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.

 

THE ACCIDENTAL LEARNER

There seems to be a revival of interest about informal learning. I suppose the definitions range from information gleaned from informal sources—everything from Wikipedia to People Magazine to storytelling, to disruptive media like tablets and smartphones. Some suggest it’s content discovered while looking for something else. Kind of like an accidental scavenger, a web surfer. No matter how the information is presented, gathered or used it appears the single best notion is that it was unintentional and/or secondary to the main thrust of what is or was to be learned.

Let me suggest we might think of informal learning as ‘Ad Hoc.’ This is not to say passive though it could be serendipitous – just because you ‘come across’ something worth spending time with doesn’t mean it won’t support formal content. If learning is as brain scientists tell us, empowered by the relationships of ideas, the gymnastics of making connections provides meaning and quite often enrichment; then hurrah for informal learning.

Here’s an example of, at least for me, the best kind of informal learning. My wife and I recently saw Woody Allen’s terrific film, “Midnight in Paris.” Aside from the story and plotline, the director paints the cityscape with a loving hand and inhabits it with characters from the Parisian heyday of the early to mid nineteen twenties. We get to meet Picasso and Dali, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds and Ernest Hemingway among others. And they are brought to life with dialogue they might have, and in some cases actually spoke. This is particularly true of actor Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Hemingway. Spurred on by his characterization I decided to read ‘A Moveable Feast’ the author’s description of his life in Paris as a young and struggling writer. Then too, the soundtrack with familiar tunes in some cases—and quite arguably—performed as in the case of Cole Porter just as he might at an evening soiree, that made the movie even more potent. So I purchased the soundtrack as well.

Let’s add up the ‘learning’ from a movie I intended to watch for entertainment only.

  1. A study of Parisian architecture from photographic angles and perspectives not seen in guidebooks, documentaries or even after a couple of visits.
  2. Information about art and artists, music and musicians, writers and their works.
  3. How the relationships all of these young and vibrant talents thrown together, that made what Stein coined the ‘lost generation’ such a roiling pot of creativity.
  4. Finally, the effect of this environment and people on the protagonist with whom we as an audience bond transported in a personal way.

Anyway, we went to see a movie for pleasure. However, I was encouraged to study the writing and music of the time and received enrichment and delight.

Is this informal learning? In a sense yes because the information I sought afterward was assembled organically and from curiosity. So is that a bad thing? Is the learning less important or salient? No, if you want to learn what you want to learn. When there is great enjoyment, the endorphins kick in and there is potential for exponential personal growth. Everything will have meaning to the learner.

Tablets and smartphones have made made information more readily available; time and space mean even less. If you’re intrigued about a topic then follow a thread until you are sated by a sense of completion or as has been known to happen, sensory overload.

Once we formalize the process of learning and form expectations, objectives, outcomes, KPIs, and other performance measures two things happen. The core information is delivered in a linear and focused way so it can be measured and the the opportunity to ‘drift,’ that is find casual connections is diminished. One might be told to look elsewhere for examples and so on, but nonetheless it’s scripted. There’s no denying we have to learn things we might not find particularly entertaining or mind expanding. There’s no adrenaline rush from studying topics of minimal interest even when they have career importance and possibly tied to an extrinsic reward. Nevertheless it must be done. Even if there is useful information on the periphery learners are not encouraged to seek it out.

In the field of education, one of the latest trends is that of open courses, called MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Such courses are based on the theory of connectivism and on a network where a lot of  people are doing independent but interrelated work. It’s collaboration on a global scale. Generally, everyone is working to assemble knowledge and learn about a particular topic but individuals are free to come at it from any angle. In this way, the subject is examined from multiples of different approaches. The content is infused and enriched. I wonder if MOOCs are the beginning of a hybrid of formal and informal learning.

Could this be a model for schools?
In most secondary schools, separate classes and courses compartmentalize instruction. Students have no one place to put their learning’s together to make a cogent whole. The relationship of one course’s content to another’s goes unexplored—there is neither opportunity nor invitation for reflection. Instead of individual courses we might allow for the type of learning…based on discovery… that will resonate with students, inform them factually and humanistically. Just like “Midnight in Paris,” was a nucleus from which students set off on explorations of culture, history, literature, art, and architecture, each strand could then be explored in depth, individually. In fact, what made Paris the center of creativity in the twenties was in some part the result of the First World War, so there’s another even more potent theme just waiting to be revealed. Of course, this mean school needs to be reinvented and there really is no interest in a meaningful reconstitution of education. But let’s not get into that.

The Corporate Venue
This might be tougher, especially if the topic is narrow, technical, and the skills learned must be applied in a direct and rigid way. In addition, this is often necessary. Learning to run an application, program a website, or design a manufacturing process to take costs from production offers few opportunities for exploration of happenstance. And yet, ask anyone who programs in code how they get into a zone and become fabulously productive for a given and fixed period of time. What sets this the ball in motion? Creativity is spurred on, we know, when there is a deep emotional response or a rich intellectual insight within the grasp of an individual. Could it be the distillation of informal and passive explorations can provide this jump-start? Moreover, if so, how will corporate educators adjust for that kind of opportunity, the kind that seeks to spur on creativity on a wholesale basis? I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn the greatest creators in the past few decades have emerged not from formalized training programs in education settings but rather from the fringes of experience earned by ‘messing around’ with ‘stuff’ that captivated and later drove them to explore more formally ways to capitalize on their ideas.

And so…
I’m afraid I’ve raised more questions than provided answers. I suppose that keeps in the spirit of informal learning though. We do know that both formal and informal education is important and each has utility. If I pose any argument it’s that in our rush to inject learners with information we leave out experiences that will not only make the learning more colorful and retentive but we perpetuate the perception that there are two kinds of learning; formal for school and work and informal for pleasure and personal growth. And that’s just unfortunate.

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.

WITH REGARDS TO mLEARNING: A CASE IN POINT OR UP IN THE AIR

I promised a colleague a week ago I’d share an experience I had producing a mobile learning project for a major airline. So to him, I apologize for this installment being a bit late…think of it as slow 3G, OK?

A caveat. So many of us are involved in love affairs with the latest technologies sometimes we forget to brake our enthusiasm and learn after too much money and effort that the latest isn’t always the greatest. Case in point is the following true story—a real business event that occurred far back enough that if executed today would be much more powerful because of current technology. Of course, the outcome would not be substantially different because the desired results would still be the same.

A few years back as a VP for a large computer solutions company in New York, one of our account executives specializing in elearning opportunities had managed to seduce a notoriously reticent airline into considering change from their mostly instructor led training to online education. Their target cohort was employees who worked, in their jargon, ‘above the wing.’ This title refers to anyone whose employment had nothing to do with aircraft, maintenance, baggage handling, etc. Instead—and most important to our story—these were the folks customers dealt with at the airport, at check in and on the concourse; ticket agents, gate agents and personnel, support staff and customer service agents assigned at two of their New York City airport locations.

This was, and actually still is, a young airline; established and branded for quality service and a unique series of amenities on their aircraft. Moreover, their preferred hires were/are youthful, adaptive, and enthusiastic. These trainees had the right stuff but lacked knowledge of procedures, policies and in some case behavioral insights into how to deal with all sorts of customers. They were also paid in ‘prestige’ dollars—not too far above minimum wage.

Training on the Fly
After hiring, a cohort of at least thirty trainees would be exposed to a minimum of 45 days in classrooms at their HQ not far from one of the airports. The training and the trainers, based on our observations, were good and often better, effective at conveying all the obvious information and many of the nuances of operating in a regulated environment with the general public. After passing a series of qualifying tests trainees got their uniforms and were sent out to the concourses and ticketing stations for field experience.

So far, so good.
After a week to ten days working in the real environment, meeting all sorts of challenges for which the airline thought they had been prepared, the drop-out rate—that is the number of resignations, topped 35% and sometimes upward of 40%. Extrapolating the training costs, the quant’s figured each loss was worth about $30,000. Each. Yikes. At a minimum, each training class represented a loss of around $300,000. What to do?

To their credit, the trainers devised an exit instrument asking each drop out specifically why they were leaving. In addition, before starting the next series of hires, managers spent much more time at the airport observing the activities of each trainee.

The results were brutal.
Though trainers thought they were preparing new hires to be self-sufficient and make good decisions, they discovered something unusual. While, almost to a person, trainees knew policies and procedures, they were paralyzed when situations veered away from the typical. For instance; while they could modify ticketing and even handle families needing special requirements, passengers who needed to make late changes to their itineraries and other point of attack problems, when a real crisis arose—for which neither they NOR THEIR SEASONED COLLEAGUES had been formally trained, they panicked. In those situations where a resolution came about it was because someone had learned through trial and error, ways to handle the challenge. Realizing no one can be trained to handle every type of emergency; nevertheless, without a substantial set of guidelines the organization was placing too much responsibility on inexperienced…mostly new trainees. Faced with too many nail-biting situations…and realizing neither the romance of air travel nor the respect they had anticipated with the uniform hardly balanced out the anxiety, abuse and low wages, there were substantial resignations.

This was the situation uncovered by my colleague. He also realized that the airline had no real solution—not one that was economically viable. Trainers recognized, to their credit, training had to change in a significant way. But how?

Here is what we proposed
Those parts of the training that worked well, like procedures, regulatory issues, basic airline operations and the roles and tasks for each position should remain in place. However, the time needed to accomplish competence, especially with a new manual and meaningful assessments we would design together, could be reduced if we migrated much of the rote material and built it online. This component would be replete with simulations and scenarios that would build more lifelike experiences into training EARLIER in the process. This would accomplish specific goals; transfer information for use in nominal situations and then prepare trainees for some of the real life challenges they would face on the job. In addition, invite those less committed to bolt before too many training dollars were exhausted. The online experiences would be reinforced with classroom role-plays that were frighteningly realistic. I know…I wrote them.

However, this was still not enough. In challenging situations, not so atypical of life on the concourse, no one could be expected to rise from panic with Zen-like tranquility, and resolve every issue. No, we figured, above the wing personnel needed the kind of manual pilots had when systems were not, shall we say, cooperating.

So we devised as part of the new manual and online learning, a smart help feature with plain language key word searches wherever possible. Using their Palm Pilots (I told you the technology was ‘old), which held the manuals and the full course in memory, trainees and experienced personnel could get immediate answers when called for by keying in simple phrases. In addition, we configured it to learn—so that when a new situation arose it could be posted and all above the wing personnel throughout the system could review it. What we found was that in more than 90% of the cases, some clever or talented employee had a viable answer. This would be added, after tagging, into the course for learning and smart help feature as well.

Here’s a real example
A young mother approaches the ticket counter at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as the late afternoon rush of business travelers started to crowd up the lines. She is pushing a stroller with an infant and has, by the hand, her 3-year-old daughter. She beseeches the ticket agent to move her seats so she can have easier access to the toilets. While the agent is reconfiguring the seating chart, he hears the mother say, “Honey, I told you not to eat that whole hot dog…now your tummy hurts…I know. Well as soon as we get done here, we’ll go get something to drink and go to the bathroom, OK?’ The child says, ‘But mommy I don’t feel so good now…” She then projectile vomits on her mother’s legs, the front of the ticket counter, and for good measure on the shoes of the businessman in the adjacent line.

Let’s just freeze this scene for a moment. Here are some things you should know, and that the gate agent had learned. Firstly, vomit is considered a hazardous substance. Hazmat regulations apply in all cases. Secondly, as we know all too well, the odor is a contagion that can set off ‘sympathetic’ reactions. Finally, the material was on not only the mother, but also airline property, the carpet and another customer.

What does this mean? Most importantly, the agent, even if he knew how to clean it up, and he had the implements to do so, was prevented by law from doing so. He knew that but what could he do? He whipped out his Palm and keyed in one word, “Vomit.” And unfurled before him was the entire procedure for handling such a case beginning with calling for security and a Hazmat team. Furthermore, it instructed him to close down the line, come out from behind the counter, and move everyone away from the affected area. Upon completing each operation, he checked it off the list. Thus, a record was generated of all actions taken. Also, it automatically sent the location of the event and alerted supervisory personnel. Clearly, this accomplished a huge gain in ameliorating a terrible situation, supported the agent preventing HIS panic, averted a larger catastrophe, and projected competence and professionalism manifested before the general public.

To sum up, by changing the training to an integrated education and knowledge management model resulting in just-in-time access to information through mobile learning, the airline not only began to resolve its somewhat informal emergency procedures, but was able, as new trainees were hired, to prepare them with a much more complete repertoire of real-life events to study. Finally, with real time access to help in emergencies, trainees had confidence in the procedures for those real life panic situations. When finally exposed to the concourse, trainees were better prepared for all situations. The retention rate held—only 12% dropped out.

Coda
A change in training management and budget considerations subsequently stalled the growth of the mLearning component. Interestingly, during the ensuing winter, freak snowstorms created havoc and this airline, with few procedures in place to manage a complex reshuffling of both equipment and personnel, could not sustain an angry public and government scrutiny. The CEO was let go, its once highly polished image and reputation for excellence in service tarnished (and— some say has never returned) and passengers loads shrank significantly for a long time. And, sitting in Fort Lauderdale International Airport waiting to see if my plane was one of the few, and last to leave, I watched in horror as the ticket and gate agents were forced to call airport security and then the police to keep order as passengers were panicking and personnel could not contain the chaos. Had our system been in place, a key word search for “grounded aircraft: storm”, would have directed a senior gate agent  to cordon off 3 lines for each of the New York bound flights, and begin to organize anxious passengers and further plan and communicate next steps.

I must admit I found it not a little bit satisfying. Oh, and even better, I did get the last flight out.

Getting Close to the Ground

Notwithstanding the imperatives of cultural expectations, by the time a kids are in high school their trajectory has much been dialed in: College, training of some sort, the military, or work. There are subsets of each; the junior college to build a reputable GPA to get into a four-year school or a career that demands certification of some sort, vocational training institutes for technical knowledge and skills for local employment, or military service born of patriotism, money for college or, particularly in this economy, a lack of options.

So there’s been this pecking order going on for more than sixty or more years. College for the boardroom, classroom, higher academic pursuits like law and medicine; technicians who draw blood, troubleshoot computers and provide public service from police to municipal workers of all types, and tradespeople who through a ‘connection’ can apprentice through a union sponsored program or intern with a generous business owner.

But what about ‘those’ kids barely who after barely graduating from high school, are now sitting home or hanging with friends playing video games, no job in sight, and no skills for sale. Moreover, as time progresses whatever skills they might have had are aging out. They fell through the cracks these kids, no idea how extricate themselves from the bottom and every day less and less self respect. You’ve seen them; the single mother, the nineteen to twenty five year old whose vision of the future just doesn’t exist, out on probation, the chronically unemployed whose craft is gone forever when the hammer and vise was replaced by the keyboard, the iPad and cheap overseas labor. These are the ‘losers’; with no jobs they hang out scratching for change at some meaningless job (if they’re lucky) while living communally. Some have returned to, or never left home, relocated to the basement now that their bedroom is a home office.

As an alternative, sensing an opportunity to do good (for money) arrives on the scene the online training institute to try to fill this void. With a low threshold for admittance, plus one-to-one counseling, applicants also find a friendly financial aid department that helps them get the loans and grant money to set them on a path to a future. For their money (to be paid back of course) they receive their textbooks and a computer. All the courses or programs are focused straight at jobs and careers. Some are frighteningly fundamental: Keyboarding as a course in 2011? As it was explained to me, many of the younger students are whizzes at World of Warcraft, but can’t send email or surf the web—let alone write with Microsoft Word. They have never owned a computer.

These ‘institutes’ (a bit overinflated to imbue solemnity) are a reasonable alternative to being a ‘loser’ wouldn’t you say? It’s what I call ‘close to the ground’ education. Learn ‘right now’ material for the most contemporary and in demand employment sector, get educated or certified fast and go get a job. The best of these schools have a placement operation—well connected to businesses, nationally and locally, since students are online everywhere and matching graduates to employers should be job 1. Because learning starts with simple core material, virtually guaranteeing success, formerly ‘anti-students’ will hang on as their achievement becomes habitual.

If the story is well told and marketed in the right communities operations like this can sweep up those youngsters, single moms, potential petty criminals, people looking for a way up and out who were left behind.

And I agree with the entire premise but for one prickly issue. The curriculum, for the vast majority of courses are products of textbooks remodeled for online delivery by…I don’t know…a teacher, course developer, practitioner in the field? This practice includes lifting tests as well. Consider that some phlebotomists might be good online teachers and even help write a meaningful and realistic course, but what would be the odds? In a world where, with some serious due diligence a course can be created from online sources, how can that be defensible if only as cutting corners get programs to market fast. BTW this new educational domain is reinvigorating the bottom line for textbook publishers.

So my reservations—a demand for more course development rigor and a change in the delivery of instruction—should be addressed. At some point, after these schools are at moving at full charge, and I hope they do, educators are going to come a-knockin’ and they will not like what they see.

My prescription is very simple. The material a field practitioner writes must be shaped into learning by a certified educator (the model we know best – instructional designer and SME) to create viable courseware. The curriculum for each school that accepts or helps funnel federal money as loans to students must be accredited for academic programs and audited regularly like high school regional reviews. And why must all instruction be online? Surely, with a bit of effort administrators can discover ways to make the courseware include humans—even if only as out-of-class experiences.

What would I want to measure as benchmarks of success? How many students in a certificated course have graduated, what is the drop out percentage/rate and most importantly, how many graduates are working. This is not only a fair longitudinal study; I would offer the same challenge to America’s high schools.

It’s an imperfect model at present. However, those institutes with which I am familiar are working towards meeting higher standards. Don’t let my liberal tendencies fool you—there’s nothing wrong with making money when offering opportunities for success. Even a bit noble actually. No other initiative has made any substantial change for the educationally disenfranchised, and touted there’s a glimpse of a future. Raise the quality of these institutes, tighten alliances with businesses, raise awareness and market the heck out of them in every community. One of the highest callings of all enterprises is the specter of hope. Since the government is fighting among itself, and the Department of Education can’t get its act together, let private enterprise have a go. At this point, there is little to lose and much to gain.

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.

Treacherous Business Words Used in Learning Pt2

So we left off with Important/Urgent and I just want to mention that what is important and urgent to someone else may be of little consequence to you. What’s the phrase,”A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” So true. Of course know when and with whom to pick your battles, right?

I’ve saved these heavyweights for last. Enjoy. Or not.

7.       Strategic

In theory, strategy or strategic plan means looking out in the distance and setting your goals.  Then every decision would be tactical in that each would contribute to the success of the project.  Huh.  That’s gone.  Strategic is now important on steroids.  Whenever you’re asked for the strategy of this courseware or how it fits within the strategic vision of our corporate long-range plan – get out the shovel.  The more times strategic is used the more self-important the speaker and the less concrete the goal.

8.       Rightsize, downsize, best shore, offshore, outsource, optimize, redeploy, downshift, re-engineer.  Now entering the realm of hyper cliché are any of these ways of kissing off staff.  In the learning business, we tend to suffer early – and when training budgets start to be trimmed think of the canary in the coalmine.  Call your connections, dust off the rez, and brighten up your LinkedIn profile because you are soon to be history.  Using this terms makes the executioner feel like he is doing something strategic (see #7) for the greater good of the corporation.

9.       Thank you.  What?  How can some of the most benign words find their way on this list?  Simply when it’s spoken by a machine.  Thank you for your interest, your time, your patience, your value as a customer and such.  We don’t thank people much in online courseware – I don’t know why, we just don’t.  However, trainers are always thanking learners – most of who were locked up in a room for the day, had to show up to the session and compelled to complete the requirements.  Thanking them is obsequious.  Thanking them before the session ends for enduring the training with grace and composure demonstrates commiseration.  Of course, if the trainer was outstanding – the audience will say, “Thank you.”

10.       Interesting

I find this the funniest word on the list.  It suggests, on one hand pondering, deep thinking while all the facts are weighted.  However, as the Chinese say, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” it portends not a good thing.  Nor the doctor holding your x-ray and saying, “Hmm, interesting.  And my favorite use in learning – and it’s true especially in the arts as well – when the patron, viewer, learner says, “Interesting.”  That’s shorthand for you missed the mark.  I’d like to be less interested in employment if you will hire me.

11.       Opportunity

Oh, I know all about opportunities – they used to be called problems.  I will defend account executives (formerly salesmen/women colleagues who enjoy when an an opportunity to sell into a company appears. That is truthful.  Of course, they are there because the business has a problem.  Of course, everyone will first thank each other for finding time in their busy schedules to make the meeting…and once again the shovel please.

12.       Investment

Like opportunities, we do not spend (unless the opposite political party wants to put the taint on the other guys).  We do want to make investments in education, infrastructure, even in learning, public and corporate – with the hopes that the investment will pay off.  Here we are hobbled by two misconceptions.  Firstly, we are going to spend money and we will not (in the actual definition) earn capital in return.  Therefore, without a return on investment – it is spending.  In fact, those who want to make these investments hardly know what they will do or purpose they will serve.  Most egregiously – and this folks (hang your heads low because we share some of the guilt), is because no one knows how to measure the worth of these investments… and determine whether the spending was justified by the result.

 

So I hope you found this enlightening and humorous – good to laugh at yourself once in a while.  Please try to be interesting when you build your strategy and don’t forget to thank those who recognized the opportunity to see the importance in your project; just remember you might always be downsized, but from me to you I hope your investment will pay off.

 

Have a safe drive home.

Your Inner Critic – Cueing up What You Know

Reading an article from the Behance titled “Why Your Inner Critic is Your Best Friend” I was intrigued for a few reasons. As the author Mark McGuiness scribes, the inner critic has gotten a bad wrap – interrupting, interfering and disjointing our drive to move forward. We are always trying to silence it. To paraphrase liberally, that’s a mistake because that voice is the one that has us question our creative decisions against a standard. These can be values we have set for ourselves or from others whose work challenges us. And more so, it forces us to look at what is mediocre from what is great. The voice that whispers – sometimes shouts – drives us to take a look at our work and see if it passes the sniff test. As an evaluation tool, it might cause us discomfort when it arrives uninvited but in the creative domain we need a membrane that acts as a quality gateway. Still our first reaction is to try to ignore the critic, relegate it to some part of the cortex unreachable by conscious thought. Part of the reason we’d like to silence our inner critic is that it could very well demand change.  And no one likes change but a wet baby. Change implies degrees of failure and who wants to confront that?

We are creatives
Though not art directors nor filmmakers we make similar kinds of decisions. (Let’s not digress please). For those whose responsibility means creating learning in any of its forms we have an audience we must reach.The inner critic should always be at work. If you regard making learning ‘products’ that deliver knowledge, skills or behaviors that infuse performance change in others you had better question every decision. And the critic sets standards.

Building Learning is a Creative Act
How so? In fact making learning is very far from simple. Consider these fundamental tasks which demand creativity; writing content, guides, assessments or narratives; developing storyboards where words and actions converge, and then conceiving compelling interactions for learners. And that’s the easy stuff. What about strategy for example, a much larger decision that will shape the entire project. Strategy asks us to determine which road to take based on multiple factors many of which are subjective. Assuming time on learning, budget and resources are fixed, core decisions must be made. Is it a course, webinar, podcast? Do we ‘socialize’ the learning to instigate collaboration? Whom among the staff will deliver the best result?

This sounds like an easy sell. However those who know how the brain works are fully cognizant of how decisions are made. Decisions are messy and complex – even if you think (think?) not. And to make the best decisions you need the inner critic.  One other reason to consider the critic a vital component of the creative act: The experienced among us inevitably look backwards to solutions that have worked in the past; the temptation to modify rather than create from scratch relieves us from some anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with this process; it saves time, money, and resources – and learning from past miscues all combine to amortize prior work to drive out costs.

Where Does the New Stuff Come From?
That’s asking a question for which we have neither time nor space here. Suffice to say, each of us who believe ourselves a creative know how to jump-start new ideas. Sometimes we look for examples that are similar to the challenge we’ve been given. We do research, we search out the guru’s. We look, we seek out unrelated elements to stir it up. Most of us want to be better, learn in the process and push ourselves to achieve at higher levels. And in those efforts expect the critic. A sharp critical focus helps in all respects. I believe the louder it speaks the better the result. As both a bull%^#@ meter and a filter you couldn’t ask for a better tool. So make friends with your inner critic and learn to listen. In the same way intuition tries to be heard but doesn’t always get through, your inner critic is never in ‘out of service area’ zone.