70:20:10 – Myth or Legend?

What better way to spend a Saturday morning than enjoying a steaming cup of coffee and lively conversation in good company. Italian roast and talking with Jos Arets of the 70:20:10 Institute triggered a couple of things this past weekend. First; this blog post. Second; Jos’s invitation to join the Institute as an Expert Partner. Needless to say, I’m honored to be part of something I believe in and will attempt to define why in this post by answering the question – Is 70:20:10 a myth or a legend?


The honest answer is simple – Neither myth, nor legend!

Confession time: There is a myth involved…perpetuated by a long-held belief that training drives performance. In truth, training only drives potential; performance does not manifest until business results are generated by the workforce in a different and more dynamic area of the ecosystem called the Point-of-Work.

During my 35+ years in the L&D biz I not only believed this myth, but was an advocate…that is until I ran across the first legend – Joe Harless, and exposed to a course called “Accomplishment Based Curriculum Development”. ABCD ultimately became the foundation for the Human Performance Improvement (HPI) certificate offered by then ASTD. Prior to that iteration it was at the core of “Human Performance Technology”, another course in a different binder offered by Saba Fellow Paul Elliott.

Add in legend number two, Dana Gaines Robinson’s “Performance Consulting: Beyond Training” and I drank deeply of the Kool-Aid and recognized that the discipline of performance consulting was at the core of something that the training paradigm ignored.

Without a shred of doubt I had to own the performance consulting skill set. I read from Geary Rummler, Gloria Geary, Charles Jennings, David Metcalfe, and others. Robinson’s book became a field guide of sorts and paved the way to ultimately becoming a Performance Ninja.

But legendary discoveries did not end there; Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson caught my eye at a conference where I was speaking nearly ten years ago, and…more Kool-Aid. Bob and Con blessed me with the knowledge of their unique framework, the “5 Moments of Need”, clearly defining where the training paradigm had a role, and where it did not. Three of the five moments clearly targeted what had my attention – Point-of-Work.

Convinced there was a disconnect between Point-of-Work and training outcomes, the belief I held so dearly that good training yielded good performance was revealed as the myth it still is today.

While 70:20:10 is not yet a legend, the principles and thought leadership upon which it is founded are of legendary status. That list of names I shared above represent all behind what the 70:20:10 discipline represents – a Performance Paradigm.

70:20:10 is not simply a training methodology.

Prior to my current role, I worked for an organization that treated 70:20:10 in exactly that manner. The results were less than stellar – additional proof that 70:20:10 is NOT a training methodology. If you attempt to wrap 70:20:10 around the axle of the training paradigm myth and integrate the framework as a proven methodology to build training solutions, expect the same results.

Certainly, training is important…always will be…but only most important to the “10”. What about the “70” and the “20”? What about the Point-of-Work? What about sustaining capability within the workforce at Point-of-Work where measurable business outcomes are generated…or not.

The “…or not…” part of that last statement is…at least to me…the kicker. If business outcomes are not being generated, there is something impeding or limiting human performance. What is it? Why is it?

Defaulting to the myth that training drives performance to build a solution is a mistake.

Been there…done that…for 24 of my 35+ years in this business…where I’ve managed to amass an impressive string of failures. Not failures when measuring the production of great training solutions…or teams I’ve led, but failures to the business…failures of not sustaining workforce capability at Point-of-Work consistently.

My foundational paradigm was wrong.

My stakeholders bought into the training myth because that’s what we sold them. We set the expectation that training was the solution. Senior leadership bought into it too. And right there, my friends, you have the crux of what blocks a shift to a different paradigm. Everyone believes the myth…and has believed the myth for so long it can only be solved with innovation.

Too bad the innovations considered are new learning technology and new authoring platforms trying to keep up with a mobilized workforce with micro-learning; gamification to boost engagement; MOOCs, etc. It’s true there are some improvements we see along the way, but we will be hard-pressed to reach a sustainable workforce capability tipping point by continuing to put lipstick on the training pig.

Sorry…had to go there…

70:20:10 is a foundational discipline essential to successfully adopting a performance paradigm where solutions holistically embrace the entirety of a learning performance ecosystem. The paradigm shift from training to performance is not something to take lightly, but it IS something to take seriously.

I also will add to not overlook the urgency to begin the journey to adoption. At the rate technology is changing and rapidly improving ability to effectively address moments of need at Point-of-Work, solutions based on traditional training methods miss the mark – not because of poor quality – but being out of scope for Point-of-Work. Add to that the increasing velocity of business demand and the continuous nature of change, the traditional training paradigm cannot maintain pace.

We [L&D] are faced with a step-change paradigm shift. Do we make the shift to adopt a performance paradigm or do we just order a different color of lipstick?

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