Monday, March 01, 2010

How the Snake Got Its Oil

There's been a flurry of activity this week on the topic of snake oil: First Harold Jarche said: "“As soon as the software vendors and marketers get hold of a good idea, they pretty well destroy it." Jane Hart weighed in with “social learning is being picked up by software vendors and marketers as the next solution-in-a-box, when it’s more of an approach and a cultural mind-set”. And today Jay Cross added to the discussion, using the word "hijack" in terms of both what happened to elearning and, now, what we're seeing with the concept of "informal learning".

I agree with my colleagues but would like to twist the conversation to why the hijacking keeps taking place. Time and time again I see Training/L & D allowing this to happen. When "learning" started happening online, Training/L & D resisted and let elearning be co-opted by vendors and IT departments. Now that "learning" is finally recognized as something that often happens informally and via social connections, Training/L&D is letting "social media" decisions be made by everyone but Training/L & D. Learning is happening everywhere in organizations, but unless it looks like "training", then Training/L &D stands aside and lets it belong to someone else.

Mark Rosenberg has used the metaphor of the railroads: They saw their business taken over by the trucking industry because they defined themselves as being in the railroad business, not the transportation business. And the training department is going to go the way of the railroads if it doesn't start seeing itself as being in the learning business, not the classroom business.

So: I really can't begrudge the vendors for acting when they see a chance, even if they end up peddling a snake-oil version of a better concept. As my work email account signature says: "Opportunities are not lost. They are just taken by others."


Dick Carlson said...

Maybe it's because most of my professional life has involved doing "training" work outside of the traditional "training department" -- but I'm not at all sure this is a bad thing.

Almost every interaction that I have with people in the HR chain ends badly. They don't like me, I don't like them. They're focused on endless procedures, processes and measurements that they've used for years. I'm focused on the business drivers of the problem at hand -- and I'm not very fussy about exactly what steps I follow as long as I can provide success metrics that match what was asked for.

I'm also not very interested in people with an OD or HR background giving me endless "feedback" on the training I've developed, what system I used, or which tool(s) I employed to get there. They often criticize me for providing materials that are minimal, don't have lots of "Instructor Notes", and assume that if you're teaching this you have basic skills.

Sometimes the reason that people buy Snake Oil is that they don't want to be talked down to by Experts, and (as training developers) I think a lot of us want to talk more about the process than what the client needs.

Judge me by my results. And if I'm not talking about your pain points, your business drivers, and a clear assessment plan -- you'd probably be better off ordering a large barrel of Snake Oil.

BunchberryFern said...

What he said.

One of the reasons I'm so suspicious of all the 80% figures and similar is that 80% of my work (do you see what I did there?) is 'training' but commissioned by somebody other than the HR department.

Always, but *always*, I ask to see the HR department or the Learning and Development Director at the scoping stage, for professional courtesy if nothing else.

And, 9 - er, sorry 8 - times out of 10 this request is deflected. The money comes from marketing, or business development or the classic 'slippage' fund. Hey presto! The L & D programme becomes a skunk works.

Organisations are left with a difficult choice - let 'learning' be owned by the gatekeepers in HR and Training or owned by the vendors. At least you can get rid of the vendors when they stop giving you free gifts.

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jay said...

Jane, I'm drafting the next version of Working Smarter. May I reproduce this post. Of course, I'll name you as the source.


Jane Bozarth said...

Of course! And thanks! jb