The Least and the Lazy

Note – This series of blogposts are reflections I’m writing in the Executive Chief Learning Officer certification program I’m in at George Mason University. We are the initial participants. Stay tuned for final analysis of the program in June 2016.

The Least and the Lazy

Our organization delves into many different forward leaning learning and development approaches and over the years I’ve been “pulled” into many of the technology-based endeavors (e.g. learning management systems, games, game portal, virtual worlds, all things mobile, and a funky three screen presentation tool someone thought faculty would cart around on the airplane with them as they flew around training people). Clark Quinn is aware of a few of these because he’s partnered with DAU in the past and he actually consulted with me on our enterprise mobile learning strategy – after I read his book on the topic. His new book doesn’t disappoint.

The “Least Assistance Principle” struck me. It isn’t a new concept in the design world, but does a better job of describing how we need to think in applying it to performance and development. Most of us know that it’s the pursuit of elegance in design that requires us to simplify and remove until what remains is just enough to convey the desired experience or idea. Yet, we often don’t apply the same principles to many of our learning products. We are masters at defaulting to some of the costly, time consuming, and hardest to maintain solutions (e.g. self-paced online 40 hour courses) for needs that could have been met with a few focused Youtube video tutorials, a news announcement on a website, and perhaps a simple job aid checklist. In our case we do so because we know the process, templates, checklists, and system requirements required to create and deliver the product. We’ve mastered the difficult, but haven’t engaged in defining the same for the easy or elegant.

Tied into this principle is the idea of the “lazy evaluation” derived from a computer science term (e.g. “if you have a statement X or Y, and you already have evaluated X and find it to be true, you don’t need to evaluate Y, since either is sufficient.”). Clark compares this to the front end effort we can make prior to determining a solution – indicating that if a resource already exists you shouldn’t create another one. The obvious concept of re-use, but with a spin that I may use to convey the concept at my organization. When I used to manage the development and delivery of our online continuous learning modules (3-4 hour self-paced online training), I would often point out the irony that we offered almost 10 modules related to six sigma, lean processes, performance improvement, etc. Once in a while someone laughed instead of giving me a blank stare.

A few weeks ago our DAU President cancelled a major program – a student information system. It had significant delays and other issues. He did the right thing, but this of course causes a ripple effect. It impacts three contracts I manage and the new LMS procurement we were going to begin. After reading these chapters, I’m re-invigorated as I email the leadership and request a series of meetings to re-visit our approach to implementing a new learning ecosystem. We aren’t all on the same page and it is an important time to get there. We do have all the elements already (e.g. classroom courses, online courses, learning management systems, games, mobile, social tools, CoPs, knowledge management databases, etc.), but not an elegant user-experience across all of these pieces and parts. Now is the time for the difficult conversations and choices. It’s part of my job to instigate these conversations toward ensuring we put the right infrastructure in place. I need to call up Clark Quinn again to help me put some of these strategies into action. That’s something I am getting better at – pulling in people to help from anywhere and everywhere if they can do something better than I can and with more credibility. CLOs will have to have that as a primary skillset in this world of constant change.

P.S. Side note – I’m in a email train this week with Clark Quinn since we want to interview him for a podcast we are putting on. He sent these links of prior interviews and figured I’d share here. Not sure why the embedded videos aren’t displaying, but the links are good. Also, we haven’t talked about Google Hangouts much yet, but he’s in one in the 2nd link. I’ve found that to be a useful collaborative tool at times.

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