Modern working and the learning challenge

Some recent blogging from different people has got me thinking more about the world of work and therein the challenges that lie ahead for the world of learning at work.

Mervyn Dinnen wrote a piece where he spoke about the rise of what’s called the gig economy and questions whether HR are ready to support such a changing relationship with a workforce who aren’t entirely employees but kind of are. Jane Hart wrote a piece last week where she highlights the challenge of modern workplace learning. Essentially she argues that there is a growing split of traditional L&Ders who don’t accept that workplace learning needs to move beyond classroom based and e-learning and on the other side modern workplace learning professionals who understand how work demands different ways of providing performance support. And David James wrote over on LinkedIn how technology has enabled people to do more learning in their own time and their own way than ever before.

You bring all that together and you start to gather that not only is the workforce itself changing, not only is the way we recruit people changing, and not only is technology changing work patterns, but also the skills needed and the knowledge needed for a successful company are no longer dependent on what the company says it needs.

If ten years ago you were to know about the roles being hired for today, you’d not even know where to begin in training people and getting them skilled up. Instead what’s happened is people have clumped together, directed their own ways of working, created new behaviours for getting work done, and found better ways to share knowledge and learning.

The work environment used to be a place where you received everything you needed to do your job from your employer. For a lot of companies that remains the case, but what’s changed is the way that learning needs to be delivered. People can’t wait 2 months for a company induction, or 3 months for the next workshop, or next week to learn about the new product, that’s all too late and not at the point of need.

The world of work is moving rapidly, be you on the bandwagon or not it doesn’t matter, the way you’re expected to work is moving on. For us L&Ders, that presents huge challenges to the way we provide learning at work.

If your workforce is changing to accommodate flexible workforces, contingent workforces and full time workforces all at the same time, how are you changing your learning delivery to meet all their needs? And let’s not be naive enough to start making claims that agency workers must receive their learning from their agency and other nonsense like that. Workplace learning demands that workers have access to content which is of value to help achieve goals. We can’t keep working in ways where we only provide content to permanent workers and hope everyone else will learn by osmosis.

We also need to be stronger at making our case for modern learning to the businesses and organisations we’re part of. If you’re being told to run workshops and courses but you know there are better learning solutions available, find a way to make that happen. It might mean experimenting and finding safe ways to play with discreet groups so that you can build evidence. It might be that you circumvent regular ways of working to make something happen (provided of course you don’t get into trouble for it). It might mean that you build a stronger and better professional network of people who can support you delivering these modern solutions.

What is certain is that the people who are coming to work will be there for a range of reasons. Being at work means that they need access to learning content that can help them be successful. There’s no easy answers here, and no easy solutions to implement. It’s a challenge we’re all faced with and we need to start stepping up our game to meet this ever increasing need.

3 degrees of influence

I was at an Action for Happiness talk the other evening by Nic Marks. He’s authored The Happiness Manifesto and came up with the Happy Planet Index. He was talking about his thoughts on what he called Intelligent Happiness. A play on Emotional Intelligence and a term he freely shared is one that may need to be evolved.

Part of his talk he was speaking about the influence of our network on how we feel, and this is something I’ve come across previously, and really starts you thinking about who is in your network and why they’re there.

Research has been able to inform us that our likelihood of feeling happy is directly impacted on by how happy others are around us. This can be the case with what has been called three degrees of influence. That is, how happy you feel can be affected by how happy your friend’s friend’s friend is.

The opposite is also true, that how sad or unhappy you feel is influenced in a similar fashion, but the impact of positive emotion is greater than the negative.

Which is really something.

We are all well aware that the immediate people in your life matter, and the influence of them on your wellbeing has a direct link. For a long time we’ve known that if you have friends who have a set of habits you will be influenced by them and you in turn will influence them with your behaviours and habits.

I watched a TED video today by neuroscientist Sophie Scott, which spoke about the relevance of laughter as a function. Why do we laugh? What’s its purpose? Essentially it has a social and an intimate purpose. Laughter signals socially that we want to build rapport and relationships. With loved ones it signals that we share interests and are emotionally moved on similar topics.

What this all helped me to understand better is that being happy has a direct societal impact that often we just take for granted. A happy person will be able to influence how happy someone is three times removed from their immediate circle.

There’s a lot of insight there for how we choose to act and how we choose to understand the influence we have on people we didn’t realise were being affected by our mood.

And there is a cautionary piece here too. This isn’t saying that we need to be displaying happiness all the time. Happiness, laughter, joy, are all useful concepts and are part of the mechanisms around resilience. What we know from positive psychology is that you can’t just positively think your way into better situations. Sometimes we have to understand that living a positive life means doing things in very different ways to what we may be used to. That’s not always easy and it may not be the right set of choices to make.

What I find helpful about Nic’s talk is an understanding that when others share good news or stories with me, my feelings of positivity will be raised because of it. Likewise, if I can share good things then it may have a positive impact on others. And what Sophie’s TED talk helped me to consider is the social and personal benefit of laughter. Sometimes it’s ok to do the polite laughter to cultivate relationships and when you have a personal relationship a real hearty laugh signals lots of positive intent towards them.

And here’s the TED talk by Sophie Scott which is well worth watching.

Introversion and extraversion isn’t about happy and sad

One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about psychology is how it helps us to understand more than just surface level understanding of things that we come across in day to day life. In particular, the very purpose of psychology is to enable better human understanding of the human condition so that we better understand the person we’re dealing with and are better able to have meaningful dialogue with them. Sometimes, we can take those insights and really create much better solutions than we ever thought were possible, and really help develop our understanding of the way people work. What tends to be hugely unhelpful, though, is when people take insights from psychology, believe there is applicability in other parts of life, and bastardise the original to fit with a tangential theory.

So it becomes hard to then share the original insights in helpful ways and educate people to know something better.

For example, the classic example of folding your arms is oft cited as a sign that someone is closing themselves off and acting defensively. What examples like this serve to illustrate is that the very thing we’re not being mindful of is the person’s whole being, not just the one indicator. We are whole beings. We aren’t the individual behaviours we show, or the particular words we use, or the emotions we express. We are all of that, all of the time, altogether in one big mess.

This isn’t about armchair psychology either. An armchair psychologist is someone who sits in an office and makes theories about the world without seeing if they have any real life application, if their theory can be tested in any meaningful way, and generally don’t enter into debate about what they think.

This is more about everyday psychology. How do we share information with people in a way which helps them to actually understand the mechanisms of human behaviour? There is a lot of great and useful research and information available about what things actually mean and what they don’t. It’s not behind paywalls, indeed most of it is available via a simple Google search.

Here are some of the examples I most regularly hear:

  • The left brain/right brain idea behind creativity and logic. What we actually know is that this just isn’t the case at all. We use all of our brains all of the time in all tasks.
  • It takes 21 days to change a habit. That’s the minimum time it takes to change a habit, and even then only by someone who is fully committed to making that change happen. For most people it takes between 66-84 days.
  • If you’re an introvert you’re sad person, a loner and don’t like to be around people. Actually, introversion is about where you gain your energy from and has nothing to do with how happy you are.
  • If you’re an extrovert you’re a happy person, more people will like you, and you’ll be more successful in life. Actually, there’s no relationship between any of those things – if there is it’s because of gross generalisations and anecdotes, but no evidence base.
  • Eye movements indicate if a person is lying. If you believe this, you deserve to be fooled. This is purely nothing more than a parlour trick.
  • Creative thinking happens best in teams. Counter-intuitively, most great ideas tend to happen when we’re working on our own. When we work in a state of ‘flow’ is when we are so engrossed in an activity that it can feel like we’re indestructible. Sometimes teams are good for developing ideas, but not always.
  • We communicate up to 93% through body language. This is such a misquoted stat and bears no resemblance to the truth. Yes body language is important in communication, but it is highly contextual. The words we use and the content with the body language and the tone of voice altogether help us understand the message.
  • We can multi-task. No, no we can’t. When we do, we spend longer to complete tasks than if we were to focus on them as single pieces of work. People who are able to make the multi-tasking thing work are only able to do so because they’ve found a method that works for them. For most of us, that’s just inefficient.
  • Our brains are plastic and maleable. Erm, kind of but not really. We build new neural connections all the time because we’re constantly doing things which mean the brain has to grow and develop. That’s not the same as being plastic and maleable. It means that the human brain is very capable of learning new things providing the right support is available for that to happen.

All of these examples are easily researchable and you can find out exactly what you need to know about each in order to improve your understanding of them.

Our challenge remains that in the age of digital information, and bite sized chunks of information, we’re very easily lead by clickbait titles and listicles. Sometimes they’ll be useful, and sometimes they’ll be well researched pieces. Mostly, though, they tend to be spouting false information about the human condition and because most of us don’t have the time to check the reliability of that information, we just hear it and accept it.

I find it tends to be more useful to have actual dialogue with authors of various pieces because that helps us to understand where they’re coming from. They’re trying to suggest something, and thinking they’re adding value to their thinking by quoting some psychology piece they think they know. If we know better, we might be able to help them develop their thinking, and if we don’t then we can help both parties be able to search out the answers. There is simply far too much knowledge and insight out there for us to be knowledgeable about it all. I know what I know about what I know. There’s plenty I don’t know about what I don’t know. I’m always more than happy to be provided information that can help me, and I can then have proper debate about that content which will help me to better know what I should do with it.

The diversity and tolerance conundrum

It seems to me that in recent times, we are becoming less and less tolerant of difference, and we are becoming less and less empathetic to the issues facing people with difference. From racist shootings of black people in America, to trolling of women with an opinion on social media, to abuse of people in LGBT community, to the unexplained incarceration of individuals based on their religion, there are simply far too many incidents of such activities.

I just don’t understand any of it.

If the workplace is a reflection of society, then what we should be observing is a more tolerant society. But while blatant discrimination may be a lesser form that we observe, this doesn’t mean that we are becoming any better at accepting difference and appreciating the value of others. Why do I say we should be observing a more tolerant society? Because, allegedly, the workplace is meant to be a more diverse and inclusive environment. We’re all required to complete equality and diversity training of some sort – regardless of its efficacy – and we’re all expected to display collegiate behaviours at work.

But there are too many daily occurrences of people just not being these appreciative and inclusive beings.

I just don’t understand it.

A lot of what we believe and think is shaped by the media. When we hear our politicians describe certain populations in certain ways, it influences what we think about the same. When we hear ‘celebs’ make outrageous statements, it influences what we think about the same. When the news tells us about attacks on certain communities, it influences what we think about the same. If anything, our capacity for tolerance is greatly reduced because we’re being hit too much too often with opposing views.

Messages of compassion, inclusion and of tolerance only seem to come from those bleeding heart lefties, or those with difference themselves. There are too many times I hear comments from people who simply haven’t taken the time to understand and appreciate.

But in truth, we don’t have the time for this. We’ve got our own shit we’re all dealing with, our own pressures and our own ambitions. It’s always been this way, and the use of social technology doesn’t help – there’s just more and more pressure to live up to the expectation of what’s being shared on the social web.

As individuals, though, we’re fully capable of better thinking and being empathetic with individuals. We don’t need to solve the world’s problems, we just need to better support those we come into contact with. Strangers, people we don’t know, those facing harm, they’re all sharing their stories – how many of us are listening to them? How many of us care?

There’s an affliction we have in the modern age, and that’s to provide commentary on everything we come into contact with, provide advice on how to make it better, and be the expert of all the known problems in the world. Everyone is an expert on everything all of the time. If you don’t accept the words of wisdom, you’re seen as not needing the help, and of being more in wrong because you haven’t done what you were told to do.

So I come across daily articles about things like:
– a woman who is being trolled by a man just because she expressed herself (and not like Katie Hopkins who purposefully seeks to provoke and be offensive)
– a black person who receives racist behaviour for no other reason than they’re black
– a transgender person who is facing difficult transition because well-meaning people are being unwittingly offensive (and just because you’re being unwittingly offensive, doesn’t mean you’re not being offensive)

And I just don’t bloody understand any of it. How are there so many people with such a lack of tolerance of difference? How are there too many people just not saying anything in support of others when they face abuse? How are we turning a blind eye to what’s happening around us?

So I’ve had enough of it all. I’m going to share more examples of people being dicks because turning a blind eye isn’t enough.

At the same time, I’m going to be sharing more examples of stories of understanding and good stories of inclusion because they help provide balance and insight into what this looks like.

Is there an organisational, learning and development angle to any of this? Of course there is. And this is aimed squarely at all HR/L&D professionals. You know all that equality and diversity training we put all our staff through? You know all that training on biases and prejudices managers go through? You know all that self-awareness training we make available for people? You know all those case studies on companies with great inclusion activities? For the most part, it’s ineffectual and not causing behaviour change. For the most part it’s teaching people how not to be obviously offensive. And that’s not the same as being inclusive. That’s just being lazy.

Food banks, free kitchens and Sikhs

It’s a social ill that there are people who cannot afford to provide food for their family and are reliant on the charity of others to be able to survive. When a million people are visiting foodbanks to receive 3 days of food across the UK, that’s not a minority. Regardless of their social status, no one should be in such a position that they feel they or their family cannot be fed.

Being part of the Sikh community, I witness not only our practices, but also am very interested in seeing how we contribute to society at large. One of the core concepts in Sikhi is called seva. It means selfless service. There is a full expectation that as a Sikh, you will be a contributing member of society and do so willingly with no expectation of reward or payment.

One of the other core concepts is one called langar. Langar means free kitchen. It was a practice first started by our first guru, Guru Nanak Dev ji, in the early 16th century. He set out to instill some thinking in people that when we eat, we eat equally. That when we eat, it should be done by the community, freely, and with no expectation of payment. So when anyone visits a gurdwara, they are all welcome to partake in eating the langar being served. Traditionally everyone sits on the floor to eat, and this is to signify that no one is more important than any other, especially in the house of God.

Over recent years, the Sikh community has been very supportive of those facing hard times in the UK when it comes to needing food. There was a BBC report last year about Sikhs feeding the homeless in Derby and one earlier this year about how more and more people are turning to Sikh temples to receive hot food.

It makes me very proud to see my fellow Sikh brothers and sisters offering their time willingly to be able to make food. We are staying true to the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev ji, and showing our fellow Brits just how integrated we are in society and how we care about anyone facing hard times. The gurdwaras are not able to offer overnight shelter, but they will provide a safe haven where you can be fed throughout the day.

In the gurdwara, Sikh helpers will advise people on practice. For example, there’s a simple accepted practice that you cover your head before eating. This is important because Sikhs are meant to keep their hair covered at all times, so certainly in the gurdwara it has to be done. There are bandana style cloths and scarves for women available so there’s often little worry that you don’t have your own. Importantly, there’s no pressure to follow strict doctrine, just normal and regular hygienic and social practice.

It continues to sadden me that people are needing to use foodbanks in order to feel they can eat. Langar at gurdwaras and for the homeless on British streets is a real boon for those in need of help. If you’re aware of people who aren’t sure about how they’re going to feed themselves or their family, let them know they can visit their local gurdwara and will be welcomed.

What the #PLN?


Yesterday, Ady Howes asked me this question, and I told him I need to blog about it as it’s quite a big question.

Your Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a concept I became familiar with a few years back bu virtue of Twitter, later LinkedIn, and mostly through attending events like unconferences. Your PLN are the people you connect with, interact with, talk to, and debate with about any range of topics that’s of interest to you.

The value of the PLN is quite hard to define as it’s intertwined with what I as an individual bring to the table as much as it is about how the people around me can help me. So here’s my examples of how my network has brought value to what I do:

I have had ideas that I’ve not known how to progress or take forward. Talking with others, sharing my thoughts with them, and finding a place for this thinking to happen in a safe way has allowed me to develop my ideas into action. L&D Connect happened because of an idea. #ldinsight was the brainchild of David Goddin and happened because of an idea.

I learn about new technology because of my network, and they help me to understand what it could mean, how it could be used, and what I could do with that technology. As an example, I became aware of a piece of technology called Periscope – a Twitter owned product. It allows you to livestream anything, people can comment live and also provide live feedback on the poignant pieces of the content. I didn’t really understand how to use it, until this week when Tim Scott demonstrated its use at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition. It immediately helped me understand it’s potential, and I subsequently asked Michelle Parry Slater to Periscope the panel session I was in with Andy Lancaster and Julian Stodd.

When I hear about new ideas and theories, I often need to read more about the ideas and the concepts in order to help me know how to do something useful with them. Things like neuroscience and mindfulness are hot topics right now, and there are just as many people writing and sharing useful content on these topics as there are people writing rubbish on them. My network helps me wean out the good from the useless. If they find it of value, they share it. I trust their opinion and use that to inform how I consume that content.

When I am working on a project, one of the really beneficial things I find I can do is to do what they call ‘working out loud’ and share an update on what I’m working on, and asking for input from people in my network. Often the input is highly valuable as other people’s thinking prompts them to comment and provide insight which I previously wouldn’t have arrived at myself. That kind of sharing is powerful and helps me create better solutions.

I challenge my own thinking because of the people in my network. I became aware a long time ago that I follow a lot of people who I agree with, who think like me, who are good people in my opinion and who provide me with insight I value. In that there is an inherent trap that you only talk to the people who support your way of thinking to the point that it’s hard to know what other opinions may need to be expressed, but don’t have a way of being heard. So I set about to purposefully connect with people who challenge my thinking. Not with abhorrent or abusive people, but with people who think differently to me. It makes sure I don’t stay stagnant, that I have to articulate what my position is on something and that I have to be clear about what I’m suggesting and why I’m suggesting it.

I find humour because of my network. We humans are a clever bunch, witty and full of good humour. I enjoy good humour – not just jokes and banter but also clever thinking and light hearted conversations. It keeps the network vibrant and enjoyable to be around. People have fun with each other, support one another and are happy to have conversations on all manners of topics, and that’s helpful in building relationships.

I don’t ever formally categorise people as being in my PLN or not. They just are. If I’ve connected with you in some way, interacted with you and had a conversation with you, then you’re part of my PLN, just as much as I’m part of yours. We don’t have to agree on everything we share, we don’t have to be in every conversation that is taking place, and we don’t have to be included in every update. The value of the PLN is it simply exists.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is so 1943

*checks today’s date* 28th October 2015.

72 years ago, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper on human motivation and used a hierarchical model to help share his insights at the time. It has since become the go to model for understanding human motivation. Along with Herzberg’s motivational factors theory, it’s become one of the most essential of management theories.

According to the theory, once we satisfy certain needs, we can move our way up the model to higher levels of achievement and satisfaction, ultimately leading to what he called self-actualisation. In defense, he did help us to understand a potential model of human motivation at a time when we were new to the concept and didn’t really have a way of understanding how humans work. But, you know, that was 70 years ago.

Are you seriously telling me that in the last 70 years we haven’t understood human motivation any further than Maslow?

Over the last 20 years, Maslow has persisted as being a management model and model to understand human motivation, more simply for no other reason than people haven’t been bothered to understand more recent and more relevant findings on the topic.

For example, in his book, Drive, Daniel Pink helped us to understand that people need three things to be successful at work – autonomy, mastery and purpose. These three factors don’t seem to fit in with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And actually, trying to make one relevant to the other is the wrong way to think about these things.

For example, neuroscience helps us to understand how the brain responds to certain stimuli and how we respond to interactions with others. The neurochemicals produced will either support the development of further relationships, or reinforce connections in the brain to act in certain ways. This is a massively untapped area of knowledge, and what we know is that there are better ways to interact with others which are amenable to cultivating better relationships based on how the brain responds.

For example, behavioural economics helps us to know that people are not rational beings and are often influenced to act in certain ways. For example, in assessment centres, if managers are given the candidate information on a hard board, they are more likely to judge the candidates positively than if given on a soft board – it’s not right, and it doesn’t have any basis for judgement, but it’s an influence. Or that you’re more likely to have higher number of people becoming donors when they are automatically opted in – opting out is a purposeful act and requires specific action to do it so most people don’t bother.

For example, in improving your wellbeing, we know that it’s important to reflect on the good things that are happening in your life on a regular basis. By doing this regularly and consistently you build a better appreciation of what’s doing right in your life and identify actions you can continue to do which are supportive of your wellbeing.

Often, as with most things in life, it’s what we do with the insights we have, as opposed to making things fit into our view of the world, and if it doesn’t fit then it can’t be right.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs served a purpose back in the 1940s. It pains me that in the year 2015 we’re still talking about this model like it’s relevant. It’s like talking about cassette tapes and their effective use in distributing musical content to the masses. In a day and age when digital means and technology have made that form of music production redundant, why would we ever go back to it? Similarly, in a day and age when we undertsand far more about human motivation than we ever have done, why would we refer back to a model which was developed 70 years ago? We talk plenty about the need to update our ways of working, and creating modern organisations. Part of that also means updating what we know, and how we apply that new knowledge to the new worlds we’re seeking to create.