Now That Is One Ugly Baby…

Those are words a parent never wants to hear. After enduring sixteen hours of labor, my wife delivered our son, and due to general anesthesia from an emergency C-section, I was the first of us to see him. I can only imagine what the doctor and nurses must have thought, because he was one ugly baby. I’m talking pointed head, swollen lips and distorted face from being the proverbial marshmallow being forced unsuccessfully through a keyhole for over 16-hours. But this book is not about babies. It is about training. And in the course of what you read here I just might refer to training as the “ugly baby”; however, not so much at the course-level, but at the level of our intentions for the role that “baby” plays in giving back to the organization later in the span of its life.

NOTE: Yes, this piece is the first of what I hope to be many steps toward writing a book. The rest of what follows kind of feels like a Foreword or some sort of Intro. Not sure…I’m just writing it down as it comes to me, and it appears that there is some urgency behind wherever the words are coming from. Hope you enjoy the journey.

Methinks I need to set the record straight right up front; I am not anti-training – I have been in the business too long to go there. BUT…I am enflamed about training methodology. Before training purists blow a gasket, I must add that that statement does not mean I despise the use of methods like ADDIE-based instructional design, or discount the impact of exotic animations and learner interactions that sizzle in Flash. The noise I am choosing to make is about the limited scope and the narrow charter of many training organizations. To go back to the metaphor, this is not as much about the baby as it is about the crib.

It’s not about the training we do so well, it’s about the limits of the venue in which our excellence shines. My hope is that the multiple premises I describe later will become evident to you as you read this story about how training can and should evolve from the current paradigm [circa 2012] and into the perfect hole.

At this point, that statement may sound a bit bizarre to you, so hang in there; invest a little more time with me to see where this goes. As a hint, I will share with you that the “perfect hole” is also a metaphor – one referring to an outcome – an outcome of tangible business value generated by flawless human performance.

Remember the Seinfeld episode about that newborn baby you never really saw, but you knew what was implied by the reactions of those who actually laid eyes on it? In particular, I recall Elaine and Jerry screwing up their faces in shock, and then Kramer doing that split-second spastic thing he always did. The parents were blind to it, in fact, they even boasted about how beautiful the baby was. This prompts me to put forth a question – “Can a group of people be blinded to potential by an existing paradigm?”

Can a training organization be so enamored by their output that they cannot see a larger learning environment? Make that a learning environment that is outside of the domain of the “crib” – the classroom and/or on-line venues where blended solutions are combined. This book is about how to recognize, size, and overcome that blind spot and consider just how “ugly” a training solution is when no provision has been built into the design to extend its life into an environment where it can pay dividends measured in tangible business value.

If the only evidence our training organization can offer as successful business contribution is justification based on volume of activity, then having budgets whacked are a justifiable reward for that effort. Volume of activity is all you can honestly measure if your primary domain is limited to formal learning venues. If Training does not have an active presence downstream in the post-training work context, there is no hope of defining impact with any level of confidence. If senior leadership has a low level of confidence in their return on investment into expensive training resources, those resources tend to be the first to hit the chopping block when precious dollars are needed to feed another facet of the business that can demonstrate evidence of return.

Unfortunately, butts-in-seats and the number of hours and courses delivered throughout the year only provide evidence of how busy Training has been. Being busy does not correlate to tangible business impact, nor does it correlate to the creation of value. Certainly I am not blind to the fact that outstanding training can make a meaningful contribution to performance, but drawing a hard line that ties training’s impact to hard dollar performance is often a subjective exercise at best.

Okay, I need to slow down or this will become a rant way too early. After all, you do not know me or anything about my story. Sorry, I can easily get distracted and head down a bunny trail on a rant before I can hear the echoes of my words. Knowing that upfront gives you some insight that I am cursed with a head full of ideas fighting to get out all at once, and as hard as I try to maintain a sense of decorum, the passion I have for learning can overwhelm the helmsman in my head at times.

Hopefully, this story will be entertaining as well as helpful. I have been writing for years, but never have I attempted to tackle something this large – at least all at once. “Living in Learning” is the name of the blog I started in June 2009, and as I sifted through 62 posts, I realized I actually had written the equivalent of at least one book and a good portion of another. The closer I looked at the individual posts, I realized that I was telling a story of my life living, failing, enduring, ducking, scoring, and surviving in the corporate learning world.

So this book is an exercise of trimming, tweaking, spackling, and polishing three years of blogging effort into the story that lay broken into so many pieces on the floor of my blog. I will not go back thirty-plus years to the first training gig I ever experienced – now that was one ugly baby, but I will attempt to share experiences that provide a roadmap of sorts that may help you to avoid the same mistakes, and possibly even leverage some of the tactics that saved my bacon more than once and made a survival a reality.

My motivation? I recently finished a book by Mark Batterson called “The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears”. I have flirted with writing a book for years, and during that time have been terrified of the commitment it would take to pull it off, especially, by stepping off the edge and making a public statement that I am going to go down that road. I do, however, think it is time to take the leap. After reading Mark’s book, I am feeling it.

In his book, Mark shared many things that resonated with me, but there was one in particular. Him being a successful author, he often talked with people who asked for advice about becoming an author. Often the questions would be about how to navigate through the publishing nightmare. His advice directed them to answer another question first – “Are you called to write?” I get the sense that I am not only being called to write, I am being led. Another thought he shared. “Work like your life depends upon it, and pray like it depends on God.” Who am I to question Divine motivation?

So here I am. I hope the story of living in learning will put a smile on your face and tools in your toolbox and encourage you to encourage and enable the performers on your teams to dig the perfect hole.

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning