Closing Session of Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012

The last general session of Learning 2012 started with thanking all the people who were involved in producing the conference and making it happen. I have to commend Elliott Masie and his team for putting together a truly amazing event. He himself does seem to be an incredibly reflective practicioner and thus a great role model for other learning professionals.

The first speaker for the day was Greg Urban (from University of Pennsylvania) via live video connection. As an anthropologist he talked about why culture is important in corporations. Culture in the most modern sense of the word is whatever gets socially learned and socially transmitted. Urban thinks that learning isn’t about individuals. He thinks that from an anthropological perspective it actually is organizations that are learning. Individuals get their notions from the group: every individual is born into a culture. So this can also happen inside organizations. He has come to realize that organizations are “little tribes”. Masie asked Urban how a culture gets created in relatively new organizations. Urban’s main research interest is what forces move cultures. One important force is inertia (the fact that you have been doing it in a particular for a long time), another key force is entropy. An important concept to understand is “meta-culture” or reflexive culture, culture that looks back at other culture. This is important when creating a new company: it will have to come from there. The last force is the force of interest. He does believe that culture can be influenced, but you can’t just pick it up and change it to something else. Urban also gave us a couple of takeaways:

  • Be a little suspicious about the official statement of the company about what their culture is and compare it to how it really is.
  • Pay attentions to emotions and to stories (and maybe the rituals).

Next up was Marhall Goldsmith an executive coach who gives a lot of talks and writes a lot of books and articles. Masie and him have created a set of videos which are interesting from a content perspective (basically Marshall makes the same point using Drucker as we did in our DIY Learning session), but also very much from a process or format perspective. The short videos were easy to create and have a huge value.

Marshall Goldsmith on video
Marshall Goldsmith on video

Next up was Donald H. Taylor to talk about the emerging competencies in the field of learning. He has been in learning and development for 25 years. Anything that describes the skills to do something will need to be simple enough to be usable but complex enough to be useful. He is trying to create a language of skills in our field. The tool is called the LPI Capability Map. The first and most important thing you should be doing is to keep learning. Masie made a case that we need to be ferocious samplers of learning (“Who would eat at a restaurant where the chef doesn’t do a lot of eating and tasting themselves?”). There is so much stuff out there already. Do you really need to make it again? In the new producer role the curation angle should become more obvious. You aren’t creating, you are helping people find what might be useful for them. We have moved from “knowledge is power” to “information is free”. This means our role should change.

The last speaker of the conference was Nigel Paine. What excites him about learning right now is the relationship of learning to everything else. He believes it is moving into the mainstream. Learning organizations have some much impact that companies really can’t do without them anymore. Next, he shared the BBC video story once again. He thinks we should do less learning catalogs, less trying to control and more trying to be open. One tip he gives to everybody in the audience: “Get involved in culture”. From knowing, to doing, to being. There is no chance you can be a learning leader anymore if you don’t understand technology. The most important part though is that you have to be able to relate learning in the language of the business.

Masie added three more important sagely pieces of advice (which I agree fully with):

  1. Engage yourself as a storyteller.
  2. Become experimental: you have to be able to do an experiment without becoming too risky. Don’t do a pilot just as a first step to an implementations, do multiple pilots.
  3. Practice your negotiation skills.

As Masie doesn’t really like feedback, he prefers feedforward, I would like to ask him the following. In the past you asked every single speaker what great book they had read recently. You didn’t do that this year. Would you please do it again next year?