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Mindset, Not Capability

Bob Little 

January 15, 2016

©iStockphoto/levkr“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said. This is usually translated as, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Yet, there’s a growing feeling that L&D simply must change, fundamentally.

Jay Cross – the California-based e-learning guru who died in November 2015 – once said, “Conversations are the stem cells of learning, for they both create and transmit knowledge. Frequent and open conversations increase innovation. People love to talk.”

His colleague at the Internet Time Alliance, Charles Jennings, agrees. “Conversation is the best learning enabler ever invented – and, like all skills, it needs constant practice if we’re to be any good at it.” Charles spoke at the recent Charity Learning Consortium conference and awards about where traditional training doesn’t work and what the alternatives might be.

“[For example] 70:20:10 is a model that helps organizations extend their focus on L&D beyond the classroom and course-based e-learning to build more resilient workforces and create cultures of continuous learning. It isn’t a rule. It simply describes learning as it naturally happens and then offers means to accelerate and support that learning as part of the daily workflow, through working and sharing with colleagues and experts, and through structured development activities.”

Charles’ comments come in the context that most of us are now doing work with our heads, not our hands. He believes that there’s now a need for constantly higher performance, to:

  • Innovate.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Work “smarter.”
  • Cope with increasing complexity.
  • Cope with more decision making.
  • Cope with new skills requirements.
  • Cope with increasing speed, greater agility.
  • Promote more teamwork.

The world of Frederick Winslow Taylor and his principles of scientific management, workers as part of “the machine,” and so on, are outdated.

“We need 21st century approaches in a 21st century world,” argues Charles. “We keep training people to do jobs that don’t exist. We keep focusing on standardization and best practice – but not everything is standardized any more. The idea of ‘curriculum’ comes from 18th century Prussia. It had its merits in an industrialized context but we’re now trying to standardize when it isn’t needed.

“Looking at today’s world of learning is like looking at the stars. Most of what we see is already in the past. We need to approach L&D differently now.”

Charles praises the insights of Stanford professor of psychology Carol S. Dweck into motivation, why people succeed, and how to foster success. “We should focus on mindset, not capability. For example, if we think ‘training,’ we limit the options for building high performance.” Training fails when:

  1. There’s no chance for practice in a “real” environment.
  2. Classroom training is used for knowledge building.
  3. Managers don’t get involved.
  4. Training is a one-time event – because learning is a process, not an event.
  5. Workers are taught complex, specific tasks away from the job.

According to Charles, workplace learning broadens the mindset – and we should think “campaign” not “courses.”

“Learning should be aligned with work, and embedded in work. That way, you think of outputs rather than inputs,” he says. “You should design learning for behavior and performance, not for building knowledge and skills. This means that L&D professionals become learning architects, not learning builders.”

In fact, he describes five new roles for the L&D professional:

  • Performance Detective – systematically evaluating performance problems, via conducting business, performance and root cause analyses.
  • Performance Architect – creating prototypes to solve individual and organizational performance problems.
  • Performance Master Builder – co-creating solutions based on the Architect’s design, using processes and checklists to combine sources and goals for an effective, carefully-thought-out solution.
  • Performance Game Changer – developing new mindsets and implementing solutions created by the Master Builder, as well as identifying and improving the organizational culture to achieve sustainable performance improvement.
  • Performance Tracker – identifying what success means to the stakeholders, creating and implementing plans to measure this success and reporting the performance improvement to the client.

“These new roles mean developing new tasks,” Charles points out. “For example, a learning analyst will do a training needs analysis but a performance detective will do a root cause analysis.” He outlines his latest thinking and provides checklists and guides in his forthcoming book “70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance.”

Are you a Detective, an Architect, a Master Builder or… ? How could you deliver L&D fit for the 21st century? Share your thoughts, below.

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