Find out what’s going on beyond your borders






If you want to learn what’s going on in learning and development worldwide, join me in Berlin this December for Online Educa.

You’ll connect with colleagues from a hundred countries!

This is the 20th anniversary of this forum of thought leaders in business, education, and government.

Is it worth it? I certainly think so. This will be my tenth Educa.




Tyramine Diet

Ah, the joys of modern medicine.

I’ve begun taking a drug that requires me to restrict my diet severely. I’m not allowed to eat aged cheese, sausage, draft beer, sourdough bread, or anything else that contains significant amounts of tyramine, an amino acid that helps regulate blood pressure.

Eating the forbidden fruit can cause severe headache, nausea, stiff neck, vomiting, a fast or slow heartbeat, tight chest pain, a lot of sweating, confusion, dilated pupils, and sensitivity to light. People have died after bingeing on cheese.

So many foods are restricted (sauerkraut, bacon, caviar, peanuts, vermouth!) that I need a way to remind myself of what to avoid. I hope visualization can prop up my memory.

If pictures aren’t your thing, here’s a good list from the National Headache Foundation. (Tyramine can cause migraine headaches in people who are sensitive to it.)

Foods to Avoid on a Tyramine-Restricted Diet

krautcaviar fish4 fish3 fish2 fish herring duckliver2 duckliver cornedbeef bacon hotdog sausage3 choucroute sausage2 sausage cheese5 cheese4 cheese3 cheese2 cheese







The following foods have limited amounts of tyramine. It’s okay to consume up to 1/2 a cup daily.












I assembled the list from Wikipedia and a dozen medical sites. None of the sites list all of these items. The list on the Mayo Clinic site is typical:

“Tyramine is naturally found in small amounts in protein-containing foods. As these foods age, the tyramine level increases. Some foods high in tyramine include:

  • Aged cheeses, such as aged cheddar and Swiss; blue cheeses such as Stilton and Gorgonzola; and Camembert. Cheeses made from pasteurized milk are less likely to contain high levels of tyramine, including American cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, farm cheese and cream cheese.
  • Cured meats, which are meats treated with salt and nitrate or nitrite, such as dry-type summer sausages, pepperoni and salami.
  • Fermented cabbage, such as sauerkraut and kimchee.
  • Soy sauce, fish sauce and shrimp sauce.
  • Yeast-extract spreads, such as Marmite.
  • Improperly stored foods or spoiled foods.
  • Broad bean pods, such as fava beans.”

The amount of tyramine depends on how the food was processed and how old it is. Tyramine increases as a food ages. Pickled, smoked, fermented, or marinated meats are generally high in tyramine. Fresh produce is okay if you eat it within 48 hours of purchase. Nuts are never okay. A draft beer contains 25 times as much tyramine as a can of beer.






“It was the happiest day of my life!”

So said John G. Sperling of the day his brutish father died.

Until age 15, John was dirt poor, sickly, severely dyslexic, and frequently beaten. He rose to become the most successful education entrepreneur in history. I worked for John in the mid-seventies, before the meteoric rise of the University of Phoenix. He was an amazing man.


John died last week at the age of 93. The New York Times has a thoughtful obituary.

This was a man who was obsessed with doing whatever he thought was right, regardless of prevailing opinion. Overcompensating for his miserable beginnings, John became an audacious visionary with the wherewithal to take action.

A good place to find out more about John is his autobiography, Rebel With A Cause:

I did not become an entrepreneur until the age of 52. I created my first company with no thought for building a business, per se, but merely as a way to preserve an educational innovation from being destroyed by a small-minded bureaucracy. I had designed a program specifically for working adults that would allow them to earn a degree in the same amount of time it took full-time students on campus. Because this challenged many of the sacred tenets of academe, it was met with hostility bordering on rage.

My involvement was to develop John’s first business degree program during those indeed hostile times.

John told me he wanted our graduates to be able to talk like business people. It was a Turing test — Can you tell the accomplished business person from the recent winner of an accelerated degree? Our performance objectives were rather thin. The subject matter bore a suspicious resemblance to my first year courses at Harvard Business School.

While still in the midst of development, I hired and managed the sales force to sell it. Commission only. John was adamant that we were a profit-making business venture and needed to pay our bills as they came due.


More of the story from The Arizona Republic. My lunch with John about ten years back.

The Missyplicity Project was a project devoted to cloning Joan Hawthorne and John Sperling’s dog, a border collie and husky mix. More on Missyplicity.



ASTD no more

The American Society for Training and Development has ceased to exist. Now it’s the Association for Talent Development. I have mixed feelings about this.

atd                 Tony Bingham announces name change in Washington, May 6, 2014.

This is hardly the first time this professional association has taken on a new name. In 1947, it came to life as the American Society of Training Directors. That left out lower-level trainers so development replaced directors in a name change and the doors were opened to everyone in the training business.

That change was a good move. Trainers flocked to the organization. They learned stand-up skills and how to conduct a needs analysis. Vendors of packaged training courses filled ASTD’s exhibit halls. Members of the Instructional Systems Association, a group of business owners, wryly called ASTD “the union.”

About ten years ago, the association felt the need to switch monikers once more. Shouldn’t the club be international? Was training really the primary focus? The Board enlisted the help of identity consultants and branding experts and eventually decided on a new name: ASTD. Just initials that didn’t stand for anything.

Naturally, the name changed flopped. People would refer to ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development. 

A couple of years ago, pressure began to build again. Every business you could name was going global. This “America” label was confining. Worse still was the word training. Say training to managers and they think school, teachers, classrooms, and courses. Professionals know that schooling is not the ideal way to help people learn. True learning is experiential, social, incremental, and engaging — the opposite of typical training. Training is generally a backwater in the HR department, and HR is hardly the brightest constellation in the corporate firmament.

Executives say people are their most important asset but pay scant attention to training because they know in their hearts that school-style training doesn’t work very well and they aren’t aware of the modern alternatives to help people learn. It’s wise for ASTD to drop training from its name.

Which brings us to talent. Talent has been a management hot button since McKinsey first scared executives with the notion of talent shortages and the ensuing war for talent. The problem is that there’s not enough to go around.

In this sense, we’re talking about people, the way that the entertainment industry refers to performers as talent. When you’re faced with a shortage of, say, engineers, you put recruiting into high gear. Look at the talent management function in most corporations, and you’ll find lot of recruiters, some people concerned with retention, and not a whole lot of emphasis on developing the people who are on board. You won’t find any trainers.

For ten years, I’ve been on the Faculty of the Future of Talent Institute, a colloquium of talent managers from forward-thinking corporations. I’m the token training guy. The attendees take the need for corporate learning very seriously; it’s just not part of their jobs.

All of which brings me back to the Association for Talent Development. One would expect the membership to be talent developers. But are there any talent developers??? I’ve never seen that designation on a business card. Do trainers need to rebrand themselves?


And who’s talent and who’s not? Does talent encompass senior management? Or is it like show biz, where performers are talent but producers and directors, no matter how talented, are not? 

The extended enterprise is the organizational form of the future. Because the highest returns come from doing what you’re good at, major corporations will be shrinking to their core expertise. All other activities will be outsourced to partners, specialty firms, suppliers, contractors, and temps. Are these people talent? In an increasingly complex world, an organization would not want to deny them the opportunity to learn along with the core group.

I’ll go out on a limb here. I’ve been in business long enough to see the demise of everything from the typewriter to the minicomputer. I suspect that talent is jargon that will go out of favor when a more apt term comes along. I give it five years. 

In the meanwhile I offer best wishes to the Association for Talent Development.

atd logo



Would you recommend your L&D department?

Capturing L&D metrics too often entails asking the wrong people the wrong questions at the wrong time.

Line leaders are a CLO’s most important customers. They judge the trade-offs in spending that determine L&D’s fate in the budget process. They base their decisions on what training professionals call Level 4: Did the training impact the bottom line? Did it matter?

By and large, line leaders are not happy with L&D’s performance.

A survey of thousands of line leaders found that 77% were dissatisfied with the results of L&D. A mere 24% agreed that L&D was critical to business outcomes. Only 15% thought L&D effective at influencing talent strategy. 14% would recommend working with L&D; 52% would not; 34% were passive. (Statistics from 2011 Corporate Leadership Council, L&D Team Capabilities Survey)

If a line of business reported such shoddy scores, red flags would arise and heads would roll. A corporate SWAT team would tear into the problem. Was L&D operating this poorly or had it earned an undeservedly bad reputation? How can we put this train back on the track?

The way to succeed with line leaders is to involve them in the governance process. Acknowledge that they are L&D’s customers. Gain their support by planning with them. Monitor trends in their assessments of L&D. Use their feedback to make improvements.

What’s the appropriate yardstick for measuring the confidence and loyalty of line leader customers? I propose that CLOs adopt the Net Promoter Score® methodology developed by Fred Reichheld at Bain & Company and Satmatrix.

The Net Promoter Score® measures loyalty based on one question, “How likely are you to recommend our service to friends and colleagues?” Scoring is from 0 (Not likely at all) to 10 (Extremely likely). A open-ended question often follows to provide guidance for corrective action.

Here’s how it works: Survey your customers. Calculate the percentage of detractors (scores 0-6) and the percentage of promoters (scores 9-10). Your Net Promoter Score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors. Passives (scores 7-8) don’t count in the equation.

In a variety of industries, Net Promoter Score correlate directly with differences in growth rates among competitors. (Fred Reichheld, The One Number You Need to Grow, Harvard Business Review, December 2003).

Customer loyalty increases profitability. It’s less costly to keep a customer than to acquire a new one. Loyal customers who talk up a company lower the expense of gaining new customers. If you’re like me, when a company exceeds your expectations, you’re much more likely to come back.

Reichheld and his peers tracked more than 10,000 Net Promoter Scores at 400 companies. This one simply number explained the growth rates in industries as different as airlines, internet service provides, and car rental companies.

Now that we’ve determined who to ask (line leaders) and what to ask them (“Would you recommend…?), let’s turn to when to ask them.

My Internet service provider asks if I would recommend their service at the conclusion of every support call. Many online merchants ask the question immediately after taking an order. Airlines distribute questionnaires to people in flight.

CLOs should wait six months before asking the question. Unlike a product that will be delivered in two business days, it takes a while for lessons to sink in and/or to disappear due to the Forgetting Curve.

You may be wondering why Net Promoter Score hasn’t taken the world by storm. Reichheld thinks that maybe market research firms can’t find a way to make money administering something so simple.

Simplicity is the hallmark of the Net Promoter Score, so much so that it represents a phase change in how we regard metrics. Instead of being buried in quarterly reports read by few, the Net Promoter Score can become a management tool.

The prime directive of any organization is to create customers. The Net Promoter Score shows how the organization is doing in terms all managers and workers can understand. The score points to relationships that need improvement. Practitioners actively intervene to convert detractors into promoters. Insiders call this “closing the loop.” Some companies factor it into the calculation of incentive compensation.

As Reichheld says, “The path to sustainable, profitable growth begins with creating more promoters and fewer detractors and making your net-promoter number transparent throughout your organization. This number is the one number you need to grow. It’s that simple and that profound.”


This column appears in the April 2014 issue of Chief Learning Officer.


Half a dozen years of journals and notebooks are migrating from my shelves to recycling. I need the space — and I don’t have much use for yesterday’s thinking.


I had to save a few memorable entries. Here’s The Great Divide (from the age of material to the age of relationships).


How people learn…

Basics of working smarter…

Synopsis of The Halo Effect

I thumbed through the journals as I took them from the shelves. As I dropped each volume into the stack, I tried to let go of its ideas. I want to make room for the next wave or thoughts worth jotting down.


Learning out loud

workscapeGo ahead. Peak into my brain. New thoughts are percolating but the outcomes are still fuzzy.

I’m soundly convinced that Learning Platforms are crowding out Learning Programs. This is an inevitable part of moving from Stocks to Flows, from Push to Pull, from institutional control to personal freedom, and from rigid industrialism to flexible, more human work environments. Focus on improving the learning ecology rather than tackle one event at a time.

“Learning in advance” doesn’t work in a realtime world, so learning and work have converged. Learning is simply an aspect of getting the job done. Learning new things — sometimes by inventing them — is an obligation of corporate citizens. Most of this learning takes place in the workplace. The learning platform is the organization itself, not some separate entity.

I call these learning aspects of an organization its Workscape. A Workscape is a metaphorical space. The Workscape can include the water cooler, the Friday beer bust, the conversation nook at the office, wi-fi in the cafeteria, the enterprise culture, in-house communications, access to information, cultural norms around sharing and disclosure, tolerance for nonconformity, risk aversion, organizational structure, worker autonomy, and virtually any aspect of the company that can be tweaked to enable people to Work Smarter.

This afternoon I’ve been trying to come up with next practices for Workscapes in general. What are the design principles for optimal workscapes? What aspects of good learning should migrate into the Workscape. A starter list:

  • All learning is self-directed. Give people the freedom to chart their own course. “I like to learn but I hate to be taught.” Set high expectations and people live up to them. Help people make sense of and prosper in the world and the workplace.
  • Conversations are the stem-cells of learning. Foster open, frequent, frank conversation both virtually and in person.
  • Experiential learning is magic. People learn by doing. Encourage experimentation. Insure that managers and mentors understand the impact of “stretch assignments.” JDI. Broadcast opportunities and projects.
  • Teach people the least they need know to tackle things on their own.
  • Make it drop-dead simple to access people in the know, the lessons of experience, how-to information, and performance support.
  • Learning is social. Encourage participation in communities. Narrate your work and share with others. Communities and guilds create knowledge as well as consume it.
  • We want what we want, no more. Whenever possible, provide choices. Give me the pieces to create personalized learning experiences.
  • Learning is for everyone, not just novices and up-and-comers. You can’t expect to prosper without it. Make sure everyone’s covered.
  • Learning takes reinforcement in order to stick. Seek feedback. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your reflections. Revisiting what you learn fixes it in memory.
  • Innovation is born of mashing up concepts from different disciplines. Encourage looking outside the box.
  • Provide feeds for what’s going on in the team, the department, the company, the industry, and technical disciplines.
  • People confuse learning with schooling. Build lessons on learning how to learn into the Workscape itself.

I’ll keep building the list but I’m hungry for more. I don’t want to get caught thinking small. What other aspects of sustaining the organization should be here?

Most of the value of organizations derives from Social Capital. (See my post Measure what’s important.) Were you able to deconstruct an organization into molecules of social capital, you’d have:

  • human capital – the know-how of the workforce
  • relationship captal – your reputation and ways of working with customers and partners
  • structural capital – processes, systems, and secret sauce

social capital

Thus far, my list deals with only human capital. Help me think through the role of the Workscape in leveraging relationship capital and structural capital as well.


Mobile is inevitable

You don’t have to be a futurist to see the way some things are headed. Take the Volkswagen as an example. As anyone who has driven an early Volkswagen can attest, the rear windows were very difficult to see out of.




Volkswagen printed one of their wonderful, sarcastic ads when they bowed to the inevitable and enlarged the back window in 1958: “The famous Italian designer suggested Continue reading

Informal learning masterclass video


Two weeks ago, I led a half-day masterclass on informal learning and 70:20:10 for staff and customers of the Dutch high-tech consultancy Ordina. This video highlights some of the main points. The masterclass was half a day; the video’s three minutes (plus another minute in Dutch).

“I do things I don’t know how to do in order to learn how to do them. That’s the basis for informal learning — trusting people to do the right thing, to go after it for themselves and take responsibility. This is so different from formal learning. People don’t like being told what to do and they usually don’t remember what they’re told for very long. Informal learning in a nutshell is giving control to the learner and setting up an environment that encourages experimentation and discovery.”