Straw man arguments in L&D

A short post today. One of the things that really rile me up is when L&Ders themselves present straw man arguments about L&D theories / models when they haven’t taken the time to understand the original piece properly.

It happens in political rhetoric aplenty. Governing party suggests policy x, opposition party tries to ridicule it by claiming some absurd extreme. It’s tiresome and frankly annoying. Which is kind of meant to be the point by the person presenting the straw man argument. It’s not meant to invite dialogue or better thinking, it’s designed to lull the presenter into a position of defence. How very tiresome.

You’ve heard the kinds of arguments people make:

  • “You don’t see children being taught how to learn to walk, they try, fall down and get up again” – complete misunderstanding of the huge influence of observation and mirroring actions.
  • “You wouldn’t want someone to start coaching when you’re evacuating a burning building!” – complete misunderstanding of when coaching is of benefit and when it is not.
  • “You can’t learn MS Excel through social learning!” – complete misunderstanding that social learning isn’t about delivery of a learning solution.
  • “You can’t teach leadership through e-learning!” – complete misunderstanding for when e-learning is the right tool.
  • “Who uses an LMS?!” – well actually most organisations, but most don’t have it or use it for the right reasons (there are good reasons, honest!)

Amusingly, you see presenters sometimes use straw man arguments in defence of their own content. If the best form of persuasion you can find in presenting your model / theory / topic is to present a false rhetoric, it’s either a weak piece of content or you don’t understand it well enough yourself.

It’s easy to throw poo at things that challenge us and force us to think differently. It happens in daily life a lot with topics around sexism, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health and disabilities being the most common that people struggle with. In L&D we’re dealing mostly* with topics that are helpful to people when presented in the right way. (*some topics should never see the light of day because they’re not worth anything). If we want people to be better, we have to know how to respond to challenge well. Straw man arguments aren’t the answer.

 

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Does the L&D world really need another programme?

For those of you who’ve been following my recent activity, you’ll know that I’ve launched a programme called Modern Learning Leader. I wrote a recent post on how I got to making the event happen. The webinars start on Monday, and the Slack channel is being used. So far, it’s progressing as I thought it might.

I’ve been sharing the links, and the Eventbrite page quite openly on Twitter and on LinkedIn. As I’ve been doing that, one thing I’ve been really aware of is that this is another product / course / programme in the packed world of L&D. It’s not intended to be, but it is there.

And what I’m trying to be careful of is how I’m helping people know it’s available. It’s a modern way of looking at learning design. It’s a template for designing learning solutions using a complete range of tools at our disposal. What do I mean when I say this? I mean:

  • Ahead of the first webinar on the Human Condition, Phil Willcox has recorded a video to set people up, so that the webinar can be used to explore the topic further. He’s also getting people to do some reflective practise.
  • Martin Couzins is involved in presenting the webinar on Social Learning Technologies. He’s asking questions through Slack to help gain an understanding of people’s current knowledge base so he knows how to make his webinar more relevant for their needs.
  • The Slack channel is starting to cultivate discussion amongst the people on the programme so that they can start to do their own sense making at their pace.
  • I’m using Slack to provide updates of the programme.
  • I bought people books from a menu of options and they’re starting to share their insights with each other from their current reading, as well as other reading they’re doing.

I’ve designed the programme to be a meta-learning programme. As people experience the programme, they experience what it means to be a modern learning leader. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and have designed it so that the structure is present, and in and around the structure we create the space we need for it to be an effective programme.

I’m not intending for it to be the only way this kind of programme to be designed or delivered. Most certainly this is just one big experiment. What I’m banking on, though, is that in the doing and making it happen, I’m demonstrating how possible it is to do the many things we advocate for in this space. And, I’m using blogging to openly share that practise and my insights as I have them – because if I can do it as I’m describing, then anyone can.

I’m not entirely sure I’ll do another one. It takes a lot of personal time and energy to make these things happen. I’m really pleased with how this is taking shape and how it’s unfolding as time goes on. But once the two day workshop is done, and we’ve all learned valuable lessons together, I may not choose to do it again. Learning in progress.

If you’re an L&D vendor / supplier / consultant / practitioner in this space and want to discuss more, I’m more than happy to do that. As I’ve said time and again, this is just one way to approach designing learning solutions that are modern.

The Big Questions

Sometimes on a weekday morning I watch The Big Questions on BBC One (when I’m at home you understand). It can be good viewing. If you’re not familiar, they talk about topical subjects, bringing in people of very different opinions into the audience and basically let them have it. It’s daytime TV so it’s mostly civil too.

And a while back, David D’Souza posted his questions. So here’s mine.

1. It’s a grey and miserable day, so how do I feel better about myself? 

2. Recruitment practises still don’t feel as modern as they need to be. Will we ever get it right?

3. L&D can get lost inside their solutions forgetting the business outcomes. How do we correct that?

4. Wellbeing isn’t talked about well enough. How are we going to improve physical, mental and financial health?

5. I’m still reeling from the terror attacks in the UK. How are you?

6. Do we still need Unions in this day and age? Surely modern work practices, employment law and social technologies have made them all but redundant?

7. If you’re a Tory how do you square morally ambiguous votes in favour of party politics?

8. If you’re a Labour voter, how do you explain Corbyn?

9. Gender expression has become a really complicated issue. How well do you understand it?

10. Gender politics is now more rife than we’ve ever known it to be. How are you doing with treading those lines?

11. Take a look around you. Are we as cowed and scared as Hopkins tells us we are?

12. Do you watch Paul Joseph Watson’s videos? What do you make of them?

13. Who do you turn to for emotional support if you don’t have a loved one by your side?

14. If you have children, what’s the most recent good memory you have with each other?

15. When was the last time you looked at your family history?

16. What does religion mean to you?

17. What does death mean to you? (HT Michelle Parry-Slater for that question)

18. There’s this whole alt-right thing going on. Do you agree with some of what they share?

19. Which journalist writes and shares good news?

20. What will you do today to uplift yourself?

Disruption of Thinking

It’s just relentless at the minute isn’t it? One thing after the other. I think it all started in 2016 when we heard David Bowie died. It just didn’t stop from that point on.

It wasn’t just the sad news which kept coming. It was also the shockwaves we didn’t know how to deal with and were reluctant to believe could be reality.

Then reality bit. And bit again. And like a zombie gnawing away at your live flesh, it kept on biting.

My thinking has been disrupted so many times. Just when I think I’ve caught my breath and ready to steady the ship, another thing bites.

And I think back to times previous. When things were calmer. There was hope. The Olympics in London. Obama becoming President. Life was seemingly on our side and heading towards the progressive and positive future.

And I’m thinking on Julie’s writing from yesterday about resilience. My resilience has been tested for sure. Many of us feel that. But maybe we got too comfortable?

I’ve learned not to offer or think about silver bullets. Life doesn’t allow for that. Instead I find it more helpful to consider what I want the future to be. Build. Resolve. Progress. Advance. These are the things that make us proud to be humans.

I’ve also learned that when shocking things happen, I can rely on certain characters, whose names rhyme with Garage, Shopkins and Matson, to show me people actively perceive things very differently in life. I don’t share their stuff. They write and create videos and talk on TV to shock to create division and to foster hate. I don’t need to amplify that to others in my life. But I do read and listen to their stuff. It shakes me to my core. Not because I’m a snowflake liberal, but because I can see how their rhetoric impacts on others. 

I’m aware and I’m alert. Life in 2017 in the UK has fundamentally changed, I believe. We’re still reeling from recent terror attacks and tragedy of Grenfell Tower. These things affect us more than we realise because they become focal points of discussion, policy and decision making at the highest levels. We hardly ever see actions immediately after such events because people need to reflect, think, and determine a course of action to (hopefully) prevent these things from being reality further.

There’s no right and wrongs about being disrupted. We’re wisened enough in modern society to know that there are things you can do to be resilient. Eating well. Sleeping well. Healthy relationships. Financial stability. Physical and mental health. Philanthropy and charitable activity. Structurally we’re also far more ready for such things than we ever have been. Emergency teams doing drills. Response units controlling an event 8 minutes after being alerted. Departments investigating threats and acting in our interests. 

Be disrupted, friends. Recognise that things are in such a state of flux, we’re unlikely to know what stability looks like when it arrives. Our future generation may well look back at this time and examine and analyse the happenings of today. They’re likely to see examples of immense violence and horrors that (hu)man(s) can do. And they’re likely to see the best in people with such kindness and heart that you can only hope we all live a better tomorrow.

Design and bias

I remember about 10 years ago delivering training on interview skills for recruitment. A major part of the training was helping people to understand there may be potential to discriminate based on protected characteristics such as gender, race, disability, etc. Thinking back on it, we never talked about our biases, because we really didn’t know how to articulate them in a useful way, or even that they were a thing.

Well, we thought we knew. Except we didn’t.

I’m not going to go into how it impacts on business to get this stuff right, or even trying to explain the many different types of bias we face. Instead I want to approach this from a perspective of design and process.

And also, importantly, what we need to keep reminding ourselves is that we can’t eliminate bias. That’s not a thing that can happen. Humans are geared up to be biased in pretty much every activity they do. Our thinking, life choices, work, relationships, upbringing, society, community, all influence who we are and they are laden full of bias.

If that’s true (and it is), I think the question becomes:

How do we design a system/process so that we reduce the potential of bias influencing our decision making?

This is where I think our traditional skills and knowledge in L&D / HR fall short. We’re so equipped to design processes and procedures and policies that protect and enable organisations in different ways that an important element is being able to design those same things to support good decision making and reduces bias in the process.

To help with this here are some aspects of design thinking which I think we can pick up.

What other fields / industries have introduced systems and processes where good decision making happens and there’s a reduction in influence of bias? e.g. Uber 

What in the current process / system means that we’re inadvertently causing bias to be a decision making enabler? e.g. some companies have decided to do name blind job applications so that we’re not directly influenced if we think a name is more Western sounding or male or other.

How have we reinforced the recognition of bias in our learning programmes so that people develop a better understanding of the influence of bias on decision making?

If a group has to make a decision that impacts on people, how are they ensuring that one group isn’t negatively affected due to unexpected bias in the group? e.g. we know that where panels are homogenous it’s difficult to influence that group in healthy ways without ‘rocking the boat’.

This whole piece is interesting to me because there are too many ways in day to day life where we can make decisions in organisations that are influenced by bias. And don’t forget, most of those decisions we make are nothing to do with self-protection, they’re mostly about organisational performance.

Unrealistic expecations of the modern L&D and HR pro

There is a thing I am noticing in HR and L&D circles. It’s a tough one to nail or to highlight in a helpful way. And I’m not pointing fingers – and trying very hard not to as well.

But there’s a thing. A credibility problem which I’ve been attuned to for a while now, and it concerns me.

See, as more and more people start to use social media and social networks in a professional capacity, and are seeking to gain knowledge from lots of different quarters, what we are inadvertently doing is creating unrealistic expectations of what we want and expect people to be capable of.

Job ads are becoming an endless list of knowledge base and skills and experience which is practically impossible to fulfil – unless you’ve had an incredibly dynamic and varied career, and if you’ve had the high fortune of quality mentorship and coaching, and you’re in an organisation where you can accomplish 30 completely distinct and separate activities all within 8 months.

This isn’t a stab at any recruitment oversights, it’s more of a comment about unrealistic expectations and unclear expectations. It seems recruiters and hiring managers are seeing buzzwords aplenty, theories and models galore, have demanding expectations, and want everything packaged neatly in that one diamond in the rough.

This is more of a look at where that might have come from in the social circles we all inhabit. Just a cursory look at my different timelines today and there are articles written about:

  • evidence based management approaches
  • emotional intelligence
  • communities of practice
  • social learning practices
  • innovation at work
  • HR apps and apps and apps
  • better recruitment practice using digital means
  • employee engagement
  • workplace benefits
  • leadership

Which are all good topics to be reading about and learning about.

Except it also builds an unrealistic expectation amongst practitioners that they must know about these things (and so much more). Not only that practitioners must know about these things but they should also be seeking ways to include these plethora of things in their work practise and if you don’t, you’re somehow not worthy.

The challenge, of course, is that these things are done by and fulfilled by different people fulfilling different roles. As it should be. It is too difficult being a jack of all trades, master of quite a few, and having generalist knowledge of a lot of others – the expert-generalist may be the new normal for many, but it’s not the normal for the mainstream.

And as with many of my blog posts that I write, I often end up exploring as I’m writing. And what I’m reflecting at the moment is that we need to give more considered and purposeful thought to what roles we think we’re asking people to fulfil, having realistic expectations of what that entails, and not expecting it all to be fulfilled by one person.

Wasn’t that always the case?

Thoughts and stuff from #ldcu17

It’s been a week now since the L&D Connect unconference in London and as is my want, a good point to think about how the day went and why we do them.

Primarily, the unconference format allows for people to co-create an agenda and drive their own learning in a way which isn’t normally done. There’s something about asking people to come along to a day of open learning and just watching how it unfolds.

The normal conference structure means people are very used to attending a day of talks, meeting some people, if you’re lucky meeting some people you actually want to stay in touch with, and going home with a head full of content. What you’re normally left wanting, though, is a way to make sense of that content. We don’t normally build in reflective practice into a conference session – and a word of caution, reflective practice isn’t a proxy for action planning. For a helpful read on what reflective practice allows for, read this piece by Craig Kaye.

An unconference almost takes things to the other extreme – it’s main focus is the conversation that is encouraged. That can be a bit too open and uncomfortable for people and may not always feel as if the conversation is relevant to your needs. It can also feel like you can’t dictate or bring the conversation back to where you’d like it to be. So there are pros and cons to both the formats.

With L&D Connect, we persist with the unconference format, I believe, because it’s a useful barometer for L&D professionals. How do you know what success looks like if you’re only measure of success is amongst other like-minded professionals? One of the strengths of the unconference is that it’s inclusive by design – anyone can attend because everyone has a valid point of view. That’s a tough one to square for yourself if you have certain beliefs about internal vs external practitioners, or about seniority of people, or about diversity of groups. I personally thrive on that. Complacency sets in when we create such a comfort zone that we fool ourselves into believing we’re at the cutting edge. (I don’t even know what cutting edge L&D could look like – sometimes I think we just need to do the basics better).

The weekly #ldinsight chat (Friday’s 8am UK time) and it’s current sister chat #ldnights¬†(Tuesday’s 8pm UK time)¬†continues to provide a forum for practitioners to come together online and discuss topics of interest. Of course, Twitter chats have been around for an age, and other chats such as #lrnchat continue to be regular stalwarts too. These online chats are nearly always respectful, helpful and people take part from all walks of L&D life (and sometimes non too!). The format of the chat of exploring one question and allowing people to go where they need with it is a useful one too.

As with most communities, there can sometimes be unintended consequences. There’s a perception there’s a ‘cool’ group you ‘should’ be ‘in the know’ with or ‘talking to’. There’s a perception there are ‘cliques’ and ‘in-jokes’ which can inadvertently exclude some from joining in. There’s a perception there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way to take part in the chats. I personally wonder if we’re doing enough to encourage voices we don’t normally hear. How do we remain truly inclusive if we’re blind to how we might not be?

There aren’t easy answers to those questions, and we should take our time to reflect on them too. We’re a microcosm of how life is outside of our bubble, and if we want things to be in a certain direction / with a certain ethos / with certain values we have to show up and do those things ourselves.

I was really pleased to see and experience such a good stretch of diversity at the unconference too. We had two gents travel in from Milan specifically for the event, and that’s pretty impressive! That diversity was in terms of the people there and the different cultures / groups they were part of, as well as professional diversity too in terms of job roles and experience.

There is something also very safe about the unconference format. It’s an environment of exploration and of being comfortable with non-normal practices. People are invited to meet others and spend time getting to know each other. We connect more and beyond than just cursory introductions. We get to explore thoughts, processes, and beliefs. That can be done personally, with others, or not at all. The self-directed nature of the event means people take ownership of how they take part in the day and when they are ready to stop too.

And I was really glad how we gave an hour at the end of the day just for reflective practice. Just taking time to reflect. To think. To allow things to settle. To discuss with others. Experiencing a day like an unconference (be you seasoned or not) means there is often a lot going on in the day and it suits our natural learning processes to have dedicated time to reflect.

On a personal note, I struggled with the day. It was the day after the Manchester attack and I was shook. With the support of the team that helped make the day happen, the day went ahead and I’m really pleased with how it unfolded. We held a minute silence at the beginning of the day, and I appreciate that we did that. When I got home that night I was full of such a range of emotions. Sheer sadness with what happened the night before. Joy with how the unconference happened. Pride with the community and what we’ve created. Calm at seeing my family safe at the end of the day.

And we move on. There are already discussions about what else can happen in and for the community. There is already an unconference planned to happen in the Netherlands this year (I know!). It feels like we’ve become a community for L&D practitioners and professionals who have started with a small group in 2012 and now growing into something more and beyond in 2017. That’s quite something.