Big Data, Good Information and A Way For You To Use It

In this article I want to explore 3 connected ideas. The first is about big data, the phenomenon that now makes available enormous, staggering, volumes of information almost instantaneously. The second is a condition that says information already known to us can limit how big data can be used because there are other types of knowing to expand thinking. And the third idea is the sum of the first two: that the intersection of big data and a different way of seeing information means a model must be designed to utilize large amounts of validated information in a reasonable way.

So the era of big data is here. Imagine Niagara Falls and the millions of gallons of water that shoot over the precipice virtually every minute. That’s the scale of information we envision when thinking of the amount of data we can reach out and grab—or in some cases is pushed to us—everyday.  It would be impossible to know it all. But one benefit of massive volume is, when looked at through a certain lens, we have an opportunity to connect seemingly unrelated bits of data and discover trends, make predictions, even pre-position products and services long before we click, point or touch. It’s the compilation of colossal amounts of data that presents a challenge. How do we pluck just the right information we need from this torrent of bits?  This is the difficulty with information management in the era of big data; it’s like trying to take a sip from a fire hose. Our need is not to get information it’s how to get just the right content to help us work with more accurate and insightful facts and, smarter and faster?

Clearly then we see how working out a process to employ big data and make quality business decisions is difficult. Furthermore consider this context, our second condition:

“There are known knowns” began an answer to a question at a US Department of Defense News Briefing made by Donald Rumsfeld while serving as United States Secretary of Defense in February 2002. Actually, here’s the whole tortured phrase… “there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.” Though it may seem convoluted it is a “brilliant distillation of a quite complex matter,” said Mark Steyn, a Canadian columnist and echoed by many others, even legions of his detractors.

While good information on its own is valuable its utility when combined with other data to discover other, perhaps new data and still newer meanings is really profound. Sometimes the information is known and we need to fasten it in context, other times we don’t know there is… and what is…  trustworthy information but have to discover it; and more abstract yet, as unknowns the potential of useful but opaque information demands we peer into the future and ask ‘what if’ and proceed to manufacture information on (hopefully intelligent and intuitively perceptive) speculation.

If you’re in the business of solving problems—and who isn’t really—you’ll need an information life cycle model to regard big data and the ‘knowns issue’ to manage a collection of information for maximum use. And beware; too much data without vetting and affirmation, means you might miss the really important stuff, an effect that keeps security services awake at night. And therein lies the third concern of massive information management.

By summary then, we face three elements in our quest to make big data work for organizations:

    1. Gathering information factoring the effect gained when combinations of content reveal even newer more, newer, meaningful data
    2. Respecting knowns and unknowns as  fact and as potential ‘black swans’ (an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences) that can and will skew results if not discovered prior or during information capture or application
    3. Culling the really useful information or data—those bits directly related to the problem at hand—from the gargantuan amount of information flying about making it accessible, contextual and changeable.

Here’s a model than might help us slow down a bit, turn down the faucet and cull out know information and potentially new content when big data offers additional tonnage of content.

InfoMgmt

The flow chart illustrates how information would be categorically organized; a model for the standardization of an information life cycle in big data world.

Ultimately culling useful information from an almost limitless stream comes down to energy, resourcefulness and commitment. When building a learning course for example, your subject matter experts deliver very specific information as they must do. However, is there other data in text, as visuals, in video that might provide a different way to see the information? Clarifying content by shifting the context just a little bit can often shine a light into corners formerly unseen. Whether one has the time or inclination to make the effort to go shopping for more information is dependent on time and budget, yes, however, when looking to make learning better and richer, drinking from the stream is often a task worth enduring. Creating metaphors mined from a combination of newly discovered information can improve the user experience—and enjoyment—like spinning a kaleidoscope and seeing new patterns. Using a model such as the one proposed might make such an effort more reasonable.

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FEAR OF BRANDING – 10.1 Reasons to Move On

Mulling over branding and applying logic to emotion has become more meaningful to me on a professional and personal basis. In some engagements, I’m compelled to live within the ecology of a company’s personality that is expressed in many ways through its brand. And on a personal level, who has not been bombarded into submission in to formulate a noteworthy and memorable—not to say powerful and compelling brand: can’t communicate your value instantaneously without being commoditized. Let’s face it; anyone who has read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio, or had prior knowledge of SJs commitment to establishing, protecting, and defending the vision and personality of Apple learned what an oath of fealty to branding means.

This whole scenario brings back the idea of corporate culture.
The fundamental concept is a company has a belief system and a vision as the basis from which a brand is established. We accept a brand as the vocal, linguistic, and visual embodiment of what the company claims and promises. Far too often organizations for too many reasons compromise their brand when their products fail to live up to the brand promise—or the brand overstates what the company is capable of producing. In either case the disconnect leads to distrust of the company and its products. So if your outfit claims it backs its products with outstanding customer service, any encounter that is less than 110% remarkable means the customer has lost faith in the product and all your branding goes out the window. Remember that branding carries the emotional promise of taking care of the customer at all stages of the life cycle of the product. Relate this to corporate culture where inside the organization says it stands for X but carries out its internal affairs with its employees as minus X. Then the culture devolves to what it really is, not what management claims it to be.

Branding has two major components
One, company claims and values as they appear in advertising and public relations and the other being the product that should express claims the company makes as the physical manifestation or promise of performance of its values. Most companies spend big telling you who they are and what they believe. Look at the logos and tag lines, advertising and websites of the Fortune 100, and even those of your neighborhood dentist. Striving to be known for something to differentiate from competitors. The question is can the company deliver and is the dentist painless like he claims.

When Jobs claimed, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and ensured that ‘Think Different” was not “Think Differently, “ he was defining branding as the core attitude pervasive at Apple. By manically guarding every aspect of design and production, Jobs ensured that simplicity would lead to products (that were and are) sensuous and easy to use. Apple is first encountered through bright white ads and web sites that set the stage for the products, to the intuitively understandable and pleasurable—from the anticipation of opening the box to the touch and feel of every product including the Apple stores. Jobs branded Apple a total immersion experience. Not many companies have a CEO who can be that hands-on let alone fanatic. But the point is, stating what the company is and producing products must be in sync at the atomic level.

An interesting business challenge arises when an existing company desires to change its brand. Moreover, it is a difficult challenge; it’s going in to the DNA of any enterprise and rearranging its genetic structure and then nurturing, announcing and bringing this new version of itself to the public. However, many companies take a hard look and must re-brand; not to do so would be organizational complacency and that can lead to early death.

Moreover, there is a conundrum.
When is good enough brand not good enough anymore? What are the metrics and key performance indicators that say, ‘change now’ to convince bean counters of the necessity of the expenses accrued by such change? There’s a lot of brand thought that relies on intuition, a pill not easily swallowed by many business folks. Whether the brand change is evolutionary or revolutionary, it can’t be just aesthetics whether you make products or render services. Once again it’s worth noting Apple built great products not just because it had a good design universe held by the gravitational force of Steve Jobs; to think this way makes you only half-right. It’s what Jobs and his select team believed design should do and be that molded blobs of plastic in to iPods. To be clear we’re NOT just talking about the logo—I’m referring to the entire backbone of a company vision. How these are expressed through a multitude of verbal, visual, and written modalities…and in some cases products, are the medium communicating the message.

After a bit of noodling around and research as well, here’s a list that might help clarify when the time is right to address your brand. This is in no way comprehensive nor highly nuanced. Nevertheless, if it sparks ideas there’s plenty of information out there to put a fine point on things.

Address your brand when:
1. Your reputation is diminishing prospect or customer activity
2. The scope of the business changes
3. There is a lack of internal or external understanding or clarity of what the business does or what its products promise
4. The company or products require repositioning
5. There has been meaningful innovation in the product line
6. The competition has caught up, is about to or has surpassed you
7. You want to attract a new segment of buyers and need them to listen
8. Company values are, or have shifted; new ownership or management need to assert a shift in the business
9. The value exchange principle is askew: does the product deliver value in excess of its price or must the firm deliver products at a price in excess of their cost. If the latter, branding might be a primary way of introducing the ‘new’ company values and therefore its commercial model
10. The brand—and its visual appearance has gone bland and dated so no matter how new or innovative your products, customers have to overcome the ‘hurdle of history’ before they’ll trust the new products or service
10.1 Finally, when your efforts have determined the essence of your vision and mission and there is a   disconnect between what you believe you are and what your outward facing information communicates, bring in objective experts to untangle the gibberish.

At too many enterprises, the desire to simply change advertising and collateral forestalling a brand renaissance hobbles what could be a life-saving adjustment. Case in point: Consider a firm that enjoys a modest commercial success. One competitor with a brilliant branding strategy—from language to design—but not necessarily a better solution—has better sales results. As we know all too often the perception of a company’s products is compared to the competition’s even before the products are viewed side by side. Even if unspoken the perception has taken hold in the buyer’s mind about which is the better product. In real terms, this means objections must be overcome even before selling begins. Prospects require re-education before solutions can stand on equal ground. Think of the cost in terms of effort and maybe lost opportunities.

Companies often cannot see an immediate payoff from a reconstituted brand. There is no direct bottom line profit to be measured in a relatively short period. However, over time, a rebranded enterprise has more clarity about who they are, and perhaps, what and how they should be making. However, armed with fresh attitudes, language, visuals, and all the other tools needed to gain tactical marketplace advantages prospects have a different understanding of the enterprise. The company’s sunk costs fade and expenditures for routine changes in every area from business cards to training costs demand less time, energy, resources, and money. The tendency will be your client facing associates can step in front of prospects knowing their company is forward thinking and carry on with pride. It’s worth noting while a company might be strictly cognitive, the selling process and sales people are emotional, and a new brand will serve them well at the point of attack. On that basis alone, branding renovation might be worth the effort and capital.

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.

KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT IS A SIMPLE PROCESS ONCE THE RHETORIC IS REMOVED

The benefits of knowledge management (KM) are a monster value-add to any organization. Nevertheless, the more I learn how companies capture and leverage their intellectual property, the more disheartened I become. How could such a straightforward process for transferring information and learning become bogged down in dense MBA rhetoric taking what is essentially a simple idea and obfuscating it in layers of process and jargon? Some might think large enterprises require significant resources to carry forward a KM initiative. I’m not one of them.

A Flash History of Knowledge Management
I can remember lecturing graduate educators that schooling started when one man stood beneath a tree and told stories to his Grecian disciples who sought to learn. Then each would become a teacher and spread knowledge throughout the empire. Why is the oral tradition so different in the 21st century.  Certainly technology has made it even easier to move ideas with an immediacy not easily imagined in the not too distant past. Is, KM , as some claim become the fiefdom of experts with metricians and quants creating a lexicon and modality to which only they hold the password? If knowledge transfer has grown into a complex system, it’s only because the nature of organizations to pile on layers of management seeking justify the effort and deflect external examination has become endemic.

I know there are nuances and specifics necessary in many systems and it’s no different in KM. Nevertheless, KM is about smart enterprises discovering and sharing winning strategies and techniques to improve performances of many kinds. Creating a method to discover useful information that is ultimately accepted as knowledge, then storing it for easy retrieval and communicating how to access it, is far from the challenge some would have us believe.\So, if you indulge me a bit, I can deconstruct this business practice and translate it into plain language, offer basic guidelines for creating an effective and direct KM system and then release it to perform. Consider this KM for Dummies—No offense intended.

What is Knowledge Management
The ‘knowledge’ that we have internalized by experience or education is our ‘tacit’ knowledge. When we externalize it by communicating with others, our knowledge is made explicit. Explicit knowledge is what counts in knowledge management.

Where does knowledge come from if not tacit? Knowledge is a product of innovation and exploration. Usually this comes about when a problem looks intractable. Yet, within each organization—and perhaps inside all of us—there is a spark of genius that, meeting a challenge for which learning and experience has prepared us, yields a viable solution. These insights, concepts and experiences, when polished and vetted, tested and found to resolve the problem has enough value to be circulated. How this new found knowledge is expressed by an individual, discovered by the organization; how it is brought into a system where its application will have far-reaching effects is the management part.

Strategies & Practices
Knowledge management is a formal range of strategies and practices used by an organization to identify, create, verify, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences. Once aggregated into a body of useful knowledge  the purpose of KM is to focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, integration, and continuous improvement of the organization. Naturally, this demands a company commitment since these activities and will need creation, invention, and management.

It works like this:
There is a problem…

  1. An individual or group has a solution…but it requires testing and such a mechanism must be emplaced
  2. The solution is tested and found to be of further value and an important addition to an enterprise
  3. The solution is made available for distribution or dissemination…a location and method of retrieval requires development
  4. For those who encounter the problem, a solution has been developed and is now available…presuming the access system offers multiple ways to locate the information

Let’s not forget the climate for innovation and the dissemination of knowledge will only thrive when there is a culture of collaboration. Though an enterprise might have a slick mission statement and therefore a common mission, goal, or objective, sometimes we have to be taught how to effectively collaborate. But sharing valuable information throughout an organization so knowledge may be leveraged and intellectual property maximized is an achievement that often distinguishes winning organizations. Here’s the part where leadership steps up and says we believe in knowledge management and expect this initiative to yield an improvement of business.

Two Interlocking Parts
Managing knowledge effectively starts by identifying critical information that makes a ‘big difference’. Capturing and synthesizing new learning and ideas, and applying knowledge to make the best decisions, requires great communication and collaboration. If KM is about anything it’s using learning strategies and processes; methods, tools and techniques.

To benefit from a rich archive of proprietary intellectual property, designing the means of transferring, sharing, and ultimately disseminating knowledge is step one. Step two, retaining knowledge for the future and providing easy access closes the loop. The best part of a well-choreographed KM system is a problem solved once never needs to be solved again no matter where in the enterprise it subsequently appears.

This, in toto, is ‘knowledge management’. Done well, KM also provides so much fertile information it often generates a critical mass of ideas that, exposed to a large body of users, leads to further innovations—new ways of doing things company wide.

Here’s a working rubric that is but one way to define and assign responsibilities for making knowledge management work. The emphasis is on simple, direct communications with the goal to make the process less difficult than it need be. One caveat; there is often a need to bring in a consultant as a change agent to not only develop the systems needed to make KM work smoothly but to side-step internal politics that often obscure a clean shot at a great implementation.

Example:
After the introduction of a new financial product in the U.S., it became evident advisors could neither understand how it could benefit their prospects or client base, nor create an adequate story from which to describe its value. Therefore, it was undersold. However, in Brazil, a small team of advisors was having great success. Management wondered, “Is a cultural bias that would predispose local investors to accept this type of product, or, did the advisors have a key plan, language, and technique that invited interest, opportunity, and sales that could be imported back to the states.

Managers traveled eight thousand miles to the geo to discover what was driving this success.  They discovered that a three person sales team had devised language and selling scripts that communicated benefits with clarity. They were careful to make the discussion of value and risk not to dissimilar to others with which clients were familiar. Drawing comparisons for their prospects and clients allowed an easy introduction to the new product, meeting with fewer objections and faster acceptance.

The managers captured the processes and language, codified and tagged the elements and upon returning to headquarters archived them in the database. Only then was a company-wide communiqué released superseding the original collateral in favor of a selling guide that leveraged lessons learned for selling this product. Additional information and access to the ‘inventors’ was also part of the knowledge management strategy. The result was an enterprise wide uptick in the sales of this product.

Conclusion
What it boils down to is first seek internal successes before reinventing the wheel. If a problem or challenge occurs, it most likely has a solution created by someone who has already met that situation and created a response. Accessing the answer and using it, even if modified, as is sometimes the case, saves hundreds of hours, enormous effort, and financial resources. Let’s keep knowledge management simple; for the straighter a line to the answer the more confident users become and the utility of the system ingrained within the corporate way of conducting business.

Taming Information Overload Before it Devours

Not too long ago we needed design tools like an artist’s palette demands a variety of colors; both to provide many ways to communicate both cognitively and emotionally. Now we have the technological capacity to deliver learning to anyone in the learning style to which they best respond across multiple platforms irrespective of time and geography. With the gate down learning designers can roam far and wide (and deep) to match content, to methods of communication to outcomes.

The challenge is just because we can do anything doesn’t mean we have to do everything. The temptation to employ every idea and methodology is an organic consequence of information overload. And pushed at us by the hour (minute, second?) in all kinds of forms has in many ways had the effect of distracting our ability to solve problems. Rather than making learning design more direct and focused, content is too easily diluted by non-essential information—that, while interesting and valuable—does nothing to amplify the quality of the learning solution. At the same time, as this graphic illustrates, our brains just can’t take it all in. We’ve run out of cognitive space—and most of us do not delve any deeper, wider and in some cases outright ignore anything new having burnt out chasing the innovation comet.

We Are In The Throes Of Pedagogical Pleonasm
What a wonderful word to describe the use of more words than necessary to express and idea. For instance, ‘at this moment in time” presumably means “now.” That’s an apt metaphor of the forces with which we contend. It’s fair to wonder how much is information in courseware is enough and how to maximize delivery for the strongest and most effective outcome.

Information overload, combined with powerful expressionistic tools suggest developers can all too easily be blown off course even when their instructional targets, objectives and KPIs are solid, and more importantly clear. Where the challenge used to be filling in minimal material driving instructional designers to request more help from SMEs, too much available content is driving us towards a condition of learning pleonasm.

The Cure – Specificity Is The Antidote For Distraction
What can a developer, learning designer or courseware developer do to ensure the required elements; the colors of the educational project are included while taming the information overload beast?

Here’s a list of those elements to think about when starting to build learning in a global environment crowded with information from which exclusions, rather than inclusions become more important. As white space on a page offers visual relief, often room for reflection in learning can come only from careful pruning.

  1. Prepare with Clarity
    Long before objectives are even a mote on the screen, conversations with clients that result from questioning and probing; listening for cues and clues to what a client really expects as an end result will pay dividends later. Remember your client’s client is your learning target – not the payer. The performance that gets measured often means continually reminding the ‘paying’ client that understanding.How will those who complete the course differ in knowledge, skills, and decision making, from their naïve colleagues? I’ve yet to see a statement on an SOW that highlights those differences in writing. We write around it but we just assume…and that is too vague.

2. Write highly targeted, clearly demonstrable objectives
No matter how many projects I lead or, I am continually flummoxed by outcomes written by experienced instructional designers that offer no demonstrable measurement to check for acquisition of learning. Going one-step further not only developing the objective, but articulating the way in which each will be taught and assessed. And put it in writing.

3. Ensure you include KPIs
Key performance indicators drill down one-step deeper articulating specific qualities (or quantities) within each objective. Many times KPIs are most effective if ranked in a rubric or table with the most desirable condition at one end and the unacceptable at the other en

4. Operate with Precision
Instead of building in standard ISD form, with outlines, chapters, sections, modules and such, work the opposite way. Give in to information overload; put anything and everything related to the topic into a narrative overview. Then, with the objectives and KPIs on a giant billboard, bring out the scalpel and cut away anything that offers no direct benefit to the learning.

5. Ensure there are milestones and reviews, a standard practice that now takes on added importance – emblazon the objectives across the top of every QA review document,

6. Perform cohort studies for each group of learners when the course completes.
Since each has had the same experience, discover if your courseware or project has had the intended effect or outcomes. When comparing two courses as equal as possible, the one that has applied these steps should be more effective in learning uptake, time on course, and even likeability.

So…in our information rich world, the best courseware and education you will build resists the temptation to include every fact and figure that imparts more information, but in doing so dilutes specific performance objectives. More is often just…more, not better. What serves the learner and leads to desired performance outcomes signals your vanquishing information overload.

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.

Revolution or Evolution?

I’m a big fan of “Learning Without Frontiers.”  I believe Graham Brown-Martin, et. al. is interested in a learning revolution not evolution.  And if that’s the case, count me in.  Disintermediation and disruption.  In fact his latest blog posting [See http://bit.ly/e154ef – I don’t think Graham really cares if you watch the whole excerpt from ‘The Matrix” – fast forward to the pill scene] lays out a case for this very position.

I believe we agree that changing corporate learning and school-based instruction will require more than pilot programs all based on some version of what currently passes for learning delivery methodology.

It’s only a revolution that will fundamentally redress the debilitating arthritis in learning.  But for such a massive change, many elements must come together at the right time and place.  Is this the time?  I believe this is our ‘Sputnick’ moment-and we’ll have to act quickly before it get’s weighted and watered down.

Let’s inventory what we have before us:

1. Leadership: Firstly, individuals who will ensure the philosophical foundation is solid.  They are followed by learning politicos who will carry the vision of what can be to the masses.  Then practitioners who will align the practical with the realistic by which the revolution will be carried out and perhaps most vitally, the mentors who will work with learners to maximize their capacity for individual growth while providing a baseline of knowledge, skills and behaviors we as a society require.

2. Attitudes: In “Learning Without Frontiers” (the blog, website, conferences) we know revolutionaries are gathering in places around the globe.  Realizing that mere adjustments to the learning process have yielded the usual results – with few exceptions – we are growing tired of tweaking the system rather than disrupting the system at its core.  Moreover, from acolytes like Guy Kawasaki to Salman Khan, Sir Ken Robinson to Daniel Pink’s anointing Karl Fisch’s teaching technique ‘Flip Thinking,”, there is a ready movement expressed in these attitudes of change.  And I would be remiss if did not call to the fore Steve Jobs recognized for his vision and creations – products that enabled a dissembling of information as well as recreation and have instigated changes everywhere.  Here is a fine tweak that for all its unassailability is only a riff on what is, in a limited way for a limited few) http://nyti.ms/fTFnSD

But that’s not this:

3. Tools: From YouTube videos to gaming, tablets to the simplicity of interconnection, the awakening won’t lack for methods of communication.  Students of history – and warfare – will agree that without the ability to deliver messages and receive replies in a timely way, all necessary actions are in either jeopardy or collapse.  Look at today’s young learners and then at the GenX and Millenials in the workforce.  They are linked by their amiability using technology – no anxiety there for they never knew a world without it.

4. Situation: This country and most of the world is approaching a tipping point where not only the educational status quo is unacceptable, but trying to massage it into something that passes for learning but with better tools (more computers) socialization structures (class size) or physical spaces (schools that reflect a new social/technology order) is only putting a shine over rust.  Because the conventional economics of learning – organizational or school – come with a growing price tag, a plummeting ROI and still sliding economy, they will cross each other on the graph.  It would be fair to ask, what now?  By then however, it’s too late.  Sort of like climate change.

My argument about schools is the same as when I was a 21-year old neophyte art teacher.  Schools are not working and cannot be fixed incrementally — tear them down.  Start fresh.  Same in corporate training; if we turn out even the most exciting learning using the most interactive and compelling technologies, it will pale before one :30 second television commercial.  No, let’s not make better commercials (not that we could afford the production costs), instead let’s do something completely different.

And that could be this:  Provide a technology toolkit and ensure users are capable of using their new ‘pencils’; set up the problems to be solved, provide a mentor to guide, probe and question and let kids and adults have at it.  Each learner will first attempt to resolve problems usually working within their own learning styles (thanks Howard “Well-Ahead-of-My-Time”) Gardner, individually or collaboratively, in or out of a place called a “school” or a “learning conference center.”  By the way, that’s not to say we abandon goals and objectives, nor vital content, just utilize different tools and walk through a different door. See #1.

And the term for this approach?  One I believe will cause less hand wringing.  I suggest “decentralized” learning. Each individual or collaboration is a producer of content, policies, rules, methods, devices, models, visuals, video, and audio in order to resolve, explain, and defend a solution from a problems designed to integrate both historical, present-day and future revelations of what might be.  When put that way it seems straightforward, almost simplistic.  Of course, it’s not and will challenge both students and adults to solve problems and learn on occasion to work as teams.

Welcome back to the 60’s – where the “The Whole Earth Catalog,” Stewart Brand, Marshall McLuhan, and his flock predicted this would come to be.  Moreover, they based their thinking on the technology of what today would be a joke; a Sony black and white camera with no monitor, a separate tape deck, and little ability to edit.  But when I loaned the two I had for kids to take home and experiment, magic started to happen.  I can only imagine what lies ahead if we have the courage to take on this challenge. It’s said that in architecture, every act of construction begins with an act of destruction.  Think about it – whether tearing down a seedy motel or digging up empty land for a new firehouse, it’s the same.  Why don’t we have the determination to carry that analogy into the realm of education—tear it down—and build it up?

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.