Santa and engagement

Oh yes, I went there.

At this festive time of year, I got to thinking about the myth of Santa, and the many different stories that have been created about him. But moreso, what would the elves be doing for their L&D?

Santa’s clearly the chairman. But he’s one of those rare people who actually gets out to talk to the people in his organisation – The Workshop. When the Elves join The Workshop, they’re clearly so enamoured to be working there, he can literally show his face once a year and they’re all made up for the year. He’ll do a Ho Ho Ho, and everyone goes crazy on the workshop floor.

He’s also the one who gets nearly all of the credit too. Although he’s good enough to make sure people know the Elves do all the hard work.

There’s got to be a Head Elf. The person who manages the actual operation of stuff. And who somehow manages to get peak performance from the whole workforce. I mean, who does that? And how? What is going on there that every single elf can contribute to such high levels of expectation?

I don’t think they have a HR department, because I don’t see that there would be any ER problems, recruitment is easy, there’s no problems with D&I, their organisational design is spot on, as is their learning and development. We never hear about Elves leaving The Workshop to work somewhere else, or raise complaints or have cases being heard by the likes of ACAS or the ECJ. It’s almost unbelievable.

I wonder how they handle finances? What’s their supply chain like? Do they even have one? How do they get all their raw materials? Is goodwill that strong, that it’s all done in good faith and for the good of humanity? Is that even possible?

What about pay? And wellbeing? I mean, the Elves are seemingly constantly working to any and all hours? Is it reasonable to expect them to do that? Who’s making sure they have a well earned break? How do they have time for their families and friends and being the lovely social creatures that they are? Not only that, but does Santa give them a bonus? Is it performance based? And what kind of dividend does he receive?

Do they have Elf Managers? What happens when a child isn’t happy with their toy? I don’t think that’s ever happened, so how do the managers know what improvements to make? What kind of conferences and seminars do the Elves go to? How do they do their market research, and learn about new trends? As the world is moving to more digital platforms, how are the Elves learning new skills to build ever better and more complicated technology?

Clearly the organisation is doing well because the kids keep believing. I mean, we can just about get people to believe in God, but belief in Santa for the under 10s is almost never ceasing. You literally couldn’t pay for that kind of dedication and commitment. And everyone seems to be bought in to continuing that narrative. You couldn’t buy that kind of PR. When you have national and international military and aviation organisations tracking Santa to ensure he doesn’t disrupt their operations, you’ve got to wonder how he masterfully negotiates with all of them.

For a mythical organisation, and a mythical entity, it’s by far one of the most successful organisations to have ever existed.


You don’t think – except that you do

In a post this week, Nick Shackleton-Jones expressed a set of insights where he suggests humans don’t think – certainly not as we have been made to believe.

The affective context model claims, in essence, that we don’t ‘remember’ anything.

Instead we have subtle affective (emotional) reactions to events around us and we use these delicate affective patterns to reconstruct situations as needed.

What we call ‘thoughts’ are merely subtle forms of feelings. The same cognitive apparatus underpins both; the brain does not have ‘thinking areas’ and ‘feeling areas’ but instead ‘primitive feeling’ and ‘sophisticated feeling’ areas.

It seems to me that when people open their mouths to speak – to argue or discuss, explain or convince – that they are merely expressing sentiments more deeply felt.

I have a different set of insights I’d like to share to Nick’s. Some chime with what he says, and some are different.

Emotions drive human behaviour. Anyone who has read about or taken the time to understand emotions and what their purpose is will be able to articulate this. Emotions are the basic function for humans which enables us to act as we choose. In our early years as largely unthinking creatures, our emotions enabled us to respond to our environment. They did our thinking for us. Our emotions prepare the body to act in ways which are quicker and more responsive than anything we could rationally decide. Over time, with the development of language and of higher thinking capabilities, we have developed the capacity to understand our emotions, regulate them, and become more aware of how our emotions drive behaviour. We are also able to provide some expression to our emotions in ways we’ve never really been able to do before.

We are thinking creatures. Our thinking is largely predicated by what we are feeling. This is a reality many of us would not like to admit to. It explains why we see otherwise rational adults reacting in ways which do not seem to make sense. Largely, it is because they do not acknowledge their emotions are driving their behaviour. What they do not realise is that they are simply articulating their emotions.

Often when we see or hear people express their emotions is that they are limited in what they can express. This is largely because we have not spent the time – through formal education or other means – to be able to understand our emotions better, to be able to express them well, and to understand that emotions are transient. When people think they can control their emotions, what they are doing is reinforcing a belief that they are in control. This fallacy is reinforced by nearly every institution we have around us.

As thinking creatures, and for those who do take the time to understand emotions, we are able as a people to think beyond the realm of emotions. Once an emotion has been expressed / dealt with / resolved it ceases to be useful and the body and the mind doesn’t bother with it anymore. We are then left with our thoughts. Those thoughts need to then be dealt with / resolved / expressed. The layer of thinking we did initially was in response to an emotion. The next layer is in response to the thought itself. What do I actually think about the thing I was thinking?

It is that next layered level of thinking which enables us to think well, act well and be well. It is also this next layered level of thinking where we are able to do the higher level functioning stuff.

Add to all this, and we have better understanding of the functioning of the brain. This has been possible precisely because we are emotional and thinking creatures. Nearly every action we take has an element of both. Ask someone why they did something, and the most common response is “because I wanted to” or “because I felt like it”. The next level of inquiry normally reveals the thinking process behind the feeling and emotion.

Our understanding of the brain has arisen because of marvels in modern technology enabling us to understand things like energy capacity of the human brain, how neural pathways are formed, the purpose of neurochemicals, and so on. We know these things because our thinking capabilities moved beyond the emotional capabilities. Our emotions will have provided a driver to explore and appreciate something. Our thinking will have taken that initial thought and done more with it.

If we didn’t think, we wouldn’t have advanced as a human race over the last 500 years as radically as we have. When we think, we are better able to:

  • philosophise about the purpose of life
  • create amazing pieces of art
  • create wonderful music
  • develop medical capability
  • construct wonders of engineering
  • travel to the moon and beyond
  • develop new languages that are inspiring new technologies that are creating new problems for us to solve

And, we do remember things. Quite observably and objectively we know this. People can recall facts. They can recount exact conversations. They can think and remember events exactly as they happened. Yes, human memory is extremely fallible and in many cases unreliable, but that doesn’t mean we don’t remember things, or that we don’t think. It means we have to appreciate the impact of emotions on our ability to remember and think clearly. When I remember that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, it is not because I have an emotional reaction to that piece of data. It is because the human brain has the capability to retain facts and we have the ability to recall those facts. That’s not an emotional reaction – it’s a thinking and intellectual capability.

So, Nick, I wonder if this post is a development of your piece, or if it’s evidence that we are emotional creatures, or if I’ve presented something else to consider.

Things to be aware of in L&D’s future



Virtual Reality.

It’s a fascinating technology. There’s so much potential for what it can do. In the main? It’ll remain quite niche, and only the cash rich organisations will be able to afford the investment of making it work.

The hook for L&D – providing actual real life scenarios where people can practise their newly learned skills and receive immediate feedback about actual performance. Not an awkward role play, but a fully interactive scenario.

Pay attention to it for sure.


It won’t be robots or automatons. Not yet. We’re just about producing the tech to meet the sci-fi dream.

It’s mostly going to be code based in some mainframe somewhere. Or rather, mainframes in somewheres. Will it take away jobs? Probably. Will other jobs be created because of it? Probably.

With AI in L&D you can:

  • get rid of all admin processes – hugely inefficient part of the L&D process
  • create a programme to do needs analysis for you, and recommend solutions based on the results
  • take care of all programme and event management
  • pull together business information, financial reports, performance reports, do some magic, and more accurately identify business blockers and barriers than any kind of human intuition

The thing of concern for L&D should be this. If you can create a programme that curates digital learning targeted at specific performance needs, what does that mean for the role of L&D? It’s a way off yet, and it’s not too much of a stretch to believe this could be the case.

It’s on the horizon, folks. It’s not going to make L&D redundant any more so than any other business function – which is to say every business function will fundamentally look different in the next 10 years as this tech becomes more accepted in business operations.

Social Media

Social media is still in its infancy as a technology. In it’s current form (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), we’re only just seeing how these are maturing and what they actually do for human communication. The ubiquity of this technology in daily life is causing much angst and much opportunity. Most organisations are still reluctant to introduce a social network into their organisations to enable open sharing and communication.

We can’t be blind to using social networks in L&D programmes. It’s less about which platforms are the right ones to go with, and more about having a better understanding of what social networks enable as a learning tool. That’s the question to be answered. Once you can answer that, you’ll understand how to design a learning solution where the social network element of it adds value to the learning experience in abundance.

Mixed Reality

For my money, mixed reality has more to offer than virtual reality. Mixed reality is overlaying digital assets on top of actual reality. What does that mean? Imagine wearing a headset as you navigate your way round an actual room / environment of work. The tech then overlays the actual objects with digital assets you can interact with. On the blank wall, you suddenly have a canvas for holding a creativity session with multiple other users. You screenshot as you go along, saving iterations as you go along. The escalator service is broken down and an engineer calls a colleague to help troubleshoot the problem. The colleague accesses the blueprints of the build and digitally enhances the problem at hand via the headset. Together they resolve the issue.

This is going to be seriously fascinating as it develops further, and presents a huge crisis of identity for L&D. If people learn on the job, with no involvement of a learning professional, then what exactly are L&D meant to be supporting that individual with?

Microlearning isnt a thing

I don’t even know what micro-learning is meant to be. Is it meant to describe videos? Is it meant to be a business-friendly term so that people feel they’re making better use of their time and being more productive? Is it meant to be about a quick insight into performance improvement?

Here’s the thing. As an element of a learning solution I get the idea. Give people a tool or a resource or a something to help them do their job better. It doesn’t need a fancy name. It’s not the next silver bullet of learning solution design. If it makes sense to do something responsive with technology then do it. All power to you.

Elearning isnt done with yet

Last week the good people at GoodPractice held an event to share their research that 500 managers believe e-learning has value for performance and learning at work. It’s a surprising insight. Mostly because so many of us are aware of how poorly most e-learning is designed. Actually if you take a company like GoodPractice they produce highly engaging and relevant e-learning content that’s miles better than old click forward approaches.

But it means L&D need to better understand many principles of good e-learning design including: UX, instructional design, action mapping and length of time needed for content consumption.

Data and Analytics

This is going to be huge. Imagine this. You have a workforce of 10,000 people. From your HR system and LMS you can pull off data that tells you things like:

  • Length of service before someone leaves broken down by job level
  • What factors encourage them to stay
  • Optimum time to full productivity
  • The impact of sickness/absence on team performance
  • At what point does a new manager actually benefit from training?
  • What mix of learning solutions actually improve performance for different roles?
  • What mix of learning solutions actually improve knowledge and performance for business needs?
  • What is the right length of a learning solution based on each kind of solution?

That data is presently available. In most cases we don’t yet know how to mine that data, how to collect it, how to analyse it, and make smart business decisions based on it. Those sets of skills aren’t massively present in the development of an L&D professional. Genuinely I wouldn’t know where to begin myself.

Video technology

All social networks have video tech available. It’s become easier to produce videos than ever before. LinkedIn Learning (via technology) have changed the way we think about accessing learning. It’s there, present, accessible and easy to use. Mostly the content is pretty good too. Video Arts have nailed providing highly valuable and humorous learning insights through digital technology.

It’s not just about providing pre-existing content through a platform. It’s about understanding ways in which video can be used to deliver learning solunions in ways you can’t through other means.

Oh, and don’t listen to people who evangelise that video content for learning has to be a certain length. Valuable content will keep people engaged regardless of length. Produce the right content, not the right length of video.

That’s it for now. As ever I’m keen for a debate and discussion to be had about the above.

Kindness isn’t a commodity

Some while ago I remember starting to hear a thing. It was an odd thing. People would tell me, Oh I do like to say thank you or give praise, but it has to be for a special thing. Right, so you have the ability to help someone feel better about themselves and you actively choose not to?

Or they’d say, Oh it takes a lot of effort to praise someone. (They’d go on)… If we only ever praised people, then how do we manage poor performance or address bad behaviour? Hmm. So, you’d rather not praise someone because you don’t want to reduce the need to have to criticise or challenge them at a later date?

Or I hear, kindness comes more naturally to women because they’re the care givers of the human race. (They’d go on)… I can’t be or show kindness because that’s not what a man is meant to do. Oh dear. Such a state of immaturity that anyone who says these things hasn’t realised that kindness is a basic human trait.

Or I hear, Oh that person has only expressed what they did through social media so others can thank them publicly. (They’d go on)… surely an act of kindness is meant to be private? So, I hear this, and it’s a tough one to resolve. First, let’s not judge why others share what they do. Second, why does there need to be such skepticism or cynicism if others share in this way?

Here’s the thing. Kindness isn’t a commodity to be dealt with. You don’t expend your daily allowance by letting someone know they’ve done a good job. Or that they’ve been helpful. Or that they were an awesome human being. Or that they made someone smile. In nearly every situation you give praise or act kindly towards someone, they’ll stop in their tracks and get all embarrassed because someone recognised what they did.

We are in odd times. Kindness to others is seen and argued for like it’s something we have a right to. There are current world leaders who see kindness as weakness. There are harassers and attackers who prey on other people’s kindness.

Religion has taught us for a long time that being kind unto others is a just thing. It’s a holy act. It’s a societal benefit. It binds people together.

I remember after the riots in the UK several years ago. The day after, people got their broomsticks and bandied together to clean up their streets. Because that’s what happens when people experience kindness together, they find a way to be together. Kindness lifts people and offers them such hope.

If you’re of the ilk of person that thinks you can only be kind in moderation, then that’s a rough and tough place to operate from. Where is there joy if it can only be experienced in moderation?

If you’re the kind of person who thinks kindness is a weakness, then how and when do you recognise kindness when it’s offered to you? In all likelihood you do recognise it but choose not to acknowledge it.

If you’re the kind of person who can be kind freely, that’s a gift and a lovely one to share.

If you’re the kind of person who is kind regularly, that’s such a great thing.

Kindness. It isn’t a commodity.

The cognitive element of learning

Psychologists have been researching memory for a long old while, and we have many insights into memory that we never really understood previously, continue to learn more about memory, and understand more about the purpose of memory.

We now know things like how to manipulate memory, how to reinforce it, how to access memories, and how to be better at remembering things. (Hint, it’s not about just reciting facts and figures, although that can work a little.)

Linked to this is an understanding of cognition and the purpose of cognitive behaviour. As a concept, cognition helps us to understand that there is a thinking capacity our brains undertake on a day to day basis. Days of low cognitive load, will be days when you’re not doing things that require much thinking capacity. Days of high cognitive load will be when you’re exercising your thinking capacity in many different ways.

That’s a really rudimentary explanation of cognition.

We also know that high cognitive activity requires more energy of the brain. Once it reaches its peak capacity, is when we start to flag, feel tired, and generally need a break. Sometimes that break can be going for a walk, sometimes it’s needing to eat, sometimes it’s going to sleep. It’s not just basic human functioning, it’s how we operate at our best.

Also linked to all this is understanding the purpose of reflective practice. As a people, we make better sense of information and learning when we are able to discuss the subject matter, when we’ve been thinking about it in our own time, when we’ve been reading related materials, and when we can explore our understanding of that material. That’s actually where learning occurs.

What all this can help us to understand, then, when designing learning solutions is that there’s an imperative to designing solutions which can activate our cognitive capacity to be receptive to learning new things, and there’s a certain point at which there’s just too much being given for people to do anything useful with.

It’s not that we can’t do more cognitive activity, it’s that the activity needs to fundamentally change to allow respite.

There are conclusions I can draw from the above, and I do. What I’m interested in hearing about are your conclusions from what I’ve written here.

(And if there are glaring mistakes I’ve made above, please do point them out.)


It was in my first role and in the early months of 2004. I was part of a training team, and I’d joined them as a Training Officer – somewhere between a coordinator, responsible for delivering some training myself, and supporting the advisors in designing their courses.

After a couple of months of settling in, one of the advisors asked me to deliver part of the course he was facilitating. I think it was on presentation skills. I think I’ve tried to delete the event from my memory as much as I can.

I had one part to deliver. It was about a theory piece. Not more than about 20 mins.

The advisor had done his part and asked me to come up and deliver the next piece.

I sat in the middle of the room. Projector in front of me. People on the course watching me.

I went to introduce the topic I was asked to deliver, and got as far as saying the title when I completely, totally and utterly clammed up.

I had nothing.

No words.

Nerves beyond anything I’d experienced. Blank mind like never before. Frozen with helplessness.

I looked over to the advisor in absolute desperation. My eyes screaming “HELP”.

Thankfully, he immediately stepped in and took over. He was basically my hero.

Why not share your story? (and use the hashtag #MyFirstTimeTraining)

Top tips for being a good social media citizen

  1. Don’t feel you have to respond to every update or post.
  2. Recognise that most people are sharing things that of interest to them.
  3. Try not to evangelize or suggest what people should do.
  4. If you feel you can only respond negatively to someone, first take the time to figure out what’s making you so mad.
  5. If you feel your social media feed isn’t helping your emotional wellbeing, change your feed.
  6. If you are seeing too many posts or updates that have tagged you in, just mute the conversation.
  7. If you can help others, offer it with kindness. Don’t be upset if your offer gets met with rejection.
  8. If you’re using social media to vent and be angry, that’s your choice. Don’t be surprised if people don’t engage with you in a supportive or helpful way.
  9. Build a network that helps you be a better person.
  10. Follow people and read things that fill you with good ideas and hope.
  11. Be careful about judging people on social media. We only ever see one part of a person. We never know what they’re experiencing outside of social media.
  12. Most news stories take time to unfold before we know the full story. Don’t get sucked in by the breaking updates.
  13. Social media can be a really great learning tool. If you’re open to learning through different media, use the tool to help you learn.
  14. There are a lot of posts, blogs, articles, videos and stories shared that are designed to manipulate your thinking. Learn how to cross reference what people say and verify. Don’t just agree because it supports what you think. Are there alternative viewpoints which can bring you balance?
  15. There are a lot of people who try and make arguments to suggest things are either A or B. Life isn’t binary, nor are ideas. Find what works for you.
  16. Social media can be a force for good in cultivating inclusion. The more we do that, the better for everyone.
  17. If you’re arguing with someone on social media, it’s rarely ever going to make you feel better just like arguing with someone in person makes you feel anger.
  18. If you have experienced things before, don’t make out you’re superior to others by letting them know you did things or know things. Empathise and be there for others. That’s much better for them.