Free form for self assessment and career development


Goals provide the motivation for self-directed learning. Writing down career goals makes it more likely you will attain them.

Participants in The Aha! Project asked for a structured way to go about self-assessment and goal-setting.

We developed this Learning Plan template to lead them through the process. Feel free to use it. If you have feedback, we’ll be glad to hear it.form

Learning Plan Template in pdf  |  Learning Plan Template in MS Word

Conferences can be better, a whole lot better


The conference business is booming yet every participant has some major gripe about the way conferences are run. We all think we know better. It goes with the territory.

In the beginning of the year, I looked into the future of conferences. Would they go the way of record stores and newspapers?

I concluded that:

Flipping conference presentations can vastly improve learning outcomes.

Community First! Events should focus on nurturing the L&D community of practice before content.

Many Next Practices for conferences (I’ve listed 30) are not difficult to implement.

Asked what brings them to events, nearly everyone replies “face to face.” People attend events to be with other people, to rub shoulders with colleagues from other organizations and with industry spokespeople and gurus. The cliché is that you learn more in the hallways than in the classrooms. As in the workplace, informal learning at conferences has more impact than formal learning.

The Flipped Conference session differs from the Flipped Classroom in that content delivery takes place at the conference, not before. However, presentation time is greatly condensed and is delivered in a 10-minute Ignite session up front. As with the Flipped Classroom, the bulk of face-to-face time is spent on discussion and contextualizing the lessons


The traditional building block of formal learning at conferences is a session. A typical breakout session is 45 minutes to an hour long. The session leader chooses the topic and presents a point of view (there’s a reason they call it PowerPoint) for the bulk of the session. This is an overdose of content. Most people’s attention wanders after ten or fifteen minutes. The bulk of the message falls on deaf ears.

After ten to fifteen minutes, we tune out the message. Between minute 15 and minute 50, I might as well be asleep. That’s 35 wasted minutes.

Flipping the session allocates a majority of the time to participatory events.


Next Practices for L&D Conferences

Here is a dog’s breakfast of suggestions for improving the effectiveness of conferences.

Before the Event

Provide a generic ROI proposal for attending to send to the boss, saving people the time of working out the value to be extracted from the event.

See who’s coming and set up appointments in advance.

Participants should have expectations and set explicit objectives for the event.

During the event

Encourage social networking. Announce a Twitter hashtag and encourage people to Tweet. It’s a great way to tap into the pulse of an event and to find what’s going on.

During sessions, use Twitter to gather questions and make comments. Tweeting among participants spark reflection about what’s gong on. Perhaps make the Twitter feed visible on a separate screen in presentation rooms.

After the conference

Visit the backchannel to attend a conference virtually, get to know people before the event, or catch what you did not have time to visit.

Get rid of happy sheets. One’s reaction immediately after an event says nothing about their long-term gain.

Conference goal: co-learning. Taking the message back home. Make this mandatory. Conference ends with plan for distributing ideas back to home organization and team.


Business is good. Attendance at the events I examined (eLearning Guild, Masie, Training, ATD, Learning & Technology, Educa) is rising.

John Seely Brown says every business model will be disrupted. Nonetheless, my gut tells me that L&D Conferences are here to stay for at least the next five years and perhaps infinitum.

The 20-page research report is here.

Two types of knowledge


Explicit Knowledge

#1 is explicit knowledge. By definition, explicit knowledge can be captured in words. It’s the facts. Answers on Jeopardy. Tree/false tests.

Retention of explicit knowledge is easily measured and graded and for that reason it’s where tests focus, over-simplified or not. We grade recent recall, but people have forgotten 90% of what they learned before they have the opportunity to apply it.

A wide variety of jobs rely on the look-up, transfer, and interpretation of explicit knowledge. They are being replaced by algorithms. This is not where you’ll create value in the future; that takes a human touch. Don’t get into a battle with robots; they’re always faster.

Some people (managers, consultants, teachers) mistakenly think that learning explicit knowledge is all there is to it because facts are the focus of schooling. A Silicon Valley engineer once told me that tacit knowledge was simply “the stuff we haven’t figured out how to put into words or an algorithm.” The poor fellow didn’t appreciate the richness of life or the fact that somethings are too awesome or complex to ever be reduced to words.

Tacit Knowledge

#2 is tacit knowledge. It’s about really doing it. It’s what separates a chef from a home cook following recipes. Tacit knowledge can’t be captured in a book. It calls forth judgments, emotions, and complexities that you only absorb through experience. Tacit knowledge doesn’t simply inform you, it makes you a better person.

The basic difference is that explicit knowledge adds to what you know. Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, transforms your identity. For example, you can know a lot about cooking but until you have tacit knowledge, you can’t call yourself a chef. It’s learning to know versus learning to be.

Take the phase “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” It’s untrue. People manage what they can’t measure all the time. The higher you go in a hierarchy, the more likely you have to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information. You have to make judgment calls. You have to trust your gut feel because there are no measurements to go on. We reward senior managers highly because they have the confidence and wisdom to wing it when logic and explicit knowledge don’t provide the answers.

New York Times columnist David Brooks talks of two different sorts of personal virtues. There’s “resumé knowledge” what you know, primarily explicit knowledge. More important is “eulogy knowledge” what you’d like said at your funeral, and it’s primarily tacit. Brooks concludes “wonderful people are made, not born — the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.” It doesn’t get more tacit than that.

The Right Stuff

Aha! focuses on acquiring tacit knowledge from experience and conversation. It accentuates what makes us human. Challenge. Variety. Growth. Relationship-building. Judgment. Complexity. Human skills. This is where value is created. Expanding your experience is the way to get there. 

Change your work to include what you want to know and become. Whatever it takes in your organization, do something about it. Don’t let yourself stagnate. What’s good for you and good for them? Aha! shows you how to get there.

Get your copy of Aha! (in beta) for $2.99 here.

The role of tacit and explicit knowledge in the workplace by Elizabeth A. Smith

Don’t Smoke

Don’t Smoke.

A friend confided she’s taken up smoking again.

Whoa! Full stop! Nicotine is a mind-altering trickster. It will kill you. Painfully. The short-term buzz is not worth the long-term consequences.

I gave it up 30 years ago after 20 years of Luckies, Camels, Gaulois, and worse. Here’s my Journal‘s notice of the day I quit.

Don’t smoke.

New Book: Aha! 75 Ways to Work Smarter

cover_smallMy new book, Aha!, is for all those people we’ve made responsible for their own learning. This is the missing manual.

Aha! explains self-assessment, setting goals, dealing with feeds and flows, improving retention, curation, working out loud, social learning, and more. Each technique is backed with a practical exercise.


Aha! reveals how to:

  • Learn from experience
  • Take advantage of the latest findings from neuroscience
  • Save time by accelerating how you learn
  • Remember things faster, better, deeper
  • Adopt sound learning practices as lifelong habits
  • Form a sustainable, nurturing community
  • Use shortcuts, cheatsheets, and rules of thumb

Aha! is about how to learn for yourself. No classrooms. No instructors. No training department. Little in the way of theory. Just stuff that works.  (Although learning with your team is encouraged,)

The core focus is experiential learning and tacit knowledge. It’s learning to be all you can be rather than amassing more content.

I expect Aha! to have more impact than my previous book, Informal Learning. There are tens of millions of prospects whose approach to learning has been seat-of-the-pants. Aha! can double their learning effectiveness.

The beta electronic version is available now for $2.99. The soft-cover edition will be available next month for $16.00.

The beta edition is the complete 170-page book that is going into print, with one exception. The content will always be fresher. Aha! is updated frequently. The electronic version is a snapshot of the most recent text.

Here’s a summary of Aha!, the table of contents and an overview of The Aha! Project.

Serendipity, Push Learning in action

Bank branch in Scotland. Staff Training



“Learning is the work.” You shouldn’t stop work for training. It’s better to integrate the two. Work as you learn.  Learn as you work.

This is “Push” training, studying what someone else tells you to learn.

I didn’t notice the Push sign on the door until after taking the photo.

In the reflection, you can see me taking the shot.

Mileage Plus

milesAll I wanted to do was use Frequent Flier miles to buy tickets from San Francisco to Mallorca to Athens and home from Istanbul. Business class.

I spent 45 minutes on the phone with United Mileage Plus and ended up with oddball flights I would never have purchased for myself, e.g. depart SFO at 7:24 in the morning, twiddle thumbs for 3 hours in Houston, spend five hours in Munich awaiting for flight to Palma. Later, fly Palma to Athens via Copenhagen, along with a six hour wait at the Copenhagen airport. Depart Istanbul at 6:20 in the morning, spend more than three hours at Munich Airport and then another three hours at O’Hare.  A monkey could pick more convenient flights.

I requested all Lufthansa flights but ended up on United (which I hate) and SAS (which routes through Copenhagen no matter what) except for two short legs.

Route after route had no seats available even though I was booking three months in advance. Business class. We will have to fly coach within Europe. Premium Economy was the best we could do for the return flight; seat upgrades and taxes cost an additional $786.

The clerk at Mileage Plus was saddled with an ineffective system. We spent a bit of time waiting for the screen to refresh.  Rather than select from a menu, she had to check everything manually. “Could you go a day earlier? Two days earlier?”

For 360,000 miles and $786, I ended up with tickets that would cost $18,000 out of pocket, so I’ll keep accumulating miles. (Virtually everything we spend goes through a credit card that rewards miles.)

What I fail to understand is how United managed to set up a system that is so aggravating. People in other industries have gone to jail for bait-and-switch tactics that are everyday practice at United. I dread speaking with Mileage Plus because I know they’ll let me down. It’s bad enough when United pisses off regular customers (charging for luggage, serving pricey junk food, and an attitude of no can do.) That they cull out frequent fliers, the profit-making travelers, and hassle them with what are supposed to be rewards in unconscionable. It’s plain stupid.


Week before last, our flight from Germany to SFO arrived a few minutes early, but it took the better part of an hour for our luggage to show up on the baggage carousel.

I suggest the FAA and others change the definition of what makes a flight on time. It should include time to pick up your baggage. Alaska Air gets the suitcases off in minutes; why can’t the other airlines follow suit?

The wake-up call

dogMonday morning. Flirt, the happiest miniature longhaired dachshund in the world, shakes all over with tail-flapping enthusiasm to wake me up. On auto-pilot, I arise, brush my teeth, and take the garbage and recycling out to the curb. I brew a cup of tea.

Undoubtedly email has arrived overnight. Phone messages await my pick-up. The day’s New York Times has interesting stories to read. I sip my tea. I write these words. I contemplate what I want to accomplish today. The interruptions can wait.

Each of us has a choice of what we think about, what we learn, and what we do. Our minds are an inner sanctuary to which we alone possess the key. No one else will ever see what’s inside. It’s ours alone. Private.

“each of us is at the center of the universe
so is everyone else”

e.e. cummings

Less than 99% of the light, sound, taste, and touch that bombard our senses ever make it into our consciousness. Behind the curtain of awareness, our minds take a snippet of this and a smidgen of that, connect the dots, and play the internal movie we experience as reality. Your mind’s eye and mine see different worlds. Reality is all in our heads.

“Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Albert Einstein

Listen to what’s going on in your head at this moment. There’s a conversation in there. It’s about that inner movie.

You can listen in or you can join the conversation. You can let the inner voice prattle on, making comments sparked by your inner movie. Or, if you like, you can actively participate in the conversation.

We’re working with neurons here, not film. You can influence the script writer, make suggestions to the director, and edit out things you don’t want to see.

Young thoughts need shelter from the elements to grow. I nurture my thoughts in the morning, before the cacophany of ringing phones, flashing lights, and FedEx trucks tries to make me a passive listener in my inner conversation.

Asked whether he didn’t hate the Chinese, the Dalai Lama responded, “They have taken my country. Why should I let them take my mind?”

There are few absolutes in life. Success requires balancing your inner self and new sensations.

You don’t want to shut out all the interrupters knocking on the door. The hot stove may not be what you think, but don’t put your hand on the burner.

You must revere your inner mind and believe that you are more than a mere pebble in the stream. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to reach an enjoyable destination.

That’s what the Aha! book will be about, help for people to get better, faster.


Roadtrip! What’s the coolest thing between Berkeley and Kansas City?

A dozen days from now, Uta and I will pack the dogs into the car and drive the 1800 miles from Berkeley to Kansas City, Missouri. After ten days at our son’s new house, we’ll drive the long way back via Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons.

coonskinLike most coastal Americans, we hardly know the interior of our country. I haven’t been in a car on this route since I was four years old.

We’ll be whizzing right along, my daredevil co-pilot at the wheel while I ride shotgun. I’d hate to miss a cool trading post or natural site or place to eat because I didn’t ask about it. Help us find the best stuff to do.

What are your favorite things along our easterly route from Berkeley, across Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska to Kansas City? 




Similarly, what should we not miss among the National Parks and natural wonders on the trip back? Food tips, off road suggestions, lodging, anything that put a smile on your face? 








Dogs. Flirt (left) and Azure (squirms too much to get picture) are geriatric miniature longhaired dachshunds. Ten pounds apiece. They will ride in a car cage on the back seat. This will force us to pace ourselves as well; breaks every two-three hours.

Any pet friendly suggestions for us?


Diet. When we moved to San Francisco in the mid 70s, I was impressed by the Californians’ dedication to preserving historic buildings. The next time I visited New York, Philly, and Washington, I found that historic preservation was a national phenomenon.

I have my fingers crossed on finding healthy food I want to eat. Hello, triple-D. (I have not eaten at a McDonalds, Wendy’s, KFC, PizzaHut, Burger Chef, or ChickFilla in over twenty years.) I usually find some local specialty to sustain myself; Uta is vegetarian.


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