Category Archives: Just Jay

What Counts?

by Jay Cross

CLO Magazine
August 2004

Businesses exist to create value, and the source of value resides outside the learning function. As Peter Drucker has pointed out, “Neither results nor resources exist inside the business. Both exist outside. The customer is the business.”

Try to imagine a business without customers, perhaps an insurance company on a desert island or a manufacturer that never ships. No value, right? What goes on inside an organization is just rearranging the furniture.

Training directors bemoan not being able to demonstrate significant business results. If they remain entirely within the training function, they never will, because they don’t own the yardstick that measures business results. Who owns that yardstick? Generally, it’s training’s sponsor, the person with authority to sign off on large expenditures. This is usually a company officer who can weigh the potential returns and costs of various investments and select those likely to create the highest net value. Since the sponsor decides training programs’ economic fate, it’s worthwhile to contemplate how sponsors typically make decisions.

All business decisions are relative. When assessing value, where you stand depends on where you sit. A training director may measure success in terms of lower costs and more workshops. A line manager is concerned with quarterly targets or higher revenue. A senior executive focuses on organizational flexibility and competitive advantage.

Managerial decision-making is generally more subjective than people recognize. ROI is often a hurdle or a means to focus preliminary cost-benefit analysis to screen out clear losers. When the time comes to make choices, gut feeling and good judgment often win out over formulas.

Training directors sometimes claim that pinpointing training outcomes is impossible because so many other things muddy the results. It’s a weak argument. All business decisions are made with less-than-complete information. Waiting for “enough” information often means ceding thought leadership to the competition.

Sponsors don’t usually back a project unless its economics are so compelling that they can do the math on the back of an envelope. If the odds are good that I’ll get $750,000 in benefits from my $75,000 investment, I don’t need four-place accuracy to decide to spend the money. This is business, not a science experiment. As a Fortune 50 company official recently told me, “We manage this place with sound bites.”

What if the benefits of your proposal are not obviously compelling? Pick another project. Executives are single-minded. They care about one thing: execution. They do not start from the assumption that training is the answer. They refer to people as “customers,” “employees” and “workers.” (We are the only ones who call them “learners.”) If people could master their jobs by taking smart pills, most training departments would close shop.

Not long ago I was addressing the division training managers at a top high-tech company. I suggested they work with their sponsors to identify business requirements and gain their agreement–in writing–on what would constitute success or failure in a training post-mortem. To my amazement and disappointment, many of the training managers rebelled. “To do what you’re asking,” they said, “we’d have to understand the business.” Well, duh. That was precisely what I was saying.

The way to get funding, to make significant contributions, to be recognized by management, to be promoted and to reduce the stress in your life is to make business metrics your yardstick for success and describe what you do in business terms. Here are a few examples to think about:

* Make sales force productive sooner.
* Implement strategic initiatives.
* Educate customers online.
* Increase reach into new markets.
* Decrease staff turnover.
* Reduce cycle time.
* Roll out enterprise processes.
* Speed up time-to-market.
* Keep partners in sync.
* Merge organizations effectively.

is now working here.


I adore maps. This weekend I read You Are Here, Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination.

Few of the 150 or so maps in the book describe roads and highways. These are maps of the anatomy, human emotion, memory, morality, health, chronologies, perspectives, politics, history, fantasy, and imagination.

I’ve decided to map the topic of Workflow Learning, itself a journey through performance, communications, convergence, enterprise, standards, competition, globalization, outsourcing, power structures, the Net, cognition, process models, and more. Without a map, it’s an easy field to get lost in.

This afternoon I was delighted to come upon this map of knowledge by Don Clark.

Maps appeal to me because they show connections and proportions; size indicates importance; getting the lay of the territory is rapid — a gestalt experience. Finally, maps are here to get you where you want to go, a nice meme in a confusing world.

It’s a pity that signs aren’t generally as friendly as maps.

The Nature of Order

A couple of days back I had a very enjoyable lunch with my friend Bob Horn at Greens, my first time back at this vegetarian Mecca in ten years. I asked Bob if he knew the menu; he replied, “This is my company canteen.” Absolutely wonderful food, attentive service, and a great view of the Golden Gate. Bob is a fascinating guy, the inventor of Information Mapping and author of Visual Language. Currently he’s helping governments and organizations solve “wicked problems” through visualization and argumentation mapping.

I’ve started reading Christopher Alexander’s four-book series, The Nature of Life, An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. I wouldn’t be doing this, at least not now, were it not for a small reading group of very bright and interesting people who are going to dig through the books together.

The story so far: Everything in the universe is alive. Don’t get Cartesian about this; just accept it. Comfortable ordinariness and lack of “image” quality are the main things which produce life in our current situation. Our Western, reductionist thinking assumes the whole is the sum of the parts. This is dead wrong. The Whole is what lives; it creates its own parts. Just look at the world without your cognitive prejudice, and you’ll start to see it.

I’m only a quarter of the way into this volume because I only read it during lunch on my front deck. From where I sit at our redwood table, one other house is clearly visible.

When we moved into our place a dozen years ago, workmen were putting the finishing touches on this raw concrete number. Christopher Alexander built the place.

If you could see the first floor in my photo, you’d be looking right over the sink that appears on page 409 of this first volume. I’ll share a few stories from the neighbors when Alexandrian theory bumps up against Berkeley reality.

Furl and Spurl

Bookmarks are so yesterday. They reside on one machine; I compute on three. Bookmarks are browser-specific; I use Firefox unless MS zealots or lazy designers force me to use IE; my wife uses Opera. And sharing booksmarks with others is not simple.

Two free services have sprung up to address these issues. While Spurl and Furl sound the same, their functions are different.

Spurl is an online links list. Click a button and Spurl saves the URL, page title, and your comment on the web. You can begin by uploading your bookmarks file. You can also download. Or you can create a “directory” and share your finds with others. For example, when redoing a webpage this afternoon, I needed to look up a few things about color combinations and CSS options. When I found my answers, from places I’d ended up on past projects, I Spurled them. Here are my Design Links.

Furl saves entire pages. Its creators describe it as an electronic filing cabinet. Take a look at my public Furl archive. Furl is dedicated to making it easy for users to archive, recall, share, and discover useful information on the Web. You can even set up RSS to notify people when you add to your store of material.

See the difference? Say you read a great article in Wired or the New York Times. To save or share it, you’d use Furl. If your intent was to read Wired or the Times issue after issue, you’d Spurl it. Think “F” for file; hence Furl. Think “S” for subscribe; hence Spurl.

Both Furl and Spurl offer several modes of looking at things. You can have your private view, which simply puts what used to be on your machine and makes it accessible on the web. You can have a public view, where you share what you’ve found. You can look at other people’s selections, or you can look at summary results by popularity.

I love the metaphor of these new tools. They help you individually. They enable you to help others. They are drop-dead simple to install and use. They are free. You can’t ask for much more than that.

For years, before this blog became popular, the most visited page on my sites was the eLearning Jump Page . I may simply convert the links there to Furl and Spurl and shut the sucker down.

After I wrote this, I went ahead and Furled/Spurled the links on my Design Page. This gets tricky. One is six links were dead, abandoned, or FUBAR. A few others were trends that never went anywhere. I lost a few pages I wished I’d Furled while I could.

If I come upon Joe Blow’s neat reference page on the web, do I Furl it or Spurl it? That depends on my confidence that Joe will be around for a while. (Some great stuff has disappeared from the web in the past two or three years). If I expect Joe to be here, I’ll Spurl him, figuring I’ll get new content on my next visit. If I figure Joe’s webpage will disappear, I’ll Furl it, so he doesn’t fall entirely off my radar.

I started cruising around to look at consensus favorites at both Spurl and Furl. That’s something you don’t get from your traditional, orphaned bookmark list.

I took off for an hour to walk Latte the longhaired dachshund through the swirling fog here on the hill. As we walked, I flashed on how if you ask someone where they bank, they usually tell you what bank provides their checking account. That’s because their checking account is used often and is sometimes the interface to their other financial relationships. Most people have much more significant financial relationships with their mortgage company, their broker, and even their credit card issuers than with the bank they identify as theirs.

What brought this to mind was a recording of Doug Kaye talking Tim O’Reilly that I downloaded from the web and into my pociet mp3 player. Tim recounted asking audiences at general conferences, “How many of you use Linux?” and having perhaps one in five raise their hand. Then he’d ask how many use Google or Amazon, everyone raised their hands, and Tim would point out that Google and Amazon both run on Linux.

So too, most of us running Windows on our local machines fail to recognize that an increasing amount of our work is shifting to the net. I’m particularly sensitive to this, what with testing Gmail and an online desktop, being a web junky, and running a number of Linux-housed websites.

Spurl and Furl are just a couple more drops in the bucket of software running “over your machine” instead of inside of it. Sic transit gloria mundi


I can honestly say I never cheated on a test in eighteen years of formal schooling. It didn’t occur to me.

Not that I didn’t take short-cuts. My bookshelves were filled with summaries of the world’s 100 greatest novels, 40 greatest plays, and the predecessors of Cliffs’ Notes. I had a 150 page condensation of the Bible, a similar précis of Crime and Punishment, and a digest of world history.

Whether or not I read the source material, I learned many concepts this way. Without these monographs I would never have fathomed what either Faulkner or Wittgenstein were writing about.

Today the Net is my primary source of understanding. Nonetheless, I’m not ready to give up my favorite reference works:

    The American Heritage Dictionary
    Roget’s Thesaurus
    The People’s Chonology
    Chronoicle of the World
    Barlett’s Quotations
    The Synonym Finder
    The Visual Dictionary
    Business, the Ultimate Resource
    Petit Larousse
    Larousse Gastronomique

I’ve just added another text-tool to the shelf, InfoTool, the All-in-One Business Reference by Vijay Luthra. InfoTool is a multi-disciplinary reference that stuffs more than 20,000 definitions into 776 pages.

I envision a future of convergence wherein specialists will no longer prosper by “knowing more and more about less and less.” The boundaries that once isolated one discipline from another are disolving. To be effective, one must borrow concepts from many different fields.

That’s where InfoTool comes in. Rather than list categories, I’m going to flip open InfoTool to a page at random and simply list the entries I see:

    Mind Mapping
    Mineral Oil Mineral Rights
    Mini Computer
    Mini Landbridge
    Mini Mill
    Minimum Bill of Lading
    Minimum Cash Balance

Got it? I’ll do another column:

    Expected Monetrary Value
    Expects Value
    Expected Value Maximization Principle
    Expediting Expenses
    Expendable Item
    Expenditure Based Budget
    Expense Account
    Expense Behavior

You can look at sample pages on the web.

My one complaint is that this work needs to be in electronic form. Dead-tree books have become a secondary form of reference in my life. The author, having poured ten years into creating InfoTool, is naturally reluctant to chance having his IP pilfered.

Buy directly from the publisher’s site. InfoTool costs $89 in paper/$99 hardcover.

Blogger Experience, Housekeeping, Something New

You can read yesterday’s Internet Time Outbound newsletter online.

Do you Furl? It’s free. And Beta. And great. When I see a webpage I may want to reference, I push a button on my browser’s toolbar to furl it. Unlike a bookmark, Furl lets me store a category, my rating, notes, and a excerpt. Here, take a look at my Furl Archive.

The experience will Blogger has been largely positive. Some issues remain. By far the largest is its broken RSS. Their support troops are working on it, but Internet Time Blog has dropped off the RSS radar. I am going to kludge a temporary solution — reposting to the MT blog just to generate the RSS. Also, I miss trackback but it’s not that big a deal.

Loosely Coupled

Loosely Coupled is a wonderfully lucid book by Doug Kaye, who also provides IT Conversations, mp3 recordings of interviews with IT visionaries that I love to listen to while walking in the Berkeley hills. Founder and former CEO of Rational Software, Doug has an ability to explain what’s going on in Web Services, applicaiton integration, Service-Oriented Architectures, security, what’s still missing, and more. He concludes with a Strategic Checklist.

Gifted writer that he is, Doug still takes 300 pages to make his case, so I propose little more than to skim the treetops and to recommend that you grab a copy of this if you expect Web Services to impact your job (that is, if you expect to be in IT, corporate finance, or training administration five years from now).

Here’s a map of the entire Web Services vision. The bottom third is done; you’ve used it many times. The middle stuff is still being worked out; it’s a universal need, and much of it will migrate to the bottom tier. The top of the pyramid is industry-specific. Highly automated industries like financial services, high-tech, and automotive have many standards worked out and are actively using them. Kaye points out what’s here today, what’s expected tomorrow, and when it’s reasonable to expect it. The subtitle of the book is The Missing Piece of Web Services, and it’s this separation of the real from the vapor that makes this an incredibly useful book.

Why would any CIO in his right mind embrace this Web Services business? Two words: Application integration. Inside corporations, anywhere from one- to two-thirds of all programmer time is spent splicing together applications so they can talk with one another. More than anyone likes to admit, integration is often accomplished by manually intervening to transfer data from one application to another (“swivel-chair integration” or “sneaker-net”). Unfortunately, in this sort of set-up, data only flows one way. When systems rely on one another, things rapidly fall out of sync.

ERP was an attempt to glue things together systematically. However, the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of putting in an ERP is in the neighborhood of $15 million, most of it for integration and customization. A study found the range to be $400,000 to $300 million, with an average cost of $53,000/user! Nonetheless, most companies were happy, because they achieved enterprise integration for the first time.

You’re going to hear a lot about services in the future, and I don’t mean what maids and messengers do.  Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is an approach to building systems where the fundamental building blocks are connections. A software architect begins by definining the interfaces between business processes. Once these are solid and interoperable, the business process can change without screwing up the whole system.

This is important to understand, and I’m not doing the best job at it, so I’ll draw an analogy. Before loose coupling, the buzz-phrase for common interface standards wired to some process behind it, corporate IT applications were hard-wired to one another. Each M&M here is a separate business process:

With loose coupling, processes (or “services”) are separable at the interfaces. We treat each process as a free-standing bundle and insert new connections between them. Each process becomes plug-and-play:

You can see what’s coming. If I want to outsource a service, all I need to do is unplug it. In fact, I could create a business process model that replicated the service, and do what-if analysis until I hit on the best configuration of services to achieve my objectives.

The prevailing business wisdom is that you should do what you’re good at and hand off the rest. Thirty years ago, companies programmed their own accounts payable applications; now they all rely on someone else to do that. Fifteen years ago, companies ran their own payroll; now they hand it off to ADP. The trend to handing off anything that’s not your core expertise is growing. SOA and Web Services will make it hard to resist a smoothly interoperable service managed by someone for whom it’s core.

Back to Doug Kaye, for I drifted away from his message when the M&Ms showed up. The reason the afficianados of IT feel SOA is inevitable is because it provides:

  • Vendor independence, since with interoperability, there’s no lock-in
  • Standardization: it worked for the Internet, didn’t it?
  • Modularity and granularity: like in the old days, when audiophiles were forever swapping amps and speakers in and out of their systems to achieve the optimal sound
  • Reusability: to avoid reinventing the wheel
  • Lower Costs: because standardization and integration breed efficiency
  • Loose coupling, that enables one to take one step at a time and to stay in sync
  • Reduced brittleness: because problems are contained before they hit the system level
  • Scalability: because, like on the Web, one-to-many relationships replace one-to-one’s

Gartner Group asks us not to forget:

  • One-step-at-a-time development
  • Low-cost assembly of new processes
  • Consistent model for assembly of heterogeneous transactions
  • Improved clarity of application topology

Oh, and Gartner disagrees with Kaye’s benefit of Vendor Independence.

Eats Shoots & Leaves

Last night I finished reading Eats Shoots & Leaves, “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” a humorous romp through the full stop, the round bracket, and their punctuation pals: they make the written word understandable. “Full stop” is what Brits call a period; “round brackets” are parentheses. I hope you’re noticing the tricky punctuation in this post — the book is chock-full of this sort of nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoy the author’s wit, which is considerable. And I feel okay starting a sentence with and. But I fear this one’s going to fade from memory: I didn’t highlight a single sentence.

Above all

To work with the big picture, you’ve got to rise above the day-to-day to the process level.

Remember Charles and Ray Eames’ famous documentary, Powers of Ten? Starting from a top-down photograph of a couple on a blanket next to Chicago’s Lake Michigan, subsequent photos take you up and out. You see the scene from 10 meters, then 100 meters, then 1,000, and so forth, until finally you’re looking at a fuzzy dot in the sky a billion light-years from earth. You can also journey in the other direction, getting under the skin, into the capillaries, through the DNA, down to atoms, and finally into a proton that fills the entire page.

Similarly, as we back away from our organizations and as business evolves, our vision of the territory broadens. Our frame expands from the individual worker (e.g., the clerk) to the team (e.g., accounts receivable) to the department (e.g., finance) to the business unit (e.g., light-bulb manufacturing) to the corporation (e.g., General Electric). As we back away, we see that the functional silos of finance, marketing, sales, personnel, etc., are all part of one big operation. We see raw materials going in one door and finished goods coming out the other, with everyone touching it along the way, a process of adding value we call workflow.

Business Process Reengineering sought to tighten things up at this level. BPR claims to make end-to-end improvements. BPR often failed. On the one hand, BPR oversimplified how organizations really work; you can’t do without the grapevine, workarounds, the shadow organization, social networks, and other intangibles. On the other, BPR mistook the old wall surrounding the corporation for the limits of the value creation process. The wall is an artificial barrier. That’s why Jack Welch told GE to be a “boundaryless organization.” Why mess with only the inside stuff when you can leverage the assets of the entire world?

As we backed away, a bigger picture came into focus, a “Value Chain.” We recognized that our organization is but a link in a chain that stretches from digging raw materials out of the ground to putting a smile on a customer’s face. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If the company that supplies our raw materials is an inefficient, high-cost producer, our customer is eventually going to pay for it. Hence, it’s in our interest to select, train, inform, and motivate every link in our chain. A majority of the people who work for Cisco don’t draw a Cisco paycheck. They are suppliers, assemblers, shippers, channel partners, consultants, and integrators.

Stepping back once more, the frame captures immense ecosystems interacting on myriad levels. Organizations don’t have a relationship with their partners and customers; they have thousands upon thousands of them. I’ll never forget my surprise, when I popped open the console cover of the first mainframe computer I sold, an NCR 315. There in the heart of the beast was an IBM typewriter mechanism. It was better for NCR to sell the competition’s typewriter than to make their own. We’re all in this together.

Zoom out one more time, and you see a globe where everything is connected to everything else, and the outcome of interaction is unpredictable. Large investments sometimes yield nothing but frustration; tiny actions sometimes yield immense results. A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a hurricane forms in the Caribbean. A worker talks with a customer on the phone and a entire new industry pops up in Abu Dhabi. The photograph is getting fuzzy. In Powers of Ten, images turn into random spots at a trillion kilometers from earth. We’ve zoomed out of focus; we don’t understand what we see.

The boxes model the evolution of a business organization as time passes and we see the entity is a larger context.

  • The worker doesn’t look beyond the boundaries of the department.
  • Functional silos/departments generally do their own thing.
  • Customers and suppliers want to deal with a single entity.
  • Enterprise Application Integration ties the business into one entity. Sort of. It’s hard-wired and sluggish.
  • Web Services brings on the hyper-organization. Rich connections make for a portfolio of flexible relationships. It’s loosely-coupled and responsive.
  • The business uses operational leverage to focus on what it does best.
  • The network effect rewards the swift, adaptive, and reputable businesses with a global market.

What you see depends on where you stand. Companies in the vanguard are forever deciding how to optimize a bigger picture. This process view is at the heart of Workflow Learning. This is Business Process, melded directly into work. “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the earth.”

Marcel Proust ate a cookie, and three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past spewed out of his pen. I read a piece by Esther Dyson this morning, and what you’ve just read came out of my keyboard. Esther wrote,

    Getting control of business processes, not business data

    Indeed, data is relatively easy, and we have good tools for it: the calculator, the spreadsheet, and the giant financial number-crunching application. The spreadsheet gave users a tool not just to calculate, but to build complex models and, in fact, to do many things that previously could be done only by IT high priests. Better yet, the spreadsheet allowed them to build models that were intelligible to normal people. So-called power users could build the models, while other users could reuse or modify them, plugging in their own data and coefficients. Complementary graphing and other tools made the data more visible and meaningful to ordinary people who could not pick trends out of a sea of numbers. We also have the database, which acts as a back-end to those corporate applications and to the spreadsheets, allowing for easier sharing of data across applications and even among enterprises.

    The first successful spreadsheet was called VisiCalc; where is VisiProcess?”

Connecting workers to the work is what Workflow Learning is all about.

This is the first of what I expect to grow into a collection of personal reflections on the workflow learning revolution that will be stashed in the Workflow Institute’s Vault.