PARDON MY SIN

It was the right time. And the right circumstances.

Locked in the prison of COVID-19 with no escape, retired from designing and strategic marketing, my working office was ready for a good cleaning out. Purging files was easy, as were research docs, visuals, loose notes, and sketches hanging around, some for twenty-five years.

As ego goes, I’m far from immune. It would bother me that my grown children would not see solutions for some of the largest organizations in the world. I wanted them to discover that dad was sharp and some of his stuff was brilliant. Took a week, kind of a celebration, and diversion before getting down to business. And the early notes, refinements, contracts, the people I worked with, or for, or who worked for me seemed still so vivid. Though upset about my legacy, out it went from closet, shelves, cabinets, and drawers. So, a little, well not weepy, but aware a door was closing on a professional life done. And reminding me I’m so much closer to the end than the beginning.

Yikes. A lot of weight, words, and worries 

 

But I pulled up short, brakes on, engine off, prop not spinning. I knew what was coming next. Before I could organize the space, I came face to face with heavy decisions and the weight of emotions they carried. So… Books, books, books, everywhere. Subjects critical at moments to earn degrees. Volumes illustrating techniques and expertise; historical pages that gave foundation to decisions. Every type, shape, color, weight, age, and price. The cliché that books are like old friends that even if ignored, are ready to visit anytime made these actions feel like a betrayal. I am not a procrastinator. When you work as a consultant you learn how true the adage, ‘time is money’ and, ‘thinking, that takes time, costs money’. I have worked efficiently and proficiently.

Drawing from experience and research, parceling enough time for planning and communicating with clients or colleagues produced fresh, clever, creative on-trend solutions. I always got the work done and shipped.

Except, now. Professional habits so ingrained began sliding towards a permanent vacation. Inaction, terminal ennui, hesitation. What was Han Solo encased in? Carbonite? I envy him.

 

Let’s step back 65 years or so…

One-tenth of architectural books that remain

Our 4-room apartment was full of books.

My mother read every bestseller and all of us, the weekly color periodicals; my father every newspaper, glossy magazine, and technical catalogs, reflecting his interests or hobbies at the time. He relaxed with the latest pulp novels. I was enrolled in the ‘Book of The Month’ child’s edition from 5 years old. I still have my favorite, “Seven Into Space, The Story of The Mercury Astronauts”. How many times did I spin around the corner to catch the elevator — or rush down the stairs to the wall of shiny brass mailboxes hoping a magazine had come for me. In school, we paid $1 per week (mandatory) for the New York Times, with a current events quiz for students on Friday. My parents signed an installment agreement to get the young adult version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Long before the loan was paid I had read it cover to cover. On to the ‘real’ version — protected in a special cabinet in a new branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Slow work, at least a year — with many vacations.

And it was like this in every Jewish household in my building. In East Flatbush, my grandmother had a Readers Digest subscription and their book series as well, and Grandpa devoured anything a good American should read. Why such reverence for the written word? In general, these were post-war attitudes and behaviors. It was simply expected the first generation born after the second world war was to exceed the achievements of our parents. We’d be going to college and entering a profession, followed by marriage and as many children as we could sustain. There was a subterranean message never spoken hidden by adults. We were vessels to replace the six million who died in the camps. They drove us hard to achieve and required, among other demands, a respectable job and income sufficient to support a happy family. Knowledge was the door and reading, the key.

Few religions or cultures match Christian faiths, whose massive cathedrals embellished with color radiant through massive, stained glass windows welcomed the light of the lord to its dark interior, its astonishing height heaven itself. In stirring brushwork by the greatest of artists and artisans, and incredible, dynamic sculptures the gospels of the new testament were visual epics to awe and educate illiterate peasants. Today, no church even in the poorest parish, is not without its best treasures on display.

Judaism is a culture based on the word. It is an oral and literary tradition — we had not and still do not rely on much visual imagery to tell our 5781-year-old history. As a child, even during college years, if I fell short of a fact or the merest iota of information, Grandma would, and this does say it all, “Richard, look it up”.

The Holocaust was the most profound evil in modern history for our people. Regardless of one’s commitment to the literal old testament, a national fervor to expunge an entire people universally influenced all Jews.

The burning of books was the second-worst. Destruction of the written word was infamy. The accumulated knowledge, of fact, fables, and stories; of history, of art and fantasy, reduced to ash the creative efforts of Jews and non-Jews alike. Our ‘tribe’ harbors a reverence for authors needed to enrich our minds and imaginations, ask important questions, and seek answers. Reducing this biological need in our character to ash was designed to delete thinking and suppress humanity. The dead were dead and the mourning continues. But, the living became impoverished in culture and spirit.

The time arrived to select a selection of a meager batch of books — that I could neither donate nor share i.e., pandemic. Being a realist, I thought I might exhibit some stoicism at this point. Nope. When the pile of books thudded into the bin felt at once I had violated my culture and personal ethic woven into me from childhood. It was overwhelming.

A better person would have listed all the volumes I eventually — let’s face it — destroyed — as a requiem for the writers of fact, fiction, of professional texts held from the first days of work then resurrected when I taught. Books that illustrated the how and why of all things helped me grow a literary and visual vocabulary. Most profitably they taught the basic art of influencing audiences to speak with persuasion and passion. I was able to site references of the history of this or that and explain how the modern evolved from the past — in practical ways, perfect for my audiences. I had a pretty deep collection in a few fields, not merely a superficial visit about some subject or other. Excepting my notes, I’d never been able to recreate those words and experiences again — then again, I’d never have to. But it would have been pleasant to pass them on.


These remained as well — marketing research, principles. Notebooks and sketchbooks will remain until an inheritor has to make the decision — after they are read of course.  Wow, Dad was smart!


As I look down at my wrinkled hands on the keyboard, I can’t help but think of the boy who first fell in love with reading, and the smell of a new book just unwrapped, and show off ink stains from newspapers as proof of letterpress pages digested front to back or vice-versa — depending on the progress of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And the fact is, I became a writer, too. Two textbooks, teacher’s guides, references, white papers, eBooks, magazine and reference articles, and blog entries used for information, teaching moments, and opinion internationally. My wife too, a voracious reader and superb teacher of the highest merit, ensuring the disenfranchised street kids she taught might — and did — revere Shakespeare as a precursor to hip hop lyrics. And this is a gift we have passed down to our adult children, with children of their own. Great readers and lovers of good literature, each is a model for their progeny that began with our parents’ parents.

Grandkids with their digital distractions are not the readers we think we would like them to be. But they read in their way, in another reality disconnected from ours — kind of a disjointed reading process. This is a new kind of behavior attuned to the heavily digitized world. I’ve taken note that when interested and motivated, exploring content they lock on to and can bounce from a text to video to checking out details on the web, easily referencing or diving even deeper through different media to fully encircle a subject and become experts.

But I could only offer books. I passed these on to my oldest grandson entering whatever college is these days, texts he will use, even if out of date, yet with relevant information and I, hoping to offer some inspiration for making these volumes the core of his professional library.

As I began this essay asking to be pardoned for my sins, I include disappointment for the opportunity others might have received from the words and pictures whether for purpose or pleasure.

Anyone who has written to be read by others knows it’s not just putting one word in front of the other. It’s tough work and quite naturally your readers will let you know what they think of your efforts. So, it’s a writer’s conceit to be read — after all if not, then the effort surely exhausts one’s ego. I want something back for the strain.

All the knowledge, interpretations, inspiration, fun, fantasy, and joy I got and still get from reading and often writing, is a blessing. I have friends who tell me I’m so lucky I take pleasure in reading when they cannot. How could it have been otherwise? I was an acolyte to those around me who read — I just naturally did what they did. Never once did anyone tell me to read — except maybe homework. Books are what I am made of, and substantially, made me. The pleasure of reading, of learning something new; a word to look up, a passage worth keeping in notes, ideas to test against my thinking or opinion, finding evidence in the ‘real’ world discovered on the printed page. Nowadays, particularly when driving on stretches of highway or a route with which I am familiar, I enjoy podcasts because it’s fun to be read to and though I’ve spent many years in the digital realm I still find it a miraculous treat.

And then as time was short, I hit up the local liquor store owner for some boxes (and should have bought a few bottles for courage or dull the memory) I spent two days picking through the shelves, rationalizing as much as thinking, what should remain and what was unnecessary, What a hurtful word that can be.

To dismiss any writer’s words is insulting and demeans their struggle. A poorly crafted novel, with stilted, forced dialogue and equally unsympathetic characters, or the best information made exciting and alive with flourishes of language and words I can taste, have their genesis from only one source — the dictionary. I think of some stinkers I have started and now, finally, I don’t feel guilty putting them down. I’m guessing those authors failed to select the correct words or put them in better order.

What separated books I kept from those I dismissed might have been at the hormonal, reptilian level. Are juicy words few others know, useful phrases, terms, or pithy ripostes; quotations, maybe words, and phrases to be weaponized and flung at someone over the barbecue. Absorbing consequential information spoken out or injected into my writing is always a pleasure. Nevertheless, every writer who writes puts in the time works out their thoughts, conjures a story, gives life to characters, attempts to make meaning and emotion from their mind or gut, and sometimes the heavy lifting of research, too. To be thumped by editors or readers that penetrate and wound is the risk. They, we, I, must be respected — or pitied. Maybe I had that in the back of my mind when I parted with those volumes for which I had neither use nor room. I think if space were not at issue, I’d keep them all, good not so good — if for no other reason than avoiding a choice of who lives and who dies.

Here’s a Way to Fix Relationships in Distress

OK. Not really about business creativity & communications, etc., but I decided to toss this in for fun.


In how many advice columns and mantras is it said a triangle is an ugly shape from which healthy relationships cannot grow. Three of anything unless it’s a grouping of items in a sentence or the set-up of a classic joke doesn’t cut it. Is it an odd number thing? Five seems to work among friends and work teams, seven seems to be challenging…it invites cliques to form.

Anyway, we presume a couple is a basis for the highest form of intimacy. From best friendships to marriage, monogamy is more the rule than the exception. But that brings its own problems, doesn’t it?

All couples share dark moments from misunderstandings, misfortunes, malfeasance. People change, grow, and move towards or away from each other. How deep the rift, how often the cuts and makeups and how long the cycle continues is a metric of whether the relationship has legs for a long run. Is it time to split up the books and furniture? Before this crossroads, can a relationship recover? Hey, don’t ask me—I’m married fifty years, but you’ll not get good advice that I never listened to. But I did do the research.

You see when there is an object of affection, a neutral third party uniquely qualified to step into the fray, there is hope for a fractious couple. And an ‘object’ of mutual affection within a troubled relationship offers a possibility the transference of caring might roll over to the couple. According to my readings, scientific definitions, and keen observation, intense situations can be improved. And there is only one—and again—my experience here—only one “equiniminous third” up to the task.

Enter Canis lupus familiaris.


Dogs are exceptionally successful in making triangles from duos. Rounded over by a dog in the house, most adoptive dog parents benefit from the neutral third. Not to win approval – dogs always approve of you unless mistreated – the acknowledgment that another sentient being with feelings is enough to make humans, well, more human.

Let me explain.

So, there’s a dog nearby you’ve raised or taken in. Doesn’t matter. Loyalty comes quickly if you love your dog—that’s a certified caveat. If you can’t do that, stop here – I can’t make my point.

Dogs don’t take sides and don’t require details. They don’t care if you cheated and she wrecked your BMW. But dogs have superb emotional antenna. They know when the chemistry is off. They watch body language, more impressively they smell the emotions as odors you excrete naturally. With 30 million nasal sensors they have your fully cataloged. And of course, they are incredible listeners – they may not know the language, but they get the gist.

They can’t stand yelling and will remove themselves–or act out–if there is screaming and throwing of objects. Remember dogs are creatures of habit. When there is a tilt in their world, they are uncomfortable. And they are empathetic – not in a human way, they comfort in a canine way. But at the outset, they are nervous, fidgety and want normal back. A dog is not my brother, nor my wife’s grandma. We want a dog to be a dog.

A dog will offer its physical self to assess if there is an opportunity for affection – to give or receive. If there’s no violence your dog will approach one of you – I don’t know why. Each one of us thinks the dog thinks we are the ‘alpha’ when research shows neither of you is.

The dog will make himself available and if you look their way, you’ll likely get a look in return. And then he may approach. He may make physical contact, not just because you need it-he needs reassurance too. So, you open your arms and he’ll sidle over for a rub or scratch. He feels better and you do, too. The temperature in the room will go down a notch.

If the room is cooling off, so is the dog. Now, he might lay down at your feet—or hop up on the couch (if permissible) to get next to one of you. The dog love begins – you’ll rub, scratch, nuzzle, coo, whatever – and this distraction allows for a real cooling off period. The dog’s very being-ness has distracted you. Now’s the time you can start a conversation and find common ground. Take Harley for a walk. He’ll be himself, the real dog, calm or excited, as he regains his emotional balance. This is his stage and his nature, and you are a mere ‘bit player’. When you return, there’s an opportunity for a rational discussion – as you fill his water dish or food bowl and minister to him. This releases your own hormones leading to a relaxation of emotional tension.

This is the concept I mentioned, the neutral third. The dog cares less about issues and more about behavior returning to normal. And he can be more normal, too. As vocal tonality and dynamics soften, your odor indicates a return to a more congenial state. And the dog senses you are cool, and he knows his habitat is returning to the status quo.

Well, we’ve made a home to more than a dozen dogs over fifty years and regardless of breed, they were all particularly sensitive to the household mood. Some better than others naturally – and I mean naturally as in their nature.

During our marriage, like most, my wife and I have had monstrous battles. My crass behaviors, her failures I didn’t easily forgive, nasty words, real anger, slamming doors – the whole bit. Through it all every dog we were privileged to have was the soft tip of the triangle, blunting anger and offering themselves to distract us. Some were pedigreed champions and some of a dubious lineage.

I don’t believe the love of any animal can change one’s fundamental behavior but in day to day life, with its wins and losses, anger, and joy, they were all necessary for our emotional maintenance.

We wouldn’t have made fifty years without them.


CODA:

Finally, some points about having a dog in the household that contributes to personal well-being. Consider when each partner is happy and healthy, they have more to give to the relationship, what therapists call the third person–the marriage. Don’t overlook the dog is also a subject of discussion – a neutral topic that partners can discuss even when all other communication stalls.

Banking emotional and physical reserves are helpful by supporting self-control, a most important trait in the ongoing sustenance of a relationship. A lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, less depression, and a decrease in general illness are fully proven benefits. The more obvious: exercise, a better social life, and heart health. And happiness—playing fetch or simply petting your dog increases the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone and lowers cortisol, the stress-inducing, fat-making hormone.

And the obvious, especially among the growing ranks of seniors, relieving loneliness, anxiety, and faster recovery from stressful incidents.

When a dog is present in the home, and its human family provides love and care, the more likely the tone is set for these behaviors to be available as an emotional resource in times of difficulty in the marriage. No doubt no dog can retrieve a hopeless relationship. Interestingly, divorce attorneys often say one of the biggest bones of contention in a breakup is who gets to keep the dog.

As for me and my wife, currently without a dog for the first time in fifty years, few days go by when we don’t look for new residents in our local animal shelter and who among our friends and relatives have puppies on the way.

The heck with the new carpets, I’ll take the new puppy smell, the fur against my cheek, even the 6 AM walk, for the licks and doggie kisses any day.

 

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.

 

GAMIFICATION – PLAYING AT (NOT) LEARNING

When I first heard the term ‘gamification’* I had the sensation of a spider wiggling down my shirt at a picnic. It’s in the same league as ‘monetization’ and ‘level set’ and, ‘incubator’, words coined to make professionals sound, well, professional. I’m not against jargon in general; shortcuts are good if they are pithy and have substance. Not so ‘gamification.’ Defined originally as ‘funware’, it demeans both game playing and education. For the most part, game playing aims at developing recall. For lower level objectives, I suppose this would be tolerable if it weren’t distracting from higher-level intellectual outcomes.

For clarity, Games are well-crafted stories built in digital form with learning objectives frequently placing the learner in real life decision-making situations. They use the best practices of education and peda-androgogy and because they are dynamic and built to the same standard as say ‘World of Warcraft’ I find them admirable. I wish there were more and were applied with greater frequency but they are, as you might expect rather pricey.

Gamification is not Games. They’ve be clearly invented by instructional designers/educators in lust with technology. I have a wonderful cliff near my house they can be lobbed off. Its parallel in the public school universe is extrinsic reward schemes granted to students for showing up for class on time, good behavior and completing homework. In other words…as I see it, bribery. (I know this is contentious). I know there are many gamification fans and supporters out there and I respect your desire to improve public and corporate education. Just prove that the time, energy and money pays quality learning dividends and I’ll rethink my position.

VALUE

Let’s set the record straight: If game design is used to make learning through technology more interactive and engaging, count me a fan. When gamification means achievement badges, reputation points and virtual currency, contests, Farmville, or systems for rewarding the acquisition of knowledge or skills—especially in a professional enterprise—I raise an eyebrow at the quality of employees and the (lack of) management resources that sees the need to move them to action with these techniques. A little immature, don’t you think? Reward systems are best used, and have been employed as marketing tools by product managers and marketers to move stuff off the shelves or entice people into chasing a purchase. Wrapping this around new metrics like ‘engagement analytics’ purveyors believe they can empirically demonstrate positive results—commercial and educational. Gaming is a tool that’s become a practice morphed into an industry with commercial drivers. (By the way, note I have not given any space to naming these enterprises…I’m not shilling for them. Look them up if you’d like but don’t be swayed by the hot graphics, testimonials and the robust claims).

Frequent readers of this blog know I am a skeptic. So using any metrics, I challenge Gamification builders to reveal learning performance improvement by users in their real work achieved by Gamification techniques alone. And within a reasonable time period.

A last point: In a learning environment, game interactions become not just exploitations of the basic human trait towards distraction, but will defocus the learner from the real content to be transferred.

*(The term may have been first coined by Nick Pelling in March 2004 for his gamification consultancy startup Conundra Ltd, via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification). I presume Pellings’ was a commercial venture process.

Seth Godin has recently written, “Knowing about a tool is one thing. Having the guts to use it in a way that brings art to the world is another. Perhaps we need to spend less time learning new tools and more time using them.” (Emphasis is mine).

In any learning environment, this is the common process applied, whether called A.D.D.I.E. or an analogue:

  • There are Problems
  • Preferred solutions are known and become objectified targets
  • Learners acquire knowledge and skills to practice solutions, first guided and then independently
  • They revisit decisions to modify solutions were they learn they have fallen short
  • Recap: A summation of the learner’s solutions aligned to the preferred solutions
  • Look back: Review for changes in performance shortly after the learning and at intervals as necessary

Here is a brief taxonomy of learning techniques in use now and when designed to meet objectives quite useful. They also obviate the need for games and reward systems. Also, while most are part of traditional computer-based elearning they can easily be designed as disruptive, via migration to tablets/smartphones.

Low Level Online Learning Interactions
These are used primarily as checks for understanding, previews, and reviews. Once coded the content can be dropped in matching desired outcomes.

  • They include– Rubber Bands, Fill In’s, Drag & Drops, Matching, and both verbal and visual constructions are typical. The names are generic with many names for similar actions
  • The media has traditionally been Flash when built locally
  • Off the shelf products, e.g. Articulate, Captivate, Camtasia, Lectora, and other rapid authoring tools support basic interactions but are somewhat superficial given the need to employ these in a variety of environments
  • Mass market availability permits any instructional designer with knowledge of the tools to design for a series of learning based checks

Mid Level Interactive Techniques – as Guided Practice

  • Scenarios: For instance: Replication of ‘Office Events,’ Selling, Soft Skills, Application Use (Step by step w/correction)
  • Simulations: For example: Decision Making > On point, real time type action –oriented Sims with feedback loops for self-correction
  • Media: Static Images w/Voice Over, Avatars w/Voice Over, Simple Animations, Flash, HTML5 Most are one-offs where the content is very specialized, e.g., healthcare, though most can be generated using an authoring template.

Higher Level Techniques – Best used when moving from guided to independent practice

  • Virtual Realities w/Active Role Plays as Real Time Events
  • Stop Action Realities – Decision/Crisis Points
  • Real actors/real dialogue, built as a ‘digital shorts’
  • Could be avatars as actors but roles and actions are true to life and specific to the client’ need
    Media: Video, HTML5, Flash
    Quite a few of these become fully realized Games as the content is completely bespoke – custom made for each experience.

SUMMARY

If these are done well, and have meaning and utility for the delivery of knowledge, skills and behaviors, in content as diverse from salespersons to management training, the concept of gamification is superfluous – rendering it cartoonish and beneath the intellectual and cultural status of the learners.

The reality is elearning is best when it is highly interactive with an emphasis on true situations. Gamification, with its emphasis on rewards for achievement is not a learning tool. It is an attempt to motivate; to actually move learners from passivity to those who are committed to the topic at hand. I trust that well designed instruction requires neither badges, awards nor competitive scoring to create effective learning uptake and performance improvement. Let’s do a great job of developing compelling elearning and leave the Gamification on the shelf where it belongs.

PLAY ME or TRADE ME

I’m writing this preamble dockside on a lake in Maine, early morning sunshine firing diamonds of light off the water. The temperature is mild and the bugs have yet to arrive for their fleshy feast. I’m in a good frame of mind–no curmugeonly thoughts or clever bon mots at the ready. All is tranquil. I point this out as so you’ll know there is no overarching agenda, no negativity anywhere in the vicinity of the words that follow.

There are some subjects I know very, very well; schooled, practiced and tested (and often get well paid for sharing this expertise)–delivering material that clearly rings with the tone of an expert. Maybe a notch below, my experiences and knowledge is pretty fair but I wouldn’t dispute a point with a respected expert–my words would only be a well-informed opinion. At the lower end of this taxonomy would be informal knowledge, reading fiction, opportunities gained from traveling, mixing and working with other cultures, present in discussions with all sorts of pros in all areas of interest in many different areas and general information resulting from a long life with open eyes and ears. I am lucky to have very broad, if not exceptionally deep, smarts in common and arcane subjects. I suppose this taxonomy is true of many people and I’ll bet—in an unscientific survey—more typical among consultants than many other groups.

Let’s concentrate on the very top of the pyramid—deep knowledge, significant experiences, expertise at all levels of work, and exposure to problems that required a significant amount of original thought and intellectual rigor—in the service of clients with specific problems to be solved.

The conundrum, which is the point of this brief article, is one that has me scratching my head in disbelief more often than I’d like. And listen, I don’t have much cushioning up there so this is a dangerous behavior! Why do many companies engage consultants for their expertise and then challenge either what we offer or ignore it in favor of some hybrid solution? Even more maddening is the person, team, or organization that attempts to change our minds about the very expertise for which we were contracted to deliver. Astounding, but true.

But hold on—that’s not quite my point.

In baseball, even a passing fan has heard the term, “play me or trade me.” Very apropos as an example of the fallout from management that pays for our services and then undermines our ability to get the job done the way we know it should be. As a ballplayer, if you are ‘on the bench’ you cannot ply your trade. Therefore, you will not have the opportunity to raise your batting average, make an impact on a game, impress scouts from other teams, and learn new skills from coaches and ballplayers who are in the game. When it comes time to to negotiate a salary, most likely with another team, he has few statistics with which to impress the general manager.

So, a double loss. The player cannot improve his skills by playing every day, nor can he provide a resume of accomplishments trying to make the roster of the next team.

A professional consultant, particularly in the learning field, is in exactly the same situation. Of course, education is much more subjective and in that way every problem solved, skill learned, profit enhanced, talent improved, etc., has fewer stats from which to judge the impact the consultant has made. Nevertheless, the parallel is darn close. Not only will the learning designer, et.al. have less chances to enhance their skills, knowledge and perhaps most importantly their reputation, there is no product to which they can point and add to their portfolio.

The message is this: Before you sign on the dotted line, don’t assume the latitude you will have, nor the breadth of your influence on the final project unless it is clear to the organization, the people with whom you will be working and most importantly yourself. Being a good questioner up front will help create not just a better working/scoping document, but a smoother working environment where you are in the game, if not as the manager than as a valued player. Don’t forget to listen to your intuition–some of us–hungry for work–tune out our internal radar. Influencing the solution for which you can legitimately claim credit means at engagement’s end, you’ll have a portfolio piece that will demonstrate not only new knowledge, skills and technologies but how you have used your powerful expertise to influence what will become an impressive resolution.

10.2 STRATEGIC WAYS to ENSURE LEARNING BEGETS PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.”

Would you like to guess the year this hypothesis was coined?  That’s right!  1652. What a year!

If you find this concept plausible, if the clarity with which business results are expressed, then the more accurate learning objectives can be formed.  Further, the more likely instruction can be well designed to achieve the intended outcomes.  A + B = C. This is a simple system really – inputs and outputs built along a continuum.

But hold on – We can’t calculate, quantify, or qualify achievement unless measured against a benchmark.

While we can all agree a yardstick is required, we often have a hard time decoding points A and B, a decision provided by the business identifying current and preferable conditions.  Now pivot over to learning where content is made from the distance between those 2 points.

A valuable exercise would seek to align the delta of between A and B as content now expressed by outcomes defined by the business and subsequently the ability of learning organization to tightly couple the content to media, methodology, trends, and technology.  This is a simple system, quite linear and logical and when well executed, can sustain grand outcomes no matter the difficulty and complexity demanded by the challenge.  Though we are in the realm of change management education is either a tool or a driver of the desired change; either way it is central to a reconstitution of an organization or, for that matter, a brand.

Let’s step back a bit.  Gaule was a Church of England clergyman taking advantage of the newer technologies of his day, e.g. a rudimentary telescope and measuring instruments, good eyesight, resilience, and a compelling drive to ‘know’ wrote in 1652 that if one system made of many supporting facts was proven correct than others of the same kind would likely be equally correct.  When interconnected a more complex system was revealed.  But for a complex system to be true, all of its minor truths must be so.  ‘Here endeth the lesson,’  said at the close of C of E services no doubt Gaule led or worshipped.

___________________________________________________________________

I hope readers are shaking their heads at this point warbling a mighty DUH.  “This is so obvious – it’s what we always do,” you’re thinking.  We follow ADDIE, or Gagne or Aldrich, et.  al. so we always meet objectives.  Really?  How many learning developers—from the inside the company or delivered by external vendors dare create true assessment—on the job results that reveal measurable business improvement metrics, or fall back on the (recently departed) Kirkpatrick settling for learner satisfaction that will magically morph employees into production megatrons, or build authentic appraisals that may expose the absorption of the learning but say nothing about how the learning becomes dollars.

The point is we have two simple systems; one for determining what will most likely justify the time and money put into benchmarking efforts  that expresses success—and another for design and delivering  a method that will most likely meet results.  Doing it right the first time means the business must be clear not only about content but about their expectations.  Then the learning team surgically examines these outcomes and designs a system to deliver performance improvement using the appropriate tools.

Two enterprises, two sets of tasks for one unique outcome.  How can we skew the odds in favor of building to square the first time?  Is there a magic sauce?  Well, no, but after almost 40 years in learning, and thousands of hours of design and development in every medium, at every subtask from writing narratives to managing multi-million dollar global rollouts I’ve observed the following characteristics present in successful engagements.  Perhaps there are others or more—these are the ones I’ve viewed and in which I’ve participated.

5.1 Simple Things A Business Must Do To Ensure Learning Will Yield Quality Results

1.  Know Exactly What Success Will Look Like.

Find the delta of what is now and what should be.  Whether quality or quantity, people or object centric, how will you know it when you see it. The business must identify where the failure lies, e.g., the poor commission of the sales staff is a micro issue; but failure to perform over time will have macro consequences.

2. Communicate Business Goals Throughout The Enterprise.

Everyone must understand what the business is about, what it does, who it serves and where and how money is made—and the drivers of that income.  When an employee has a panoramic view of the company and recognizes how their participation is vital, the door to learning opens.

3.  Define With Precision, Exactly What Is Expected To Change Post-Learning And Why.

And how it will be measured.  And by whom.  Following on the heels of #2, the specific nature of the learning initiative is clarified.  This will generate buzz, cross-talk and may be some push back.  That’s great.  Whether from professional staff or union reps, work towards understanding and acceptance before the learning is built.  This is an opportunity to introduce the concept of change management.

4. Bracket The Learning Experience By Time And Effort.

The demands made on the time of the learner—and whether learning will be part of the working day or on their own time needs to planned and accepted.  This is especially critical as we move to social media where technology to deliver learning on demand, including mLearning follows the learner around 24/7.  What is management prepared to do to encourage participation which by design might become an intrusion on ones private time?

5. Provide One Example Of An Observable And Positive Outcome.

Tell a ‘big win’ company story by communicating its history, good and bad decisions, solutions, heroes, and goats.  Publicize these ‘war’ stories.  Think reality TV.  From the CEO outward ‘soft’ communications changes companies into learning cultures.  Humanizing an enterprise, especially a multinational behemoth is critical to successful change.  Good internal marketing with collateral and internal PR goes a long way to make an individual feel like part of something grand instead of a cube farm drone (Remember ‘Office Space?’ If you haven’t seen it please do).

5. 1 Regression Test:

Everyone in the company should be encouraged to provide their own ‘war’ stories; tales of success and overcoming the odds.  And ensure these get compiled and disseminated worldwide.  Everyone likes to be noticed and in print (on the screen page), it carries a lot of juice, ergo loyalty and effort.  These stories will be part of the CXO’s/Enterprise wide communications practices.

5.1 Responsibilities of a Learning Organization that Yields Business Performance Goals

1.  Seek To Understand The Organization In Its Entirety.

Regardless of the scope of the project, the learning team must become virtual employees of the business.  It is seductive to believe you may achieve learning outcomes at arm’s length, resolve the immediate business goal, and consider the assignment successful.  However, to fully grasp how even modest courseware can influence the equilibrium of the organization, recognize, and learn operations, product, marketing, logistics, etc.  Then you can build better learning because you can see how your piece fits into the whole. Even if you work for the company you should do the same.

2.  Interaction with the client organization is necessary at all levels.

The more tightly coupled the learning organization is to the business the more effective the results.  While a project manager may represent  the client, direct evidence that senior leadership comprehends the outcomes of what this project means (even a limited project) to the enterprise is non-negotiable.  He or she must be a stakeholder in the initiative and must check progress even if infrequently.  Now there are three clients; the immediate project manager who needs the learning product; the real client, the learner; and now a CXO.  All expect actionable changes from their – and your efforts.

3.  Compel The Organization To Synthesize The Project In Writing.

A summation of the project, goals, schedules, milestones and QA reviews plus administrivia is the minimal communication required in an SOW or equivalent.  Typically, the goals of our learning solution would be  stated in behavioral terms.  That’s too broad.  Information must be more granular.

For instance, here’s an objective: The lab technician will learn how, and practice manipulating contaminant material.  Clear enough for the course — but too general for planning the learning.  What you really need to know are the underlying components of that objective: Why does the material have to be handled in such a way; what happens if the operator does not comply with material handling processes; what effects result from failures that exceed the norm?  How will you – and the company – be able to assess whether the operator is indeed following procedure and how often not.  You should plan – within the learning – a method of benchmarking compliance – what is and what is not tolerable. Moreover, do this first, before planning the learning design.  Capture all of this information, archive it, and treat it as a contract.  Share this with management as a check for understanding.

4.  Play To The Medium

Every learning program usually starts with a proclamation, “This will be online e-learning because it must migrate to 4 geos.  Or a blended learning solution, we’ve found, is the best way to engage learners.”  Frankly, that’s inductive reasoning – making generalizations based on individual instances – a not very reliable construct.  Be clear varying outcomes demand unique construction process and elements.  How you create interaction online, with mobile learning as an add-on, will be completely different then a blended approach with webinars.  Learning works best when built specifically to the strengths of the medium.

5.1 Ensure Your Customer Relationship Management Is Faultless.

Servicing the client is your mantra.  Know who has the gravitas to champion the project or the authority to pull it  The individual highest on the food chain who—if you’ve done everything right up to here—will defer to your judgement and insights.  However, if you believe – and can back up – a problematic element even if expected by the enterprise, speak up.  By now, your organization should be acknowledged as a team with a depth of understanding capable of making good decisions for their business.

5.1   Avoid Cognitive Dissonance

The discomfort felt at when there’s a difference between what a learner already knows or believes, and new information or a new interpretation should be resolved early.  Just as the business wrestles with decision-making and problem solving, discord among the learning team must be resolved or greater difficulties will arise during the build out.  If these issues leap the chasm and get on the companies radar, I’ve seen businesses torpedo the project fearing that infighting diminishes effort, a focus on quality, and a sense that the learning team works in conflict.

In the end, no learner should be left saying, “Yes, that was a great course and I learned a lot but they really didn’t understand how this affects me.”  With diligence and truth – your learning – built on a foundation of insight and accuracy – will meet or exceed the organizations expectations and make believers of skeptics.

So, two simple systems aware of each other’s challenges.  The learning team must broker the effort to make the project work.  Sometimes this means educating the business. And of course, the business must open itself to close inspection.  Success can be summed up as good communication, awareness of each company’s unique challenges, and respect for the process as much as the project that will ultimately improve performance and profitability.

Anyway, that’s what I know to be true.  I’ve seen it and lived it.  Sorry for the wordiness but it’s a big, important topic.

I’ll take questions now.

Baking the Cookies: Hiring Learning Consultants to be Successful

So many words have been written about dysfunctional organizations, if weighed would easily capsize…oh, say an aircraft carrier. Those who work in cubicles are often victims of enterprises that are so inefficient and in some cases borderline dysfunctional it’s stunning anything of value is created.  If you want to smell the enticing aroma of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, then follow the directions on the box.

Take the case of a senior manager, having been apprised no one on the staff has the skills or time to fulfull a critical assignment, brings in a consultant to address the problem.  She believes the functions have been clearly defined and deliverables understood by all.  Confident one problem along the critical path is sewn up in response to the needs expressed by the requesting manager, she moves on to other matters.  And never reviews the work product again.

Except – the immediate manager modifies the assignment/methodology/direction, and/or the support promised – everything from equipment to people resources is neither available nor provided.  The consultant somehow muddles through or cannot possibly deliver neither fast nor good enough.  The immediate manager reports the consultant is failing or has failed.

Every time I complete a contractual assignment, I’ve taken some time and distance trying to synthesize what all too often seems to be a virus unique to large enterprises.  I think I’ve come upon a way of looking at these deficiencies.  As I see it, they fall into 3 general categories:

1.       Preparedness
One should be safe in assuming there has been agreement among both senior, middle management the consultant is needed, and his function, deliverables, and schedule defined and agreed upon.  Too often that’s not the case.  During the recruiting/hiring process the consultant is introduced to the task and deliverables—and agrees to the project parameters only to find the resource or equipment, access, etc. will not be forthcoming.  Later, like after a week.

Also, in too many cases, companies are not ready for the consultant, who arrives ready to work only to find IT hasn’t stripped last user’s material, a server file or location created, a name and password generated, no plans made to get a parking spot, security key card, policies and procedures never formally reviewed. The cube hadn’t been cleaned since Hannibal crossed the Alps.  I recently had my name misspelled and entered into the server, but had to begin working realizing of course if my name were to be ‘fixed’ all settings and defaults would require reconstruction.

2.       Clarity
One-step more granular than preparation in the absolute assurance everyone on the inside is truly on the same side.  That is, from the top manager to the immediate supervisor there are procedures, processes, controls, and risk management in place for not just the next hire but the many who follow.  I have yet to see – at any company – and I mean the Fortune 100/500 a document outlining the intake procedures for consultants.  Now, it may exist, which should leave even more red faces as obviously it’s regularly ignored. I believe there should always be a risk management component.  In this context, if the consultant is not delivering, a conclave should be convened where the problems and solutions are vocalized.  If difficulties persist, the consultant has to go – even if the company is at fault.  Not to be too paranoid but that’s generally an indication some internal enemy is plotting away.  Neither has the consultant time, nor the political juice to do much that won’t end in termination anyway.

3.       Behaviors
This is so commonsensical it should never have to be said.  The difficulty faced by a consultant in any capacity is akin to a well-paid indentured servant.  He has neither power nor influence to bend people even when it might be in the company’s best interest to learn of economies, efficiencies, technical issues and so on.  The consultant knows that going above the immediate supervisor to le grande frommage for any reason short of harassment is signing his own visit to the guillotine.  So the smart move by any consultant is practice muteness, silencio, and that goes for getting to chummy with anyone on the staff.  Cordial, yes.  Friendly, OK, bull sessions about the company the boss or fishing around for information staff believes you have (and you doing the same) is a big, fat, no.

So…how to make sure working with a consultant will yield great results.

Paper.  A smart recruiting firm and especially a smart organization should develop a checklist – it need not be biblical in length – but clear and focused that does the following:

1.       Describes, in broad terms, the nature of the project
2.       Describe the deliverables in detail – the more clarity here the easier to define the type of individual required for hire, his skillsets, subject matter knowledge, and experience
3.       Ensure expectations for time on task, volume of work and schedules are clarified
4.       Determine and state with clarity if there will be support by internal experts, technical or supervisory staff, especially those who know the project/program/product – and how much time they will be available
5.       Milestones for a review of progress and product
6.       A daily check by the immediate supervisor to ‘take the temperature’ of progress
7.       Procedure for escalating developing problems: Will there be coaching or remediation if the consultant is underperforming or      summary dismissal

This document should be used by the interviewer(s) as well – both parties know what expectations the company has, and can this candidate meet those requirements and agree.

Ensure all administrivia is completed:

1.       Security, parking spot, building layout, etc., is ready for the consultant
2.       Is the workspace prepared: cleaned, free of left over detritus from the former inhabitant?
3.       Is the hardware, software, files naming protocols, file saving protocols, accessible printers, available, all demonstrated on the first day to allow for a rapid ramping up
4.       What is the protocol for phone and email usage
5.       Can the consultant utilize tech support directly or through, by example, a manager
6.       The consultant should be introduced to staff working in the immediate area and his role made clear to everyone

I’m not sure I’ve hit on every point but this is a good foundation from which you will enhance the likelihood that the best consultant for the work will be contracted, the hire will be capable of meeting expectations, and an agreement of understanding between the consultant and the organization makes clear who and what responsibilities are met.  As a former mentor said, blame paper, not people.  With documentation, few problems will reach even the remediation stage; the workflow will be smooth and people assets aware of their responsibilities.  A quality, on time result follows.

Now I can eat those cookies.

ELearning is Dead, Dormant or in Denial

It’s no secret that coming from leadership positions in public and corporate education I am very critical of substandard learning; ‘e’ or otherwise. Without vigorous advocacy at the top you’ll never get great results. So I ask, where have the learning leaders in major corporations gone? I asked a colleague who was quite sanguine about this and we agreed there are virtually no new positions for directors, managers or above in the big leagues — organizations are just playing musical chairs with execs. In the NY Metro area the same 5 postings have been playing roulette for 4 weeks with an occasional newcomer.

Why? Well, mostly salaries, etc., but there is something a bit more insidious. Let me begin with a caveat. Please voice up if you disagree – nothing would make me happier. What I believe is occurring is the ‘good enough’ factor taking hold. That is, instead of real leadership that can pilot courseware, guiding development through its most dynamic phase (e.g. social media, tablet computing. mlearning) most companies have neither the will nor the belief that any of these technologies and approaches to reinventing learning have much value. Ergo, who needs to spend big bucks for leadership? Instead, pay for more and less expensive instructional designers. Senior IDs are being asked to incorporate meager amounts of new technologies whenever they oversee their peers and only in a small part of the project. Of course putting a toe in the water should require little investment and won’t rock the boat too much. But overall it’s like “Leiningen Vs the Ants.” IDs will keep coming over the hill in droves at $25 an hour. “Look at the production – wow – we’re pumping out those courses”. (Here’s the radio show of the short story).

What we have right now are courses (and in that big bucket I include webinars, collaborative learning models, synchronous chat, etc.) constructed using the democratic tools of design. In other words, anyone can learn, by example, Articulate or Adobe Connect to develop credible learning. This permits CXOs to tout a robust learning and training department with 15 trainers (whose directive to keep the cost down would not dare incorporate tablet computing) and 5 IDs who can pump out online material to resolve distributed learning using regular gas instead of premium.

Rapid e-learning tools don’t offend me – they are the hammers and nails of production. It’s the smug satisfaction that the end results can be every bit as compelling, dynamic and deliver the requisite knowledge, skills and behaviors equal to that of a Flash (or HTML5) based, interactive gaming, high concept custom developed course. Cost savings in the corporate mindset are justified because there is no hard evidence a custom design really does THAT much more than a bunch of Captivates, glued on to a PowerPoint with sound. Sometimes off the shelf makes sense. OK, for small bits of lower level knowledge or skills transfer I’m realistic. Give unto Caesar, etc.

However I can draw a straight line from the diminishing amount of NEW talent in learning leadership to corporate reluctance to build custom courseware to the slow uptake and incorporation of technology, social media and collaboration inside learning. Explain away the dormancy of e-learning. At the very pinnacle of opportunity, with a palette of stunning colors from which to create a rainbow of courses there’s no renaissance in the offing. Maybe CXOs are holding back to see if the technologies will stick – or the dollar investment has not yet been proven to shoot forth spectacular people performances – those who can reinvent the company, bolster the bottom line and energize the stock price.

So to those of you who are in denial about what is happening in our field I offer a challenge. Show me a course, webinar, tablet-driven interactive learning app and I’ll publish it with a link to my 10,000 or so LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers, etc. Even if I get a pie in the face – I’ll be satisfied providing a model for excellence that is worth the whipped cream and gooey junk inside.

Gadgets You Can Get Rid Of – and Pile Up These Outmoded Education Ideas, Too

Reading Sam Grobart’s article in the NYT yesterday http://nyti.ms/dRe6Eo I found it not only entertaining but pretty accurate. I happen to agree with most of his calls – though I think cheesing the USB Thumb Drive could be a bit immature.  Not every client, for instance will install software to see your stuff.  For now, I’ll take plug and play.  Kill the standalone GPS unit too – a BlackBerry with VZNavigator got me from New York to Holden, Maine (look it up – you won’t find it – though my phone did) as well as my onboard system – and it spoke to me in a much nicer voice.

Ok, so we’ll agree hardware ages out (the last CD is being pressed next week) to be replaced by a new technology or better yet new software offering easier information manipulation, connectivity and storage.  And the pace is accelerating at a ridiculous rate—beyond in most cases our needs or our ability to acclimatize to the environment this technology has created.

I wish the same rapid changes were true in both corporate and public education.  This way, even if a concept fails it can quickly be replaced by another, better one.  How many antique philosophical constructs, techniques and methodologies (and include tech here) must we throw into a crevice to melt in the instructional magma before we get the idea that there are many ways to resolve – and improve learning performance.  Educators, rooted in the 19th century, with some pretense at accepting 20th century thought, and a few 21st century models of knowledge transfer.

In an effort to be short—these items and ideas are top of mind and food for thought.  I invite your dialogue or arguments.  (This will be posted of the Heroes of Education Foundation Group on LinkedIn as well).

In schools:

1.       Shred the attendance book.  Are you seriously still considering – in the age of RFID, etc., attendees and students need to sign in?
2.       No such thing as a computer lab – laptops are cheap enough and accessible so why push anyone into a single use facility. Besides teaching computing is like teaching ‘pencil’.  And kids are way ahead of teachers anyway.
3.       There is no reason the person in the front of the room is the font of all knowledge.  Learners will come prepared differently since different questions will be asked and instructional approaches will have to take on a different flair. A good teacher accepts his/her role has changed.
4.       Don’t throw out ALL the books – just the ones that get worn out having been used for 2-3 generations of students (All novels, texts about grammar and the like, mathematics overtaken by utilitarian math on one side, theory on the other, Social Studies and Language Arts – don’t get me started – and the list burrows in throughout the curriculum .  Add to oversize volumes of art, travel, maps, though.
5.       Push open the fissure just starting to open that is decentralized learning.  We learn in life, not through an artificial construction of life.  Access to information and the ability to share–is the most democratic of ways means the ability to string together meanings, solving problems, building simulations of how to define what learning is.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach the requisite foundation building bricks of content – just differently and this is consistent with…
6.       Blowing up the school.  The savings in fuel costs between the boilers and buses will keep any district in laptops for years.  Meetings of learning cohorts have the entire environment in which to gather in a group.  Moreover, if you need a reference remember how school started: Socrates stood beneath a tree enticing those who sought knowledge to come and get it.
7.       Schedules – you must be kidding.  Everyone has a custom schedule – but all have to meet certain requirements.

In the corporate realm, adult learners bristle against having to learn something new – especially if they can’t see the benefit.

1.       All learning should be ‘line of sight’ that refers to two overlapping constructs.  Firstly, what is to be learned needs to be JIT and crisp enough so talent can realize how they will do better, enjoy more, have higher rates of satisfaction when they participate – now willingly.  The other part refers to evaluation.  Why bother to pull staff away from their tasks (which are now heavier than ever) unless management can determine that the input—courseware, etc.—yields a measurable, positive change; from attitude to the bottom line.
2.       Finally, like in schools, what about direct learning.  Is ILT still a viable concept?  We could come up with a half-dozen models to replace top down learning, recognizing, as adults, the freedom to learn by one’s own methodology and style still bears the responsibility of results that are tangible and measured.

There’s my not so small list.  To be sure, a realization that technology is school on a stick is necessary – you can take learning anywhere.  Corporations know this – when staff travels their laptops are precious cargo and many an airline passenger is heads down working on a training program.  Of course, the program might just be a recitation or page-turner that only defeats the real opportunity.

I don’t think we throw out everything – but I believe the foundation is shaking.  As our tools become even more ‘talkative’, the easier change will be.  And it will come, if not from our leaders than down from the streets – because the 16 year old and the 60 year old are closer than ever before and they’ll all want a revolution—or a vigorous evolution at least.

Illustration by Harry Campbell Continue reading