See no ships

Photo Credit: robmcm via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: robmcm via Compfight cc

I couldn’t get to the first #LDLunch chat this week. It was a bit disappointing to miss it so I had a brief look through the feed and this tweet from the wonderful Alex Watson caught my eye:

I loved the idea of ‘naval’ gazing through the mis-spelling (It’s OK, Alex is fine with me pointing to it) in the tweet.

I thought of Lord Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen. If you don’t know, faced with overwhelming odds he is reputed to have been sent an instruction to withdraw his ships. He held his telescope to his non-seeing right eye and famously stated

I really do not see the signal

It’s a fanciful story about ignoring instructions which suggests Nelson didn’t take notice of an order (he had discretion to ignore it). How many L&D professionals do you know who, when tasked with supporting their business and asked to horizon scan the future of their function, hold the telescope to their bad eye and say

I see no value in MOOCs, 70:20:10, open badges, ESN, or the value of informal learning

Do they have the privilege to ignore the instruction? Are they looking for the right signals? Are we more concerned with our industry than the signals we get from our business?

Comments, as always, welcome.


20 thoughts on “See no ships

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Great question, but I wonder how many of ‘us’ are explicitly asked to

    “horizon scan the future of their function”

    Vs how many of ‘us’ do it because it’s the right thing to do

    Vs how many of ‘us’ work in sectors that are traditionally very cautious/risk averse/Business As Usual and therefore have a subliminial ‘keep doing what we’ve always done’ vibe


    Thanks for the ‘food for thought’

    Have a great weekend



    1. Thanks Craig. As Barry says, if people are waiting round to be told to scan the future they’re still in the order taking and shopkeeping mentality of L&D being a provider of ‘stuff’.

      There are people doing it because it’s the right thing to do and I havce lots of conversations with people who are doing small, piloted, off radar things. This is to give them a foothold when asked to do something different (they already have) and to try new things at little/no cost.

      Your point about risk averse cultures is also correct. But that culture won’t change if you do what you’ve always done. Do something different tomorrow and you’ve changed the culture just a tiny bit. That has to be a good thing…and has prompted another post for next week.


  2. Thanks Andrew – at last night’s Northern Ireland Integrated Education Alumni event (yes – in Northern Ireland we need a special programme to encourage people to send their children to schools where they can mix with children from other religions) we discussed how schools are so institutionalised that they put their own needs before that of young people – e.g. obsessing about league tables & therefore electing not to have any of the “hard” subjects on the school syllabus. Quite depressing. At least a lot of this stuff is now discussed openly in the wider education & learning agenda so there’s hope that things will change.


  3. Nice analogy Andrew and I’m 100% with Alex – the L&D conversation has got very boring, largely because the people that are having it are those that have already seen the light. It’s the challenge of social media – you can only use it to reach the people who already use it (and so are likely to be on the same wavelength already).

    Craig – anyone in L&D who is waiting to be asked to “horizon scan the future of their function” is dead weight. You can hitch your bandwagon to any model you like, but it’s initiative, imagination and courage that will change (and potentially save) L&D.

    I spoke at a LearningPool event a couple of years ago at which the chief executive of York Council said her approach in introducing change had been to “proceed until caught”. I wish more people were doing that.

    Some organisations are cautious and risk averse – and in some cases rightly so (banking and any organisation funded by public money come to mind). That in itself, is no excuse for not trying. A couple of years ago I said (to much criticism) that if L&D are complaining that the organisation isn’t responding positively to their great ideas, the problem usually lies with L&D’s lack of credibility in the eyes of the business. Only L&D can change that.


    1. Thanks Barry and I agree, there is a bit of an echo chamber. That’s one reason I’m constantly repeating this message in lots of different ways, hoping that through the noise some people will hear the signal.


  4. The first step to change is realising you need to change… and it’s good to talk about it and we are good at that (and hopefully we are bringing new people into the conversation).
    The next step is the hard bit – doing something about it and if we are unsure we need to listen to others and share experiences and then make the steps.


  5. Andrew et al, I’m a big fan of “Proceed until apprehended” and have managed to explore some avenues with my team either under the radar for R&D purposes or with co-conspiritor stakeholders willing to take a punt on small-scale, ‘low-risk’ training activities. I’m beginning to detect a bottom-up push for more creativity and agile response to learning needs, which the org is beginning to recognise, so now the challenge is to stay just far enough ahead of the game to be able to respond and engage effectively when and as required. There’s a concomitant danger of ‘the business’ getting hold of faddy jargon re learning and, without suitably investigating (or asking us about it), start demanding ‘that’ solution however, so now we need to be able to challenge, consult and scale up (or develop more) these kinds of activities.


  6. I see fear of change as the root cause of this kind of willful blindness, to say nothing of an alarming lack of critical thinking within our practice/discipline. You may see fewer or limited applications of some of these newer approaches or technologies within your work environment, but it doesn’t mean a) that they won’t fit in the future, and b) that someone else isn’t thinking about how it WILL work for you.

    Nelson was definitely an exception in the situation at Trafalgar, and he paid the price for it, in spite of the victory. Let’s not be quite like Nelson. Emulate his brilliance, but learn from his vanity and hubris.


  7. Andrew – Couldn’t agree more. The conversation is getting tiresome and redundant. In part I think as @barry stated, in social media we follow and discuss issues with like-minded people and as the conversation has matured over the years, the conversation has gotten a tad stale. But that’s our fault too. Shame on us for not reaching out to other groups. I recently started following a twitter chat #NT2T “New Teachers to Twitter”. I found the conversation to be stimulating as they were asking really good questions that came from a good place, not from a “I have my head buried in the sand” place.

    The issue deepens when all we want to do is hear ourselves talk. Dare I say, a new form of ” Sage on the Stage”? I think part of our role now, is to move from preaching to teaching to coaching. I fully support the beg forgiveness mode of creation. I was the Queen of the small secret pilot, try, test, review – wash rinse repeat. When results are where you need them to be, then start your campaign. This is where we can be coachs for other L&D people, coaching the fear. Don’t let fear (of failure, of retribution, of dismal) hold you back. Fear can be a powerful emotion when properly channeled. Show new people what is possible, not just talk about it. Let’s put the fancy terms back in our pockets, and focus on actually moving forward and taking people with us. I say we start a “Back to Basics” movement only the basics being focused on agility, collaboration, communication with end-users as the core. It starts with us, finding new people to bring into the fold…How do you eat an elephant…


  8. Thanks for a great post Andrew. I’m all for Naval stories….

    When I saw Alex’s tweet on my timeline, my very first thought was, “Go girl! She spoke the truth and she spoke it out loud!”.

    For a long time now, I have been tired of the same arguments over and over by people in our field. Too often, I wish I too “ignored that instruction” in my earlier years. I’m certainly doing it a lot now because I’m getting impatient for change.

    Some people are comfortable discussing, debating, deliberating, pontificating about the whys and wherefores of change – especially those who haven’t tried – but the rest of us just want to make it happen.

    When I was in the Navy, we had a saying, “Make It So”. When every morning, at colours, at 8am, standing at the flag pole, the sailor would pipe that it was 8 o’clock and the Officer of the Day (my dreaded duty) would order, “Make it so!” which was the signal to run the flag up the pole.

    Make it so has been my mantra and my raison d’etre. (In actual fact, I was going to call my business Make It So and not Activate Learning…but that’s another story for another day). It’s similar to Nike’s Just Do It.

    For a while now (especially when leaving the corporate world and now as a freelancer), I have come to the realisation that L&D is not my target market and that I need to expand my PLN to include business, associations, industries – and reconnect with business in my local area. Ultimately, from what I have seen and experienced to date, people are hungry to learn, they are already using the tools to connect, build, maintain and sustain new networks and more importantly to create something new. To have someone or a department in the middle, hinder their prospect of learning, networking by placing controls, questioning or discounting their needs is simply ludicrous.

    I would say, by all means, learn from the people in Learning & Development who have, like Nelson, ignored the instruction – from their own ranks – and made it so for the benefit of their people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andrew, I’m fairly new to the L&D Connect conversation and don’t find it boring.
    Maybe it’s because it’s not “just” about L&D but organisations in general, and the relationships within them. The interaction between the group of people who participate in these conversations is contributing to change in any number of small ways.
    Great that some people are choosing to say what they think & inevitable that over time that enthusiastic early participants find that they are no longer getting what they want or achieving what they had hoped for. As they drop out new people will join and the debate will change. Evolution, perhaps, rather than revolution.
    Finally, my assumption is that the people who participate in these debates are doing something else with the remaining 168 hours in the week. It’s healthy to be asking questions about and reflecting on the nature and practice of your profession on a regular basis as long as that’s not all you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “Rome burns all around us”… I’m curious that potentially the most important piece of insight might have been lost in the focus on naval gazing… a form of navel gazing in itself?

    What is burning all around us that needs attention?


    1. David – I am assuming this was an honest question and not an ironic one (hate to be accused of beating a dead horse). 🙂

      I personally loved the “Rome is Burning” part of the tweet, because it was so true. Here are a few examples for you –

      1) The reluctance to let go of control. Some L&D people are still insisting on controlling the conversations. Heavily moderated discussion boards or worse no place to have an open discussion about learning in general.

      2) The dependency on lecture or PPT driven coursework. To some the term blended-learning means slipping a role-play or two during the classroom. There is a fear of leaving the learning in the hands of the people. Creating self-paced or self-directed learning that may take place before and after a formal learning session.

      3) Total fear or unwillingness to learn about how new technologies can be used to support a learning initiative. This is a new world – while there is still a place for the classroom, flipcharts and PPT, we have to allow space for social collaboration.

      4) The fact that we are STILL battling learning misconceptions such as learning styles. A theory that has been debunked with research more times than there have been Rocky movies made.

      That’s just three areas which while we talk about high reaching (and worthy) concepts such as performance ecosystem, micro-learning, personal knowledge management – Rome is burning around us. We pontificate and stand on soap boxes about the need to move “learning forward” but we have forgotten those whose idea of training/learning is still bound to the industrial age version of education. We need to spend sometime addressing this issue, so we can all move forward.


      1. Shannon, yes it was an honest inquiry/challenge, not irony or criticism!

        Appreciate the further examples you’ve shared and I recognise them. Funnily, my initial reaction was that these aren’t signs of Rome burning… My perspective (of Rome) was that it related to the wider organisational/business world. i.e. What are the real issues (fires) that need addressing in organisations/business? What I think you’ve highlighted for me is the perspective of the “L&D world” being representative of Rome. Perfectly valid and different.

        So a more clear reframe of my question/inquiry might be…

        What is “burning” all around us in the organisational/business world that needs the attention of L&D? What are the fires that other people care about right now?


  11. Last week I was at a conference at which an L&D Manager recounted the story of the professional development pathway she put her team members through. I was shocked to hear that it was only after this training that they started trying virtual classrooms. People fear what they don’t understand.


  12. […] The conversation erupted on social media, as it has before, about the state of affairs in the field of Learning and Development, or L&D.1 The conversation was generally about how we have all been committed to changing the practice of L&D for years, yet we were having much the same conversation all over again. Less than a week later, Andrew Jacobs wrote very similar thoughts. […]


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