Category Archives: Psychology


brainRemembering is vital. In fact, remembering is as important as learning itself.

There’s no point in learning something if you forget it before you can put it to use. Yet research finds that people forget the majority of what they learn in workshops and classrooms. Typically, only 15% of what’s covered in a workshop ever shows up on the job!

Many L&D departments act as if their work is Continue reading

The User Illusion

userill (1)The User Illusion, Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tor Norretranders, published 1991 in Danish, English translation 1998.

Key: We’re primarily nonconscious. Shorthand: conscious self = “I”; unconscious self = “me” Training and preparation are key to any performance. The most important thing about training is that the I comes to trust the Me. The I learns to believe that the Me can feel the emotion and carry out the movement. Training creates a quantity of automatic skills that can be applied without the need for awareness that they are being so used. The I’s beady eye is there during the training but not during the performance proper.

Consciousness is at once the most immediately present and the most inscrutably intangible entity in human existence. Consciousness lags what we call reality.

Consciousness is riddled with deceit and self-deception. The conscious I is happy to lie up hill and down dale to achieve a rational explanation for what the body is up to; sensual perception is the result of a devious relocation of sensory input in time; when the consciousness thinks it determines to act, the brain is already working on it; there appears to be more than one version of consciousness present in the brain; our conscious awareness contains almost no information but is perceived as if it were vastly rich in information.

This is a profound book, particularly for someone like me who spends too much time “in his head.” Most of what we consider learning, from ISD to multiple-choice, focuses almost exclusively on the oversimplified, civilized, linear constructs of consciousness.

Trust the force. (The unconscious.)Could the effects of a little nonsconsciousness creeping into the conscious realm help account for ADD and schizophrenia?


Information is very tedious. What is interesting is getting rid of it-—and that means discarding it.

  • Gödel goes from the old paradox of “I’m lying” to “I cannot be proved.” Consistency and freedom from contradiction can never be proved from within a system. Unprovability and undecidability are fundamental features of our world. We can know that it is order when we see it. But we cannot know that it is not order just because we cannot see it—and no mathematics, logic, or computers can help us. Order is order. The rest is undecided.
  • Information is associated with entropy, a measure of thermodynamic disorder.
  • Information cannot be defined without knowing the context. Not because there is anything wrong with our notion of information, but because the notions of order and randomness necessarily include an element of subjectivity.

There is a terrain between order and chaos: a vast undiscovered continent—-the continent of complexity. Complexity appears midway between the predictable and the unpredictable, the stable and the unstable, the periodic and the random, the hierarchical and the flat, the closed and the open. Between what we can count on and what we cannot.

  • Complexity is to be measured not by the length of the message but by the work carried out previously. The meaning does not arise from the information in the message but arises from the information discarded during the process of formulating the message, which has a specific information content. What matters is not saying as much as you can. It is thinking before you speak.

“Exformation” and the richness of information remind me of the operations of compression algorithms. The more information, the longer it takes to create a ZIP archive. Compression from nonconscious to conscious is extreme, much heavier than compressing an image to jpeg at 1%. Nonconscious compression sands down all the rough edges found in the original.


Talking & exformation

  • From congé, Victor Hugo wired his publisher about the success of Les Miserables, “?” His publisher replied “!” The important part is what was explicitly discarded, the “exformation.” A message has depth if it contains a large quantity of exformation.
  • Exformation is the history of the message, information the product of that history. Each is meaningless without the other; information without exformation is vacuous chatter; exformation without information is not exformation but merely discarded information.
  • The least interesting aspect of good conversation is what is actually said. What is more interesting is all the deliberations and emotions that take place simultaneously during conversation in the heads and bodies of the conversers.

The Bandwidth of Consciousness

  • What we perceive at any moment is limited to an extremely smart compartment in the stream of information about our surroundings flowing in from the sense organs. Our consciousness processes about a millionth of the information it receives. Metaphorically, consciousness is a spotlight that shows but a tiny fraction of what’s on stage.
  • Consciousness consists of discarded information far more than information present.
  • Consciousness possesses peerless agility, but at any given moment you are not conscious of much at all. To be aware of an experience means that it has passed.
  • Human bandwidth is ±16 bits/second. The rate varies with age:

“All these numbers are approximations,” but there’s a giant mismatch of input to consciousness no matter how you slice it:

Sensory system  

Total bandwidth (bits/second)


Conscious bandwidth (bits/second)
















Impression à Consciousness à Expression



television >1,000,000 bps
radio >10,000 bps
text read aloud 25 bps

The Bomb of Psychology

In 1957, an enterprise named Precon Process and Equipment Corporate, in New Orleans, started offering the placement of subliminal messages in advertisements and movies—messages not perceived by consciousness but containing sufficient influence to get somebody to pay for their being there. Messages that work unconsciously or preconsciously, hence Precon. Backlash stunted pscyhological research for years.

Drink Coca-Cola

When the case reopened, scientists found that the unconscious is not merely a morass of repressed sexual desires and forbidden hatred. The unconscious is an active, vital part of the human mind. One canlearn form a stimulus that is so brief that one does not perceive it. A large number of social judgments and inferences, especially those guiding first impressions, appear to be mediated by such unconscious processes.

A person perceiving a familiar object is not aware that what is perceived is as much an expression of memory as it is of perception. Thinking itself is highly unconscious. In The Stream of Thought, William James noted that consciousness “is always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks.”

The View from Within

Computers find it easy to do what we learned at school. But computers have a very hard time learning what children learn before they start school: to recognize a cup that is upside down, recognizing a face,seeing.

Richard Gregory: “Our sight really consists of a hypothesis, an interpretation of the word. We do not see the data in front of our eyes; we see an interpretation.” And, “The senses do not give us a picture of the world directly; rather they provide evidence for the checking of hypotheses about what lies before us. Indeed, we may say that the perceptions of an object is an hypothesis.” We see a configuration (in German, gestalt). We do not see what we sense. We see what we think we sense.

Pablo Picasso was once asked why he did not pain people “the way they really are.” Picasso asked the questioner what he meant. The man pulled a snapshot of his wife out of his wallet and said, “That’s my wife.” Picasso responnded, “Isn’t she rather small and flat?”

Kant distinguished between things as they are, Das Ding an sich, and things as we know them, Das Ding für uns. A study of frogs showed that “the eye speaks to the brain in a language already highly organized and interpreted, instead of transmitting some more or less accurate copy of the distribution of light on the receptors.” Visual input passes through the thalamus before getting to the cortex.

attention. The essence of consciousness of the outside world. When a number of nerve cells oscillate in synchrony at forty hertz, this is attention.


Our actions begin unconsciously! Consciousness of the will to carry out an act decided on by ourselves occurs almost half a second after the brain has started carrying out the decision. Consciousness portrays itself as the initiator but it is a fraud – which requires considerable cooking of the temporal books.

Free will operates through selection, not design (It can veto.)

Man is not primarily conscious. We are not conscious of very much of what we sense, what we think, or what we do. We’re primarily nonconscious.

Shorthand: conscious self = “I”; unconscious self = “me”

Training and preparation are key to any performance. The most important thing about training is that the I comes to trust the Me. The I learns to believe that the Me can feel the emotion and carry out the movement. Training creates a quantity of automatic skills that can be applied without the need for awareness that they are being so used. The I’s beady eye is there during the training but not during the performance proper.

(Ref: The Inner Game of Tennis. “When you short-circuit the mind by giving it an ‘overload’ of things to deal with, it has so many things to attend to that it no longer has time to worry. The “I” checks out and lets the “me” check in. Also, this is what Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is all about.)

The social field is established through agreements, social contracts, entered into verbally. So the cohesive force in our social life is something with a very low capacity or bandwidth.

Spirituality merely involves taking your own life seriously by getting to know yourself and your potential. This is no trivial matter, for there are quite a few unpleasant surprises in most of us. The dominant psychological problem of modern culture is that its members do not want to accept that there is a Me beyond the I. The Me is everything the I cannot accept: It is unpredictable, disorderly, willful, quick, and powerful.

“placebo” = “I want to please”

The User Illusion

Studies of split-brain patients show that the I lies like crazy to create a coherent picture of something it does not understand in the slightest. We lie our way to the coherence and consistency we perceive in our behavior. (It’s like making up logical explanations for a dream or filling in the missing portions of a fuzzy picture.)

What we experience directly is an illusion, which presents interpreted data as if they were raw. It is this illusion that is the core of consciousness: the world experienced in a meaningful, interpreted way. If there were not half a second in which to synchronize the inputs, we might experience a jitter in our perception of reality. I am my user illusion of myself.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, Princeton, 1976. >3,000 years ago, consciousness did not exist. All the nonlinguistic activity in the right brain was passed on to the left brain in the form of voices talking inside people’s heads. There was no independent reflective activity in people’s heads.

The body is in a state of interaction with the world. We eat, drink, and dispatch matter back into the cycle of nature. In no more than five years, practically every atom in the organiism gets replaced. The vast majority of atoms are replaced far more often. Identity, body structure, appearance, and consciousness are preserved—but the atoms have gone. The feeling of individual continuity is real enough, but it has no material foundation.


The dominant theme of our times is consciousness regaining composure through the recognition of the nonconscious; computer formalism regaining composure through the recognition of unpredictability; descriptions regaining composure through the recognition of what is being described; the low bandwidth regaining composure through the recognition of the high bandwidths.

Interesting things happen when and where order meets chaos. People live on coasts, rivers, mountain chains, mountain passes, near boundaries. Neat the transition from one element to another.

The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. But that is what we are consciously trying to do with the artificial lives we live in our technological civilization.

Most of the world has to be described through nonlinear mathematics—i.e., formulae and forms that are not regular and smooth but marked by the fact that the tiniest change can lead to a huge difference, because things bend and break everywhere. Our civilization is completely different from nature. Civilization is about attaining predictability; and predictability is the opposite of information, because information is a measure of the surprise value of a message: the astoundment it unleashes.

Zeno’s paradoxes. An arrow flying through the air. At any given instant, where is it? Stopped or moving? The impossibility of the question is the result of trying to split time and space into an infinitely divisible continuum.

The balance between the linear and the nonlinear is a major challenge for civilization. In the final analysis, it is closely related to the challenge of finding the balance between the conscious and the nonconscious. After all the difference between consciousness and nonconsciousness is precisely that there is very little information in consciousness. It can therefore apprehend only straight lines, having trouble with crooked ones, which contain far too much information.

The tendency of civilization toward linearity is therefore precisely the power of consciousness over nonconsciousness; the power of projection over spontaneity; the power of the gutter over the raindrop. The straight line is the medium of planning, will, and decision. The crooked line is the medium of sensory perception, improvisation, and abandon.

The I is linear; the Me is nonlinear. The social domain, the conversational domain, tends to be linear, unalloyed chatter. The personal domain, the domain of sensory perception, is more able to preserve the nonlinear.

Art seeks out the nonlinear; science the linear. The computer demolishes the difference, because it gives consciousness the ability to convert large quantities of information by machine.

Information society presents a lack of information. For just as there is far too little information in a linear city, there is far too little information in information society—a society where more people’s jobs are performed body, mind, and soul via the low bandwidth of language. Where artisans in the past used to possess vast tacit knowledge of materials and processes and crops, they now have to relate to consciously designed technical solutions presented via computer interface. Sensory poverty is on its way to becoming a major problem in society, provoking a cry for meaning amidst the flow of information. Man has moved down to a lower bandwidth, and he is getting bored. Consciousness is taking man over: The straight line is vanquishing the crooked one, and the amount of information in life is getting too small.

I used to filter many concepts and value judgments through the left brain/right brain metaphor. The more important distinction is what’s conscious and what’s not. CBT, PI, ID, and the like all embody the reductionism and oversimplification of consciousness. “Objective” tests are 100% reductio ad absurdum.

The Sublime

Information is a measure of unpredictability, disorder, mess, chaos, amazement, indescribabilty, surprise, otherness. Order is a measure of the opposite.

Consciousness does not consist of very much information and regards itself as order. It is proud that by discarding information it can reduce all the disorder and confusion around it to simple, predictable laws for the origin of phenomena.

Civilization consists of social and technological organization that rids our lives of information. As civilization has progressed, it has enabled the withdrawal of consciousness from the world.

It has enabled a worldview in which the acknowledged picture of the world is identified with the world; where the map is identified with the terrain; where the I denies the existence of the Me; where all otherness is disclaimed, except in the form of a divine principle; where man can live only if he believes that the otherness is also good.

But consciousness has also reached the age of composure. Through conscious studies of man and his consciousness, it has become clear that man is much more than his consciousness. It has become clear that people perceive far more than consciousness knows; that people do far more than consciousness knows. The simulation of the world about us, which we experience and believe is the world itself, is made possible only through systematic illusions and reductions that result from discarding most of the unpredictable otherness that imbued the world outside us.

Inside us, in the person who carries consciousness around, cognitive and mental processes take place that are far richer than consciousness can know or describe. Our bodies contain a fellowship with a surrounding world that passes right through us, in through our mouths and out the other end, but is hidden from our consciousness.

Consciousness is a wonderful creation, brought about by biological evolution on earth. An eternal awareness, a bold interpretation, a life-giving measure. But consciousness is about to retain composure by appreciating that it does not master the world; that an understanding of simple rules and principles of predictability in the world does not provide the possibility of guessing what the world is like.

Reposted from review in 2002.

Keeping the end in mind


True Grit

True Grit

Grit is a measure of long-term stick-to-it-iveness. A person with a high Grit score is more likely to make it through West Point or win the National Spelling Bee. Wikipedia says:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. Continue reading

Six topics for the price of one

I’m spending the first quarter of the year learning experientially by walking around and trying new things.

This blog is turning conversational. It’s me to you. Informal. Personal. I’m returning to the impromptu, stream-of-consciousness style I used when I began blogging a dozen years ago.

I’ll be narrating my work, describing my discoveries before I mesh them into white papers Continue reading

Dan Pink’s new book


Dan Pink has written another best seller. (The book won’t be released until December 31 but is already in its third printing.)

The U.S. Government reports that one worker in eight is a sales person. Dan Pink disagrees. He thinks we’re all sales people, even though a lot of us are engaged in “non-sales selling.” Instructors, lawyers, doctors, bankers, and you and I spend a lot of time persuading, influencing, and convincing others to do something even though it doesn’t ring the cash register.

If I say selling, what words pop into your mind? Most people come up with negative terms — pushy, smarmy, yuck, difficult, annoying. The reason is that sales people have had an unfair advantage: they had more information than buyers. The internet changed that. Now car buyers come to the dealership knowing exactly what a car cost the dealer. Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) has become caveat venditor (let the seller beware). When everyone’s got the same information, selling becomes a more sophisticated game.

Dan describes the old school: the last Fuller Brush Man, Joe Girard (an over-the-top car salesman), and the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. In the movie, the insulting young sales manager says all it takes is ABC – Always Be Closing. For Dan, ABC means Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.

Attunement? Mimic the buyer. Like what she likes. Take her perspective. Do like Jeff Bezos, who pulls up an empty chair at meetings for an invisible customer. Buoyancy? How well will you bounce back after adversity? Do you have a positive or negative outlook? Do you catastrophize? Clarity? Find the right problem. Ask good questions. Frame things right.

Dan attends a workshop on improv with Cathy Salit. It so happens that I’ve taken the same workshop. Dan draws a lot of lessons from it. Sad to say, I’ve forgotten everything but saying “Yes, and….”

To Sell Is Human is not as memorable as Drive but it contains many good lessons. It will be fun catching sales people mimicking your behavior or delivering a sales pitch that rhymes.

Selling ain’t what it used to be. Thank goodness. When I sold mainframes for NCR, I was required to memorize a sales pitch and deliver it to the other sales people in my branch. None of this personalization stuff.

Read the first six pages.

Anybody who orders the book — hardcover or e-book, from any bookseller — before December 30, 2012, will receive the following:

1. A free 20-page PDF workbook, based on To Sell is Human, giving you a two-week plan to get better at selling and a head start on those who won’t have the book until January.

2. A free New Year’s Day webinar – with an exclusive look at the ideas, people, and publications I’ll be watching in 2013 along with a chance to ask me questions. (We did this for the launch of Johnny Bunko a few years ago – and it was one of the best-received events I’ve ever done.)

3. A free customized Field Notes memo book – my favorite notebook of all time, printed in a (very) limited edition batch commemorating publication of the book.

4. A free To Sell is Human bookplate, signed and numbered, to slap inside your book.

5.  A free audio download of a one-hour special edition of Office Hours (which won’t be available anywhere else) featuring exclusive interviews with Robert Cialdini, author of the classic book, Influence, and Adam Grant, the Wharton professor whose not-yet-published study is one of the biggest pieces of news in To Sell is Human.

Once you pre-order the book, or if you’ve done so already, just forward your receipt in any form to [email protected]. We’ll verify it and then send you instructions on how to access your goodies when they’re ready.




Giving my computers a break

Ten years ago next month, Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves published The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places. The Stanford profs had conducted a series of standard psychology experiments but substituted a computer for one of the participants. From the Amazon review:

“Fresh evidence of human gullibility never fails to entertain. Stanford professors Reeves and Nass provide plenty of cocktail-party ammunition with findings from 35 laboratory experiments demonstrating how even technologically sophisticated people treat boxes of circuitry as if they were other human beings. People are polite to computers, respond to praise from them and view them as teammates. They like computers with personalities similar to their own, find masculine-sounding computers extroverted, driven and intelligent while they judge feminine-sounding computers knowledgeable about love and relationships. Viewers rate content on a TV embellished with the label ‘specialist’ superior to identical content on a TV labeled ‘generalist’ (they even found the picture clearer on the ‘specialist’ box).”

It proved tough to put the theory into practice. Microsoft Bob was based on Nass and Reeves’ research. But the results weren’t all bad: Bill Gates married Microsoft Bob’s marketing manager, Melinda. Wikipedia reports that…

Bob received the 7th place in PC World magazine’s list of the 25 worst tech products of all time, a spot in Time magazine’s list of the 50 Worst Inventions, and number one worst product of the decade by

The notion of treating computers as if they are people popped into my head this morning when my wife stuck her head in my office to ask what was wrong. “Nothing,” I said. “Just swearing at the computer.” My research on well-being at work has sensitized me to the impact of negative emotions. At team whose members don’t express at least three positive emotions for every negative emotion will fall apart.

Could my outbursts against the computer be stressing me out? Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated that the slightest emotional transaction can color one’s mood for hours. And I was swearing at my computer whenever I hit a glitch, which translates into one rant every fifteen or twenty minutes throughout the day.

Would it make me happier if I stopped griping about the machine? I decided to find out.

As of right now, I have ceased swearing at my Macs. In fact, I’ll praise them when they do a great job. After all, the iMac I’m writing this on is 25,000 times faster than the first computer I ever operated — an IBM 7094 Mod II — and cost 25,000 times less. And it connects me to the world. Not bad.

Unlearning habits formed over the course of decades will take strong reminders. I’m giving that reminding task to Mr. Bill and Ratbert. They’re right on my machine, ready to remind me that the problem is just a software issue (Mr. Bill takes those hits) or human error (Catbert’s department.) They will council me to calm down. Time fixes all glitches.

Redefining the Media Equation

Think I’ll be able to hang in for at least a week? And do you think it might improve my mood?

Redefining the Media Equation


Formula for happiness

Future of Talent
I spent Monday and Tuesday getting inspired at the Future of Talent Retreat. This is my eighth year in row. Every returning alumnus said they inevitably depart with new ways of looking at the world.

Kevin Wheeler pulls insights out of the group that we didn’t know were there. Yes, I am biased but it’s not because I’m on the faculty. I don’t make any money from our Retreat; neither does Kevin.

My topic this year was bringing emotion into the workplace. Giving a presentation forced me to distill five months of findings down to essence. I’m still learning about what makes for lasting happiness, but here’s the overall prescription.

  • Relationships. Nurture your connections. Be compassionate. Express your gratitude. Love others. 
  • Flow. Enjoy peak performance by doing what you enjoy. Seek appropriate challenges. Apply your signature strengths. JFDI.
  • Mindful. Pay attention. Count your blessings. Savor the good stuff. Be open. Express your joy in life. Favor positive emotions over negative. 
  • Calling. Embrace a noble cause, something bigger than yourself. Take note of your progress. Don’t let the bastards get you down. 

Do these things and I assure you, you’ll be more content with your life. It works for me. Soon I’ll be sharing practices for you to get there.

My curated articles on happiness and well-being
Article on previous Future of Talent Retreat
My recent blog posts on happiness and leading a satisfying life

The Happy Bottom Line

CLO, October 2012

“When I was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”  John Lennon

Humans are driven by their emotions. We make most decisions subconsciously, in the emotional brain. That’s the massive parallel processor that has evolved over millions of years and fills most of our skulls. The prefrontal cortex, the more recently developed logic processor, puts things into words and puts a positive spin on our gut feelings.

“If you threw a rock skyward,” says neuropsychologist Michael Gazzaniga, “and embrued it with consciousness at the top of its flight, its prefrontal cortex would have an explanation for why it fell back to earth before it hit the ground.” We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re rational.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for inventing Behavioral Economics. Kahneman pointed out that the so-called rational economic man had no clothes. Classical economics was based on a mythical creature who was all logic and no feelings. Such people do not exist.

Business tradition asks workers to leave their emotions at home. “This is business,” said the Godfather, meaning that feelings have nothing to do with it. This is absurd, a denial of our humanity. Managers wring their hands that half of the American workforce is not engaged. Is this not an emotional issue? Why should workers leave their feelings behind when they arrive at the office? Don’t we want them to be passionate about their work?

Sigmund Freud started a tradition that haunts the field of psychology to this day. He focused on making deranged people well. The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the shrinks’ basic text, has thousands of lines on anxiety depression and not a single line about compassion, forgiveness, or love.

Immanent psychiatrist George Vailliant says, “As a psychoanalyst, I’m paid to help you focus on your resentments and help you to find fault with your parents. And secondly, to get you to focus on your ‘poor-me’s’ and to use up Kleenex as fast as possible.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s Marty Seligman started turning the situation around in 1998. As president of the American Psychological Association, he urged psychologists to “turn toward understanding and building the human strengths to complement our emphasis on healing damage.” In other words, instead of making sick people okay, let’s help okay people feel great.

Money can’t buy happiness. Happiness results from how you feel about things, not how things really are. Harvard’s Daniel Gilbert asks you imagine two people. One wins $58 million in the lottery; the other loses the loss of his legs in a car accident. A year later, they’re just as happy or sad as before their big events.

A meta-study of 225 studies on the effect of happiness in the workplace found that happy employees are 31% more productive, sell 37% more, and are three times as creative as their run-of-the-mill peers. Happiness is a bottom line issue. Don’t believe it? Look at the January issue of Harvard Business Review. Aside from hiring happy people, what can you do to take advantage of this?

Our brains are plastic. No, not polystyrene. You can rewire your brain.

A researcher asked harried office workers to do at least one of five brief exercises over the course of three weeks. Four months later, these workers remained more happy, optimistic, and satisfied with their lives. Happiness had become a habit.

I have been following all five of the routines for the past month. My outlook’s more positive. I am certainly happier. I smile more.

A sample of one doesn’t prove anything, but you may want to give this a shot. Here is my daily routine:

  • Jot down 3 things I am grateful for.
  • Email a positive message to someone.
  • Meditate for 2 minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take 2 minutes to describe my most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

Give it a shot. What have you got to lose?

If it works for you, spread the gospel. Happiness is contagious. What’s more, you’ll never find an easier way to boost productivity by 31%.

Want to know more? Google your way over to Authentic Happiness. That’s Marty Seligman’s site. It’s a great place to begin your journey to happiness.

My curated feed of articles on happiness and well-being
Well-being in Business


How to Replace Top-down Training with Collaborative Learning (2)

Second post in a series. In case you missed it, here’s the first.

Who’s going to be involved?
Every Kind of Employee – Temps Included

In the Hierarchical organization, employees were the only people who received corporate training. Aside from compliance training and new product introductions, most training focused on novices – either newhires who needed orientation or workers mastering a new skill or subject.

It’s not that seasoned and elder employees weren’t learning; we all learn all the time. Rather, they weren’t learning as well as they might. HR and training departments overlooked experienced employees because they learn experientially, from stretch assignments and mentors rather than from courses and workshops. Learning by experienced employees was left to chance.

Two out of three Chief Learning Officers neglect experienced employees, but these are the very people who make money for the company. New hires and novices aren’t very productive. Raise their proficiency by 20 percent and next to nothing hits the bottom line. Raising the proficiency of top performers by 20 percent can double the bottom line. A wise Collaborative organization focuses its efforts where they’ll have the most impact.

Pre-employees and alumni

Talent managers advocate pre-employment training and internships. As an example, they encourage college students with an interest in banking to participate in bank training and perhaps work at the bank during summer break to see if they enjoy it. The bank gains a leg up in recruiting and knows more about job candidates before making an offer. On the other hand, many former employees remain loyal to their firms, and sometimes even provide leads for new business. Andersen Consulting, IBM, and Goldman Sachs pay attention to so called “offboarding” as well as onboarding. They have set up social networks for alumni and help them keep up with new developments. Many alumni are future customers.


The Extended Enterprise

We need to start thinking of businesses as extended enterprises, especially when it comes to learning, because really, each business includes distributors, suppliers, temps, partners, contractors, and, importantly, customers as well, all in addition to employees.

Michael Porter’s concept of the value chain taught us that the values and costs generated by your suppliers and distributors are passed along to your customers. Since learning improves performance, it’s in your interest to help these people learn to do better work. Customers and prospects

“An educated customer is the best customer,” said retailer Sy Sims. Colearning with customers may be learning’s new frontier. Google is teaching people to use more of its services in online courses. Google could have produced a slick, buttoned-down, tech-oriented training program, like they did for Google Wave, but this time around, Google chose a friendly, avuncular fellow to lead you through the ondemand session. He’s not a salesperson; he’s a research scientist, a true-blue Googler! He gives encouragement: you’re on the path to being a Power Searcher! He’s casual, very approachable and looks like he’s talking to you from his living room. He stumbles occasionally. He comes across as authentic, the type of guy you’d enjoy talking to at a bar.

By doing this, Google is building customer loyalty. Co-learning builds trust. As other companies realize the potential of learning as a marketing tool, we’re going to see a lot more programs like this.

Help your customers become better at serving their own needs. Beyond that, learning with one another forges of trust and goodwill. Co-learning – adapting to the future – with customers is an unexploited marketing strategy.

Who should control learning?

People are at their best when they’re doing things for themselves, when they “pull” what they need rather than have things “pushed” on them.

Hierarchies work well when the future is predictable and things aren’t prone to change. The objective in a stable situation is to get better at what you’re currently doing. Organizations develop programs, training among them, that promote conformity.

Collaborative organizations outpace hierarchies when the future is unpredictable and change is rampant. The objective in a dynamic situation is to get better at whatever comes along. Wise organizations develop platforms with standard interfaces to maintain flexibility and spark innovation. These organizations give workers a say in what they learn and how they learn it. They provide a variety of means of for workers to get the information they need. Instead of rigid training sessions, the organization supplies a platform that nurtures self-directed learning.

Companies accomplish the transition from Hierarchy to Collaborative by handing over more control to those that are closest to the customer. This may seem radical, and change can be unsettling, but this is a key to becoming a Collaborative organization.

How self-directed learners learn

When given the choice most workers prefer to learn from experience. Experiential learning takes place in the course of trying to accomplish something, often by mimicking what other people do, by trial and error, and by asking colleagues and experts; this means experiential learning is often informal learning, done outside of the classroom. Mentors and coaches give assignments that provide new challenges and therefore require learning.

Conversation is the most important learning technology ever invented. People love to talk with each other. Conversations have magic to them. Look at a written transcript of a conversation and it sounds incoherent; true conversation is a mix of empathy, emotion, body language, shared understanding, nuance, and cultural norms. Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Improve the availability and quality of conversation, and you automatically improve the amount of learning taking place.

A survey last year asked managers how they learned their jobs. Informal chats with colleagues ranked #1, followed by Internet search, and trial and error. Workers value social learning (collaboration, networking, and conversations) and informal learning (community membership, Internet search, blogs, curated content, and self-study). Both social and informal are deemed more important by employees than company documents and training.

Jane Hart offers great advice on how to design a learning ecology to match the way contemporary workers learn. It’s no longer about delivering courses in training rooms.

Here are some tips from Jane on this subject.

• Think activities, not courses.
• Think learning space/places, not training rooms.
• Think lightweight design, not instructional design.
• Think continuous flow of activities, not just respond to need.
• Think social technologies, not training technologies.


Digital Natives are the generation that grew up glued to computer screens. For them, networks and technology are second nature. Stanford psychologist Phil Zimbardo says that by the time the average boy reaches the age of 21, he has spent at least 10,000 hours playing video games. This alternative reality rewires their brains. They’re accustomed to living in a highly stimulating environment where they are in control. Their world is made up of decision making, researching and collaborating all at the click of a button, anytime, anywhere, so they won’t put up with traditional training which says what they will learn and when. If Digital Natives aren’t allowed to act, they will refuse to play the game.

Digital Immigrants are those who grew up before interactive computing took hold. Some are in denial, trying to get by without going digital; they will become fossils. Elders who do want to join the Network Era have an opportunity to barter with the Digital Natives, something called reversementoring. Immigrants swap their organizational savvy and deep smarts for the Natives’ help in using technology.

The learnscape, that overall platform on which learning takes place, must accommodate both Natives and Immigrants. It must be easy to access and understand. It must let people take control of their learning and participate actively.


The next post in this series will address how to build an infrastructure to optimize collaborative learning.

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