Honest Out of Office Reply

What I would have written if I’d been a bit more honest…


I don’t want to do any work for 2 weeks. But because I’m a self-employed workaholic I have trouble not looking at my email. 


For the first few days I will pretend to relax and have non-work-related-fun, whilst deep-down being regularly pulled back into wondering if anyone has asked me something I can answer, or commented on the tweets I programmed 3 weeks ago. 


After those painfully long but proud days of not turning on my WIFI connection (except to tweet that I’m on holiday with no WIFI) I will eventually allow my finger to slip to the Gmail app and see all your emails come in, before selectively reading and maybe even replying to the ones I care most about. 


Those to whom I reply will be confused as to if I am really on holiday or not. They may even get the idea that I am constantly available even when I say I’m not, thus sending more requests during my “time off”. This will in turn serve to reinforce my own workaholic perception that I must be available 24/7 for people more important than me or else they won’t love me. 


The people whose emails I don’t read will be ignorantly none-the-wiser, imagining I’m actually not reading email (like I said I wasn’t) rather than knowing I just didn’t care about them as much as the other people.


Eventually, when these dreadful 2 weeks of on/off connected-dissonance is over, I can finally go back to work and everything will be normal again. I will breath out and all that stress of being on holiday will be over.



Breaking the wall of idolisation in Furious 7

If grown men have shed a tear in the cinema these last few weeks, it is not for nothing. Even those who manage to maintain their proper place in the audience without playing “Is it him or his brother?” during the first two hours of (Fast and) Furious 7 will have a hard time not being sucked through the fourth wall to join Vin Diesel and friends in their sad tribute to a lost friend during the final scenes.

And it is indeed the actor Vin Diesel they will join. Not his character Dominic Toretto. But the wall-breaking in question is unprecedented: A strange mélange of perceptual positions, a reflection of the human need to idolise and the sad story of every young man who wants to go just a little too fast.

 

Breaking the fourth wall is a storytelling tool we have seen many times before in the movies.

When Ferris Bueller and Jordan Belfort look the audience in the eye, they are giving us permission to sympathise and join them in their comedic or tragic story. They are looking out, talking to the audience, as if they too were a spectator of the story, sitting right there next to us. But of course, they are not even in the room. Only the audience is. The rest is just moving pictures.

At the theatre, things are different. Actors are actually there. But their physical proximity on the stage is no burden to the suspension of audience disbelief. Although we could stand up and touch the actor at any time, it is not the actor we are looking at, but the character in the play. The wall remains intact. It is only when the final curtain falls and the cast steps out from behind to take a bow that the distance is broken and we can make contact with the actor.

In today’s era of “view-with-commentary” Blu-Ray and social-media friending of the stars, we may feel closer to our favourite film stars than ever before. But we know it is not really true. They are not talking to us at all, but to another studio microphone or iPhone keyboard on the other side of the Atlantic. We remain the audience.

But Furious 7 is different. The men sitting in the cinema are as much a part of the tragedy as the men on the screen. What makes the fans cry during those final scenes is not a cheeky wall-breaking wink from Ferris Bueller mid-scene, a handshake with the leading actor backstage, or a revealing DVD-commentary from a sad co-star. It is a true fusion between cast, character and audience that we are not accustomed to in modern cinema, proper to our human need to idolise and fundamentally linked therefore to the tragic story of Paul Walker and our relationship with him.

 

Idolising others is normal human behaviour.

As children, the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is inevitably the result of our relationship with some hero-figure we would like to emanate. I still want to surf because Johnny Utah did; and every one of my guitar-faces has been subconsciously replayed and rehearsed whilst watching concert footage of Steve Vai.

As adults, we may be less outright in our expression of idolisation, but we still hold the image of successful others on a pedestal and we still strive with more-or-less effort (and success) to be something we are not.

This has probably been the case forever. As Alain de Botton explains so well in his book “The News: A User’s Manual” we have always idolised. Romans did it. The church does it. The role of an idol in any society is to give us someone to identify with, look up to and learn from.

The success of our favourite movies depends on such identification. If you can’t empathise with Cooper‘s promise to his daughter in “Interstellar”, there is no investment or reason to stay with him on the 80-year journey home.

 

In the Fast and Furious franchise, we are given double reason to idolise. 

The first is Paul Walker himself. A handsome, successful strong man, women want him and men want to be him. Poster-boy for Davidoff’s “Cool Water”, humanitarian and father, any near-middle-aged movie fan could be forgiven for having a man-crush on Walker. Most do not have the triceps to be Vin Diesel, nor the Humvee to be The Rock, and Bodhi died already in 2009. And Walker gets to drive really fast cars, which is probably what we all wanted to do when we grew up. The man was a walking success story.

paul walker

Paul Walker, star of the Fast and Furious franchise

The second reason is Walker’s Fast and Furious character Brian O’Connor, who through his own idolisation of Dominic Toretto gives us permission to idolise in the first place. In the original episode, we are introduced to young man who just wants to be cool. Submerged in the world of fast cars and booty, we see the action through the eyes of a child who cannot believe he is really there. And in fact, he is not. O’Connor is undercover as Spilner, pretending to be something he is not, just as we all do. When O’Connor/Spilner nearly beats Toretto in his first quarter-mile race, his “I almost had you” is akin to the feeling of placing a beautiful triple-word score in Scrabble against your father. “I fooled you”. You thought I was just a child, but the boy has become a man. Almost.

 

This strive to identify and subsequent idolisation is the foundation for what is happening today in the cinema.

And it happens in a very special way. The wall is not broken, but transcended by our double identification with Walker/O’Connor and our own confusing place in his story.

And so, in the final scenes of Furious 7, the tearful man on the screen is neither character nor actor. He is both and we can no longer tell if we are looking at Dominic Toretto or Vin Diesel.

And neither is he talking to character Brian O’Connor, nor to the lost actor Paul Walker, but again, to both.

As the soundtrack reminds us that our hero and star is gone, we being to wonder: Who are we exactly? Are we still the audience of these fictional characters? Or the mourning fan? And are we mourning this unknown film-star or have we by now become the man himself? As we consciously realise the extent of our own childish idolisation, we mourn for the person we have never known and for the man we will never ourselves become. And just as this confusing process of self-identification is nearly complete, the camera pans full out to leave us planted back in our seats unsure of exactly what is happening, who we are and who we want to be.

 

There’s no respect in tolerance

Tolerance is supposed to be a good thing. The British stiff upper lip demands that we take a deep breath and don’t aggress those who don’t fit our standards. But this is not the same as true respect.

Today in training, we have discussed the different things that annoy us and how we deal with them. Participants have shared several examples of how people do unacceptable things, but they tolerate them. As if that’s a good thing.

But I only need to tolerate something I can’t tolerate! When someone is disrespectful, I can “teach him a lesson” or I can tolerate it. When someone exceeds the limits of what is acceptable, I can “put him in his place” or I can show tolerance.

But respect is different. Respect is true acceptance of the idea that I have my vision of things and you have yours. I have my beliefs and you have yours. I have my way of doing things and you have yours. None of them are “correct”, “better” or more “valuable”.

When I have respect for the vision, beliefs and behaviour of others, I have nothing to tolerate. I accept that everyone has the right to his own vision, beliefs and behaviour. Everything is “OK” and we can all agree to disagree. 

Tolerance is SO last year.,,

Obligations don’t exist

We all feel obliged from time to to me. But obligation is not a “thing”. Not like a tree is a thing. Or an arm. So, what is it? If we can answer this question, we may find the key to some kind of personal liberation. And maybe even real happiness.

When I first met my wife 13 years ago, I started to learn French. Following the first childish phase of her pointing at objects and giving me their names, we moved on to basic grammar and sentence structure. Pretty soon, I heard the phrase “Il fait beau” (It’s nice weather today). I was expecting that French speakers would say “C’est beau” (It is nice) but was instead confused by this “il”, which had thus-far been restricted to meaning “he”. I wondered: “Who makes it nice today?” (And suspected the answer might be “God” or “the sun.”)

As my learning went on, I heard more and more of these strange third-person phrases, but didn’t give them much thought until I noticed that my wife would regularly say “Il faut…”

  • Il faut qu’on parte
  • Il faut manger maintenant
  • Il ne faut pas dire ca

In all of these expressions, the meaning is the same: “It must be the case that…” But grammatically, this strange “he” appeared again, as if someone else was obliging her.

Having at first wondered if French speakers were controlled by some invisible third-person, I decided it must be a cultural thing. Maybe they do feel more obliged by something external. But then I realised that although the grammar is not the same, my own language is full of these same obligations:

  • I must go now
  • I have to eat
  • You shouldn’t say that

Whatever the language spoken, my reaction to such phrases varies based on my mood: Sometimes I ask “Says who?” Feeling friendly, I might say : “If you like.” And to expose what I sometimes see as indirect manipulation in these phrases, I might ask “But what do YOU think?”

But whatever I feel about such phrases it is important to restate that obligations don’t exist. Not like trees and arms. The answer to “Says who?” is always “me”. Even when I first think it is someone else. I accept that for my wife (and everyone else) her education, belief system and habits lead her quite naturally to feel that some things simply “are the case”, or that there are some rules to which we must abide. But we always choose to subscribe to these rules (or not), consciously or not.

If I want to be a law-abiding citizen, then I have to follow the rules of the country in which I find myself. If I want to understand people, then I have to listen to them. And so on and so forth… But if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

So the first question is always therefore: What do I want? And to answer this, I have to know who I am. If I know who I am, where I come from, what works for me, what I like and don’t like etc.. I start to get a better picture of why I say things like “We have to…”, “I have to..” and all these other seeming obligations. I get a better understanding of why I announce these things as if they were true, rather than simply my own opinion.

The more I realise this, the more I can decide: Who do I want to be? Which obligations do I want to subject myself to? Who is responsible for my life and my behaviours? And every time, whatever I decide, I realise it’s just me who decided. And me who obliged myself.

Obligations are not a thing in the world, but a thing in me.

Communication – diverse references

After a fun 2 days full of communication exercises and learning with IT consultants last week, I delivered the following references to the participants. Maybe there is something in here you can learn from?

General references

Basic communication

“Advanced communication”

Commercial communication

Presentation skills

Assertiveness/Stress

  • Book on “ego states”, how you build your own “story” and all things “transactional analysis psychology”: TA Today
  • 10min video on “ego states” – how your perception of the other person impacts your ability to behave in the way you want

Thanks for reading!

@dan_steer

Katie Linendoll on using media skills for training and other learning

To round-off the ATD TK 2015 conference in Las Vegas, keynote speaker Katie Linendoll takes the stage. Linendoll is a global technology consultant, speaker, writer and media personality who contributes regularly to TheToday Show and The Huffington Post. Linendoll says that her work in media can provide several tips for the learning professional, to help us to a better job of improving people. Here is what she has to say…

 

Be a social chameleon
This line comes from Red Bull, where Linendoll started her career in marketing and sales. Going around the country meeting lots of different people, her mission was to educate people on the drink, at a moment when no-one knew it. The key for her was “creating rapport”.

If you want to connect to people, you need to “read the room” and adapt to people. If they say “awesome”, you say “awesome”. In short, like Covey told us with habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

 

Get trained yourself
If you want to be an expert in your space, you need to be able to walk-the-talk. This is not just about gathering and understanding the content, but about truly understanding the reality and the issues of the learners you are working with.

Comparing this to Robert Todd and Laura McBride’s session on the context conundrum, I was slightly critical of this point. I agree that we need to know what we are talking about. But in 2014, I think learning professionals have so many opportunities to not do this work themselves. The real experts are the learners themselves and the experts in the organisation. Surely they are better placed to bring that context to the learning initiative, or create and deliver content?

 

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Clarify and simplify
Working for a shopping channel, Linendoll’s job was to get her message across in anything from 30 seconds to 1 hour. Feedback was immediate: If she couldn’t make it clear, there were no sales.

Work on your marketing and presentation skills. Even if you are a designer not delivering training yourself, the ability to make your point is key.

See also Connie Malamed’s work on how to really make your point with visuals.

 

Leverage technology
…clearly the running theme of a conference called “TechKnowlege”, but still worth reinforcing one more time. The technology is there. Use it!

Too often in the learning world, we try to create clever things from scratch to achieve important goals. Linendoll reference the challenge of delivering books to Africa to help build literacy. Where some villages don’t even have good roads to get in there,, how are you going to deliver piles and piles of books? The answer: Don’t!

I’ll let you think of better tech solutions yourself…

 

Get your own style and have fun
People want to be entertained. Throw out your materials and forget the PowerPoint, says Linendoll. Bring some fun to learning and be authentic. Some people won’t dig it, but most will appreciate having an authentic real human in front of them.

 

…thanks for reading. Catch you at ATD ICE in May!

@dan_steer

 

Links that for some reason WordPress wouldn’t let me add…

NanoModules of knowledge for training efficiency

Scope: Big company, diverse functions, lots of data, regulatory + compliance needs, large geography, reduction in budget and a need for quality training.

ATD TK 2015 speakers: Kimberly Green and Erika Steponik of Blue Shield California.

Solution: Nano-Modules.

 

Several years ago, Blue Shield took the classical approach to training:

 

Build something in-depth to deliver in a classroom and invite everyone there for a day.

 

If you have ever made such training, you know what the issues are: Time, budget, lost opportunities, attention, travel…

 

Today, they have opted for Nano Modules:

 

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According to the speakers, these modules have multiple benefits: They are repeatable, scalable, flexible and much more economical.

To make it work, we were told to standardise the look and feel of the modules and catalogue them well. This leads to a good, secure and trustworthy feel for the users. In addition, it is important to have an intuitive centralised system that reduces barriers to access and learning. In short, once again, form sells function.

 

If I understood what Blue Shield is delivering to their learners, we are however only talking about giving pockets of knowledge.

 

I say “only” because I am not convinced that delivering knowledge = learning. But that doesn’t make the session irrelevant.

 

In Belgium, one of the organisations I work for is working hard to create a truly flipped-classroom experience. The concept is simple: Put the knowledge-acquiring part of learning out of the classroom so that training time is us to better effect. It works much better than before.

 

If we could further reduce and compartmentalise that knowledge-acquiring in the way Blue Shield have done, maybe we could make it even better.

 

Food for thought…

 

 

Thanks for reading
@dan_steer

 

Jedi Mind Tricks with Tan Le

Tan Le is the founder and CEO of Emotiv Lifesciences, a bioinformatics company inventing and innovating technology to do amazing things with the human brain. Since an early age, she has been fascinated with the brain, which is for her one of the most amazing machines we have at our disposition. Having failed to achieve true Jedi status (moving objects at distance didn’t work!) Tan Le look for other solutions…

 

In the last few years, man’s merging with machines has become very trendy: Bio-sensing devices that observe, measure and record activities and experiences have gone to market and their applications are impressive; GPS, wearable devices and smartphone accelerator can already give us massive amounts of information about our movements, health and even mood. For Tan Le, this is already a big leap. But the real potential is not yet realised. Things will get really interesting when we can merge technology with the human brain.

 

For Le, one of the obstacles to bringing brain-linked-technology to market is the level of expertise required to just put EEG sensoring equipment on the subject. EEGs help us to better understand what is happening in the brain and that is the first step towards the kinds of goals Le has. EEG machines have traditionally been limited to qualified (hospital) personnel using expensive bespoke equipment. Enter Emotiv Lifesciences and Tan Le’s easy-use wearable EEG…

 

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In a stunning display of true keynote awesomeness, we moved to a live demo (or parlour trick?). Learning Geek @CammyBean took to the stage and was hooked up to Tan Le’s EEG. First she looked at a video of a flower blooming and tried to focus on what was happening. Then came the amazing part: She thought about the flower blooming and made the video advance by itself.

 

 

Tan Le’s mission is to democratise EEG devices, making them available and easy-to-use for normal people. Does this mean we are really going to get our hands on technology giving us some kind of FireFox-style-ability to control objects (fighter planes?) with our minds? In short, it is clear to me today that the answer is “yes”.

 

During the session, we saw examples of things that are already happening with wearable EEG devices:

  • In Australia, the RAC has created an attention powered car. The driver is hooked up the EEG. If attention is good, the car moves normally; if it’s poor, it slows down. At the moment, this is being done to sensitise drivers to the importance of attention. But Tan Le’s organisation is already collaborating with Volkswagen to create mind-driven cars.
  • In supermarkets, studies are being done to see how consumers give their attention and focus when shopping. Where and how we look at things will give marketeers a lot of data to improve the shopping experience. (Yes, more marketing!)
  • In classroom environments, we can see how we focus on what is being learnt, how mood affects recall and use this information to create strategies to improve learning.
  • Personally, I was moved to tears by the “DJ Fresh MindTunes” work. People with physical disabilities were hooked up to the EEG machine and created music using thought. Watch the video… it is really outstanding. What a beautiful gift to the world!

 

…and guess what? Tan Le says that we will be able to get our hands on a wearable brain-monitor for $300 in a near future. How long will it be before we get an app for that device that lets us do some of the amazing Jedi mind tricks we have seen today?

 

Bring on the revolution!

 

Other references:

 

Thanks for reading!

@dan_steer

 

 

Aaron Silvers and Megan Bowe on (the philosophy of) content wrangling

ATD TK 2015, session TH304 is about content wrangling. The word (wrangling) seems to fit the first speaker, Aaron Silvers. A very peaceful looking man, I can imagine him coming in to put order into the mess and bring everything together. As a learning designer, technologist and strategist, he has worked with the NFL, US departments of defence, homeland security and education …and plenty of others. His equally cool co-speaker Megan Bowe works at Knewton, is a principal at consultancy company “Making Better” and co-created the “Up to All of Us” community.

 

Would you like to audit all the content in the organisation to know what is out there and to organise it better? Or set-up a platform to improve social learning and sharing of expertise and content? Or make existing materials more easy to search and digest?

If the answer is yes, you need to do a good job of content wrangling: Find what you have and make it usable for your people.

 

Megan tells us the primary steps for getting your content in order:

  • First, you need to get everything together (inventory) and know what you have, what you can delete and what you need more of (audit)
  • Next, think about how your people search for content, so you can create an effective “tagging taxonomy” to improve search of that content. Megan’s suggestion for doing this effectively is to do a card-sorting exercise with the users/stakeholders in the organisation. Together, they will create the right structure for the content.
  • Now think about how small you can make content, so that it is effective, but easy to swallow (granularity)
  • Then make things modular, so that content can stand alone. This will allow you to put things in the right order and also re-use content for multiple uses.

 

Once your content is broken down into the right collections of granular and modular well-tagged pieces, it’s time to think about how and where you will put it all together.

Back on the mic, Aaron Silvers says that when we do this, we must remember the mission of our work and the context of today’s business: Our aim is to make it easier for a responsive organisation to pull out content, even when the context or environment changes. We have to be sure that what we make is effective today, as well as sustainable for the future.

Silvers suggests that we take a lean approach to this work, focussing on what really matters: Where are our users? Who are they? What are they trying to do? And why?

 

Rather than get into the technology of content platforms at this point, the formal part of the session came to what seemed to be an abrupt end, opening the floor to any and all questions.

Not being a real techy guy and never building systems for corporate learning, I wondered why I was in this session for a while. But when I looked a little closer at what was being discussed, I realised that what Silvers and Bowe have done is give an effective and lean approach to consulting with customers and organising things (anything) in a given context.

I can imagine (I know, I’m a geek) going home to my DVD collection like a character from “High Fidelity” and getting all that film in order, searchable and chunked down into “all the best bits” for consumption by friends and family. But their work is much more than that…

When they talked about card-sorting, it reminded me of courses on metaphysics, Pirsig’s books (“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”) and how the structure you give to something defines the experience you have of the world. There is beauty in this functional work. Silvers and Bowe are not wrangling content at all. They are defining purpose and values for the organisation, creating the space for breathing creativity and innovation.

 

Humans like to categorise and structure things. It brings comfortable order and a sense of safety. But the way these categories and structures are defined can change the way we experience things.

For example, if I look out of my window to Las Vegas Boulevard, I may compartmentalise what I see into buildings, water, people and lights. If I were thinking about making changes to that environment or its processes, I might then think of how the space is used and the efficient flow of traffic. But if I break down that same vision into entertainment activities, advertisements and mood, I would have a completely different vision. And that vision could lead me to work instead on improving the user experience or linking publicity to user emotions.

Our perception defines our reality and our subsequent behaviour.

And so, the work of “putting things in order” is not to be overlooked. Get it wrong and you may have an impossible mess that no-one can deal with. Or you may have a specific vision that leads to specific (potentially undesired) outputs. Get it right and you will give people the power to see new things, find more value and create change.

You might also find the answer to the questions that opened this blog-post.

 

Thanks for reading!
@dan_steer

ps For more “how-to” information on content wrangling, go here: http://eepurl.com/LpdwD

Connie Malamed on how to really make your point with visuals

Humans have selective attention. And they have a bad capacity for processing information. But: If you can get their attention and help them process what you show, humans have excellent long-term memory. Professional Explainer Connie Malamed is here to give tips on how to use visuals to really pass across your message.. Welcome to ATD TK15 session W400.

According to our speaker, there are 3 basic (good) ways to pass across information: Story, graphs or data representations, and diagrams.

Stories are good for creating emotion. If it really IS a story. A real story has a situation, complication and resolution, with a character/protagonist that achieves a goal. That IS the story: How the protagonist deals with the complication. During the session, Connie showed us some beautiful examples of comic book style stories.

Graphs are an excellent way to show data. If you get it right. According to Cleveland and McGill, our understanding of data changes dramatically depending on the type of graphic used. Humans can deal with position and length easily, but not so well with volume.

Malamed says that, although very fashionable, info-graphics are actually pretty bad for recall. They look nice, but they don’t serve the basic purpose of a data-driven graph. If a graph is to get and keep attention and create recall, it needs to SHOW the viewer the shape of the numbers. Personally, I found Zelazny’s book on charts quite handy.

Diagrams are also really good, if you use the right one.

Our speaker noted 5 different types of diagram and gave some basic rules to follow.

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As I write this blog-post, I realise that as a reader it might be tough for you to get some real learning from it. Connie Malamed’s session was quite simply brilliant. But it’s difficult for me to summarise all the guidelines here (live). Look below and you will find a lot of references to help inspire and instruct you.

The basic message is this: How you visualise things DOES make a difference. As a trainer, I pay a lot of attention to my flipcharts, even if they are mostly text based. Connie has got me inspired to go further…

Further references you might like:

Thanks for reading

@dan_steer

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