Notes from the Spargel Tour

The last two days, the GPS in our rental car has taken us on to obscure farm roads and “the long way around” time after time. We don’t know whether we should take advice from the GPS’s calm English voice or say to hell with it and follow the signs. We’ve traveled farm roads so narrow that we had to stop to let cars come the other way. The GPS will tell us it’s planning another route because of traffic conditions and then take us directly into roadblocks and construction projects. I fear it’s possessed.

mapDistances are so short in Europe compared to the United States. We left Lindau, the German island on Lake Constance, at 11:30 this morning. Fifteen minutes later, we were whizzing through Austria. And fifteen minutes after that we were in Switzerland, headed to Appenzell, our destination for a 1:00 lunch.

Asparagus is still on the menu even though we’re at the southern tip of Germany. spargelEveryplace seems to have a Spargelkarte, a special asparagus menu. A Spargelkarte typically offers asparagus soup, a pound of asparagus with hollendaise or butter, asparagus with a schnitzel or perhaps a fish filet or ham. Uta never tires of the stuff. A few stalks is about all I can handle at one sitting.

neuTomorrow we’re headed to Schwangau, home of crazy Kind Ludwig II’s castles. It’s schmaltzy and I’ve visited three or four times before, but I can’t resist something that looks so damned cool. Ludwig may have been nuts, but he left behind beautiful, iconic symbols.

On the remembrance of things past

For satisfaction, experiences trump possessions.

Savoring past experiences is a matter of remembering them, and it so happens that I’ve been studying memory as part of the research for my book. Benedict Carey’s How We Learn says that our brains record everything. Not that you can recall them, but all your experiences are in there. You just can’t reach them.

At lunch today, Uta recalled having asparagus Bismarck at a delightful lunch in Como forty years ago. What was the name of that long-closed restaurant? I don’t recall. But I do remember that I ate the guinea fowl, bresaola in Italian. We were the only party in the little restaurant except for the chef’s wine merchant, who kindly gave us a bottle of wine to imbibe with lunch. The wine was a Dolcetto d’Alba; it was a delight, not at all sweet. I’m still blanking on the name of the restaurant but I remember its stiff white table cloths. I’ve reclaimed a memory that had gone underground for decades — and added to the bank of experiences that make for a happy life.

What if you could always remember more of your experiences so you could enjoy them after the fact?

You can. You don’t have to forget so many experiences if you revisit them — because reflection keeps memories alive. A good routine for reinforcing memory is to review and reflect half an hour after learning something, reflect again the next day, again in a week, and again at month-end. Return visits require less and less time; a brief recall charges up the neuron connections memories are made of.


In my case, the reinforcement comes from posting photos on Flickr. I just cropped and tweaked today’s photographs. Then I checked to make sure I’d uploaded them properly to Flickr. I may add a description or two. In a few weeks, I’ll look back at the photos to savor the high points of the vacation. I expect I retain more memories than someone who doesn’t stop to reflect.

I wouldn’t be likely to forget staying in an 11th century castle overlooking the Rhine without the photos, but with them, I’ll remember the colors and the nuances of the experience.

Oversimplifying the way memory works in the extreme, the hippocampus stores a map to the interconnected neurons that make a particular memory. If the map is destroyed, the memory vanishes. Neurologists had trauma victims recall their bad memories. Then they injected them with drugs that block protein synthesis, i.e. the ability to form memories. Their brains couldn’t create revised maps to where the memories were stored. They couldn’t replace the maps with updated versions. Astoundingly, the memories vanished entirely!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if science could find a way for us to restore the neuron maps to memories of good experiences that we’ve forgotten? I’ve forgotten thousands of wonderful experiences and it would be a delight to get them back.


New Book from Jay. Almost.

IMG_4604The draft of my new book, Aha!, 21 Ways to Work Smarter and Become Who You Are, is on sale for $12.

I don’t write books the way I used to. I have Lean Fever. Now I write the best I can rapidly and make it available for pioneering readers who provide feedback. Given enough iterations, this will be one fantastic book. I slipstream new content into the book continuously.

In Informal Learning, I told the story of a dog who would scatter his dinner all over the room so he’d have the thrill of hunting it down. If you’re that puppy, you might enjoy reading a book in progress.

My topic is learning for yourself. DIY learning. If you’re struggling to learn with social and informal learning, this book was made for you. Someone will say they didn’t see this: this book is in beta. It is unfinished. You’re welcome to provide suggestions. The book improves week by week.

Come to the Aha! website for more information, sample graphics, and a substantial excerpt. Or just spend your $12 and get a surprise.


Jay Changes Direction

fallsMy book Aha! Learn for Yourself challenges readers to consider where they’ve been in their careers and where they’re headed. I feel obligated to practice what I preach.

My career in the learning business is at a turning point. My history by type of learning is below. I have one foot in retirement now; I’ve been at this for nearly fifty years!

Reflection on Career by Decade

Sixties and into Seventies.

Student. AB Social Science, MBA. Army Officer, Mainframe computer salesman. Coder. Sales training. Lots (>1000) of case studies, now long forgotten. Lived abroad. Market research executive.


EDU. Discovered that learning was a field. Designed the first business curriculum for what became the University of Phoenix, the largest business school in the world. Worked with founder. Experienced power of having the rIght product for the market, in this case thirty-year-old business people. Learned to speak with audiences because I had to sell, sell, sell.

Eighties and nineties.

Formal Training. Sold instructional systems that taught a million bankers how to make decisions and sell bank services. More than half of the 100 largest banks in the U.S. became customers. Picture a young San Francisco start-up showing the way for Citi, Chase, BofA, and more. Don’t get me going about banks. Learned every aspect of the training business, from marketing to design to models to costs, from ISA to ISPI.

Entrepreneurial. Interspersed with this, spent seven years trying to make something of five under-financed start-ups (medical records, advertising sales training, massive overnight loans, corporate histories, and tracking software) that never made it over the first hump. My dreams are bigger than my abilities but now I have a better idea of what not to do.

1999-2003. Turn of the century.

impllearninge-Learning. I saw the web and fell in love. The web and knowledge were made for one another. I became a fanatic. First to use term eLearning on the web. Chief cheerleader for concept. CEO, eLearning Forum. Early conceptualizer. Wrote Implementing eLearning.


informalinformal learning. Thought leader and chief proponent of informal learning. Book (2008). Presentations worldwide. More than 50 articles. In ten years, took an object of derision and made it the #1 or #2 priority of virtually every Chief Learning Officer in America. Largely a labor of love, I’m proud to have called this one early and paved the way to accelerate its adoption and appreciation. It’s good business and great for people.

Happiness. And with it compassion, gratitude, fulfillment, authenticity, peace. Mindful people are incredibly productive. Vitally important.

Next up

DIY learning. It’s a confusing world out there. Millions of knowledge workers and their bosses can prosper by adopting modern practices for working smarter and remembering things. Improving their learning efficiency will provide billions of hours over the long term to redeploy on activities with a higher return.

We learning professionals have a bag of tricks most people have never been introduced to. I want to empower workers to be intuitive instructional designers as well as self-directed learners by sharing what we know. Project is taking shape at internettimealliance.netmegaphone



My professional interest is shifting to helping knowledge workers learn and flourish without training. There are millions of harried people out there who don’t appreciate that learning is a skill that you can get better at. It’s the underground passageway to success. I’d rather work with them directly.

Thinking about learning from the learner’s point of view is different from looking on it as a learning executive or instructional designer. Well, most knowledge workers don’t know they have an CLO and certainly never heard of instructional design.

Anyway, I am on the lookout for useful metaphors to propel the new book on DIY learning and intelligence.

Experiential learning is the biggest lever in the learning toolbox, so let’s start there.


Picture two territories, FamilarLand, where you already know everything and the Unfamiliar Territory which is loaded with people doing things you don’t know how to do.

The Unfamiliar Territory is where you can grow. Staying in FamilarLand all the time is stagnating. There’s no excitement when there are no surprises.

Since you have all your predetermined opinions, ways of doing things, and beliefs along for the ride, you’re happy when lazing around FamiliarLand. Many will be stuck in place there, non-learners who couldn’t keep up with the flow. They are slouches; we’ve got to hang out with the others.

Go-getters will continuously rewire their brains with dashing adventures in the Unknown Territory. With perseverance, they will grow into the roles they’re shooting for.

Increasing border crossings will boost organizational knowledge.

Is the metaphor of a journey from FamilarLand to the Unknown Territories and back a useful way to look at things?

Why Content Curation Should be in Your Skillset

girlCuration can boost your profit and help your people grow. It can save millions, reduce frustration, and boost the velocity of information in your organization. It starts in a gallery.

You expect the curator of an art gallery to know the collection and to:

  • search out the best items
  • select for the collection
  • authenticate and preserve items
  • add interpretation, descriptions, and meaning
  • publicize viewings

Picture a digital curator in your company. They have the same job but instead of paintings, deal with digital artifacts such as:

  • blog posts and Tweets
  • articles
  • meeting summaries
  • presentations
  • competitive analysis
  • video
  • conversations
  • images
  • infographics
  • TED talks
  • sales pitches

Curating these items — selecting, organizing, evaluating, and sharing them widely — multiplies an organization’s return on information many times over. It makes sense to recruit curators from within; the primary job prerequisite is a burning curiosity.

Instead of satisfying art lovers, corporate curation saves enormous amounts of time, keeps teams on the same page, and equips everyone with the latest insights. In a minute I’ll give you the story of a company that saved over fifty million dollars with a low-budget curation program. And, as Clay Shirky has said: “Curation comes up when people realize that it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

Curation helps individuals keep professional skills sharp, improve critical thinking, earn professional recognition, build reputation, grow personal networks, and “work out loud.” Anyone can be a curator; it’s a great way to learn. Curation helps workers help their peers as they help themselves..

An example: How Jay Cross Curates Content

Here’s an example of a no-cost, one-person curation project. It’s one of mine.

When I started studying the future of conferences, I began with research. I set up a Google Search for daily news on the topic. I opened a free account on the curation platform and put in search terms and authorities to listen to.  I scoured the web and paid particular attention to curation champions like Robin Good and Howard Rheingold.

Every day I would sift through a hundred or more items suggested by my social networks or the search engines. Perhaps one item in fifty seemed worth commenting on. Sorting through posts made me think critically and see patterns. It’s an excellent way to get a bead on a subject.

I voiced my opinion on nearly every item. Wise interpretation is what adds value to the content. The human touch is required. In my case, the review of thousands of items taught me a whale of a lot about the future of conferences. In order to write my opinion, I needed to pin down and say why this item made any difference. Like the pitch of the docent in front of  a painting in the gallery, I sold an item — or panned it — and tried to win you to my way of seeing things.

When I select an item, it shows up immediately on my site:


Jay’s site on the future of conferences

…and gets reposted to my Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds. All on automatic.

Curation shows off your repertoire or interests. Four out of the five conference owners I spoke with over the next two weeks told me they’d heard about my work on the future of conferences and were excited to talk. Google for “Future of Conferences” and my work comes up #2. (Marketing departments love curation.)

The basic process I followed is the standard for curation.

  1. Research the field. Find and pour over the feeds. Scour.
  2. Make sense out of the item, explain why it matters. Grok.
  3. Publish on social sites, blog, mail list, and social media. Share.

That’s all there is to it.

IDEA: Entering new markets? Recruit someone to curate news to share with everyone on the team.

IDEA: Entire team researching a subject? Curate the topic collaboratively.

IDEA: New person joining the team? Curate a topic to gain exposure and build reputation.

We used to be inthralled with the idea that everyone now had a personal printing press. Curation tools make it easy for any of us to be publishers of glossy online magazines!

That’s the exhilaration that comes with curation. Imagine the web as millions of pages. To make your magazine, you tear out any of those pages you fancy, explain why they matter, and push the button. Bingo! You’ve shared a link to the content and your take on it.

Several companies offer inexpensive or free curation tools. The best known are,, Pinterest enables you to curate photos. Diigo facilitates curating bookmarks; here are my Diigo pointerson the topic of Curation.


Jay’s Pinterest Page on Conferences

Millions Saved 

A multinational software and e-business consulting firm (If I told you the name, I’d have to shoot you) set up dozens of communities of a hundred or so like-minded professionals. Admission is invitation-only; the communities are like guilds.

Groups formed around topics such as Java, enterprise architecture, banking, insurance, dot-net and businessintelligence. Management made sure each community had at least one person planting seeds.

Each community elected trusted authorities to spot developments and research worth sharing with the group. Colleagues fed them leads from the field so they wouldn’t miss any important developments. Two topics per week were chosen for curation. The curators feared tackling more topics would wear out their welcome.

Since engineers are generally lousy writers, the firm hired professional authors to interview the authorities and write a couple of posts with links every week. Removing the noise of mediocre posts increases the fidelity of results. Applying one person’s time at the front end saves the time of hundreds at the receiving end.

The initial attempt to offer the curated news as RSS feeds and on blogs bombed. Workers will not tolerate breaking out of their workflow. Curated items began arriving by email and everyone was delighted.

Before the community news program, engineers or scientists spent 10% of their time sifting through lots of dead ends and time wasters, and perhaps still not catching the most important news.

About 4,000 people belong to communities. If the curation program cuts everyone’s research time from 10% to 5%, and the average engineer bills $300,000/year, that’s $60 million in additional billing capacity.

Personal Knowledge Mastery

The most sophisticated approach to individual and small-group curation is Personal Knowledge Mastery, a concept pioneered by Harold Jarche. (Disclaimer: Harold is chairman of Internet Time Alliance, the think tank with which I am affiliated.)

Harold’s workshops teach the mechanics of curation but take it to a higher plane. Harold’s PKM is a set of individually constructed processes to help each of us make sense of our world and work more efficiently. Continuously seeking, sense-making, and sharing become the process of work, not some activity on the side. This takes place on the local team level, in communities of practice, and on the internet at large.

PKM provides a framework for becoming knowledgeable. Sometimes it becomes an organizational priority. Says Harold,

PKM may be an individual activity but it is social as well. It is the process by which we can connect what we learn outside the organization with what need to do inside. Research shows that work teams that need to share complex knowledge need tighter social bonds. Work teams often share a unique language or vocabulary. However, they can become myopic and may lack a diversity of opinions. Social networks, on the other hand, encourage diversity and can sow the seeds of innovation. But it is almost impossible to get work done in social networks due to their lack of structure. PKM is the active process of connecting the innovative ideas that can arise in our social networks with the deadline-driven work inside organizations.

Just Do It

You may well be a curator already, posting items to Twitter, your blog, FAQs, or a wiki. When you look at the entire curation process top-to-bottom, you’re likely to find ways to do it with more impact.

Curation enriches the commons by saving people time in finding what they need. It’s also a marvelous means of professional development. The question is if you’re not curating, why not?

Curate your gallery of corporate and personal knowledge as part of your own personal development plan.

Research for this post sponsored by Litmos.

Ten years after

atdplusThose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, so I’ll reflect on the old days a dozen years ago when we were sorting out the ground rules for eLearning.

In 2002, ASTD and I introduced a blog, Learning Circuits Blog, about eLearning and networking. I was an early and frequent contributor. For a simple blog, we went far. At ATD, Ryann Ellis was the under-appreciated editor who held it together for years. <Kudos!> Learning Circuits was ASTD’s first foray into modern learning.

It’s amazing to look back. In 2000, ASTD executives assured me you couldn’t charge for online instruction. Live conferencing and lecture, maybe, but not for mere content delivery or interactive learning. People were still debating whether online learning “worked.” Many were skeptics. Two years later we launched the Learning Circuits Blog. We were web and network enthusiasts; that’s how we got here.

Ryann wrote: This isn’t the first time ASTD has revamped the LC Blog into a more serviceable offering. Excited about the new communication tool, we actually started our first blog somewhat ambitiously in 2002 as an experiment lead by informal learning guru Jay Cross and Learning Circuits editor Ryann Ellis. After a few years of misfires and restarts, Jay helped us relaunch the blog as we now know it on January 5, 2005, with a post laying down ground rules for a group-generated blog. In short, the rules were, no self-promotional posts, no personal attacks, and keep it brief—all good advice to heed today, no matter the platform.

Indeed, over the years, the blog has seen several incarnations and a parade of learning technology thought leaders contributing content, including Clark Aldrich, Karl Kapp, Donald Clark, Dave Lee, Clark Quinn, Clive Shepherd, Harold Jarche, and most notably Tony Karrer, who was at the helm for nearly four years. We thank them and everyone else who shared their ideas, expertise, and dedication to the field. [And have no fear: For those looking for an older post, the LC Blog will remain live with all its content intact.]

For a few years, the Learning Circuits Blog was our learning community’s early substitute for Twitter. The vocal folks built their online reputations there. Tony Karrer and Dave Gray figured heavily in making the LC Blog go. Forgive my feeble memory for blanking on the other contributors.

ASTD revamped its IT system several years ago, breaking thousands of links irrevocably, sending lots of my content down the rathole. Bad move. Links were severed. Thank goodness Goggle has a different mindset: keep everything. Since we set up the Learning Circuits blog on Blogger, it’s there to this day.

Here’s the last (2008) Learning Circuits Blog. Or 2006.

Stroll back in time. Not much new, is there? You could use some of this stuff in Sunday’s sermon and no one would recognize they’d heard it before.

lc blog



DIY Learning

dogI’m writing a book on learning for oneself, without training. It’s for knowledge workers and bosses who have been told “You’re responsible for your own learning.” I imagine they feel like the dog who got on the bus. “What do I do now?”

Aha! is a book for people and small groups of colleagues who are taking their professional development into their own hands. No instructors, no classrooms. It’s DIY learning coupled with Modern Workplace Learning.

The first deliverable will be an inexpensive book, probably both an ebook (cheap and easy to distribute) and a paperback (works better for checklists and highlighting). Later, the text and patterns from the book may become a playlist of exercises and/or a deck of cards. If we achieve liftoff, I expect to continually improve the book with additional examples.

Currently, the book focuses on these patterns:


Are you interested in helping me change the world?

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” (Women okay, too). I need co-conspirators, advisors, editors, a coach, and other true believers. I could really use an intern with editing skills. And several hundred people who want to improve the way they learn.

The payoff will come from being in on the ground floor of something big: PULL learning on a scale rarely imagined, helping people leverage learning to work smarter. And, you get to work with (ahem!) the thought leader I’m reputed to be. Talk about Action Learning!

Please volunteer. Sign in at (Note: .net, not .com). Or call me at 510 323 7380.