All posts by Jay Cross

Brain matters

Brain Matters 2015 bannerpngEducators from Around the World Discuss How to Make Everyone a Genius at Brain Matters 2015: Bring Out Your Inner Genius

Online conference is expected to draw a diverse group of learning experts

Tuesday, November 10 at 9:00 AM EST and Wednesday, November 11 at 9:00 AM EST

Author Margie Meacham will present Brain Matters 2015: Bring Out Your Inner Genius, an online conference, on Tuesday, November 10 and Wednesday, November 11, 2015.  This highly interactive virtual conference explores the nature of genius through the lens of neuroscience.  A panel of esteemed learning experts discuss what is unique about the genius brain and how people can train their own brains to bring out their own genius-level performance. Attendees will get a deeper understanding of their own brains and some practical tips for achieving peak performance. Attendees can post questions and comments, watch video, collaborate on a white board or join in the discussion. Registered attendees can also visit the virtual expo, where they can interact with the speakers.  General admission for both days of the online conference is $147.  Registration is open to the general public and now available at

I'm speaking

I’ll be talking about Real Learning at noon Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern on November 10.

If you’re interested in attending, email me. I may be able to scare up a few free passes.

Leave Learning to Employees, sort of

clocoverLeave Learning to Employees
By Kate Everson
CLO magazine November 2015

This article describes the CLO of Kaplan as he adapts to a world where employees can route around learning to find their own content. They don’t need him any more

Learner-created content presents a challenge to CLOs: they want to control it.

EasyGenerator CEO Kasper Spiro points out that you can’t. Learner-created content is out of control by definition. Better that CLOs focus on creating ecosystems that support learning, knowledge-sharing, and social interaction.

Kaplan set up a wiki that has proved very successful. (I’d call this working smarter, not learning, but that’s not a big issue). They tag wiki entries with an approval rating which strikes me as controlling but maybe not.

“Even if CLOs monitor learning closely, workers will still send around links to TED Talks and Harvard Business Review…” Of course. The CLO long ago abdicated responsibility for the totality that might be labeled learning in favor of focusing on specific issues. People make their own choices with or without him.

The article returns to employee-created or shared content. A consultant discourages employee-made learning materials because of the lack of proficiency among the employees. What nonsense. What does this do to morale? Who better to create content than those who are on the shop floor? An amateur produces content overnight; a training department takes months.

“CLOs have to make sure the channels hosting employee-created or shared materials are congruent.” Why is that? Most organizations are not congruent. I think CLOs should be worrying about other things.

The Kaplan CLO states his situation honestly:

At the end of the day, I as the learning professional am not going to change how the business runs. I can help influence it, but management owns the day, employees own their day. They’re going to do what they need to do to accomplish their objectives, so how do I fit into that and help shift that if I want to try to nuance it, as opposed to ask them to meet me where I’m comfortable.

This is one of those articles that begins with the right questions but offers pedestrian, half-way measures as solutions.

The CLO feigns near helplessness.


Instead of wringing his hands, he could:

• have his team fill the roles Jane Hart advocates in Modern Workplace Learning: collaboration specialists, community managers, and performance advisors.

• apply the new 70:20:10:100 performance framework to identify the gaps most rewarding to fill.

• help employees become effective DIY learners by making Real Learning available organization-wide.

• sell his management on the new reality that learning = working and the learning ecosystem approach.

In this age of the extended enterprise, I’d stretch this beyond employees to contingent workers, outsourced suppliers, distribution partners, and others in the value chain.

Once again, I fail to understand why we learning experts (L&D) provide no guidance on learning to the people who need to do it. It’s like “Here, do my job but I’m not going to tell you how.”

Real Learning acquaints participants with social learning and experiential learning with simple exercises. Why can’t a CLO pass along that knowledge?


Why Organizations Don’t Learn

Where organic, bottom-up meets corporate top-down.45720753_sAn article entitled Why Organizations Don’t Learn by Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats in the November 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review caught my eye.

The resemblance of their suggestions and the content of Real Learning is uncanny.

Both the article and Real Learning highlight:

  • Destigmatize making mistakes (they are opportunities to learn)
  • Embrace and teach a growth mindset
  • Avoid attribution bias
  • Don’t work to exhaustion
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Take time to just think
  • Encourage reflection after doing
  • Leverage your strengths
  • Give workers different kinds of experience
  • Know who you’re working with

While we share many ideas on what makes for a successful organization, HBR and Real Learning are as different as night and day. Harvard Business Review is written for managers and executives. Real Learning is written for people who want to learn. HBR is top-down; Real Learning is bottom-up.

HBR lays the responsibility for getting things done on leaders:

Leaders can use a variety of strategies to counter the biases, including stressing that mistakes are learning opportunities, building more breaks into schedules, helping employees identify and apply their personal strengths, and encouraging employees to own problems that affect them.

The problem is that everything recommended by HBR deals with the supply side. Real Learning looks at the world through the demand side. Real Learning appeals to people with an intrinsic motivation to learn — in order to meet their personal goals. Intrinsic motivation outguns extrinsic motivation because ultimately, individuals learn what they want to learn.

It wasn’t easy writing Real Learning from the learner’s perspective. (At first I tried to write the book without using the word learning, but that proved impossible.) One has to eliminate the trainers’ bias toward “them.” You can’t get away with platitudes about what leaders should do.

HBR’s prescriptions are the right medicine; too bad they’ve chosen the wrong means of administering it.

While leaders can and should do what they can to create a supportive learning environment and an engaging culture, things won’t change until workers begin to act differently.

People in the Real Learning Project learn to learn socially, experientially, and informally. Thus, they are prepared to deal with the daily surprises that are part of the baggage of complex work.


When I was in India in 2011, I found out that India needs to train 500 million people in the next ten years. The solution being batted around was to build 17,000 new universities to teach them.

What would those schools teach? The half-life of a professional skill is down to five years and is shrinking fast. It makes no sense to train people on skills that will become obsolete in short order. I suggested that people need to learn meta-skills, such things as:

  • learning how to learn
  • critical thinking and conceptualization
  • pattern recognition
  • design thinking
  • working with one another
  • navigating complex environments
  • software literacy

India has neither time nor resources to prepare teachers to transfer these skills to hundreds of millions of people. The answer? Flip Indian education. Delegate the delivery of content to electronic means, and focus teachers on coaching, leading discussions, helping people over hurdles, and relating lessons to real life. Also, teach students and workers to teach themselves.

The time is ripe for India to democratize education, to help students to think for themselves, and realize their potential. Top-down (17,000 universities) is not viable. Indians must empower people to learn on their own. Giving control to the learners is the only way to take control of the situation.

Networks of individuals instead of corporate monoliths

In January 2012, two dozen authors, managers, and agile software developers met on a mountain top in Stoos, Switzerland, to try to reverse the decline of corporations. How could the practice of management be updated to work in a complex, unpredictable world?

We concluded that Western corporations are broken. Workers hate their jobs; customers complain of lousy service; investors receive meager returns. There has to be a better way.

The organization-as-machine, the model that served us from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginning of the 21st century, leads to a quest for efficiency. That works in stable, unchanging times, but it’s a formula for disaster amid incessant, disruptive change. The living network is a better model for today. Organizations need to conceptualize themselves as networks of individuals and teams who perpetually strive to create more value for customers.

This flips the corporation into an organization that respects people for their contributions rather than seeing them as cogs in the machine. The new order democratizes the workplace.

Corporate Learning

In America and Europe, the corporate learning function is dead or dying.

A 2011 study by the Corporate Leadership Council reported that 76% of managers are dissatisfied with their corporate training function; 85% deem training ineffective; and a mere 14% would recommend training to their fellow managers.

Workers and managers learn their work though conversation, collaboration, and on-the-job experience. My colleague Jane Hart calls this “learning without training.”

Enlightened corporations trust their people to pull in the resources they need. They’ve flipped corporate learning by putting the learners in charge of defining the curriculum. These corporations concentrate on building self-sustaining learning ecosystems, what I’ve called workscapes, instead of individual programs.

Real Learning builds the skills for workers to take charge of their own learning. I’m currently writing a booklet on what managers and team leaders can do to support decentralization of corporate learning.

Real Learning explained graphically











These are graphics from the
current edition of Real Learning.





























Slide16 Slide17










































Slide31 Slide32



The Real Learning Project

The Real Learning Book

Buy Real Learning for $2.99





Price of Real Learning going from $2.99 to $6.99

The price of the pdf version of Real Learning will increase from $2.99 to $6.99 on October 25th, a week from today.

Buy enough for your team now. At $2.99 a pop, you could issue a wake-up call to everyone on your floor for a few hundred bucks.

Buy Real Learning here.


Table of Contents       Bibliography

Book Reference Page

Learn from experience without 
instructors or classrooms. 

  • Work smarter and have more impact
  • Learn faster and remember more
  • Embrace openness and learn out loud
  • Make sound learning practices into lifelong habits
  • Co-create knowledge with colleagues
  • Plan how to achieve your growth goals
  • Learn to be the person you aspire to be

Experience is the best teacher. Real Learning provides techniques and the opportunity to practice these:

  •  Self analysis and goal setting
  •  How people learn in organizations
  •  Casting your net into the feeds and flow to extract the good stuff
  •  How to learn – and demonstrate mastery – with curation
  •  Becoming a search ninja
  •  Refining your crap detectors
  •  Strengthening your memory
  •  When to take breaks
  •  Sketching things out
  •  Conditions/attitudes for optimal learning
  •  Seeking new challenges, leaving “Familiarland”
  •  Taking on stretch assignments
  •  Social learning, conversing, making relationship work
  •  Participating in a community of practice
  •  Reflection – on what’s learned, how it’s learned, and how to improve the process
  •  Working out loud
  •  Getting feedback
  •  Talking business
  •  Breaking nasty habits
  • Being mindful

Softcover and e-pub versions will be released next month.



Learning is a lot more than schooling

Quickly, now, “What word or words pop into your head if I say Learning?”

This was the barrier that kept me from starting the Real Learning Revolution a few nights back. The L-word. Schools brainwashed us so thoroughly that everyone’s immediate association is learning = schooling.

That’s got to stop, for schooling is an increasingly obsolete exercise in rote learning and the world is getting way too complicated to rely on schools and school models (think instructors, courses, schedules, tests, lectures) as the pinnacle learning.


Pssst!: Grades are meaningless outside of the schooling framework. You grubbed for grades, maybe took chances cheating, stayed up half the night, and heavens knows what else in high school and college. Yet grades are totally irrelevant in real life. C students are no happier or wealthier or successful than A students or F students. Can you imagine any other human enterprise getting away with such a bogus measurement system?

Most of us have a sinking feeling when we hear the word “schooling.” In our guts, we know there are better, less demeaning, more personalized ways to learn things.

Even smart people have blinders on. Everybody agrees that learning is important. That’s one of the mantras. But it’s sort of like school… Didn’t work that well. Was coercive, too. Most courses are Fascist. And they turn people off to the most important variable in their lives: their ability to learn, adapt, improve, and prosper.

There’s good learning and there’s poor learning. A lot of school involves poor learning. Obsolete requirements. Antique pedagogy. Would that the world were populated with Montesoris.

How can we break through the stereotype of schooling so we may recognize social, informal, experiential learning for the powerhouse it is.?

I’ve tried writing about performance improvement without the L-word and it was tedious.



The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order. Alfred North Whitehead.

Before you try to change something, increase your awareness of it. Tim Galwey

For the first twenty-five years of my life, I wanted freedom. For the next twenty-five, I wanted order. For the next twenty-five years, I realized that order is freedom. Winston Churchill.

The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye… The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. Jacob Bronowski (ACT)

The world isn’t interested in the storms you encountered, but whether or not you brought in the ship. Raul Armesto

Those who face that which is actually before them, unburdened by the past, undistracted by the future, those are they who live, who make the best use of their lives, those are those who have found the secret of contentment. Alban Goodier


“99 percent of success is built on failure.” – Charles Kettering

“The ultimate creative thinking technique is to think like God. If you’re an atheist, pretend how God would do it.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” – Linus Pauling

“One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive one.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Innovation opportunities do not come with the tempest but with the rustling of the breeze.” – Peter Drucker

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer injury to our self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their self-importance, learn so easily; and why older people, especially if vain or arrogant, cannot learn at all.” ~ Thomas Szasz

“One must learn by doing the thing. For though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” ~ Sophocles 

“If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” ~ William McKnight, CEO of 3M 

Consider the frog and the scorpion. Give me a ride across the stream. But you will sting me and I will die, replies the frog. But then I would drown, argues the scorpion. The frog swims, carrying his passenger, feels an ominous sting. Why, he asks. Because it is my nature, replies the scorpion.

Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival. W. Edwards Deming

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. Eric Hoffer

Sixty years ago I knew everything; now I know nothing; education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance. Will Durant

“Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.” Jim Rohn

You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to lead you. W. Somerset Maugham 

“Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge. This an art very difficult to impart. We must beware of what I will call “inert ideas” that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized or tested or thrown into fresh combinations.” Alfred North Whitehead

“Learning is not so much an additive process, with new learning simply piling up on top of existing knowledge, as it is an active, dynamic process in which the connections are constantly changing and the structure reformatted.” K. Patricia Cross

It is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning. Claude Bernard

Sometimes the last thing learners need is for their preferred learning style to be affirmed. Agreeing to let people learn only in a way that feels comfortable and familiar can restrict seriously their chance for development. Steven Brookfield

A little learning is a dangerous thing. Alexander Pope

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.
Thomas Szasz

“Students learn what they care about . . .,” Stanford Ericksen has said, but Goethe knew something else: “In all things we learn only from those we love.” Add to that Emerson’s declaration: “the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.” and we have a formula something like this: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them…” Barbara Harrell Carson

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm S. Forbes

The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; To train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others. Tryon Edwards

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. John Dewey

“We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong.” Bill Vaughn

“Knowledge is not a commodity to be traded between expert and novice. Rather, it is a construction of ideas negotiated by the learner in a social setting.” Rosamar Garcia

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” Samuel Johnson  (Performance support 101)

“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge… observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.” Denis Diderot

“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein

“He who asks a question may be a fool for five minutes. But he who never asks a question remains a fool forever.” Tom J. Connelly

“The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who does not know how to learn.” Alvin Toffler

What we must decide is perhaps how we are valuable, rather than how valuable we are. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago. Bernard Berenson

Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.  Oliver Wendell Holmesquotes2



Last days of the world’s fastest ocean liner


On its inaugural voyage in 1952, the sleek S.S. United States set the record for an Atlantic crossing (3 1/2 days) and more than sixty years later, the record still stands.

The United States was the Concorde of its day: high tech, expensive, and luxurious, the fastest way across the ocean. Made of lightweight aluminum with R&D funded by the Department of Defense (since the United States could be converted into the world’s fastest troop ship.)


In June 1958,  my father, a career Army officer, was transferred to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) just outside Paris. We were to travel on the S.S. United States!

Right before departure, a general officer decided to fly instead of sail, and we were upgraded to First Class. Another military brat and I landed our own cabin. We went to see the movie Run Silent Run Deep four times. Burt Lancaster was aboard but we never got to talk with him.

By the way, our household furniture traveled with us, in two humongous crates stored in the hold.


I learned to eat in the First Class dining room of the S.S. United States. Caviar, squab under glass, beef Wellington, tornedos Rossini, sorbet. The waiters encouraged me to order everything I might want to try. I took them up on it.

One evening we had just sat down to dinner when the ship rolled 20 degrees starboard. Every plate on the tables crashed to the floor. Half the guests left immediately. The crew installed ropes along the halls and stairways so you could cling when the ship lurched back and forth violently.  North Atlantic storms are vicious.

No one saw this coming. Today we’d get amber alerts on our smartphones before hitting the bad weather.


Photo from The New York Times, October 9, 2015

The S.S. United States sailed its last voyage in 1969.  Various groups have tried to save it but they’ve run out of money. The S.S. United States will either be moored in concrete or, more likely, cut into pieces and sold for scrap.

Given a choice of speed or luxury, people opted for speed, and airplanes wiped out transoceanic cruises.

This is but one more example of technology knocking the stuffing out of an entire category, wiping out the best performers at the same time as the worst. Remember typewriters?