L&D: Hungry Dogs Are Motivated

Note: The late Claude (Butch) Lineberry (1940-2003) was a fixture at NSPI/ISPI and I valued the lessons I learned … a lot from sitting in his conference presentations – and even more from his participation in the deep debates with other ISPI thought leaders at the hotel bar in the evenings. Ah, the old days. 

Something on Social Media yesterday about the media used in Learning triggered my memory of a quote from Butch – about a Hungry Dog. It seems we – in my SM circles anyway – are and/or have clients – who are not as hungry for learning in any mode/media nowadays. But I’m pretty damn sure that’s not a universal truth. 

This morning I dug through my files for this contribution from him in 2000 which I happily share with you today…


The Medium is the Massage…Not the Message

Claude S. Lineberry


My problem, dear reader, is that having lived to within hailing distance of three score years on this planet, I seem to have lived too long. I can’t remember PIN numbers — any of them — so I have them written down on a card in my wallet, labeled “PIN numbers.” Making a call from a pay phone (they are still called pay phones, aren’t they?) has become impossibly complex, requiring the punching in of hundreds of digits that I have been no more successful at memorizing than my PIN numbers. Don’t even let me get started on e-mail, which everyone assumes I check every 83 seconds when in reality I only check it on Memorial Day and Labor Day, and then only with expert assistance from my 8-year-old son.

I am appalled at what people wear to the theater, and at their arriving late, and talking on cellular phones, and eating fat-free corn chips during the performance. I am nauseated at the salaries paid to 19-year-old professional athletes and 55-year-old CEOs, especially when compared to what we pay the 27 remaining truly excellent public school teachers in this country.

Someone ruined The New Yorker magazine while I was attempting to make a telephone call, and “customer service representatives” and “waitpersons” who are younger than my tweed jacket and whom I have never met call me by my first name. (“Well, you could do that Claude, but I don’t think coming down here and ripping the manager’s head off will help us with our problem, do you?”).

But enough about me! I catalog these tribulations only as context to what I’m about to say about us. ISPI. You. Me. Them, standing over there looking mildly interested. Having observed the evolution of human performance technology over the last 32 years while simultaneously continuing to observe the broader culture of which our technology is a small but promising component, I find myself, alas, no wiser. Only older and more confused.

I have reached one solid conclusion out of it all, however. Marshall McLuhan was wrong. The medium is not the message. Never was. Never will be. The message is the message. The medium is the massage. We seem, within our little community and within the world at large, to fail to understand this most basic concept and to confuse one for the other.

A global example. The recent death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a traffic accident in Paris and the attendant public reaction to it which seemed, to me, unreasonable to the point of mass hysteria. Millions of people who had never met Diana, never laid eyes on her except in the print and broadcast media, never contributed to her charities, and in fact knew less about her than they do about the migratory route of the wildebeest were suddenly beside themselves with grief! A lynch mob was sanctioned in Paris, beatification seriously discussed, visions appeared, and within hours of her unfortunate demise, a half dozen “condolence” web sites were up and running!

To what was this emotional reaction; the death of Diana the person, or the death of Diana the cultural icon, created by the media and Diana over the last 15 years? To the message or the massage. I would suggest that it was to the latter, not to the real loss of Diana the person we didn’t know, but to the imagined loss of Diana the media creation, something that was never really there.

What, you rightfully ask, does this predictably pragmatic view have to do with ISPI? At last year’s Annual Conference in Anaheim, I attended a session on the future of performance technology featuring Dale Brethower, Don Tosti, and Danny Langdon — arguably two and a half or three of the best minds in the field, representing a wonderful mix of logic, thoughtfulness, tough-mindedness, vision, and humor. It was a marvelous session — delightfully disorganized, energetic, insightful, provocative, and challenging. The discussion and questions from the audience that followed brought even more richness, and I left it with some new ideas and things to think about.

Imagine my shock and subsequent horror upon overhearing several members of the session’s audience conducting a hallway critique in terms of the presenters’ overhead transparencies (“I can’t believe they didn’t use Powerpoint!”), their style (“Not one repeated the audience question, so I couldn’t understand the answer!”), and their handouts (“Only one had handouts, and they aren’t very slick-looking!”). I paused to inquire gently as to any relevance or value of the content of the session — you know, what was said and discussed — and met with an uncomfortable pause and looks of disbelief.

Message lost, a casualty of inadequate massage. Lost to a priority on cosmetics over content. My goodness, a Stephen Hawking special on PBS must drive people like this straight to the nearest mall to seek refuge in the Covey shop! Fondle a few coffee mugs… lick a poster… sip some herbal tea… whatever.

It is clear to me now why only a handful of the thousands who own a copy of Tom Gilbert’s Human Competence have actually read it, why we have enjoyed what Joe Harless has said over the years about public education but never given his message the attention it deserves, why Bob Mager’s elegant presentation of concepts and models may actually detract from their implementation, why we needed a Mike Hammer to “discover” re-engineering in 1993 when Geary Rummler has been quietly telling us about it since 1985, and why Tosti’s powerful models for developmental and motivational feedback remain largely unapplied. We pay so much attention to the cosmetics of delivery that we fail to hear or heed the real message!

It is also now clear to me how the Tom Peters and Stephen Coveys of the world can get $50,000 a pop for saying things like “Corporate America is dead… we’re all screwed… it’s your fault,” or “Go where your heart tells you but carry a bus schedule” to enormous groups of people who actually take notes!

Admittedly, Gilbert is a tough read, Harless is overwhelming and arrogant, Mager is disarmingly smooth and humorous, Rummler is deceptively understated, and Tosti’s mind continually outdistances his mouth. All are brilliant resources to newcomer and old timer as well.

What a pity for us not to hear and understand what they and others have to say because we find acquiring their message difficult, or worse, we don’t attempt to acquire the message because we find the massage — the cosmetics — inadequate!

Conversely and perhaps sadder, an alarming number respond with glassy-eyed obeisance to the current hype about such things as EPSS and multi-media which are, in reality, a big computer job aid and a combination of rather traditional delivery systems — relatively valueless in and of themselves.

This leads me, quite naturally, to the Eleventh Commandment: Quality is Quality and Crap is Crap No Matter What the Delivery Medium, or, as translated from the original Tibetan, “A hungry dog is not prevented from eating by the color of the bowl.”


Just what are our priorities and responsibilities as learners and leaders, and how hungry are we?

Butch on Video

“Self-esteem does not build performance competence – but performance competence does a hell of a lot for self-esteem.”

We lost this curmudgeon way too soon.

RIP Butch – despite our continued fumblings. RIP.

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