T&D/PI: Irrational Exuberance in Learning 2020?

Warning! This is a long post.


It was labeled Irrational Exuberance – during the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. The phrase was interpreted as a warning that the stock market might be overvalued.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Sometime I get a feeling that that also exists in the T&D/Learning/ Knowledge Management worlds that I have been a part of since 1979.

I get that feeling when I see certain thoughts being pushed in online publications about the ways forward for Learning – a label that I resisted beginning in the mid 1990s when all of my clients began their name change from Training to Learning – that I began to use myself in the 2010-ish time frame – and which I now try to avoid – as I’ve always seen it as merely a means to the ends of Performance back on the job – which itself needed Instruction – as one of many means to Learning.

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As I was told by more than one of my clients – this name change was due to their executives reading The 5th Discipline and their expressed desire to also become a Learning Organization. Which was a red flag – as that indicated to me – one who had also read that book when it first came out – that my clients had either not read Senge’s work or had misunderstood it. Or worse – that their executives had misunderstood the meaning and message and mechanisms that Senge’s book provided.

We’ve Got Trouble In River City

And many seem to floating along without a paddle. Or they are paddling furiously toward some questionable destination. IMO anyway.

First – a Learning Organization can exist without the Learning/Training products and services you might offer. For sure.

You’ll have read Senge or other’s reviews on what that really means. I’ve written/blogged about this several times – here – is one of those posts. But look elsewhere as well.


It’s not that we cannot help enable that – but that world does not revolve around us and our offerings.

It – being a Learning Organization – and/or having a Learning Culture – is demanded – and either reinforced – or sadly extinguished – by those at the top of the Enterprise. Leadership. Top management. Whatever they call themselves.

It is a worthy pursuit IMO. One that needs our support. But we don’t own it – just as we don’t own Learning – the means to other ends

Second – it’s all about Performance. Not Learning.

We only own a subset of those means to that ends called Learning – which again, are simply some of the means to the ends of Performance.

Its all about Perf

Our clients want Performance – back on the job – to be sustained (maintenance, if you will) and/or improved. Even if the have come to us with a Training Request filled out in triplicate – which as Radar in the TV Show MASH, would dutifully complete and throw 2 copies away – reminding all who have served about certain aspects of government sometimes known as military madness.

Third – we only own Formal Instruction – in support of Enterprise managers and supervisors carrying out their assignments with the staff that they are provided.

And that Formal Instruction had better be truly instructive to the users in getting their authentic tasks completed to the measures and standards of their stakeholders.

For if your start creating or curating Instruction without understanding the Stakeholder Requirements – you’re most likely to miss the mark – meeting them. And that’s just not good.

Stakeholders – including the Customers – all have their own Stakeholders – making this NOT EASY. Damn Complicated is a phrase that comes to mind.

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Some Stakeholders care only about the Process – while other care about the Products produced by the upstream Processes – and other Stakeholders care about both.

Like I said – NOT EASY.

Complicated? You bet. Requiring some business intelligence – which best is provided in our ISD/ID Processes, IMO, by our clients and stakeholders. And hopefully they know – but alas and alack – they often don’t. Even when they think they do – or their egos demand that they present themselves as knowing.

Complicated and tricky.

I mean, how would we know if they truly know or not? And how can we affect THAT?

Fourth – Our Own Processes Are Often Questionable.

If they exist at all.

We respond and get right on it – not doing analysis – but doing development.


Too often it has seems to me that T&D/Learning/Knowledge Management functions are run as if they were artist colonies and not performance engineering departments – with every ISDer/IDer doing their own thing their own way. Where nothing can be predicted. Not budgets, schedules, quality or impact.

And that’s not way to run a railroad or a function serving the needs of their target audiences.

That’s not good stewardship of shareholder equity.

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Fifth – we are most often misaligned – with the really critical business issues of our Enterprises. We are too often working on low hanging fruit – with its mass appeal – at Face Value only (more on that next).

We have not made the case for, and then implemented, an alignment mechanism to ensure that our leaders – with the insights of what needs to be started, stopped or continued to direct us appropriately. We are often disconnected from them and therefor we are misaligned.

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Sixth – In reality our Created and/or Curated Content has only Face Validity and not Performance Content Validity and the necessary Specificity to achieve a positive Impact.

In my view it’s our non-existent and/or poor Analysis methods. And then it’s how we respond to those insufficient Analysis approaches.

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We don’t leave low-hanging fruit – so to speak – to Informal means to Learning.

Which is a 4th Option – or maybe it’s first. Your thinking/models may be different.

Seventh – Instruction is a better umbrella term for what we do.

Not Learning. And not even Training.

And it’s formal Instruction IMO – engineered in fact.

I was taught – back in 1979 – to think about in these terms as expressed in this next graphic…


Performance Support – or Workflow Learning – are, or should be – Instructional – in perhaps a non-traditional package. Or a traditional package.

That’s the 10.

The 10 in my flipped version of 10-20-70 anyway – where I believe that it should be presented to Performers in line with: Most 10 Before Most 20 Before Most 70.

For the critical performers in critical processes. Not necessarily for everyone.


Then there is the 20.

A mix of Formal and Informal.

Having Social Conversations could be formal – as in my Structured OJT (On-the-Job Training) – S-OJT. I’ve been using that label since 1982. Where guidance (a Job Aid a.k.a.: Performance Support) is provided minimally to the Coach – and sometimes to the Learner as well.

Or they could be semi-formal as in my US-OJT (Un-Structured OJT). Go talk to Jean and they’ll show you the ropes. Or follow Nellie – as the old old saying went.

Or they are informal – when Billy decides to talk with Yashar out of frustration and/or inquisitiveness. But – the risk is – is that Yashar only seems to know what he is doing – and is still willing to share his self-declared practices – when everyone else on the floor might know that it’s Purnima who really knows her stuff – and has great practices.


And then there’s the 70.

Informal Learning – or it Sourcing vs Learning?

Totally informal means to the end of Learning – which again are the means to the ends of Performance back-on-the-Job. Sometimes it works.

The accidental discovery of some YouTube Video that is close enough to the specific need need back-on-the-Job – that with the right prior knowledge – just might do the trick. It might work in getting the Tasks done that produce Worthy Outputs – worthy in that they achieve the right Outcomes – Products/Services that meet all of the Stakeholder Requirements – for all of the measures and standards for metrics around Quality, Quality, Cost and Time.

But maybe not. Maybe the Resource discovered isn’t right and/or the prior knowledge of the user isn’t sufficient. And yet maybe that’s okay.

But maybe not.


And maybe that engineered Performance Support – where form does follow function – isn’t about Learning at all. Not at all. It is however – all about Performance.

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Performance Enablement – to borrow from the Sales Enablement world … a.k.a.: Sales Training.

May the Force Be With You

The Force of a Performance Orientation with ROI as a key metric.

Topics Can Be Narrowed

May you get beyond Instruction – to Performance.

And become a…

Performance Improvement Consultant

Where the real force – as in Forcing Function is. Where the leverage is at, baby!

Then you’ll be alright!

Gopher Performance and Go For Performance

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