Saturday, November 20, 2010

CSTD Reflections - Saul Carliner and "Staying Relevant"

One of my laments about things like CSTD is that when you get a speaker whose content hits you right *there* you're so engrossed that you find yourself not taking notes and having to reflect on the experience from memory.  That's not to imply that if you're taking notes then the speaker must be bad.  I enjoyed other sessions and still managed to take notes. For whatever reason, I was listening to Saul Carliner and didn't want to divide my attention/distribute my intelligence.

His talk was about how we go about remaining relevant as Training & Development professionals. iThere's a certain degree of showmanship and panache in his presentations that I appreciate.  He opened with one of those Paul Harvey-type stories about how the biggest challenge for him as a T&D professional was not about education, or technology, or changing philosophies, but it was about finding the right luggage when he travelled.  I won't try to replicate the whole tale here because I don't want to diminish the magic of that particular metaphor, but I want to jot down the things that I were most profound for me.

He spoke of 10 key things we can do to stay relevant (and I'm really hoping to get access to his deck so I can remember them all) but there were a few tidbits that caught my attention along the way.

First, he echoed some of my suspicions about the decrease of instructor-led training and spoke of the increase in SME-developed content and SME-delivered training.  I think both of those things are critical, particulary because of the nature of what I'm doing day-to-day.  SMEs have lots and lots knowledge that just doesn't always make it to a new hire or a someone in a new role, or even to other colleagues in the same department.  So the question(s) for me become(s):  how do we create a culture of SME knowledge sharing, how do we equip them with the right "tools" to share that knowledge, and how can we measure the effectiveness of that knowledge transfer?  I definitely think there are opportunities for us to start looking at our SMEs and ask:  if they all retired tomorrow, would we still have enough corporate "intelligence" to be able to function?

Second, he spoke about informal learning.  I was sad to have missed Bob Mosher's session on Informal Learning, although one kind soul (thank you @mellissalast for the RT and @cammybean for the liveblog on Performance) kindly sent me notes from a different session of Bob's.  But Saul said that informal learning shouldn't have to be teaching the things that should have taken place during formal learning.  So, loosely translated, informal learning is (to me) more about knowledge transfer while you're on the job, learner support, and some of the self-directed learning efforts that (should) take place on the job.

Marcia Conner's graphic simplifies things, somewhat. ;-)

So I think there's a huge opportunity for us - as Learning & Development or Training or Education professionals to be doing a couple of things that will contribute to relevance.

First, I think we need to find ways to educate SMEs on things like storytelling, sharing, guiding and coaching.  We also need to spend some time with these SMEs doing some targeted 'downloads' of their expertise.  I think we also need to develop the right kinds of processes and systems to regulary gather this expertise and identify new SMEs.  Of course, part of this challenge will be identifying the owners of this new process and discipline.  The first instinct is OD, but what about organizations with a distributed HR function?  Is this now part of the skill set of a line manager?  (assuming, of course, that we're not all immediately jumping on the Peter Block bandwagon and taking the sovereignty/patriarchy out of our organizations...)

Second, organizations need to develop the strategies and expertise necessary to influence organizations to put more emphasis on (and resources toward supporting) informal learning.  I really think this is a hugely untapped market for consulting organizations, but only those that can see beyond just pumping out questionable and mind-numblingly expensive and inflexible e-learning content.  In a lot of cases, informal learning represents as much of a state of mind as it does a strategic imperative for organizational effectiveness.

Okay, I'd better tone it down a bit.

The other thing that Saul mentioned had to do with how we manage our careers.  It paralleled some of Peter Block's comments about not necessarily worrying too much about climbing any corporate ladder, but he said that someone told him years ago that nobody will care as much about his career as he does; and he's right.  He also said some really interesting things about how sometimes people can outgrow a "job" without necessarily outgrowing a "role".  I really felt a kinship with that comment because I've been in that situation before and I remember the conflict I felt in those moments...even thought I didn't really have a way to decribe it until I hear how Saul phrased it.  To quote him, "...and maybe that's OK."

OK, indeed.

Anyway, Saul's relevance story about Luggage, Hong Kong Airport shopping and Samsonite reinventing itself was a very effective wrapper for his story.  It tells me that it's always worth reflecting upon and regularly examining your career directions and choices, rather than waiting to be considered passé by the industry and the consumers you're trying to reach.

Kind of a nice way to head to the end keynote on Day 2, knowing that the world can still be your oyster if you're willing to work at it.


Mattias said...

I agree with many of your ideas. But I have one thing where I am not sure I agree. And that is when you talk about how to train SMEs in sharing their knowledge. I agree that it is very important to work with the SMEs, but in my experience many SMEs are not really fit to be learning others. They are simply too caught up with their own things that they have a really hard time to explain to others.

Often I have instead asked the SME who she/he thinks could be good at sharing the knowledge. Often they know of someone who has quite a lot of knowledge and who also has the skills to share it in a good way.

elearningguy said...

Mattias: I share your concern about SMEs but of course some SMEs are better-suited to knowledge transfer than others. In fact, some organizations make this kind of coaching & guidance mandatory for SMEs. For example, in my experience in the Reserves, learning how to teach was a fundamental leadership requirement. Therefore, we had no dedicated instructors - everyone above a certain rank was qualified to teach. But, of course, some were better than others.

Harold Jarche (@hjarche) also made reference to a recent article that basically said "every time you hire a teacher, you take away someone's opportunity to learn" (referring to coaching SMEs to help with stronger informal learning & knowledge transfer. (am trying to find that link for you)

Mattias said...

Hi again,

Can't see your response here, but got in by mail.

I agree that teaching is a vital thing if you are a leader. But SMEs are not necessarily leaders. At IKEA we talk about that you can develop seniority. And one criteria for being a senior is that you share your knowledge with others. So some SMEs that I meet are seniors and thereby good at sharing while others are not seniors and might then lack that skill. When I meet an SME who won't be a good teacher I do as said before, I ask him for a suggestion on who could run the training. That has worked for me so far :-)

I have met one SME who is one of the best teachers I have ever seen in action. When he starts telling his stories in his field of expertise it's like being 6 years old and listen to Santa Claus read a bed time story. It's pure magic.