Turn and face the strain

Photo Credit: scottlynchphoto via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: scottlynchphoto via Compfight cc

Listening to Bowie’s prompted the title of this post. On Changes, he says:

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence

Changes happen but they fail to grow and develop as they’re developed in an environment which doesn’t last. This lack of durable change was the point I intimated when I wrote a little while ago about 4 factors which impact on the ability of L&D to innovate. If you don’t want to click back, or can’t remember, it was the following four:

  • Temporal – what we’ve done before
  • Lateral – what others do
  • Physical – the spaces we’ve built
  • Hierarchical – the influencers on what we do

I was hoping that by raising these 4 factors I’d see some movement from people about challenging them.

Is anything changing yet? Simply put, I’m not seeing it.

Being aware of the 4 factors above is interesting, if only because it’s easy to place the excuses you hear.

I talk to people about their practice and hear reasons for not being radical across all of the 4 listed above. The temporal factor is frustrating me the most; I’m seeing examples and excuses all over the place for people not changing their practice because:

Where’s the evidence of someone doing it before?

And herein lies the problem with a lot of innovation within L&D – unless someone has done it before we don’t want to disrupt.

Disruptive innovation is described on Wikipedia as:

…an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. 

For me, the issue is whether L&D wants to disrupt its market or not? Regretfully, monetization of L&D exists at several points already; each element of the training cycle is a billable element for the L&D provider. Want a survey to establish needs? We recommend a bespoke designed solution. This needs to be delivered using this person/tool/ICT. How would like the results analysed?

As a result I receive dozens of emails daily from providers who are:

  • offering up new ways to do old things
  • adding mobile/social/gamify to old things

Have a look at Donald Taylor’s poll on learning trends in 2014. How many of these trends are disruptive or simply a new way to do an old thing?

Are you ready to disrupt? Is there a fear of disruption? Let me know in the comments.

8 thoughts on “Turn and face the strain

  1. Hi Andrew – I agree with your reflection above. One thing that stands out for me since I have been using social media as a professional tool is how “nice” we al are to each other. Nit that there is anything wrong with being nice but what I am afraid is lacking is constructive challenge and engagement – pushing each other to explore different angles and approaches. I am though happy to see you and a few others more recently (Sukh comes to mind) challenging / questioning / asking the “hard” questions of fellow L&D professionals and providers – I recall mark Shepherds twitter interaction with a vendor on ROI.

    Thanks for once again bringing this to our attention and keep on reminding us to continue to discuss / challenge/ stretch us to innovate.


    1. Hi Con, thanks for your comment. My biggest problem is a reliance on ‘best practice’ which, in many cases, isn’t; it’s ‘accepted practice’. However, it’s claimed to be best and, as a result, not challenged.


      1. Hello Mr. Jacobs,
        A quick, specific comment about “best practice.” A common refrain, it is, I find, typically a euphemism for conformity. Organizations and people do not wish to embrace disruptive change, they wish to model a form of success in a politically and personal risk-free manner… copying someone else’s achievements or breakthroughs under the guise of best practice. This merely generates an inexorable slide into stultifying homogeneity. Down with “best practice”!


  2. For me this isn’t a challenge confined to L&D alone but to wider HR and, actually, whole organisations. Essentially any change that might cost money scares people and they want ‘proof’ that it’s going to work before anything’s invested. You can understand that – there’s a business to be run, salaries to be paid, ….
    My solution – do some big stuff in a small way, start to try different things (quietly if necessary), build momentum, get some advocates.
    Then the fear factor falls.


    1. Hi Helen, thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog.

      I don’t disagree that’s is wider than L&D or HR. If L&D is reflecting this culture within an organisation, what incentive does the disruptor have? I agree starting small does help – the other factors mentioned in my blog can be a further challenge though and the innovator needs to know how to overcome those.


  3. Andrew, I agree with your sentiments regarding change. Bowie is appropriate because it is just as much an art as a science.

    The Wikipedia definition of disruptive innovation I find to be a poor one. Disruptive innovation is actually much simpler: it is the creation of substitutes. This means it does not ‘start slow’, it is actually quite immediate. It is also not limited to technology – it can include processes and services, and it is more typically inclusive of all three.

    Incremental improvements in technology or processes at the edges are not disruptive because they do not change the way providers compete in the market. Sure, they may compete harder on quality or price, but the landscape is still in tact.

    From an L&D perspective, distance learning is a good example of disruptive innovation. It was not an improvement in classroom education, it was a replacement of classroom education. It hence forced traditional institutions to alter their offerings and how they marketed them.

    Incremental improvement examples would include adding multi-media to the classroom, providing course materials digitally, or developing better role playing exercises. These are innovative, but not disruptive to L&D. Interestingly, these same items that are not L&D disruptions are disruptive to the individual components, e.g. digital course materials are disruptive to document solutions.


  4. Hi Phil, thanks for your comment.

    I think it’s broader than you suggest though. You infer a level of immediacy with disruption and cite distance elearning. The Open University have been delivering that for 40+ years and they still haven’t disrupted the traditional university. This is where we need to take care that we don’t rely on creating substitution; I’d suggest that this is sustaining innovation (as defined by Christensen).

    Again, useful to add to the debate.


Please comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.