Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand repetitions is skill–Shin’ichi Suzuki
“Our knowing is ordinarily tacit, implicit in our patterns of action ….. It seems right to say that our knowing is in our action.”–Donald Schon
“What we pay attention to and how we pay attention determine the content and quality of life.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“The greatest efforts in sports come when the mind is as still as a glass lake.”–Timothy Gallwey
There’s been a lot of criticism in the media lately of parents who “over schedule” their children by enrolling them in too many structured activities. My six year old daughter takes lessons in gymnastics, piano, ballet, swimming and tennis, so as you can imagine I’m a little sensitive about this. My only excuse for my overzealous parenting is that herlessons are so good that I would hate to take her out of any of them.
I disliked virtually every organized educational experience I had before graduate school, so I’m actually pretty surprised about the seeming abundance of high-quality training for kids these days. Apparently there has been some kind of revolution in extra-scholastic education since I grew up, and no one bothered to tell me about it. In this column I try to figure out why my daughters lessons are so good, and what we as instructional designers can learn from that.
My first tennis lesson consisted of a long lecture about “eastern” versus “western” grips—a distinction that escapes me to this day—plus a bunch of weird drills like rolling a ball around in circles on the face of the racquet for ten minutes straight. Actual tennis did not occur until several lessons later. I’m still bitter about that, in case you can’t tell.
In contrast, my daughter got to start hitting tennis balls, which were bounced to her by an instructor, ten minutes after the start of her first session of her beginning tennis camp. Throughout the camp, she and her fellow students spent most of their time with racquets in hand, hitting real tennis strokes. Instructors kept them focused on simple outcomes, while being careful to avoid ratcheting up the pressure. Results were dealt with dispassionately—data points to be considered, not indicators of individual success and failure. There was no detailed presentation of theory about stance, grip, swing, and so on–instruction was brief and to the point, and coaching inputs were confined mostly to specific, individualized suggestions that learners could put into practice immediately, and that slowly built on one another over time. By the end of the camp, which was about four hours total, most of the kids could hit a variety of surprisingly solid shots including ground strokes, serves and volleys. My daughter emerged feeling confident about the skills she’d learned. “I think I’m going to be better than you at tennis,” she confided to me in a whispered aside. I think so too, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I think the improvement in how tennis lessons are taught is to a significant extent due to the influence of one man: Timothy Gallwey, a tennis playing Harvard graduate who in 1974 wrote a book called The Inner Game of Tennis.
Gallwey describes the travails of the tennis novice as being the result of a struggle between two inner selves: Self 1—“the teller”—and Self 2—“the doer”. Self 2 learns physical skills through trial and error, building competence reliably, gradually and unconsciously. Self 1, on the other hand, is good with theory, but not with execution. Skills like tennis are the natural province of Self 2, but Self 1 has a bad habit of losing confidence in Self 2, and trying to take over. This usually results in a significant degradation of performance. Learners in the grip of their Self 1, Gallwey observes, tend to be stiff and awkward, attempting through sheer force of will to make their bodies do the right thing. Learners being guided by their Self 2, in contrast, find that successful execution seems to come naturally, almost without their having to make any conscious effort.
Gallwey’s argument is presumably meant to be taken as a metaphor, but it may be closer to the literal truth than anyone would have thought. Daniel Willingham, a Psychologist at the University of Virginia, has done a series of experiments showing that subjects playing a simple video game can learn to improve their performance in two different ways: by being explicitly taught the underlying patterns that control the game, or by implicitly learning those patterns through practice. What is interesting is that these two modes of learning seem quite separate and distinct, as evidenced by the fact that subjects who learned implicitly often cannot describe the patterns to which they are clearly responding. What is even more interesting is that the brain activity of subjects who are playing the game using implicit knowledge is different in location and character from the brain activity of subjects playing the game using explicit knowledge. In other words, Gallwey’s Self 1 and Self 2 may turn out to describe real components of the brain. Of course, a careful scientist would feel compelled to attach a long list of caveats to a statement like that, but I prefer, for the moment, to just enjoy the crazy long-shot possibility that a pop-psych metaphor might actually turn out to be an accurate psycho-physiological theory.
Gallwey’s general prescription for success at learning tennis is all about learning how to “quiet” Self 1 and “trust” Self 2. Three key things need to be done, according to Gallwey, in order to accomplish this goal.
The first requirement is to de-emphasize technique, which is the verbal description of how to perform a skill. Technique is the province of Self 1. In a traditional tennis lesson, the learner is loaded up with technique right from the start: Keep your wrist locked! Keep your elbow straight! Turn sideways to the ball! Get your racquet back early! Keep your eye on the ball! Transfer your weight as you swing! Swing low to high! Follow through! Self 1, in possession of all of this theory, wants to put it into practice immediately. Self 2, however, will go through a gradual process of learning from experience with or without the theory. So Self 1 gets impatient and tries to take over from Self 2, and that’s where the trouble starts. Gallwey’s conclusion is that the less Self 1 knows, the less likely this is to happen.
The second requirement is to de-emphasize ego. The involvement of the ego creates pressure. We’ve all experienced this: When you become focused on the need to succeed–especially when others are watching you and you realize that failure would be embarrassing–you suddenly begin to feel as though even the simplest, most familiar actions have become very difficult to execute. In sports, this effect is called “choking”. According to Willingham, choking is what happens when people lose faith in their unconscious abilities and revert to their conscious, explicit mode of control–in other words, when Self 1 takes over from Self 2. Gallwey’s advice to the learner is to cultivate a Zen-like detachment from the ego (“letting go of the self” and so on).But not everyone is able to suppress their own ego in this way. What is of more practical import, in my opinion, is Gallwey’s prescription for the coach, which is to avoid expressing too much focus on success and failure. This is important because it is more or less the opposite of traditional coaching wisdom.
The third requirement is to pay attention to the outcomes of actions. Most people think they do this already, but for the most part they are wrong. One of Gallwey’s most interesting observations is that novices often fail to observe what happens when they hit a bad shot, apparently because it is too painful to watch. Sometimes they literally cover their eyes when they miss. The trouble with this is that the feedback from where that shot lands is critical to Self 2’s gradual, feedback-based learning process. This is where a coach can help, setting up exercises in such a way that learners are highly focused on seeing outcomes clearly regardless of whether they are “good” or not.
So that is Gallwey’s theory, or at least my slightly fractured version of it. The real question is, does it actually work? Well, it happens that Harry Reasoner did a sixty minutes piece many, many years ago that makes a pretty good case for the effectiveness of Gallwey’s approach. (If you look on youtube, you may be able to find the video—if so it’s well worth watching.) Reasoner actually recruited people who had never played sports to come and take a lesson from Gallwey, which he filmed.
In the video, a student, who is holding a racquet in her hands for the first time, stands to the side as Gallwey and a partner hit the ball back and forth. Gallwey instructs the student to say the word “bounce” whenever the ball bounces, and “hit” whenever the partner hits it. When she has done this for some time, Gallwey kicks the partner off the court and puts the student in his spot. Gallwey continues to hit balls with the same location and pace, and instructs the student to keep saying “bounce-hit, bounce-hit”, with the word “hit” now being uttered when the partner would have hit the ball. A few more balls go by, and Gallwey then suggests that, if the student feels like it, she can try swinging her racquet, but he cautions her to keep focused on maintaining an accurate “bounce-hit” cadence—what happens when she swings is not important. The student does indeed swing the racquet, and, having by now internalized the precise timing of the ball’s arrival, she is able contact it squarely on the first try. When you see this on the video, it’s utterly amazing.
When the student has begun hitting the ball reliably for a while, Gallwey starts giving her tasks to do that involve focusing attention on the ball. One is to describe the sound the ball makes when it hits her raquet. Another–not captured in the video–is to ask the learners to call out fhow far each shot lands from the base line of the court.Gallwey assures the learner that it doesn’t matter where the shots land—he just wants an accurate distance estimate. But an interesting thing happens: the shots start landing closer and closer to the baseline, without the learner making any conscious effort to get them closer.
I’ve seen this video several times and I’m always amazed by it. Even knowing what I know about learning, I’m still surprised to see that Gallwey’s technique works as well as it does.
I believe that Gallwey’s key points—to de-emphasize ego and technique, and to emphasize focus on outcomes—have been incorporated to a significant extent into modern tennis lessons, and that they are the central reasons why these lessons are much more effective than the ones I took.
This is my eighth and final blog in the eight-blog series that we called “The View is Worth the Climb.” I’ve talked about the problems with corporate training today, the fact that we have this broken investment value equation, and the need to fix that broken equation. I’ve discussed the mandate or imperative for transformation and the fact that we shouldn’t be waiting for someone to tell us to do it, that we should be ahead of that and making the kinds of changes and improving our situation greatly so that we are adding more value. I’ve discussed how “Running Training Like a Business” is an appropriate methodology for organizations to utilize to begin the transformation process, and I’ve laid out why outsourcing is a tool that organizations should seriously consider in their pursuit of transformation.
What I haven’t talked about, something that I believe in my heart is that at the end of the day, it’s not about training, it really is about results. We can be doing the best training in the world, developing the best classes, bringing the best instructors, and having the best content, but if it doesn’t make a difference for the business, then it really is irrelevant.
I often tell people about benchmarking, because benchmarking is a great tool that almost all training organizations use at one time or another. You may look at a benchmarking report and say, “Wow, the average company in my industry spends $800 dollars per employee per year and I’m only spending $400. So, I must be under-spending and I should be going to my management and showing them this benchmarking report and making the case for doubling the budget.” And what I would say is if you’re spending $400 and your benchmarks are spending $800 and you’re getting no value for the $400 you’re investing, you’re probably overspending; you’re overinvesting. On the other hand, if you’re getting $30 back for every dollar you invest, you probably ought to quadruple that investment, not just double it. So when we do benchmarking, we have to make certain that we do it in the context of value creation. And that’s why I say it’s not about training, it’s about results.
So let me just shut this down with one final observation. There’s something Ronald Regan use to say all the time, “This tide raises all ships.” And I think that’s the case for training and what happens when we transform ourselves from a functional orientation to a value creating machine that in fact this tide does raise all ships. For the training organization, it means that the people in that organization are doing work that makes a difference for the company they work for and that they leave at the end of the day saying they’ve made an impact and feeling like they’ve made an impact. I’m not certain that everybody can say that today.
The second thing is for the employees of those companies where we’re doing really terrific training on important business issues. The employees find that their work is more rewarding, it allows them to do things that are important to the company and the business, their skills are being built so that they perform at much higher levels, and they also leave at the end of the day feeling like they’ve made a difference.
And lastly, for the executives who fund all this stuff that we’re talking about, when they look at it, they have confidence (unlike the lack of confidence that many of them have today) that the money they’re putting into developing their people is in fact making a difference for the business and for their people. So, in that regard, “this tide really does raise all ships.”
With that, I welcome your comments. I would appreciate your feedback and maybe another day, there will be another blog.
click on the link below for the podcast version of this blog post.
Smoke Screens about Outsourcing
Let me just call up smoke screens, again, about outsourcing and I’ll tell you why—this is an interesting one that has dual smoke screens. The next one is that “I lose control.” I talked about this earlier but let me be just a little bit more specific.
The argument goes like this. If I outsource parts of training to an outsourcing provider or a third-party provider, I will lose control. And that’s as stated by senior training leaders. I take there’s a real issue with that.
• First off, in most training organizations, what we know is that there’s more training going on outside than inside the training organization. That does not sound like control to me. The opportunity is to get one’s arms around the total spend, direct and indirect, and manage the total spend, which we often find is not going on. There’s a hidden spend in training that’s 2-4 times more than the direct spend, and it’s an issue because it’s unmanaged. I have said for many years that training inside an organization is the largest unmanaged spend companies have, particularly big companies. If you think it’s a $1,000 per employee/ year, it’s actually $4,000 per employee/year. So, that’s the real spend, that’s what you ought to be managing, and that’s what nobody’s managing. So, lack of control is an argument. What in fact we know from outsourcing experience, and we can see this across multiple outsourcing providers and multiple outsourcing relationships, is that outsourcers bring formal processes for service level agreements, people accountability, monthly meeting and reports, and rigorous process control and variance management—all the things that companies demand of a third-party provider that they really don’t demand of themselves. So, when you put all those things in place, you have a governing structure that oversees it all and is engaged with it. I would argue that it doesn’t allow you to lose control, but in fact, improves the control you get. So, that’s an argument that, I think, again is a smoke screen.
• Let me move to the last one that I’ll talk about. This is an interesting one because it comes from both the buyers, or the internal training organizations, and the providers. And the argument goes something like this: “A company should not outsource the strategic elements of training.” So what do we mean by “strategic elements”? We mean the business linkage process of understanding the needs of the business and having dialogues with the business to determine visual learning solutions. It could make a difference for the business and, in fact, for designing that learning solution, and for all those sorts of things that are business connected and more strategic in orientation. And so, the internal learning organizations argue that that’s their role and you can’t outsource it. The providers, interestingly, at least a bunch of providers, argue the same thing, that they don’t believe those activities are outsourcable nor should they be outsourced And I think they do that for this reason:
They don’t have the capability to do those strategic things or they’re more transaction oriented in their approach to outsourcing. So, in my past life, the outsourcing relationships that I’ve created included the strategic elements. We performed that really well. My provider performed that really well when I outsourced my training in DuPont years ago. Subsequently, when I led outsourcing processes with a number of other companies, we performed very well and delivered immense value. From the outsourcers’ side, unless you’re responsible for the processes for understanding needs and determining solutions, it’s hard to be held accountable for the value. In the absence of those things, the most that you can hold an outsourcer accountable for is:
• Quality processes
• Cost reduction
• Cycle time
Those sorts of things on the transaction related elements and quality of content that you purchase if you’re purchasing from a third party content provider.
So, those are the three arguments. The last one crosses the barrier between internal and provider organizations. So, when I look at outsourcing today, there’s been a pretty significant change in how we do outsourcing today in the marketplace. The marketplace has evolved from comprehensive outsourcing to outsourcing of specific elements or specific services and the research says that the things that are being outsourced the most are custom content development, training administration primarily in large companies, not in small companies, and some delivery. And, of course, organizations are moving more toward software as a service hosted, learning technology model, where they don’t require resources to support systems and those sorts of things. And sometimes you’ll see organizations outsourcing combinations of those things. And while those are good things to outsource and, in fact, they offer the opportunity to reduce cost, they also limit the ability for the outsourcing provider to make a huge impact on the value side of the equation.
So, as organizations do this work and outsource these kinds of things, they must take the next step, which is to improve their internal processes for:
• Linking to the business
• Understanding needs
• Engaging with customers
• Understanding customer expectations
• Ensuring that the work they do is relevant and linked to something important and that they understand and can document the value being delivered for the work they do
If we do this well, it will eliminate a lot of objections that we hear from organizations as they think about or talk about outsourcing and it will hopefully move them from the side of “I’m not interested in this” to the side of “I actually should consider it because there’s sufficient experience in the marketplace to say that organizations that do outsourcing, at some level, do get some benefit.”
So, why don’t I stop here and welcome all your comments, inputs, critiques, support, and all the things that go along with these blogs. I look forward to hearing from you. And I have two more blogs to do to end this series on “The View is Worth the Climb.” This last one on outsourcing is one of those things that I say along the road, “This is one of the things that if you do well, makes the view worth the climb.”
Click on the link below for the podcast version of this blog post.
Well, I have talked about transformation and the need for transformation of training, primarily driven by the fact that from my perspective, we have this broken investment value equation and there’s a huge need to fix the value side of this thing so that companies get more business impact from this very large investment they’re making.
The second thing I’ve talked about is how “Running Training like a Business” can be a methodology, if you will, that enables transformation if you can apply the key principles of effectiveness and efficiency and everything that falls underneath them. Companies will benefit from that sort of focus and that sort of management process around the elements of training and training delivery.
So, now I’m going to talk about outsourcing as one of the tools available to organizations to do part, if not all, of the transformation. Those of you who know me are probably saying, “Wow, it’s about time you got to this.” And that’s right…it is about time.
You know, I think that outsourcing is a true enabler and the right kind of tool an organization should use to help in its transformation. I’ve been in this space for so long, going on for almost 15 years now, on both the buy side and the provider side, that I think I understand the elements of outsourcing, the implications of outsourcing, and the potential value it can deliver.
What I find interesting though that there’re few topics that elicit such emotion in the training space as the word “outsourcing.” And a lot of it, I think, has to do with the fact that people are fearful that if they outsource, their jobs will be lost and things won’t happen because they’ll lose control. There are normally three arguments for not doing outsourcing beyond the fact that senior training folks believe it doesn’t work. The three arguments are:
• It doesn’t work.
• It doesn’t take cost out as promised.
• Outsourcers can’t know my business like I do.
Here’s what I would contend. I would content that if you haven’t looked at outsourcing as an option available to you to either reduce your cost and/or improve the value, then I would say you are not serving your company well. You’ve got to look at it as an option—whether you choose it or not is another question.
Choosing it depends on:
• the business case,
• the capabilities you’re looking for,
• the current state of training,
• whether you have lots of waste redundancy,
• whether you’re not organized appropriately to create value, and other such things.
I believe it’s critically important that all organizations take a hard look at outsourcing, at various levels, in order to determine whether they should take advantage of the tool and of the service in order to drive value for their business.
Let me address the emotional side of this thing.
• First off, it doesn’t take cost out. Well, there’s lots of evidence that outsourcing does take cost out—maybe not as much in training outsourcing as in areas like IT, HR, and finance. You would assume that if you could carry that forth, training would play the same way. Knowing that we have this huge investment in training—a thousand dollars on average or seven hundred dollars; whatever the number is, it’s big per employee per year spend on training. In the makeup of that number, some 30% is infrastructure, some 30% staff, and some 30% is vendors. There’s lots of opportunity to do things a bit differently and take cost out.
But I would submit that if you’re only looking for cost reduction, you’re probably missing the opportunity because cost is not the end game. Cost is probably the entry ticket for outsourcing, but if outsourcing doesn’t help you deliver more value, then it is underperforming; and if you’re not delivering more value, then you’re underperforming. So, there are opportunities to take cost out in areas like training administration, learning technology and technology management, delivery and delivery management, and vendor management. All those things are highly leverage services. Many organizations do them in decentralized ways and don’t take advantage of the high leverage that they can get on their own and then, furthermore, that they can get from an outsourcing provider who does this work for multiple companies and, therefore, is able to leverage their resources and cost across a larger base than an individual company can on its own.
• The second issue or myth of outsourcing is there’s no company that can know my business like I do. I submit that that’s a smoke screen put forth by lots of training leaders and training people who are, quite frankly, threatened by the outsourcing notion. I would say that outsourcing doesn’t mean that you totally separate from the key subject matter, subject matter experts, culture, and business know-how of the company. I have seen it work. I have seen an outsourcer come in and become employee-like in the eyes of the business and the functions and know the business as well as, if not better, than the training organizations that previously existed for the business. So I don’t think it’s a valid argument. I think it’s a smoke screen and I think it’s easily overcome if organizations would give it a chance.
• The third argument that I often hear is that outsourcing doesn’t create value (the value that I’m talking about is business impact). I would say that it depends on the processes that are in scope for an outsourcing deal and whether or not you’re giving your outsourcing partner the opportunity to do some of the things they do best in order to create value.
So, let’s say you’re outsourcing a lot of content development through third-party providers, and you’re doing it through an outsourcing provider who’s managing third-party providers. If all you’re doing is throwing the need over the fence and saying to the outsourcing provider, “Go find me a vendor that does this,” then the ability to make an impact other than a cost impact—by getting lower vendor prices and taking away the vendor administration job from the training organization—and the opportunity to create an impact is minimal. However, if you engage your partner in the process of understanding needs, determining solutions, and determining options for those solutions, then you can insure that your partner goes in search of best-in-class capabilities and brings forth the right kinds of responses that can make a difference for the business.
Click on the link below for the podcast version of this blog post.
Backroom to the Boardroom
Today, I want to talk about moving from the backroom to the boardroom. So, what do I mean by that?
I have this strong drive to help training reposition itself from its functional orientation to a business orientation, which if it does, will allow it to not only be in the same room with business people but also sit at the table (as opposed to looking in through the door or sitting around the outside wall).
How do we get from the backroom? How do we get from not being considered an integral part of the business to one where people look to us much like they do with sales, marketing, manufacturing, finance, or IT and get engaged in business discussions that allow us to bring forth the kinds of insights and capabilities that we know are possible to make a difference for the business.
And I think that, in-fact, is the essence of the challenge.
When we have conversations, do we have conversations with the people who are running the business?
• Do we ask them what their expectations are of us and how we should serve them?
• Do we understand the key capabilities they need in their organization to advance their objectives?
• Do we know where we’re coming up short in our performance?
• Do we know where the priority areas are for us to make a difference?
• Do we talk their language?
• Do we talk in terms of profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, and customer retention, or do we talk about training programs, competency, e-learning, classroom training, and how many training classes have been taken in their organization?
Those are the things that I think make the difference between looking in through the window and sitting at the table.
And the other thing is…if we ever get invited to the table—much like the other people who are sitting around the table—we have to bring insight that goes beyond training. So:
• We have to understand how the business operates.
• We have to understand the various levers that organizations can pull and be broader than just training people.
• We need to be business people in training, which means that along with expertise in our special area called training, we must have the skills of business people who can look at financial sheets and say, “There’s an issue over here with fixed cost or variable cost, or how we’re doing SG&A or what’s our level of SG&A.” Things like that.
So, I submit that we have to think differently, act differently, talk differently, walk the halls of the business, and stop in and sit down with business people and say, “What’s on your mind today? What challenges do you have? What’s keeping you up at night?” All those things will eventually lead to us to being invited inside the room and given a sit at the table and moving, in-fact, from the backroom to the boardroom. I think it’s critically important.
I think we have enormous opportunity and potential. Those of us who have been in this space for a long time and have seen it work well know that when training is focused on an issue, when it is relevant, when it is tightly linked to something important to the business, and when it is done well that, in-fact, it can deliver exponential value for the investment being made. I’ve seen it hundreds of times; you’ve seen it hundreds of times. The question is, “Why aren’t we doing it every day? Why aren’t we doing it consistently?”
In my book Running Training like a Business, what we said is that one of the reasons why business executives are sold on learning (and not sold on training) is that they see improved performance, but only sometimes. It is inconsistent and they don’t know when to expect it. They don’t have confidence in us that when they invest in us, they’re going to get something for their investment that exceeds the investment.
So, I think it’s imperative that we start to get a mindset that says, “We want to be an active player with the business, we want to be an active participant and contributor, we want to be viewed as business people, we want to have our organizations behave as if they are part of their own company, and we know that the decisions we make and the work we do are affecting our income and livelihood, not that of some distant company that we work for but never see.”
And I think if we can get aligned to that, then the path to getting there is pretty clear. And, in-fact, if you look back on the blogs that I’ve offered up, you will see some of the ways in which you can advance your organization to where it moves, in-fact, from the backroom to the boardroom.