Municipal Planning Means Planning

Reading the NY Times, Sunday, 5 May 2019, I scan as always for an article that will inspire me to write something of a useful lesson to clients—in business communications and case studies—or an event that just sets my temper to a higher temperature. This meets all criteria.

A native New Yorker (I confess I’ve been an upstater for quite some time) this headline—”6 Years After Hurricane Sandy, Here’s What They Came Up With: Really Big Sandbags” just stopped me in my tracks.

My reaction gives away my roots still run deep: Are your f&^%*(^ kidding me?

It appears in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 planners will install large sandbags along sections of the East River and lower Manhattan to arrest an initial storm surge. “Six years of studying it and you come up with sandbags? Really?” — one woman called them “atrocities”.

Sandbags East River

With no legitimate plans yet in place who knows how long it will be till a permanent solution is reached, no doubt by a consensus. In New York, this means opinions from every commission, community group, politico and those with influence who put ‘thumbs on scales”.

Officials claim they have a more ambitious vision and have begun planning to extend the shoreline of the island into the water to serve as a bulwark against rising sea levels and storm surges.

I contrast this with Chicago, a city I also love, where I was seconded for a few years. To drive from my hotel to the office took me down Michigan Avenue, cutting over behind the Art Institute to South Columbus Drive, hopping on the expressway towards Midway Airport. Monday morning, I headed out only to be detoured back on to Michigan. Seems Mayor Daley felt Columbus was showing wear and about 3 miles would need resurfacing. Well, I figured for the next 10 weeks or so I’d add 20 minutes to my commute. Tuesday morning, I left early but to my surprise, one of six lanes in each direction were completed and ready for traffic.

ChirouteWhat? Seems that at the time Chicago lived up to its unofficial moniker, “The City That Works”. Night crews were just packing up for the next night’s work. That’s right – no traffic disruption allowed during daytime. Within 6 working days (actually, nights) – bang – get your motor running. Imagine this situation in New York…one can only laugh or cry to hysterics for the year or so it would take to fouling traffic and igniting tempers in the Big Apple. Maybe it pays to have an authoritarian in charge? Present government excluded!

Pardon the longish intro but I’m reaching for an important point.

Planning suggests either forethought before a problem arises, usually to make improvements; or reaction to a catastrophe that forces decision makers to, well, decide. And that’s just the start of it. Then there’s the actual planning. In the first instance a usually positive and optimistic series of activities leading to action. The latter is loaded with blame and finger pointing; a pessimistic undertaking—and in New York, everyone has an opinion.

However, some instances are so egregious that there should be blame placed on the shoulders of government and citizens who couldn’t muster the gumption or courage to put their reputations at risk. Looking like a fool does not play well here—and stupidity is more reviled. Congrats graduates.

And this ‘solution’ has the characteristics of every human failing—failure to act with due haste, a rushed temporary solution that will stay in place for about 10 years—cowards who wouldn’t stand up, and above all the hubris that ‘we know best’. With no clear brief offered to professional engineers and architects, not to mention cooperation with, maybe the Army Corps of Engineers, (Maybe not the latter – see New Orleans: Katrina) a more pleasing aesthetic solution equal in civil engineering to the task of keeping waters where they belong might have evolved, with a bit of alacrity.

More than all these failings, the lack of leadership, even a heavy hand with a vision to see this through. No fan of most of Robert Moses’s design decisions—that’s the kind of thumb that should have been on the scale. Where’s our Richard Daley? Even a petty martinet would be favorable to paralysis by analysis.

Makes me glad I moved.

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Living with Good Design – A Confessional

  Over the years I’ve come to realize that what I drew as a child were the scribblings of a design wannabe, a future practitioner, connoisseur, and collector. Two short years in design school, I was an assistant art director at a small agency doing scut work to major campaigns. Out of the design mainstream in upstate NY meant teaching was my main source of income. I worked freelance from my garret studio in our first house – a 1905 Victorian, capturing clients and earning a few kudos & awards. I knew about type – quite a bit from my father who was first a compositor post-WW II (remember metal type?), eventually the general manager of a major type shop on 45th St. He gave me a board to work at and free access to all the fonts in the shop.

He’d bring home roughs, comps and completed mechanicals by art directors from all the big agencies when I was considering a design career. He’d explain to me why he abhorred fonts like Artone drawn by Milton Glaser or Seymour Chwast and reverence for the history and legibility of Caslon and Baskerville.


 

 

But I had taken up the Swiss & Teutonic manifesto.
I was a grid man—a proponent of cool logic – from Helvetica to Paul Rand’s logos —

 

Lippincott and Margulies corporate identities and Walter Dorwin Teague aircraft interiors. We called everything from the Bauhaus forward by the generic term ‘graphic.’ Ooh, that’s so graphic, man, the highest of compliments. (The sixties, what more need be said). Evolution to revolution in design virtually overnight. To be a graphic designer was, well, like making the Olympic team.

Later I came to furniture design (Eames, Herman Miller), industrial (Richard Sapper, Dieter Rams, and (architectural design (Richard Meier, Eero Saarinen) that expressed the aesthetic that held me tightly in its grips, defending the ‘less is more’ ethos in my work and even local architecture invading my small village and its environs.

Now, pretty much in the twilight of my design days, I’ve been exploring what good design is and why I am so drawn to it. My personal belief is we in the West, and I suspect different in Eastern cultures, are naturally drawn to certain shapes and forms and accept them readily. I’ve been to 4 continents and though I appreciated design in situ and in other cultures, though appreciative, I never felt the sirens call.

I was with my son, then 11 years old, walking through the Arms and Armor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We stalked the main exhibit tracing the evolution of knight-wear and weapons. Turning into a side aisle was the permanent exhibit of (mostly) Japanese warrior suits of armor and their weapons. The contrast was amazing: not just because of the unusual scale, materials, or stunning details–but specifically by the curves of the sword blades. How nature-like the gentle curves – the organic, sinewy forms of the Japanese arcs contrasted with the heavier, brutal machine like straight blades of Western armaments. That one difference alone described the entirety of the warrior classes engaging in warfare expressing their cultural design aesthetic and emblazoned with both their gods and kings. Opposing, significantly different culture and beliefs affect design- even on the field of battle. These inanimate and not to say vicious killing armamentarium moved me intellectually and yet emotionally.

What does this say about design?
Enough ink or bits and bytes have been written by true design cognoscenti and I have neither the language nor the credentials to masquerade as a design philosopher. I know what qualifies as good design is an ephemeral judgment but has certain distinctions that make some objects in the manufactured world better. That is better to hold, to use, to look at, project meaning, have a sense of logic, manifest a specific aesthetic, more attractive to the eye, exhibit honesty of materials, a refined meaning, streamlined or not purposefully, materials applied in special ways, that characterize an era or moments of time. Moreover, when groups of like-designed objects are unified by a core set of forms and shapes they produce what we might call a style or if robust enough, a movement. There is a sensibility to these things that can be enjoyed intellectually, culturally and emotionally. This holds true for everything from type fonts, to locomotives, buildings to table lamps, radios to side tables, telephones to fashion.

There is a gestalt at work here: the totality of objects one chooses to own or be associated with in any spatial environment is a composite of products or object inhabiting that space alike in a physical manifestation. This ecology of replication is made possible by machines but informed by human creativity working within a cultural reality. Essentialism is a concept that narrows down this notion into doing the right things that are absolutely necessary and only what we consciously choose to fall in the beacon holding in its beam on the fundamental concept: less is more. This definition, I have interpreted from Greg McKeown (Essentialism, 2014 Crown Business NY), though it could have come from the hand (or typewriter) of Walter Gropius, Meyer or Mies in 1919 or 1933 – the beginning and end of the Bauhaus and the birth of modernism. And it’s the aesthetic of modernism that draws me to objects big and small – those I want to live with, use, be around, own, display, and often purchase at no little and often dear cost. I’m a modernist junkie.

Many people equate a style with taste.
To me taste is a subjective term describing anything that speaks of personal appreciation. If you like psychedelic flower art but not Louis Quattorze chairs some would say you have bad taste. A style is an objective set of standards defining criteria that have standardization of specific criteria. The cut of a dress or style of shoe, the serif typeface is used in a newspaper or online, the forms of automobiles that have similar lines are styles.

I suppose we could say modernism is a fraternity of styles with a particular, parochial sense of taste.
The clean edges and formal constructs, an ‘eye feel’ that says this is made of good stuff with the right parts and tells its story. We know what it is, does and how to work it or make it work for us. It embodies patio furniture, home furnishings, and office environments. Wristwatch faces, pens and window treatments. It’s a refinement of ‘everyday’ design to a minimalist set of rules. There is detail in modernism but little ornamentation. This means the burden on the designer is to make every decision a weighty one. I want designed objects – those with purpose, elegance even in the locus of simplicity, in minimalism. Elevating the commonplace via a rigorous set of visual or formative rules at the intersection of utility and function and appearance. Utilitarian but beyond the expected – more thought, more purpose, ultra-refined – cool.

A while back, flush with cash, I purchased a real, honest-to-goodness Eames Chair and Ottoman with a side table (shown in header) the store tossed in. Never mind that it has tripled in value – and never inexpensive it’s definitely the single ‘design’ piece we own that has substantial value. The joy it brings me – not in its ownership but its organic form, the comfort, the materials, and its build quality tell me I made a great decision. Good design often means spending the most you can on quality goods so you won’t have to buy them again. That’s not only good taste – its good citizenship.

I sit in my office as I write this with two Tizio lamps in an Aeron chair  Moreover, I work better for it. Not merely because it makes me pleased (it does) to see them, but the chair eases my lower back pain and I make for it when my sciatica flairs up. That’s also good design. I have invested in wristwatches not just because of the brand name but the aesthetic of the dial and quality of the hand-built mechanism I enjoyed holding, touching, wearing. I have divested most of these objects because I no longer identify with them or their cost to not only purchase but also maintain. As for replacing such personally important and useful objects, a wonderful change has taken place. Great design has become democratized.

What objects say about the owner is cause enough for some people to purchase items to tout their wealth, project power, tell the world they have good taste. Are you Mac or PC: iPhone or Android? Behold, when Target and other mass merchandisers saw the value in creating common household goods designed by distinguished practitioners and sold at reasonable prices, people everywhere saw that within their grasp they could make choices and buy that everyday toaster or one designed by the architect Michael Graves.    Truthfully, some high designed objects are junk – the often unadorned and seemingly simple exteriors hide a cheap operating mechanism. Watches are a good example. Clothing and shoes another. I believe it’s a betrayal of the modernist ideal to replicate a style only to permit its planned obsolescence. Ersatz modernist objects have given modernism a black eye. Junk will fall apart and disappoint. It’s not modernism at fault. Commodities are easily counterfeited, even high priced ones. The fault lies not with the style but by the miscreant in the supply chain.

Design ecology is an asylum from the mundane, the status quo, or average.
Good design is rooted in historical compositions set to a rigorous score of visual or formative key rules. What good design says – practical, well constructed, and within the modernist tradition is meant to outlast trends. I remember when we received our first Design Within Reach catalog. Holey moley, anyone can now buy great design. And other purveyors followed both in print and online. Take for example kitchen appliances, some electrified, and others ergonomically designed honoring human anatomy and its limitations. Euro designed kitchens that place an emphasis on classy utility built around massive industrial ovens and stoves, for instance. Do we need or desire restaurant kitchens repurposed for the home? Hey, we’re talking some big bucks here. So will good design be relegated only to the well off? Yet, there is always IKEA – minimalist to the max and within the reach of most people. That’s not to say it is the same quality kitchen cabinets of Poggenpohl or Smallbone – but you can replace your whole kitchen every few years, and change up the style within the Swedish modernist aesthetic, for what one oak and marble countertop will cost from Gaggenau.

What now of the smart home?
Interconnectivity will change what we expect our devices to not only do but also create a new design aesthetic. Where a refrigerator was – only 5 years ago – a device for chilling or freezing food-stuffs, it is now integrated by a personal control system with information about its operation and contents – and the weather, a video screen, and message board broadcasting when your milk supply is low. Its power consumption is measured by smart meters monitoring its electric usage sending information back to energy providers to determine the best time to activate the compressor. How will design respond to all this new information?

I’m not looking for converts to the modernist aesthetic.
For me, I was born to fall into the orbit. Ever since I drew in my first sketchbook. So when I could afford or could at least make mindful choices among objects to either populate my home or clothe myself, I opt for those specific qualities, materials, styles, and forms among the modernist objects on the shelf or website.

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, CA  1993
Richard Meier.

 

 

 

CRZY APOCALYPSE — 4.1 WORKPLACE ELEMENTS TO HELP YOU SURVIVE.

Yes, they are all around you. Can you see them, hear them, smell them? Recognize the danger early—you’ll save yourself and your enterprise. The CRZY-MKRs haven’t erupted from the earth, half-dead as decomposed zombies coming for your life force. Worse, they’re coming for your mind. Ultimately, such destructive individuals are most capable of harming the most fragile commodity in any company: the creativity of a person, persons, and inflicting fatal wounds on the organization. No successful entity can move forward without people willing to take risks that demand out of the box thinking and have a tolerance for failure, especially if it keeps them on the path to achievement. A CRZY-MKR can very easily undermine this type of employee—wearing them down with distraction. Since creative work is always ahead of the status quo, it is visible and vulnerable, fragile. In the short and long term, these two disparate things, creativity, and CRZY-MKRs are inextricably linked: the designer and critic, the theoretician and the dinosaur, the what if and the status quo. Businesses can only thrive when they eradicate CRZY and encourage risk safely—in thought, action, and deed.

Who are the CRZY-ONEs?
In large organizations they are at every level dispersed like a virus, in small organizations, they are a sneeze—even closer and perhaps more deadly. They have very poor or underdeveloped emotional intelligence. We are not alluding to gossip mongerers – that may be one trait of a CRZY-MKR but just part of their toolset. Most importantly – and we’ll tackle this later—it’s imperative for individuals and organizations to deal with CRZY-MKRs in a decisive way before they habituate behaviors that chip away at employees emotional security. An exodus of talented individuals who succumb and bolt for the exits may hijack a whole organization and render it toxic.

When referring to CRZY-MKR personalities we might classify them as CMI (CRZY-MKR Intelligent) & CMDK (CRZY-MKR DK).

CMI: We need keen observation and vigilance to uncover this behavior. An individual who presents a composite series of traits that cause others to distraction or dysfunction is often described as intelligent, cognitive, and even meta-cognitive—but venal—is CRZY-MKR Zero and might indicate they are on a socio-pathological spectrum.

CMDK: Alternatively, we could examine an individual who is relatively unskilled or less knowledgeable. Their delusional personality prevents them from recognizing their own incompetence and this cognitive bias leads to inflated self-assessments and illusory superiority. They don’t know what they don’t know but see their reflection as chimeras. (The Dunning-Kruger Effect – 1999). We’ll refer to that person as CMDK (CRZY-MKR DK).

Summing up this section, the intelligent person knows what they don’t know and works to their strengths while learning to make up for their deficiencies, whereas the less skilled and incompetent hides deficiencies by inflating their own sense of intelligence and achievement—lying to themselves while projecting their fake accomplishments to the social order. One is a CRZY-MKR who is smart and competent but totally self-absorbed. And have poor emotional intelligence.

They often exercise power to undercut someone they see as a threat (or for kicks – if they truly are on the CRZY spectrum) ; or in the latter definition a CRZY-MKR is an incompetent harboring a composite of traits that seeks to ratchet up their own self-image by diminishing others thus, by comparison, appears competent, clever or smart.

1. Find Them Out in the Open – or Zombies who Strike in the Dark

These actions are applicable to either CMI or CMDK individuals.

 Recognize them by what they do.

  • They make you second guess what you know to be true
  • They impede your progress on projects by drawing you to off-task tangents
  • They sow the seeds of doubt
  • They are Me- rather than We-Centric
  • They are caffeinated conversants who manage to say nothing while sounding smart and sane
  • They pretend to listen but really only care what it is they are saying – then accuse you of not listening
  • They traffic in he said/she said stories ensuring you have to look over your shoulder to make sure no one is coming at you
  • They suggest you have made an enemy in the organization and you’re unaware, naïve and blind
  • They are so convinced they are right they will go to any lengths to ensure their one right answer is the only acceptable one
  • They use whatever real power they have to push you off your working methodology and accept theirs – doubling your efforts by forcing you to learn new ‘formats’ while you are simultaneously solving problems
  • They will steal or chip away at your productivity
  • They will dole out compliments and kudos and a nanosecond later ask why you did THAT!
  • They will triangulate even so far as to have a colleague replicate your project to instill competition instead of cooperation—then broadcast this as important “news”
  • They weaken the total organization by unbalancing individuals, teams, projects, ideas.

2. Characteristics of CRZY-MKRs

They can be colleagues, equals in rank and maybe even a work buddy, but most employees exhibit some form of CRZY when they lose control of their better nature – or fearful for their own future. Or maybe they were just born or raised to be vindictive. They became insidious saboteurs. Learning on the job to get ahead by kneecapping others is not a hard lesson to learn – but the truly dangerous CRZY-MKRs are subtle, selective and have acquired an amazing sense of timing. Thus, their stealth goes undetected except for the inevitable effects on others. It’s an excellent technique for ramping up their targets’ paranoia.

In the natural world, a lion shakes off its torpor when a gazelle is limping along just a little bit – or when the millionth particle of blood in seawater is vacuumed up by a great white, or a furtive assassin knows the victim’s schedule and vulnerabilities. An employee saboteur knows the soft underbelly of today’s target – trouble on a project, a rift between team members, sour negotiations with a vendor, an experiment hobbled by blind alleys. They’ll make sure management knows. Then they’ll let you know, that they know, and how they’d be glad to help you get on track.

Now that we have defined whom and what CRZY-MKRs are here’s a few examples:

Let’s start with the most dangerous CRZY-MKR – a superior, supervisor, employer. We assume they are intelligent so consider them the lion and you the gazelle.

3. The Case of the Sleeping Consultant

A consultant is hired to resolve a communications problem the senior executive has neither the time nor skills to complete. The executive is very smart but in specific sectors of business – a typical CMI – and believes he has excellent people skills.

  • A price is agreed upon aligned to a deliverable somewhat defined (Error #1 inviting in CRZY – and these are failures of the consultant to call the executives behaviors in to question).
  • The consultant is shown an example of the type of deliverable required gets confirmation from the executive and produces a proof of concept.
  • The POC is rejected as the executive says the content is wrong—as is the design.
  • The executive says hold up until we can get aligned. Two days pass—freezing the consultant from taking on other work. (Error #2 – No recognition or consideration of the consultant’s time)
  • The executive then calls the consultant after producing a configuration of what he is looking for. The consultant attempts to gain an understanding of what exactly will meet the specification. Yet the deliverable still has vagaries (Error #3 Failure to get final clarity).
  • The executive says, just look at my work, and follow it.
  • The executives’ examples do not meet the spec either; however, the consultant does complete all the written material and examples of a solution.
  • The executive once again rejects the work – even though his specs were not only unaligned, neither well defined, nor prove to be an exemplar or model to replicate. The executive is clearly frustrated – saying he does not have the time to provide an example.
  • The consultant makes it clear he has dedicated many hours to the project to which the executive replies, essentially that’s impossible; HE could do it in an hour! When the consultant suggests they get on the phone together, spend 45 minutes producing a perfect model, the executive says it will take him 2 ½ hours to complete. The consultant is now fully suicidal. (Error #4 – Obviously the executive is a CRZY-MKR and the consultant should have recognized this earlier)
  • The executive issues an edict: “Finish the project or you won’t get full payment.”
  • The consultant says if you provide an example, I can do that.
  • The executive says he does not have the time.
  • The consultant says, “I’m billing you for the work I have completed.”
  • The executive says, “Complete the project and I’ll pay you the full amount.”
  • The consultant replies that unless he has an example – which the executive will not provide – he cannot.
  • The executive says, “Finish the project and I’ll pay you the full amount.” (CRZY). “If you don’t, I’ll pay your bill but do not expect more work from me.”
  • The consultant – accepts he is dealing with a CRZY-MKR says,” Pay me what you owe me and have a good life.” Then he stops wasting his time and captures another client.

In the end, the consultant should have been more alert to the signals sent by the executive and acted to extract himself from the situation earlier. You can hear the control needs, the superior power position, and elevated threats. A key signifier and most detrimental element to an achievable solution is the vacillation of the executive back and forth – a clear sign this is a CRZY-MKR in Technicolor. Nevertheless, the other lesson is the gazelle needs to run faster and be more alert to survive the lion, and despite the big cat’s power, usurp control from the executive with the forcefulness of a positive NO! (William Ury – The Power of a Positive No., December 2007). Clearly, the contract will be lost: better a small piece of business than the billing hours lost trying to extrapolate the actual specs from a power broker who would not cooperate. Remember, thinking and discussing takes time which costs the consultant money.

4. The Case of the Jealous Mentor

A very experienced long time employee volunteers as a mentor. Once vetted by management she is assigned to work with a novice customer sales representative, recently graduated from 14 days of training, to improve and assist her use of CRM templates, product knowledge, and sales skills. The mentor has worked in this sector with these products, her entire career. New to the field, the novice, who has experience in other sectors, eagerly cleaves to the mentor for guidance, advice, and coaching. They are seated adjacent so the mentor can listen in on calls made by the novice.

During the first ninety days the following occurs:

  • The novice listens in on the mentors’ calls
  • The mentor guides the novice through the templates and completion of the CRM fields
  • Eventually and slowly the novice begins to take calls, enters information into the CRM
  • Turning to the mentor when at a crossroads, or not sure of next steps, the novice is still somewhat reliant on the mentor.
  • As the ninety-day period ends, the novice is knowledgeable, skillful and has the added ability to manipulate her voice to meet the customer at their comfort level.
  • Eventually, at one hundred twenty days, the novice is steady, capable of making independent, quality decisions, applies practices and knowledge learned in former positions and has a cadre of customers with whom she has cultivated positive relationships.
  • As the quarter draws to a close, the former novice’s sales are equal to that of the mentor.
  • The mentor, during one lunchtime walk with her closest work friend, suggests she is worried about her mentee and is making errors that management is failing to catch.
  • Her friend shows concern: such behaviors can reflect poorly on other reps and the company
  • The mentor decides to send an email to their supervisor asking if her mentee has had extensive sales experience with other product lines dissimilar to the companies.
  • The supervisor has now been called in – and begins informally, to recheck the mentees work history and further instigates a schedule to listen in on a random sampling of phone calls made to customers by the mentee.
  • The mentee grows in value to the organization earning rewards from human resources for quality communications and from her sales division head for capturing new customers – and holding to full price.
  • The mentor asks the supervisor what became of her findings. The supervisor is forbidden to share information about one employee to another but mentions she is watching closely.
  • By this time the mentee, once growing in confidence, is aware he former mentor no longer banters with her, nor does she provide guidance unless specifically asked.
  • Aware her intuition is calling to her executive brain, the mentee approaches the supervisor inquiring if there is a problem with her performance of that she should be aware.
  • The supervisor suggests she do two things: work more closely to company policy and not rely so much on her past knowledge and skills but ‘stick to the company script’ and work harder at building better relationships with her
  • The mentee is confused. She has been successful in every dimension of performance and has never received any formal nor even informal assessment and, further, senses she is now viewed with a negative bias.
  • She decides to elevate her concerns approaching the HR head in the section. She is told essentially, what her immediate supervisor said to do. When asked if there are problems with her results or behavior she is was only told, again, to ensure her activities meet company guidelines and then dismissed with a ‘not to worry about it’.
  • After a few weeks pass, the supervisor calls the former mentee to her office for a ‘chat.’ The mentee is told her phone calls while resulting in a fair return on business, were not as strong as they could be – and deviating from a specific script was to stop. The mentee knows from experience that at this and other companies a representative must veer from the script if the customer’s needs are not being met. The supervisor suggests that continuing to ‘free-lance – is upsetting other reps and if it becomes known she has special dispensation then all reps will begin to ‘wing it.’ Realizing further conversation would lead to a more heated discussion, the mentee leaves. Of course, she asks herself how the supervisor knows of calling language, and even if listening in, could not know everything she has done. Someone is spying and sharing her activities sabotaging her reputation by mischaracterizing her use of other knowledge and sales techniques.
  • She immediately goes to her cubicle and starts refreshing her Even though is leading in sales entering the new quarter, her position at this company is no longer tenable, nor a good fit.

The result here is the company loses a quality individual because of hearsay and innuendo. With kindling provided by her former mentor – a well-respected and senior individual – then fanning the spark into a fire when the supervisor asks seemingly innocent questions. This touches the supervisors need to run a smooth operation and finally HR who believes they may have a long-term problem within the department if the mentee is retained. They were moving to make a case for dismissal when the mentee suddenly resigned. Others in the department were mystified—and ask amongst a large cadre—why would someone so successful bolt from a position where she was very successful, well liked and socially inoffensive. Each individual rep is now left with a touch of paranoia – since no reason is provided by the supervisor nor HR for a talented rep’s resignation – particularly one who exceeded expectations, received awards for performance and was well-liked by customers and other personnel.

By now, you know why. A CMDK with seniority was threatened. With her length of time on the job, knowledge of products and the CRM, she fell behind her own trainee in all aspects of performance. Soon, she felt, questions would be asked of her and with little outside experience knew if she lost this job, finding another similar position would be difficult. Instead, she felt the tug of the lion and proceeded to strike at the mentee in her soft underbelly. With less seniority, lack of experience is this sector and reliance on other techniques—not necessarily endorsed by the company—such examples will be enough rationale for saving herself in the guise of protecting the company.

5. Summation

A CRZY-MKR particularly adjacent physically in a cubicle type office or within your department or team is relatively easy to diffuse, unmask, and defang especially if you are not the only one to recognize their charade. CRZY-MKRs are like serial killers: they need to act out often to be satiated. The chances are high she has done this before. Had the mentee known that she might have formed trusted relationships with a few other reps and without much prompting, heard the ‘war stories.’

Your objective, if a target, is to call out the negative behavior, confront the individual revealing that you know what is going on. Then label the individual a CRZY-MKR. Fortunately, a CRZY-MKR has more than one target so communication among ‘victims’ leading to a definitive unmasking, and, if quite toxic, bring to management for corrective action or termination. But the best result you might want to seek – by letting this person know you have discovered this nefarious, habituated behavior, is to get them to accept behavioral change—now and in the future. And the closer to the ground – that is on your level in the organization – prior to alerting higher authorities might gain a positive result simple by keeping it local. Bear In mind, however, few if any CRZY-MKRs have poor emotional intelligence and will view an attempt to ‘correct’ them to be tantamount to a declaration of open warfare.

If the CRZY-MKR is a manager you should know there is always someone he or she reports to. However, have your evidence codified: a diary of events and examples, detriments to working conditions, emotional and actual damages to you, your ability to satisfy tasks and state of mind. With the corroboration of other similar targets, you will alert management that this is not a personal vendetta, rather a systematic condition requiring inoculation or extermination. Awaken complacent or unaware management to minimize blowback or payback – subtle or public. Quality leaders will know it’s time to address cultural norms to save the company. If not, you have to leave.

The 4.1 Workplace Elements for Survival

Manage Expectations
Like a great quarterback, who knows every player’s assignment on every play or a superior actor who knows, not just his/her lines but everyone else’s, you need to manage the expectations the company has for you, within your team, division, the organization as a whole. You have to demonstrate you can not only exceed at your job but also be known as the reliable, steady playmaker who goes the extra mile to improve performance, make the atmosphere pleasant, add to the positivity of the workplace. Know your job, your supervisors’ jobs, and their superior’s job. No one dares ‘go zombie’ at an employee who has built a reputation of legitimacy.

Accumulate Leverage
In this case, leverage is empowerment you’ve earned and like money in the bank can be cashed in when you need to achieve a goal, get assistance, or seek protection from a CRZY-MKR. To gain empowerment you need to give to get. Helping out others, doing small – or large favors – jumping in to assist on another project outside your normal working tasks, being present to support or add effort to meet a deadline, make a sale, improve UX/UI, lend your talents where needed in situations where that talent is not present in the organization are ways to show you are a team player. Even bringing in small gifts for holidays is like money in the corporate piggy bank. These efforts have great visibility and the immediate interest you will earn. The more people who see you participate the higher your value goes earning thanks and a reputation what others will remember and most will gladly return. For our purposes, it makes a CRZY-MKR realize you have no soft underbelly or if so, have enough value to question anyone who cast aspersions at you.

Promise and Deliver
Nothing earns favor more in teams, divisions and entire companies than a person who says what they will do and then does it – on time, on budget, satisfying internal and external customers, completing your leg of a finish-to-start project. Consistent dependability earns mind space in the executive ranks; that is you’re known as the man or woman who gets it done – sometimes when no one else can. Taken for granted this way is a plus – no manager will climb on your back or question your capacity to deliver if your history proves it’s unnecessary to think about you at all – in this case, a good thing. Better still – who would ever come after you with innuendo, question your methodologies or intelligence if your production goes unquestioned. Well, a CRZY-MKR might get miffed and start a sabotage routine but it’s they who will be sharply questioned about their motivation. You are kryptonite to a CRZY-MKR. They’ll seek out a weaker target – a slower gazelle.

Think Through to the Endgame
Today’s achievements have the shelf life of milk. Success is built brick by brick over periods of time. Immediate wins are great, but if they are that easy, some might say we expect even more from you. Smart employees at any level look over the horizon about what they need to do now to get to where they want to be in the future. That includes getting on projects that don’t have quick payoffs but could shift the direction of the entire company. Contributions to a far-off goal demonstrates you have staying power, continually offer ideas, fill voids, pick up the slack, think out of the box, invent, create and model behaviors that will go noticed. So if there is no pat on the back today – you must believe – with your help – the end will justify the effort you have put in. Sometimes low hanging fruit even if eaten today has worms – on the higher branches ripening in the sun and rain are the tastiest apples, peaches, and pears. What this means is simply think long term. As long as you are contributing, you are most likely appreciated and inoculated from CRZY-MKRs. Of course, there might by such a person on – or leading this endeavor. In that case, continue to be indispensable whether that individual recognizes it or not. Most likely, everyone else will.

And finally…
Make the Shift to Offense

If you find yourself in the crosshairs of a CRZY-MKR and you have successfully identified that individual and what they have accomplished to your detriment – at that exact moment invite him or her to lunch. That’s right – buy the person lunch. Here, away from his or her defensive fortress layout what you know or even suspect. Ensure the CRZY-MKR, even if that person is your boss, understands there are consequences to this type of behavior. Be emphatic – no matter whether they deny it or not – assume they are lying and layout your attack strategy. Your armaments should consist of: a diary of what you have done on the project(s) they are critical of, suggest your colleagues know of this situation, another supervisor is on notice this behavior is ongoing and your future steps including HR or even an outside organization or that your attorney is ready to come in to play. End by stating emphatically – “This ends now,” and go back to that person or persons you spoke with about me and apologize saying you got it wrong.” Give them a timeframe – short – for you to hear from them how much you are appreciated. Then suggest you can play at this as well but you have more important things to do… and senior executives need to hear about. Regardless of how you spin it the message is: I know what you did. You need to reverse field. I expect proof it has been done. If not expect an asymmetrical response from me which will be worse than you can imagine. Then get up and walk away.

Lastly, here are a few freebies I gladly pass to you. I learned by experience, though I read all the business books and still do since changing careers from public education to the corporate world 22 years ago and over 40 years in all sorts of trenches – sometimes digging them. Other times planning their layout and in other cases having them designed for my approval:

  • Colleagues are not friends.
    Nope, sorry. That guy you play handball with, barbecue, or golf will turn on you in one second if the economy or reorganization comes and personnel cuts are likely. We all want to pay the mortgage, eat, buy cars, take vacations or just squirrel away money and retire early. If you are in the way of that or on the same ladder as are they, loyalty goes out the window.
  • Stay current.
    Particularly now, in times of rapid disruption in virtually all fields, today’s information is historical and the future built on virtual blocks you can’t even see. Its incumbent upon anyone on a career track learns everything and anything even if tangential to your field. Moreover, keep in mind the tiptoes you hear behind you is the next generation of workers who were brought up already knowing this stuff. Whether learning on your own or taking a course – get and stay smart and contemporary.
  • Hone your intuitive and listening skills
    What else needs to be said here? Well, I still get one deaf to my intuition and it’s been to my deep regret and injury. I hear it sometimes but fail to take heed. Practice with mind games – there are so many online. Turn off the TV and teach yourself to think differently and you’ll open up new neural pathways and your inner vision will improve. The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth – use them in proportion. And I mean active listening – taking notes, listening for the message behind the message. As we said at one company after receiving news, always look under the rock. Sharpen up your EQ. Think about your thinking – meta-cognate and listen the same way. In addition, make sure any speaker knows you are listening by a gesture, verbal agreement, or subtle movements.
  • Broadcast your successes quietly inside the organization but publish to social media like a demon on fire.
    Become indispensable by cultivating an audience of followers, offering your knowledge and experience from which others in your field will benefit. Become a thought leader, a guru – but do not bring it back to the shop. Let others at work tell you they saw your article online – let them tout you while you remain your humble self.
  • Keep a daily journal
    Even if only holds a few jottings it has to include what you did, accomplished or spent time doing PLUS any intuitive or substantive CRZY-MKR smells you grabbed out of the ether. Notate those well – they will be crucial when the time comes to be proactive and shut down that person or provide a pathway to a defense with all your reference markers to people and evidence you might require.

So, that was a long story and I hope you stayed with it, or bookmarked and will return later to digest it in bits. I have lived, or known about every moment of every story I have shared first hand – of course not every success nor failure but enough examples demonstrating the scars I have from a working life lived as an educator, administrator, consultant to NYS State Dept of Ed – to startups in three distinct fields, 2 published textbooks, an eBook on Amazon, a long career with multiple companies as a learning executive, a marketing SVP, and inside too many companies to name — as a consultant called in to save the day as a change agent and turnaround specialist, addressing production issues, inventing learning solutions, designing collateral materials and negotiating with customers, prospects and internal executives, as well as my own CEOs, through good economies and bad – superior mentors and bosses and those who inspired the concept of the CRZY-MKR.

Of course, such people exist on all levels in every endeavor when more than one human being is involved. Knowing that, we all should be prepared before we are a targeted by an early warning system, and smart enough to have a process to deflect or terminate such an attack, ultimately a nuclear response to ensure these evil doers last view will be the exit sign on their way out to the parking lot.

 

RETHINKING THE RAZOR “ILT HAS THE SHELF LIFE OF MILK” or an INTRODUCTION TO Instructor Led Interactive Learning (ILIL or Live Action Learning)

In the midst of a project where I’m conducting quality control on both online and ILT courseware I came across this video:
https://youtu.be/Qbz7DC94G2U

Put aside the use of religion as a foundation in the video, the point is the only way information becomes useful and or conducive to action (add to that skills and behaviors and we have the troika of what any course or instructor needs to impart) is to repeat the elements until they become internalized and habituated.

Truth be told, that’s my quote in the headline – a phrase I picked up somewhere down the line and always held to be accurate. And the reason – not to wiggle out of my cliché – is that too often even great instructors after taking learners through material can be satisfied they met their requirements. Yes, but… ILT is not repeatable – so unlike an online learning course – how can an employee (for example) revisit content or a methodology to clarify, refresh, relearn since left with only their legacy materials they have no first hand source from which to seek help?

Over the thousands of hours of instruction I have delivered, no matter how exciting or meaningful the material, or how competent if not (perhaps, a-hem) charismatic I might have been, once I was gone, learners were on their own. Even good references and notes made and organized, or I had provided, became relics of the event. It was an event, like a live concert or play: You’re left with the touching moments, humming a tune or mulling over dialogue but it’s ephemeral. Nevertheless, in learning, the end user must apply what has been transmitted, evidenced in increased knowledge or skills, improved decision-making and modified behaviors.

GFX for Blog

For a useful result, learning elements or any messaging for that matter has to be repeated from six to twenty times for it to be memorable and further useful. In advertising, this is called effective frequency. (Check out Hermann Ebbinghaus, Thomas Smith, or Herbert Krugman). While numbers and terms differ there is complete agreement repetition is crucial to any sort of outcome from selling to learning. But if the event, as ILT is a fleeting event, even with legacy materials, how can this be achieved? (Thus, by the way are the drivers and attractiveness of online courseware).

Well, good news. There is an answer though its success is dependent on a structure that meets new criteria and commitment plus a new definition of what Instructor Led Training should and could become.

Let’s call this Instructor Led Interactive Learning (ILIL or Live Action Learning)
Consider these elements as the foundation of the methodology:

  1. Quality content is meaningful to learners who will need to put it in action. Grounding concepts in theory applied in actual settings becomes more useful to learners who will be responsible for these learning elements in practical application
  2. Frequent examples, practical simulations, testing and feedback during the instructor led experience
  3. Units of content deliver in in micro forms so each concept can be explored in theory and then compelling learners to demonstrate their understanding through new simulations in guided and independent practice
  4. Building from each former element as a connection to the next
  5. Working with peers individually and in teams to discover problems and misconceptions found in real settings
  6. Acquiring real world answers to practical issues faced in these actual settings
  7. Demanding learners participate in scenarios replicating the actual working environment and insist these are delivered before the entire cohort
  8. Allowing and encouraging feedback
  9. Following through with learning on site, in the real environment – with reference back to exemplars of preferred information, skills and behaviors
  10. Opportunities for corrective action on site to bring the learner up the highest acceptable standards

All the elements of repetition are here, but in different learning styles and modalities. Moreover, that’s terrific – each learner will be reached in his or her best learning style.

Of course, this means training or learning does not stop after the instructor packs up; rather it is on a continuum requiring coaching ‘in the field’. This does mean cooperation with others newly recruited into the process and that’s all good. The more commitment from management to continue guidance on site means learning continues and essentially never ends.

Ultimately, the nature of ILT, now Instructor Led Interactive Learning (ILIL or Live Action Learning) is an ongoing experience assuredly driving up the quality of performance of learners—now users—as they navigate through their job tasks. I believe this method busts up the …’shelf life of milk’ sobriquet rather nicely. No longer teach, tell, check, test, and correct, this learning continuum will yield much better results, satisfied learners, better workers and improved overall performance for the organization.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

BACK IN THE LEARNING SADDLE

It’s been a while since I’ve written to my learning blog – for those who have followed me and others curious – I’ve been working on the marketing side of things for a bit.

Most importantly taking distance from learning – and especially elearning – has allow me the perspective about how and why learning now looks the way it does.

I don’t mean this to be critical – just observing the state of the art – my most fearful prognostications have come true. For instance – the ubiquitous application of – what I call PowerPointBasedTools has had two effects. Firstly, the line between a learning designer and learning developer has been eradicated. The special knowledge and deep understanding about how to drive knowledge, skills and behaviors is – to my eye – given way to a single person.

By evidence, just look at the any jobs board for instructional or learning designer. If you can’t run Captivate et.al. you won’t find work nor land opportunities. So what you might say…2 skills for the price of one. Except that won’t carry water. Those of us brought up in the learning era built the strategies and content then handed the material off to specialists with whom they would work to build the most powerful expression of information possible. Developers who had the technical skills to program had serious backgrounds – or access to graphic designers. Thus the content was not only solid – it was delivered by real pros.

Just take a look back for a moment – those of you who have access to history – when desktop publishing programs hit the street. Everyone in the office became a de facto graphic designer and some really bad stuff was passed off as good enough. From birthday party announcements to client ready documents were produced by the same hands and in too many cases from those who had no graphic design training but could use PageMaker. (Boy am I dating myself).  Well shoot forward twenty years and that’s too often the state of elearning. Just look at the preparatory courses offered in higher ed under the heading of communications or online communications or the equivalents. The emphasis is not on how and why people learn but on how to use the tool to drop in content in a logical order using templates, etc.

The second aspect to consider it the limitations of customization – though getting better – of these PowerPointBasedTools. The freedom to build learning in a non-contextual or inductive way has been pushed aside to purely deductive and linear development. There is a structure to these tools that my former team members working in – say Flash, HTML, CSS – were rarely constricted. Take apart Articulate for example and try to make it do something not designed into the template structure. Yes, there are work arounds and I;ve seen them done, but the need to conform to very formal template frames and defaults make it a chore. So, where is the benefit. Well, just like PageMaker, learn to use the tool, get your content from the provider and make it fit. I know I’m simplifying here but the point needn’t be made with a hammer.

So I’m on a project now for a worldwide client whose online learning is locked into one of these tools. And why – it’s cheaper, faster and what I call “good enough” learning. While the economics have driven online learning in the direction of pre-packaged tools only the largest projects with very special content gets the full house treatment. That is where a learning designer guides a team of developers to build something much more custom and, I believe more exciting, more compelling and hopefully a more dynamic experience.

In the end, it’s firstly what will make the learning experience compelling especially in our hyper digital online all the time environment – so much stuff flashing before us how can we pay attention to one true thing? And most critically, can custom designing yield a better result – more satisfied learners who excited by the experience have a greater take away and thus better overall results for individuals and their corporate bottom line?

Anyway, thanks for reading. Hopefully I’ll get back here more often with stories from the real world of learning design. As always I welcome your comments.

 

 

CORPORATE INSTRUCTION IS STILL DISCONNECTED FROM MILLENNIAL LEARNING STYLES – A LIST BASED ON OBSERVATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE

By this time we all know the tropes that define who millennials (M) are, how they act and their fundamental personality characteristics. You’d think with all of this proven—and nowhere is it more evident than in large corporations—that learning programs would have been adjusted to align instruction with M proclivities for workplace education.

Having just spent some time at an F100 company I can affirm with great certainty, most instruction is still a series of bland courses and in some cases long and winding webinars. It bears remembering we are in business of transmitting only three things: knowledge, skills, and behaviors. I saw few instances where any modifications to training accommodated the ways in which young employees would spark to, tolerate, let alone benefit from anything being taught unless it was compulsory. And of course, pushing training down to a M will just shut down their attention. So, with a grudging acceptance of what had to be learned, skills absorbed only if they had immediate utility, and behaviors, well…let’s just say the millennials I was working with and around were not among the receptive.

jane-nervous

You can refer to two articles I had written back in 2014 about multi-generational learning and see even then, there was a clear rubric and tactics for reaching millennials. Unfortunately, making a case to adjust corporate learning programs and actually rewriting and modifying delivery are at polar ends and still out in the frozen tundra. [Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

NOW EVERYONE WINS: OVERCOMING GENERATION DIFFERENCES WHEN BUILDING LEARNING]

So, what to do. CLO’s it seems, unless really enlightened, have not passed down by policy the need to make learning aligned to what will soon be their largest contingent (25%) of employees. The company I just left dictated to the CLO that webinars would be the mode of choice for sales enablement and product knowledge – and they were level set to be 60-90 minutes. For sales staff! A double whammy there, right? A young millennial in sales is being taught essentially in the exact opposite learning style that would yield useful results.

A LIST OF WHAT MIGHT ATTRACT AND DELIVER USEFUL LEARNING TO MILLENIALS

  1. Learning has to be in small bits and any of these learning elements I’ll mention need not be delivered in any particular order– but they will be repeated in what I call a multi-touch ecology. Hyperconnectivity is baked in to millennials as is multitasking. Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to embrace and use new technology. This approach has elements of microlearning but it benefits the learner because it is repeated in other modalities & technologies.
    • For instance, in a short form course, organizations might deliver one or two elements of knowledge, skills or behaviors, make it interactive and/or with gamification and require responses. Consider collaboration within the methodology. Those responses are recorded and then the course is revisited for learners to rectify any incorrect responses. Nothing radical here except for the amount of time on learning – short attention spans will be honored.
  1. Learning with multi-modal exposure. Consider the power of a short, sharp podcast (or many) accessed and aligned to courseware – further amplifying recently introduced content.
    1. Questions posed in the podcast might be pushed out to mobile devices where, once again responses would be entered and tabulated.
  1. We’ve just laid out three modes: a short course, a podcast, and mobile learning. Let’s not forget dedicated pages on Facebook for content, polling and collaboration, and Twitter or SnapChat for instant feedback. Short videos right off Smartphones – 10 seconds worth – carry incredible power to influence, to convince, to give testimony. New tech must serve the learning purpose and be considered ‘cool.’ Finally, a mentor or coach would have the opportunity to not only work with the individual millennial but also learn what modalities worked best – and what components of this ecology yielded both cognitive results and emotional commitment. Multiple touches of the same knowledge, skills and behaviors are vital to retention and even more so for sales staff.
  1. These elements have all the benefits of autonomous learning, can be collaborative if so designed and tend to be informal. All three criteria are in the personality set of younger employees.

joeerica

Multiple touches—that is delivering the same content over different methodologies and modalities are essential for millennials. Learning is short – but repeated with multiple touches

  1. Learning can be collaborative
  2. Learning is couched inside compelling technologies
  3. Learning is interactive
  4. Learning is delivered on demand
  5. Learning is multi-modal
  6. Learning has digital with human feedback
  7. Learning is autonomous
  8. Learning content while repetitious is tolerable with multiple modalities
  9. Learning with multiple touches will be the norm
  10. Learning will be put to use because it happens over time – not a one sitting – therefore it will always be top of mind

As I looked around the work floor, I noted my millennial colleagues who, to a person were hard working, committed and extraordinarily helpful to an older geezer like me. Nevertheless, they also shared the frustrations they had with long, drawn out courses, for instance during onboarding, that might have been produced in 1999. That’s no way to motivate people who come predisposed to do good work. When learning is delivered to their particular learning characteristics, they become empowered, more loyal and see the corporate culture as honoring their personal temperament. That’s a lot of big wins. It’s up to the corporate masters to commit to modify learning, reach, and reach out to the millions of new workers whom they will be leading and managing now and more so, in the very near future.

guypointingcasualsmall

Learning Design: The Great, The Good and The Good Enough

This could be a story about buggy whips. You might know the classic management tale of the craftsman who was proud of building the most handsome and useful whips to spur on carriage horses at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately, as you you probably know the tale, carriages once replaced by the automobile rendered his lovely product useless.

I have watched from the trenches and sidelines as classes of learning professionals are now being divided —again by technology into two camps; those who know how learning should be constructed and craft it and those who can manufacture, at time and cost savings, the actual product.

Learning designers strategize how to solve problems to achieve performance improvement applying theory to fact and constructing course elements, flows and production processes. They gain agreement with stakeholders about content, audience, time on learning and assessment and the larger components of an experience. They scaffold the project so each step falls into place in a logical progression. In some cases, the learning designer will offer a narrative reflecting the content back to the stakeholders to ensure the critical content is captured. Additionally they might also write the actual storyboard incorporating the elements including the interactive and experiential (as well as social) elements that will make the course interesting if not compelling. The best and greatest courseware, the most inventive and exciting depends on a designer who can sculpt content into a story, then work with an interactive and/or graphic designer to sharpen the user experience across multiple platforms finally passing the work to a developer to program—as designed—for implementation.

Background3

Developers are those folks who know how to use the tools chosen by the enterprise to express content online in an effective and dynamic format. For the past number of years, while learning theory and ideas about making courses exciting have evolved growing with the speed and bandwidth available for elements like video, developer tools have been refined exponentially. Think of the industrial model—build an assembly line, now improve the assembly line and the tools—then make better products. However, this works well only when everything being made is a replica set to standardized requirements. Learning is not like that. Even when producing multiple courses with similar content, the opportunity to breathe excitement into each one is more present when designers do what they do best and developers express it. No template, no matter how sophisticated can allow for all the shadings required by great learning. Instead developers take the tools and either use them out of the box or, as I saw in a number of organizations, create, and in most cases struggle to build work-arounds expressing the designers intent while trying for hours to keep within the constraints of the software. An entire industry has been built around PowerPoint (by example) as the foundation for programs like Articulate. And the tide is with them since money flows downhill from big corporate enterprises and their subordinate constituencies. Better, faster, cheaper. And good enough.

The precedent for this was the explosive improvement in desktop publishing more than a decade back; once an associate learned the software they could generate print materials. The problem—and the connection to the current argument, is simply that these folks were not trained as graphic designers. The results spoke for themselves; a lot of bad design, quickly produced and reproduced. Moreover, when it was accepted by many managers as ‘good enough’ the die was cast for the attitudes we see now in learning design and development.

Here lies the collision and connection: In the hopes that ‘rapid’ eLearning cannot only reduce the time to create courseware the tools, ever more nuanced, allow developers to become designers as well. It’s seductive; managers cut down head count, more work can be pushed out the door by learning groups under pressure to deliver fast changing content, and costs drop when the designer, a more highly trained, often senior and knowledgeable resource can be set aside or redeployed. I don’t believe there has been a study conducted on performance improvement or even a Kirkpatrick view of which types of courses yield intended results. But I do know anecdotally that learning designed courses, where each professional works to their strength always seem to have an A-ha factor. Most other courses—those of the template kind—are utilitarian and though they might satisfy the requirements or outcomes, learner satisfaction cannot compare. This is dangerous and grows more so every day as multi-generational learners want different kinds of learning experiences.

ATT00091

The facts are there is room at the learning table for both types of development. However, there is no real lobbying group or organized industry to support the learning designer model. My fear is that learning and instructional design preparation will move even further towards the industrial model, templatized learning produced by individuals whose preparation has introduced them to a fair amount about learning…and the skillsets demanded to operate the tools. Unfortunately, there is too much complexity and uniqueness in learning to allow for excellence when this mashup becomes the status quo.

Those of us who have grown up in the era of learning design are more than ever segregated from access to development. Even with HTML5 used by great developers who can customize components to meet learning design objectives with wonderful precision, I see a rending of the system that will soon go the way of the buggy whip. So much of life today, from the professional sphere to just everyday life seems to be populated by people who figure that good enough is just that. Time is precious, financial strains are everywhere, the speed of life is overtaking the human ability to sustain its own sense of equilibrium in a world of instant everything. So let it go and accept the outlier will be the customization of learning only when absolutely defended by insistent clients with the budget and care to desire excellence. Otherwise, wait for tools to exhibit their next iteration, artificial intelligence.

 

The Learner, 70:20:10 and Customer Experience

iStock_000008801928SmallMore so than in other efforts learning demands a careful balance of content and context. Many courses or projects chock a block with great information never quite achieve the results intended because of the way the information is delivered. Still too many learners won’t or cannot stay engaged. And it’s not for lack of effort by designers. Neither dynamic media, nor learner engagement exercises, even all the bells and whistles designers build on can always keep the learner riveted. Moreover, it’s not the pacing nor structure of events nor even the implied threat the learning or training is a job requirement. When learners are asked about courses a range of answers emerge, from I liked it but it meant little to me in my job, it was just not interesting, it was isolating, dull, the same old thing. So, if you believe, as do I, there is a missing element, hang on, I may have some insights.

Firstly, it’s important to clear off the Kirkpatrick levels. Not dismiss, just set them aside. Traditional learning and development is about pushing out information. What I suggest is a different way of thinking about the learner perhaps reflected in Kirkpatrick but not aligned to its grid like way of organizing learner uptake. Rather the lens through which we should start is Charles Jennings’s 70:20:10 approach.

Looking back to the original premise, that courses even with great content are bashed on the shore of rocks of delivery and contextual modes, than Jennings realization about how learning works is even more in line with my premise. And not to hold you in suspense, I am advocating we begin to think of learners as customers and every aspect of the learning experience as a customer experience. In the customer experience (Cx), world companies look at their service by way of touchpoints.

Touchpoints are every interaction taking place between the company, product or information—the content—the user or customer of that information and the context or channel used to communicate. Calling your cable company, speaking with a representative offers many touchpoints. For instance, how many rings did it take to get through, did the customer service representative understand the problem, how did she speak to you, could he resolve the problem, how long did it take, or perhaps you got better service using the website. The media, in this case the phone, is referred to as the channel. Companies measure each touchpoint in each channel against criteria in order to examine their process, develop standards and measures to improve customer service and contain their costs.

As learning people, we might take a lesson from touchpoints in Cx. In business, every time a touchpoint is observed, measured, and found lacking, it is improved—called touchpoint renewal. Now think of learning experiences whether virtual or face-to-face. Every interaction with content is naturally in a context (channel). So working online, the UI/UX channel might have been designed with minimal cognitive overhead in a handsome interface so information can be actuated easily. The more interactions, more touchpoints, and more reflective thought by the designer is required. Or in a classroom, instructors who focus on critical content and presents interactively have touchpoints relevant to that context or channel.

Learning designers can think in touchpoints when they build instruction or training. If we begin to think like this courses will improve simply because each action is viewed as an individual, measurable touchpoint. There are two elements, the content and the quality or style with which it is delivered (no matter the context or channel) and the learner (or customer). The smoother, faster, clearer the touchpoint, the easier it would be for learners to navigate and perhaps benefit from the experience. Customer experience thinking does not require a major pivot in the way courses are developed. Instead, it’s a mindset and reminder that learners need to be serviced as customers or even as buyers with a choice. Knowing your learner needs, your customers, and what they must achieve at the conclusion of the experience can help shape designers decisions about what to insert into a learning experience, the style, and the channel.

iStock_000004786684SmallJennings research clearly says most learning, over 80%, takes place in the workplace not the classroom (and I assume not the screen either). He has demoted formal learning to the ’10’. This diminishes the role of the learning designer or at least, as far as I can tell reshapes it. Experiential learning through contact and information with others yields—according to Jennings—better development and business outcomes. A conversation with a colleague in the pursuit of a solution or the sharing of an incident that leads to an A-Ha moment is planned. Keep in mind, these interactions all have touchpoints, too. That ‘20’ doesn’t mean we can easily measure the import of every utterance and seek to improve coaching or mentoring conversations by observing or eavesdropping continuously. However, it’s worth considering just how powerful informal, professional language is and how worthy it might be to bring to daylight the concept that everything one says or does has a value that is measurable in terms of utility and effect. This would include sharing via social media as well. As we know, a useful point made in Twitter, evinces a piling on of like-minded comments. These touchpoints will have extraordinary reach and thus value if the sources are trusted and adds to the validity of the single point under review. Most importantly both Cx and 70:20:10 are performance and productivity focused.

It would seem terribly logical for learning designers, ID’s, courseware, and content builders to become aware of the customer experience. If our product is the transmission of knowledge, skills and behaviors—and we expect change to result from each learning event, than designing with care and scrutinizing each touchpoint is another valuable way to look at and improve learning outcomes. Perhaps the designer’s role will change toward one of director; scripting a full 100% development experience—composed of 70:20:10 where every action or activity plays a role in the education of a learner and the idea of the total customer experience is viewed via touchpoints ensuring all actions are focused on results.

Overcoming Generation Differences When Building Learning: Part 2

When we last visited this topic about a week back I promised to create a visual—a chart of sorts—to encourage learning and instructional designers to consider how generational bias in training delivery. Just looking to start a conversation.

A Quick Review
You might want to pop back to the original article: http://tiny.cc/qpsrax

We know we’re engaging three distinct groups in today’s workplace, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (Millenials). Each has specific preferences for general communication and they carry over in training as well. Whether creating a training program when all three groups are in the room or accessing courses online demands the learning designer incorporate specific ways of delivering information with the appropriate assets, techniques, and technologies. Initially, we would hope learners, right from the first word or screen, slide or handout, would buy-in and see value; a predisposition that his will be a good experience. During the training, we build formative experiences to keep all groups interested and motivated to continue, committed that the investment in time is worthwhile. Finally we would want participants to exit the training experience appreciating it was translatable into their work life. If this is accomplished, the next training experience will be viewed much more favorably and meet with less resistance.

Acknowledging their generational age, and considering their technological age (how savvy are they to tech) as well as comfort with social media, influences how they will respond to courseware. Though there are three distinct groups, many learners exhibit the preferences for learning outside the generational ‘norm’. These people are to be commended for either learning new technology, appreciating other ways of ‘seeing’ learning or just curious enough to drop a toe in the fast flowing stream of change. We need to depend on these folks to help convert those who tend to be inflexible.

Caveats abound:

  • This is not a fully scientific approach nor based on academic, androgogical research
  • It is the product of crowdsourcing, anecdotal research and discussion with hundreds of learning/instructional designers and clients not to mention intuition
  • My professional experience over thousands of hours of course building across more than twenty verticals and five geos and over 25 years of design have informed these findings, too

I am fully prepared to hear from all quarters. It’s a living document—a work in progress— so send your ideas to rshadrin@wonderfulbrain.com. I’m hoping criticism will help improve this instrument not merely tell me where to get off or how narrow-minded, oblique or stupid this exercise is.

Anyway, someone had to put a stake in the ground. Apparently me. I hope it doesn’t end up in my heart.

Ultimately, the learning designer has to make everyone happy if information transfer is to take place. Elements that ‘favor’ one group more than another will always be necessary. If knowledge, skills and behaviors are to be transmitted, absorbed and used than instructional design should seek balance. Occasionally this compromise is not appreciated nor well tolerated across the generations. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to honor each aspect of the generation’s learning preferences and mitigate those that irritate others. Skillful designers know how to navigate these choppy waters and subtle mixtures of learning preferences can always be developed. Can the design ever be perfect. Well, no. But reasonable learners in all generations can recognize when attempts are made to entice them into a learning experience. And the organization expects each generation, besides tolerance, adapt as necessary to improve performance and solve problems through learning and training experiences.

GenCon

NOW EVERYONE WINS: OVERCOMING GENERATION DIFFERENCES WHEN BUILDING LEARNING

During an interview about a week back I asked the project manager about the audience for which the training courseware would be designed. The strongest criteria, emphatically made, was the consultants ability to work out a curriculum for 24 to 70 year olds. She added, by the way, some of them ‘don’t play well with others’ or didn’t want to take the training…and were clearly hostile. I know the second part is actually more enticing to discuss than the first but we’ll save that for a sequel.

It’s far from the first time any educator has faced this situation but it did get me wondering. A good place to start in preparing for such a project would recognize the characteristics of learners in each of the 4 major generational groups in today’s workplace. From that point discover, categorize and develop with some confidence the types of learning each would be most comfortable with then craft an overall rubric to be used when designing courseware for multi-age audiences. Looking around I did find an article where this conundrum was voiced. That solution was to conduct a needs assessment, offer basic training particularly in the technologies for those unfamiliar with online learning, and then take out an ‘insurance policy’ by creating what really was a back up curriculum in case of mass lethargy or a pedagogical mutiny. This answer seemed too superficial and really doesn’t get to the heart of the problem.

The Generations
Although these descriptions may seem a bit broad there is agreement the characteristics of each generation are accepted as real and true.

Baby Boomers (Post WW II, 47-65 years old)
Creating a pleasant work environment is paramount

  • Like steady work and climbing the corporate ladder, consider their coworkers to be their main social network
  • They put work at the center of their life and focus on building the company
  • Viewed as ‘seasoned’, thought leaders, or subject matter experts, has a stronghold on experience
  • If you want something done, pick up the phone instead of waiting on an email or text response

Generation X (Born between 1963-1980, early 30s to mid 40s)
genxfemale

  • Often labeled ‘slackers’, but are the best educated generation
  • Display a casual disdain for authority and structured work hours, dislike being micro-managed, skeptical and embrace a hands-off management philosophy
  • Will put in the hours while maintaining a reasonable work-life balance
  • Incorporate social media seamlessly into their personal and professional lives

Generation Y (Also called Echo Boomers or Millennials, born between 1981-1994, early 20s to early 30s)
millenial

  • Will make up 46% of the US workforce by 2020
  • Expect near universal positive reinforcement from authority figures while seeking job satisfaction
  • Incredibly technology savvy, immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches
  • Rely heavily on blogs, instant messages, tweets, text messages
  • Demand work-life balance, flexible hours, work-from-home options, and mobile technology

 Generation Z (Soon to enter the workforce, born between 1995-2009)
First generation never to have experienced the pre-internet world. Already technology-focused

Where the Problem Begins
Let’s just back up a bit. School is the common denominator amongst all generations. But the problems that continue to arise in public education are magnified when boomer type instructional modalities are used to pitch information at millennial students. Teachers, the curriculum, methods and even the spaces for instruction are evidence of a generational disconnect. There are many superior older instructors who have made the technological and sociological leap to align content with context to educate their charges. But, in general this divide is not uncommon and where that happens, little learning goes on. Unfortunately many youngsters get patterned and adapt attitudes that, even as adults carry a distaste for learning not in their preferred mode. However these students are now our employees and need to be convinced by example learning can be made meaningful respecting the ways they want to, and best can learn. The question to consider? Are employees of a generation too rigid or overly reflexive in their rejection of training? Put another way, how malleable and adjustable are employees willing to be?

Where is Alignment in the Organization?
In corporate training we expect all generations to make adjustments so courses, training and instruction can be cast from a single or a few uniform models. After all this is the workplace. But that no longer cements an employee’s commitment nor guarantees willing participation. If we don’t honor the fundamental attitudes and proclivities of each generation we risk losing learners at the outset. Often staff, having endured training delivered in essentially a mode akin to a foreign language, have attitudes about training harden into instant negativity every time a required learning experience comes around. The problem that begs a solution is how best to design learning for all  generations.

Organizational Intolerance
Corporate leaders are skeptical  about the costs associated with learning and training believing there is not a high enough dividend in performance change to drive up profits. They would be extremely unlikely to embrace multiple course types to engage each generation in their learning ‘sweet spot.’ Instead corporate education needs to innovate, devising learning experiences to lure employees by offering a variety of ways to interact with information, absorb and most importantly use what they learned to be better at what they do—for themselves and the organization. Enough quality experiences and the fear, inertia or rejection displayed by generations will dissipate replaced by a more optimistic attitude about training at work.

A Way to Look at Instruction with Generational Regard
The goal is to reach every generation in their preferred learning style suggested by their social description. How? Develop learning elements, experiences, and technologies integrated into the content of courseware or training that speaks to each generation. This balanced methodology will engage all learners—not all the time nor in every instance—but enough so each group can sense an invitation to learn has been extended to them. Such an experience might offer elements (scenarios, interactivities, video, animation) techniques (direct instruction and gamification) experiences (role playing and decisions making strategies), assessing for competence (tests, role plays, scenarios, games) and media where learning might be best delivered (live, virtual, online, mobile, mixed), so that every generation can find relevance. Content will be carried forward in multiple modalities; formal, informal, social, participatory, for collaborative teams and individuals. Text, visuals, audio and interactivities will drive information respecting the sensibility of generational familiarity.

And while many employees are archetypes of each generation there are enough who just marginally typify the description of that generation. Of course this does not mean they are outliers, they simply fall into some other generational category.  I believe we can make some reasonable assumptions about the elements that once incorporated into instructional programs will reach every generation in their preferred learning style leaving no one outside the scope of education.

So what would a multi-generational learning plan look like? That’s going to need a well crafted visual. Stay tuned for Part II.