

What’s in a name?

Recently I received a promotion and my title of ISD has been changed to Manager of Learning Solutions.

Prior to approval, one senior person stated – “that sounds pretty progressive.” And although the tone of the response was initially that of reluctance based on confusion over its meaning – the name was affirmed and is now official.

Yes, I am excited to officially take on the responsibility and pleased with the advancement but more so I am encouraged by what’s in the name; a shift from exclusive emphasis on the external (formal) to improve performance to an increased effort on enabling and encouraging the internal as well (informal, social).

The title change is recognition of my successful initiatives thus far but more than this, I see it as a big step for my organization and our employees going forward.

The decision to enact the title change is also quite symbolic in that the initial confusion and reluctance surrounding social and informal learning is likewise slowly giving way to affirmation… THAT sounds pretty progressive.

The Microwave as a Metaphor for Organizational Learning

The oven is the cornerstone of the kitchen, been around forever. Sure it’s changed its look and fuel over the centuries but the bottom line is the oven is big; it’s designed to cook large amounts, and over a longer period time. Think holiday dinners. It’s really an event kind of appliance.

Me, I’m a free standing microwave guy.

Microwaves aren’t ideal for me to cook say a pot roast but for smaller meals and tid-bits that give you just what you need, when you need it – the microwave is perfect!

Microwave ovens heat food quickly, leaving me more time to do what I need to do – like the honey-do list the “boss” gives me.

I have a free standing microwave- When we were remodeling our kitchen last year we had to keep ours in the living room. Place it anywhere in the house and it does the job – why limit yourself to the kitchen for cooking; it’s mobile!

A microwave is not a threat to replace the oven. We still need the oven for the big stuff like a Thanksgiving dinner. You must have an oven for that event…Turkey, pies, rolls, etc. But the microwave (often used during these events but typically given little credit) is used to defrost food in preparation for the event and also used to cook the gravy, green bean casserole, and the pumpkin soup – critical for a successful meal. Then it is called upon after to reheat many of these items in short order while you watch the Detroit Lions attempt to play football.

I like metaphors and the “microwave” is a useful one for me to use when explaining my beliefs about organizational learning.


Organizational learning must:
• be small (nibbles not full courses)
• be delivered quickly so workers can have more time to do what they are paid to do (minutes not hours)
• happen more where and when needed, not limited to the kitchen ….err I mean training room (on the move not at the table)
• take place before and after an event (defrost and reheat)

I think there is something Social and Informal here too…

NEW LrnBook: The New Learning Architect

We’re kicking off a new LrnBook on Hootcourse! A very excited group of learning professionals and I have chosen Clive Shepherd’s The New Learning Architect for this round.

Following in the footsteps of @JaneBozarth and the Lrnbook The Power of Pull, questions will be posted on the lrnbk blog starting the Week of March 7th. Check out the blog to get an idea of the type and frequency of questions posted and http://hootcourse.com/course/973/ to see how HootCourse was leveraged to converse.

Like the last LrnBook you can post to Twitter right from the HootCourse -or not at all. Hootcourse will automatically add the hashtag #lrntect (ala Tweetchat style). Many seemed to use Kindles last time (I use the Android App). You can download the ebook quickly from Amazon.

I’ll be the Sherpa this round but as we progress through the book I will reach out to the “students” to help sponsor questions…different approaches and thoughts are always welcome.

So go grab a copy, start reading, and follow me on Twitter @britz for up to date information as the date draws near.

Looking forward to exploring The New Learning Architect with you all!


A New Age of Reason

As a former HS History teacher, the Age of Reason (17th-18th Cent.) was one of my favorite areas to teach.

I was always in awe of some of the great minds in human history that seemed to all live within about a 200 year period. Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Franklin, Hume, Kant just to name a few. These folks and their peers in science and technology all lived at an incredible time in history when an awakening of inquiry took place. Although real time collaboration rarely happened, these folks influenced each other over time and space (sound familiar?). This era was chock full of revolutions in technology, politics, science, economics, and society.

As I personally question my own professional understandings and am constantly influenced by thinkers over time and space, I am wondering if we are entering a New Age of Reason. In particular in the area of organizational learning? The parallels seem pretty close in my opinion.

To start, here’s my quick-n-dirty on the Age of Reason (purposefully simple & non-exhaustive!) to set the stage for some small comparisons.

One can argue that the era began with the Renaissance, a “rebirth” of ancient beliefs from Greece and Rome. This in turn led to new scientific “discoveries” about our solar system, gravity and physics. This “Scientific” revolution spurred on a questioning of the physical world. The new scientific questioning began to challenge and threaten the Catholic Church in Europe (supreme authority). New technologies (e.g. the printing press) hastened the transformation and new ideas were quickly and economically shared with the masses. Questions of faith and questions of government authority led to New Protestant faiths emerging. Capitalism and Democracy grew as colonialism and industrialization challenged agrarian social traditions. Discontented and empowered people rebelled and self-determinism led to political change internally and overseas…

Simply put, this was a time when the mysticism, religion, and superstition of the Middle Ages was challenged.

What do you see happening today in organizational learning?

Today, Thought Leaders are questioning the mysticism of formal learning being the end-all-be-all, they are disputing the religious doctrine of L&D departments and “learning” organizations, and they are contesting the authority of today’s “Cathedrals of Knowledge” – the LMS.

Are we in, or on the cusp of, a New Age of Reason in organizational learning?

The ideas of Democracy challenged traditional political organization (Absolute Monarchy) much as Connectivism and Wirearchy
stakes their legitimacy among traditional theories and ideas of knowledge and organizational learning structures.

  • Representative government displaced Feudal Kingdoms much like we see the long standing Training and Development Departments giving way to empowered learners making their own decisions about what to learn, when to learn and how to learn.

Web 2.0 is our time’s Printing Press…Twitter, Blogger and Amplify spread ideas quicker than if they were posted on a Church door.

This is a time of Enlightenment for many. And like German philosopher, Immanuel Kant described it; enlightenment is the “freedom to use one’s own intelligence.”

Kant, further defined enlightenment this way: “Enlightenment is the liberation of man from his self-caused state of minority. Minority is the incapacity of using one’s understanding without the direction of another. This state of minority is self-caused when its source lies not in a lack of understanding but in a lack of determination to use it without the assistance of another.”
http://bit.ly/6dsHm All About History – Age of Reason-Open Society

So today, in organizational learning, it is not that many do not know what to learn, what to use to learn or how to drive their own learning that prevents real knowledge and stellar performance… it may partially be our blind obedience to the institutional structures & traditions in the places we work. It may be our “state of minority” that causes us to unquestionably follow the “learning experts” within organizations; many of whom shackle workers to archaic systems and worse, archaic thinking about what and how best to learn.

In the Age of Reason, political discourse in local coffee houses inspired revolutions. Today, we can find Thinkers like those of the ITA challenging conventional wisdom in the modern coffee houses of the Internet; Blogs and Twitter chats are today’s Penny Universities.

Spurred on by obvious logic, Learning professionals and workers at all levels are fighting the good fight in their organizations- expanding their opportunities to learn through social and informal channels.

The perception of the Enlightenment during its time, and the new ideas that were presented, were often seen as radical, and even dangerous. Today though these ideas of inquiry, democracy, self-determinism, and rationality are taken as unquestionable truths… Some day too, and I suspect quite soon, these truths in the New Age of Reason will be self-evident in that we have the right and responsibility to to learn anytime, anywhere, and by any means.