Category Archives: Change

Change or die

LX Briefing

Mixing case studies, stories, and actionable recommendations together with humor and easy-to-understand language, Jay Cross provides much more than buzzwords and back-patting, or so says his bio. He also has some very strong opinions on the future of workplace learning. A Harvard MBA and Princeton undergrad, he has been improving business processes since developing the first business curriculum for the University of Phoenix three decades ago. Jay covers topics from 50,000 feet to ground level, depending on audience and need. He has spoken with executives, marketers, entrepreneurs, chief learning officers, sales staff, instructional designers, HR directors, bankers, and academics. He has keynoted conferences in the United States, Canada, Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan, Australia, Portugal, Monaco, and Abu Dhabi. He travels the world, but increasingly delivers presentations and events in real time over the web. He took a few moments to answer some of our questions.

Learning Executives Briefing: Performance is a wonderful yardstick, and the world is still somewhat governed by accountants. As the economic environment improves, will the fear factor fade a bit and send organizations back to their old ways of relying mostly on numbers?

Jay Cross: Those who follow the old ways will die. This isn’t just a bend in the road or some sort of bounce in a cyclical trend. This is a total phase change. (Author and co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge) John Seely Brown would call this “the Big Switch.” We are going from throwing off the yoke of the industrial age, when you had one class of people telling another class of people what to do, into a network age, where if you don’t empower the people of your organization, the people are going to leave. That is the defining characteristic of this new way of looking at the world. No more efficiency models, and no more Six Sigma. Forget that. We aren’t in a stable environment and won’t be in a stable environment. We have to have our people go out and experiment, innovate, and invent. Job descriptions, competency management systems, and all that legacy stuff are needless baggage.

LXB: In The Working Smarter Fieldbook, you and your co-authors suggest that invisible assets, such as relationships and know-how, count for more market value than visible assets such as plants and equipment. How does that manifest itself in the new world?

Cross: If I am a financial analyst looking at a public corporation, I can figure out what the valuation stands for—the fixed assets, money in the bank, and all of that. We used to call it net worth. Then I look at the value over and above net worth. I look at Google and see that they have $8 billion in fancy kitchen equipment and server farms, and the stock market values the company at $157 billion—so where is that other $150 billion? It is in know-how, intellectual property, and the relationships. It’s all of this stuff that is in the mind of the investor. They think these guys have the secret sauce and they are going to keep churning out future earnings, so I am going to keep investing in them. That’s the proof. And maybe that is something that people in training don’t often get—the value of a company is more than what the accounts add up [to be] on the balance sheet. LXB: How does that differentiate a new-era organization such as Google from a company such as Buggy Whips International? Cross: Even Buggy Whips International these days has more value in its intangible assets— its knowledge and relationships—than it does in plant and equipment.

LXB: Do you still believe, as you have said many times before, that learning is too important to be left to the training department?

Cross: Training departments should just be blown up. They perpetuate old thinking instead of looking at new ways. They are afraid to give power to people to do their own thing. That is a lot different from companies that have drunk the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid and say we’ll take ideas from wherever they come. Everyone is involved, including the customers. We are transparent. If I compare that to companies that play it too close to the vest and are afraid to even give their employees Internet access, it seems silly. If you have high expectations of your people, they will live up to them. If you have low expectations of your people, they will live down to them.

LXB: Why hasn’t it happened in a big way yet? Or has it happened, and the training department has just been given different tasks?

Cross: It’s spotty. We are in a time of transition. People of our generation are holding things back. But that is always the case. People get a little power, and they try to hold on to it. There are some companies that haven’t changed their core philosophies and management practices in 100 years and they never will. There are others that are hiring new kinds of leaders, and they are changing in a big way. There is going to be a bloodbath with the companies that dig in their heels and say we are going to do things the way we have always done them before. Well, “before” is over. We are in a rapidly changing, mind-blowing overly complex world out there today. It is a different world, and the old ways of prospering are a formula for disaster.

LXB: Again, you and your co-authors write: “Management itself, the art of planning, organizing, deciding, and controlling, will fall by the wayside.” If so, what replaces it?

Cross: I am not giving up on managing, organizing, and controlling. But it is going to be more of a shared responsibility. And it is going to be shared with workers and this group of people we don’t have a name for—the people who used to be on the payroll: outsourced, or consultants, or some other thing. And customers are going to be involved. A company that doesn’t involve its customers in its product planning is missing the boat. Procter & Gamble is a good example. They are the West Point of brand management. They now crowdsource 50 percent of their innovation. Talk about opening the door. I thought it was more than a little striking that P&G traded workers with Google. Google wanted to understand how old-style companies (worked) and P&G wanted to know how new-style companies could turn on a dime.

LXB: If training becomes obsolete because, as you note, “it deals with a past that won’t be repeated,” doesn’t some baseline learning still need to exist?

Cross: I don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but if you have an employee who is entering a new area, such as being posed to China or being involved in programming, whatever it is, if it is new to them and they have no framework, then formal learning is the way to get them up to speed—to learn the lay of the land, the technique, and the structure. But as soon as you form a complete tableau in your mind of that domain, then you are empowered to go out and fill in the pieces. It has context. As it starts out, it needs to be very formal. Formal and informal never exist in isolation.

LXB: You have mentioned Daniel Pink in some of your writing and his notion that we are in a new conceptual age. Do you think the rewiring of our brain is still going on?

Cross: Yes, I do. When I talk to people today in a lot of different contexts, it is only a matter of time before they say the word design. They never used to say design, but now it pops up all the time. For me, that is code for getting the right side of the brain working. This country has missed one of the best opportunities for employee development and worker fulfillment by not asking the employee her life aspirations. Once you identify that and let the people you work with know that, you plan together to make it happen. If the employer has a spot for someone with your particular interests, then they have created an employee for life, and one who will work his butt off for you to make things happen. People talk about work-life balance, and I think that era is over—it is going to be just life. Period.

LXB: Come next year, what trend or advice should the CLO ignore at his peril?

Cross: The biggest thing for the CLO to do is to stop focusing on programs. Don’t kid yourself that your learning needs are just going to take care of themselves. You need to get in there and make things work better. Unless you establish an environment for learning—where you can focus specifically on your learning ecology and what will make it healthy and grow—it won’t ever get better. It involves making it easy to access expertise. Who knows what around here, and do we have a culture for sharing? This involves making mentoring and coaching de rigueur. If you have a manager who isn’t willing to participate in making people better, then throw him out the door. Focus on the platform. The program stuff will get what they need if they have the right platform and things are hooked up. I call it the workscape.

In some ways I am talking about expanding the training department to locate it with everything the business does.

Read excerpts from The Working Smarter Fieldbook by Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, and Clark Quinn. Join the discussion on Facebook.

Jay Cross was interviewed by Learning Executives Briefing editor Rex Davenport.

A quiz for enterprise learning movers & shakers…

Shuffle through Mary Meeker’s phenomenal research report on the state of the internet economy. (Thanks for the pointer, George Siemens.)

Be amazed.

Here’s the Quiz Question:

Name a single trend Mary Meeker describes that won’t have a major impact on your workscape.

Which trend can a director of human resources, CLO, or chief information officer cast off as irrelevant to helping people work smarter?

My answer: None of them.

This is the soup we swim in.

In the world Meeker describes, learning is the work. It’s been a mantra the Internet Time Alliance has chanted for years; now it’s happening.

Work = learning = work = learning = work = learning, forevermore. Get used to it. Or disappear.

We welcome your thoughts on this.

Couldn’t find big trends to ignore, could you?


Today I visited a very cool company in the South Park neighborhood of San Francisco. These guys have developed what looks to be an ideal enterprise social learning platform. Internet Time Alliance will soon have an instance of the software for you to play with.

South Park is an old neighborhood by San Francisco standards, founded a scant four years after the discovery of gold that put San Francisco on the map. In the late 1990s, South Park was ground-zero for the dot-com revolution because rents were dirt cheap. A year later, space was so hard to find that landlords demanded a piece of the action to lease space in South Park.

Socialcast’s office is at the eastern entrance to Southpark. Soon they will be moving to larger quarters across the street.

All over town, agile companies are working in open offices. Open door policy? Not needed. People have removed the doors or turned them into stands for giant monitors. Here’s the inside of Socialcast. (An award-winning chef was setting up for their weekly catered lunch when I walked through.)

Offices? We don’t need no stinking offices.

Transferring from Ning to

The Internet Time Community has been hosted on Ning for a little over three years. Most of the time, it has been more of a test site than a real community. We’ve experimented with features, swapped ideas, kept track of one another, and so forth.

I was shocked and saddened when Ning announced that its free service was ending. Lots of non-profits had signed up on Ning. They were told to pay up or shut down. In essence, they were betrayed. Many of these organizations have zero tech support. They don’t know how to set up alternatives. Ning could have at least provided a decent migration path away from their service.

The way Ning handled things left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided to move the Internet Time Community to It wasn’t very difficult. I’ll show you what I did in case you’d like to do likewise.

I downloaded and used the free Ning Archiver to move my data off Ning:

Over the course of 30 minutes, I downloaded blogs, discussions, events, groups, music, videos, pages, notes, and photos. No sweat.

You have to download Members separately. For a while, I could not get the download to work. Then I accepted all the pending memberships and the download button magically appeared. No sweat.

I opened up a new account and chose import method #1. I used their Template importer.

An on-screen message warned me the import would take a while. emailed me that things were ready when I returned from a two-hour walk:

Dear administrator of Internet Time Community,

Migration process that started in 2010-08-10 18:45:01 has been completed.

Go to your network :

To administrate:

Here’s the new community. It looks much like the Ning community.

Exploring the Site

I’m now signed up for the site twice.

Twenty videos don’t seem to have made it to the new site. 59 of 67 photos transferred. I don’t have patience to count how many blog entries came across; most entries are solid text, no paragraphs. Groups seem to have been mangled in the move. Somehow, the move added 100 members; I hope I haven’t added all the banned spammers back in!

If you see other glitches, please leave a comment here or on the site


This morning before breakfast I browsed the net with a large monitor and lightening-fast connection. I was soon immersed in captivating video, beautiful images, exciting news-bytes, and irresistible links.  Half an hour disappeared down a rat hole. Was it flow or was it continuous partial attention?

Yesterday evening I had returned home after 30 days of viewing the net with poor connections on 12″ displays. The deprivation weaned me from internet addiction. Mornings, I looked at nature instead of the screen. I contemplated the beauty of my surroundings, the taste of fresh-baked pastry, the scent of fresh-cut flowers, and the aroma of fresh-brewed black coffee in lieu of checking my email and the news.

On the plane from Paris yesterday, I read Michael Polland’s Food Rules–easily the most useful book on eating ever written. Polland blames the “nutrient industrial complex” for luring us to eat too much by adding unnatural amounts of sugar, fats, and salt to processed food. Our bodies are programmed to crave these things. They occur in small amounts in nature but in dangerously high levels in fake food.

Was the net pulling the same sort of wool over my eyes? This morning I was sucked into a maelstrom of enticing headlines, sexy photos, and flashy advertisements. I lost my ability to concentrate. Bang! Bang! Bang! This was subliminal — below my level of awareness. My inner programs were at work.

Because I hadn’t mainstreamed the flow of the web at this rate for a month, I was able to recognize what was going on and pull back. I walked away from the computer and into the garden, sipped a cup of coffee, gave the dog a pat, and enjoyed the panorama of redwoods in my backyard.

In my cramped seat on Air France I re-conceptualized what’s vital for society to leap from the industrial age into the network era. It’s all about people respecting one another’s character and competence. It’s recognizing we’re all in this together.

What enables vitality in this environment? FREEDOM!

I plan to ration my use of the net to preserve my ability to think beyond the present moment.

Gazing down from the helicopter

Maybe it’s just me, but everywhere I turn, people are looking at things from a higher level of abstraction. They’re seeing a bigger picture by rising above the immediate situation. (I dubbed this the Helicopter pattern recently.)

For example, executives look beyond mere execution to their readiness to change strategies. Managers who used to deal with training are focusing on whatever it takes to get the job done. Organizations are going around yesterday’s confining corporate boundaries to form closer ties with customers and collaborators. It reminds me of the famous movie by Charles and Rae Eames, Powers of Ten. The higher you go, the greater your perspective.

Kevin Wheeler, founder of the Future of Talent Institute, and I talked about this trend toward taking a loftier view over lunch in Fremont yesterday. I asked Kevin about the transition from competencies to roles, from specialists to generalists, and from job descriptions to enlightened action.

Are you seeing the same phenomenon?

Take this free, brief, online course on Learning to Learn

Addictive Learning That Sticks

In a hurry? Enroll in the course here.

Learn by answering a few emailed questions every other day? SpacedEd co-founder and CEO Duncan Lennox says that is precisely what his product is doing for physicians. (SpacedEd was invented at Harvard Medical School.)

SpacedEd is a platform designed to allow learners and teachers to harness the educational benefits of spaced education. It is based upon two core psychology research findings: the spacing effect and the testing effect. In more than 10 randomized trials completed to date, spaced education has been found to:

  • Improve knowledge acquisition,
  • Increase long-term knowledge retention (out to 2 years),
  • Change behavior,
  • Boost learners’ abilities to accurately self-assess their knowledge.

In addition, spaced education is extremely well-accepted by learners.

The SpacedEd approach is predicated on a set of core principles:

    • Short Repeated Bursts: Because it uses a regular schedule and an adaptive algorithm, learning can be delivered in small amounts that can take as little as 3 minutes a day.
    • Push Learning: The learning comes to you on a regular schedule. You don’t have to remember to do it or set aside large chunks of time.
    • Adaptive: The daily content adapts based on past performance automatically to drive long-term retention while requiring less time.
    • Immediate Feedback: Once a question is answered, detailed educational feedback is provided. Users are also given performance data (their course progress and performance relative to peers) which feeds their addiction to the courses.

I was skeptical. People are supposed to learn by answering questions they at first don’t know the answers to? Yesterday I put together a sample course to put SpacedEd to the test. It took less than an hour all told.

Topics covered:

  • Formal & informal learning
  • Learning celebrities
  • History quiz
  • Jeopardy questions

When you complete the course, please leave a review at SpacedEd or a comment below.

Charles Jennings has written that we need to learn less in order to know more. In an age of ubiquitous computing, I don’t need to know all the details if I know where to find them.

SpacedEd could be a great way to learn the core learning content, the small orange dot above.

Web 2.0 and Change Present Challenges to Many Learning Executives


Web 2.0 and Change Present Challenges to Many Learning Executives

By Rex Davenport

Chief learning officers (CLO s) are dealing with organizations the same way they did 25 years ago—focusing on full-time employees. But businesses are becoming networks. CLO s are going to need to understand that and do something about it.

Jay Cross is a champion of informal learning (and author of the definitive book on the topic), Web 2.0, and systems thinking.

According to his website, “His calling is to help business people improve their performance on the job and satisfaction in life. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix three decades ago.”

Jay spoke with Learning Executives Briefing about informal learning and the changing role of the CLO.

Learning Executives Briefing: Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Do you think that some of the advancements in technology—such as Web. 2.0 tools being used in learning—are getting more attention than the end result?

Cross: No. One of the things that Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, says when he talks about Enterprise 2.0 is that it’s NOT about the technology. However, the technology, specifically Web 2.0, is changing the nature of business and enabling incredibly powerful connections. That is changing the whole show. It’s also changing informal learning. You can get to the right people at the right time. When you learn something at the point you need it, that knowledge is going to stick in your mind.

That said, a lot of people in charge of learning are not doing much with this. A lot of CLOs have a problem on their hands. They are in old-style organizations that are grappling with a crumbling hierarchy. It has become a control issue. Their IT people are fearful or they are afraid that information will leak out. They come up with all kinds of roadblocks and imagined fears. But those organizations that have jumped on board and are working with (Web 2.0 technologies) are not having any problems with it. It’s a make-believe set of obstacles that allow organizations to put things off. When organizations adopt new technologies, all of a sudden, things don’t cost as much. Things move faster and service improves. That is going to separate the winners from the losers.

LXB: In a recent post you discussed the power of self-service learning. Why should organizations fear people learning something on their own?

Cross: That is one aspect of a larger concept. It’s all about push versus pull. When learning is pushed on people—people resent it. We don’t pay as much attention to it and often it has been laid on us so far in advance of when we will need it, we forget it. Pull can be self-service, but it can also be working with others to figure it out. We not only need to learn these days, but we also have to innovate. We are facing new problems, and often there is no course for it. It’s self-service in the sense that the learning department may not be involved, but it’s user-driven. When things occur when they are needed, they stick (with the learner) better. And it’s a lot more fun.

LXB: The question that must follow that is: Was the old formal learning method ever effective?

Cross: No. There are some places where the old style of learning is effective, such as if you are new to a field and you need to get a lay of the land, or you need to understand other people’s viewpoint—that’s where a formal approach can work well. You are not going to experientially learn algebra. The sage on the stage is giving you the crib sheet you need so you can figure out more of it on your own. Often, this is coupled with informal learning that really stuffs it into your head. But if all you are doing is listening to a professor, the learning is not going to stick with you unless you use it in your work.

LXB: Is the nature of the learner changing that much? In an article you wrote recently you said that there are “fewer limits to potential.” Can you explain that?

Cross: The sand in the ointment for all forms of learning is when you have an unmotivated learner or one that is actively disengaged. Those people are not going to pick up something from a workshop or learn it on their own, because they don’t give a damn. But we know there are organizations loaded with clueless people. It’s not that one method of learning works and

LXB: We hear a lot of CLOs talk about the issues they have with changing the culture in their organizations. Is that just code for not understanding that they have bigger issues?

Cross: There’s more to it than that. The role of the chief learning officer is radically different in this new world. At a recent symposium I was presenting some research on what CLOs say they are responsible for. A lot of the questions focused on culture. A lot of the time they think there is nothing they can do, so they just complain about it. They see the issues, but often they don’t do anything about it. We asked CLOs if their organizations encouraged reflection, because we know that if there is no reflection, there is no learning. Less than a third of them said that their organizations encouraged reflection. And that’s just encouraging reflection. You know that in most organizations it isn’t happening at all. That is suicide. If you don’t set aside time for reflection it will always be set aside for today’s immediate task.

LXB: What are the real and useful metrics today? Cross: First, the metrics that people have been using for the past 30 years— using accounting measures—are totally ridiculous. In the past 40 years the value of the stock market has gone from 80 percent tangibles to almost the opposite, 80 percent intangibles. If you listen to any (experts) they say that intangibles are unmeasurable, that they are too flaky. The ROI stuff is totally bogus and organizations shouldn’t waste their time on it. The proof is not to look at the learning, but instead to look at the changes in behavior that come about as a result of the learning.

There are two aspects to that. As far as the learning executive is concerned, you don’t need to come up with a rock-solid case with three-decimalpoint accuracy, you just need to come up with something that the (CFO) will buy into. People who think that metrics absent (results) are going to be convincing are kidding themselves. Decision makers know that anyone can lie with statistics. Lastly, there are the arguments that you can’t measure (the results of learning). That’s giving up. From anecdotal snapshots, if you get consistent responses, then you have measured impact.

LXB: What will the next generation of CLOs be like? What skill sets will they need? Or, will we even have CLOs in the future?

Cross: My prediction as to how organizational structures will change throws the role out the window. It’s only a piece of a bigger puzzle. In the industrial era, things that were important—finances and operations—were the real C-level officers. But when people account for the real financial returns and the innovations that happen within a company, they become the main factors in production. I foresee a time where this separation of powers is crazy. We are going to take knowledge management, organization development, training, and talent management and roll them all up into one department that will be headed up by a chief people officer. Learning will be very important, but it will be just one element in optimizing the return on your human resources. Change like that doesn’t happen overnight. I heard a presentation on this topic recently, and the point of it was that organizations really have to have emotional intelligence. If you don’t understand where people are coming from, you aren’t going to make it as a (learning executive).

In addition to understanding social learning and the Web 2.0 technologies, CLOs are going to have to understand something about marketing. One place CLOs have been missing the boat is in helping customers learn. With complex products, service becomes more important than manufacturing because companies need to be focused on helping customers reap the benefits from what their companies do or make. Right now, CLOs are dealing with organizations the same way they did 25 years ago—focusing on full-time employees on a payroll. Well, there are a lot of part-timers, consultants, and free agents these days and everyone relies on everyone else. Businesses are becoming networks. If you don’t have learning benefits for your partners or people in your supply chain, it doesn’t add up.

CLOs are going to need to understand enough about business to appreciate that and do something about it. Today, less than half of companies provide learning for partners. That’s crazy.

Jay Cross was interviewed by Learning Executives Briefing Editor Rex Davenport; [email protected]