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Dog wags tail, not vice-versa
Friday, August 20, 2004
The human brain is a trickster. It takes in a gusher of visual, auditory, and sensory input, throws 99.99% of it away without our knowing it, and presents us with a coherent picture of the world. The pre-conscious brain chooses the slides in the show we see. It even gives us the illusion that we're in control.

Brain wave studies show that consciousness lags reality (and then covers its tracks).. Your pre-conscious mind is a lot closer to "now" than you are. The brain decides to hold up your right arm--and you think it's something you thought up. Hah!

We can only see what we know. People accustomed to medieval paintings couldn't appreciate the perspective of Rennaissance painters. Caribbean natives couldn't see the ships of Columbus until perceptive medicine men told them what to look for. Consciousness is low-bandwidth; being oblivious to things we don't recognize is a survival strategy.

This train of thought was leaking into my consciousness as I read through the agendas of the five conferences I'll be attending in the upcoming months. From the topics, you'd think that the only thing that trainers see is training.


Despite my fanning the flames for the last year, the training community is taking a wait-and-see attitude about what I've been calling workflow learning. Some say they'll get to it when the time is ripe. Or when the powers that be express interest in the future beyond getting through the next month.

There's a flaw in this logic. The trickster brain has you thinking you have a choice. Listen up: a new way of computing is on the way. It's web services-based, decentralized, rich-client, Internet logic, interoperable, process-driven, individualized, real-time, pervasive, and absolutely inevitable.

The new framework will be everywhere within five years. Early adopters are taking advantage of it now. It's compelling because it routes around IT and hands the management of business processes back to business people. It does this by overlaying what's already in place instead of replacing it. You can implement it on a pay-as-you-go basis. In time, tapping into real-time process management will be as necessary as having a phone or a website today.

What do senior executives expect from training professionals in all this? Nothing. Why? Because training is not driving this decision. The new computing, what IBM calls "On Demand," is on the way because it clears bottlenecks, cuts costs, empowers workers, speeds things up, reduces IT busywork, future-proofs applications, plugs into a universal value network, facilitates process outsourcing, puts managers in charge of improving business processes, and lets the organization focus on its core strengths.

It's difficult to understate how little say-so the training function is going to have in choosing the new approach to conducting business.


Training is but a grain of sand in a very large desert.


Resisting the future is futile. The world grows more complex by the hour, and a return to basics is not going to simplify it. No one's asking us to make the major structural decisions. Our function is to help people do their jobs well. Our challenge is to figure out how to leverage change, not resist it, for change will happen with us or without.

This is akin to VCRs in classrooms. Every teacher has access to one. Because of sound pedagogy? Because of a study at Columbia? Because we wanted no child left behind? No, no, and of course not. VCRs became plentiful because millions of adults purchased them to watch pornographic movies, and economics of scale brought the price down from tens of thousands of dollars to less than a hundred. The new computing will proliferate because it makes good business sense.

What the Workflow Institute has been calling workflow learning is no more than the optimal way to improve worker performance in the new environment. It's up to us to make it relevant, timely, easy to access, and enjoyable to use.

Workflow learning is not the right term for this, but it's the best I've come up with. Workflow has the baggage of document handling; we're more focused on the progress through the value chain. Learning calls up images of courses and class, but we foresee more focus on small bites, collaboration, reference look-up, and imbedded support.

We're not convening the Workflow Learning Symposium in San Francisco to sell our vision of the future. Rather, we hope to engage you in a dialog about the new technology and how to take advantage of it to improve individual and organizational performance. Maybe we'll even come up with a new name for workflow learning.

3 Comments:

Blogger Harold Jarche said...

I think that HPT addresses some, perhaps not all, of what you talking about. It's at least more business-oriented than training is. One of the most comprehensive explanations of HPT was made by James Hite (Learning in Chaos, 1999, Gulf Pub. Houston TX):

“The concept of Human Performance Technology (HPT) offers an amalgamation of the disciplines which concerns itself with organizational behavior as a whole. This means that human performance is placed in context along with other subsystems that constitute the presence of the organization. From the viewpoint of performance technology, the worthiness of the system as a whole depends not only on human learning, but also on the ways in which that factor is inter-related with electronic knowledge management systems, compensation systems, production systems, and management systems. The value and sustainability of the system is dependent on close interactions among all of the elements in its value chain.”

What I find key in Hite's description is that HPT is about more than learning. It addresses the entire performance system, not just individual learning.

5:42 AM  
Blogger Bob Schaefer said...

Perception by the human brain is a fascinating study. As Jay states, the mind always rushes to fill in the missing lines, the incomplete phrases and incomplete pictures. I've learned a few magic tricks just to play with the minds perception.
Training departments also don't want to admit that 80% of the learning takes place outside the formal events.
If you have a chance, find a see the business movie called, "Brain Power" a great visual about perception and how to get the most out of a meeting.
Maybe the trick to get WorkFlow Learning more visible is to give it multiple titles - and still point back to business results through better workflow.

2:06 PM  
Blogger dispatx said...

"We can only see what we know" ... not sure about this. c.f notion of Gibsonian Affordances, the idea that we automatically know what uses a given item affords ... is this right? Is it true that what we know truly bounds us?

1:33 AM  

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