All posts by Jay Cross

Back to ground zero thinking

Twenty days into vacation and my obsession with work has finally disappeared. I have a fresh slate to work with. I’m open to new priorities and adventures.

Çesma, Turkey

Çesma, Turkey

Çesma, Turkey

One thing that is less than idyllic and puts me in fighting mode is the god-awful wifi aboard ship. For $250, you get unreliable, low-bandwidth wifi that sometimes crashes once a minute. To add insult to injury, my cruise line censors content. Details at What are they thinking?  No matter where I happen to be, I consider an internet connection the next most important thing after toilet paper. And $250 for access is equivalent to charging $100 a roll.  “Can I have the email address of your I.T. department?” Answer from Windstar: “No, we are not allowed to give that out. I will call them for you.” Me: “No, I want this documented.”  Çesma, Turkey

Most of the towns and islands on our itinerary have ancient roots. Çesme reached its zenith in the middle ages under rule of the Genoese. In 1566, the Ottomans took over. In the twentieth century, watermelon replaced wine as the main crop, and Çesme became a windsurfing destination and home port for countless  fancy yachts. How do towns like this retain their identities?


Consider Ephesus, which was founded by the Achaeans in the Bronze Age. Four centuries later, in the 10th century BC, Ionians and Attic Greeks built Ephesus atop the older city. The Temple of Artemis, the largest building in the ancient world, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and home to the “many breasted Lady of Ephesus” was burned down by a loony in the third century BC. Ephesus was variously conquered by the Lydians, Persians, retaken by Ionians, Alexander the Great stopped by, the Egyptians under Ptolemy III ruled for a while, joined the Roman Empire, and became second only to Rome as a trading center.   Ephesis

It was raided by the Goths but rebuilt by Constantine. In 614, Ephesus was partly destroyed by an earthquake. St. John probably wrote his gospel here. Rumor has it that this is where the Virgin Mary retired to after the Crucifixion. The Byzantines ruled for three hundred years. The Crusaders passed through. The city was abandoned in the 15th century. To-date, archeologists have excavated only 15% of the ancient city.

How does a place like this retain its identity?

And how do we retain our personal identities?

My foundations have been raided and razed as if by Persians and Byzantines as I’ve morphed from child to high-school student to preppie to college student to computer salesman to Army officer to market researcher to manager to philosopher to author to mindful traveler. Somehow the values persist, the core remains, the identity is still there, even when buried under thirty feet of history and rubble.

An interviewer asked me what’s next. “Death,” I said. That was for shock value. Like most people, I cannot really imagine my demise. All I’ve ever known was life so death is a foreign concept.


I’ll probably joust with windmills until the end.

My current crusade is to share the secrets of how to learn to learn with those who don’t even realize that learning is a variable. Too many people think “learning = school.” The truth is that “schooling = indoctrination.” That’s why it sounds odd to ask, “What did you ask in school today?”

thoreauI’ll need to unlearn the attitudes  and axioms from my last crusade, informal learning, in order to concentrate on the new target of Real Learning.

I’ll no longer be fighting “the man,” denigrating L&D for shirking what I consider their responsibility to promote learning throughout the organization; I’m mostly going to forget that they are even there.

I intend to experiment with my latest insights into memory. If I recall a memory, I may be able to scramble it before returning it to storage. This wipes out the connections that make the memory whole. This may be impossible, but it will make for an interesting thought experiment.

This rambling, introspective post probably belongs on my Plog, my progress log, so I’ll copy it there now.


Real Learning explained

Excerpt from interview with Learnnovators

Learnnovators: We are excited about having reviewed your new book Real Learning.  We couldn’t agree more with Laura Overton (Founder & CEO, Towards Maturity) that this is a manual to empower self-directed learners in really practical ways. Could you give our readers a brief on your book that is also a part of a larger part of your Real Learning project please?

Jay: I’d be delighted.

Millions of knowledge workers and their managers have been told they are responsible for their own learning but have no more idea what to do than the dog who got on the bus (Now WTF do I do?). I want to turn them on to what we know about how brains work and get them off on the right track for their meta-learning journey.

real cover

Real Learning seeks to empower people to use their wits and increase their mental capacity. Real Learning helps workers build a sound learning process. “Teach a man to fish.…” Improving one’s capacity to learn pays compound interest for a lifetime.

Real Learning is 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.

For nearly half a century, I’ve helped learners through Learning & Development but L&D only reaches a small sliver of the workforce and their approach is episodic. It doesn’t do much to improve the organization. Most people are unaware that learning is even a variable. I’d like to show the people L&D never reaches how to learn to learn.

Personally, this is a way for me to pay back the people I have learned from over the years and to leave something of value behind as my legacy.

Forgive a stretch analogy, but I’d like to do for learning what Luther did for religion: make the sacred knowledge transparent. Bring things out in the open. (Luther’s big move was to translate the Latin Bible into something ordinary worshippers could read.)

Naturally, the Real Learning project has my fingerprints all over it. I believe:

  • People learn most from experience, not courses.
  • Informal learning sticks because it is need-driven and usually reinforced with immediate application.
  • Learning is ultimately the responsibility of the learner.
  • The world is changing so fast that staying in one’s comfort zone is not an option.
  • Learning scientists and neurologists have discovered many ways to improve learning but few people apply or have even heard about their findings.

I hope to inspire hoards of people to experience learning something significant and remembering how they did it. Again and again and again. Instilling motivation is the key variable for readers who sometimes need shock treatment to experiment and try new things.

With such a huge need, I’m counting on serendipity and newsworthy quirkiness to get publicity started. We’ll need pilot tests, too. That’s what I’m working on now. If you know of an organization that would like to have hundreds of independent learners getting better at what they do and has the ability to monitor feedback, invite them to join me for a pilot session.

Information about the Real Learning project is at

The complete interview with Learnnovators is here.


Airline madness


I’m writing this from the first class cabin on a United flight from Houston to Munich. We have been plied with champagne, prosciutto, steak, cheese, (had to pass on the salad and ice cream sundae courses), free-flowing wine, and cognac. I’m sitting in a comfortable wide seat that converts into a bed. You’d think I’d be a happy camper.

I’m not. I don’t like to deal with companies that employ bait-and-switch tactics to fool their customers. United is not alone in the airline industry; collusion sees to that. When it comes to marketing and meeting customer expectations, they are all stupid. Dumb as dirt.

The concept of market segmentation calls for differentiating groups of customers in order to appeal to the most profitable among them.

What other industry would take their most loyal, high-spending customers and single them out for shabby treatment? I’m thinking of airlines and Frequent Flier Miles.

Bait and switch
United awards frequent fliers with miles on future flights. Frequent flier miles are paying for most of this first-class flight from San Francisco to Mallorca and Athens with return via Istanbul. I’d amassed a third of a million miles, so I felt confident when I called United’s Mileage Plus to redeem them.

Oh, silly me. I spent the better part of an hour on the phone being told why I couldn’t fly on this flight or that, how my miles weren’t adequate for upgrading from economy on Lufthansa, and a host of blackout dates. By the time my itinerary was selected, I felt frazzled and kept repeating in my head “I am dealing with idiots.”

I ended up with an itinerary I would never have chosen for myself. “It’s the best we can do.” Depart San Francisco at 7:24 in the morning. (I prefer mid-morning departures.) Lay over in Houston for three hours. Fly to Munich and wait five hours for a flight to Palma. Then fly from Palma to Athens via Copenhagen (spending the night in the Copenhagen airport). Pay $1,200 out of pocket to upgrade my flight back to SFO (you can’t use frequent filer miles for that).

Frequent flier miles are a booby prize. They are funny money that doesn’t enable you to buy what you want.

Remember, this treatment is reserved for United’s best customers. You can’t determine what flights are eligible on the web, so you can’t plan your own itinerary. You have to talk with a human who looks things up and usually reports “that’s not available” or “maybe if you wait a month and call back” or “you’ll have to fly from Spain to Greece via Denmark.” Aggravation. Can I be the only person who feels deceived and cheated by this system?

This makes no sense to me. I’ll do everything I can to avoid flying on United ever again.

I tried to transfer miles for a friend since I don’t intend to use them. United offered to transfer enough miles to buy a $777 ticket for a fee of $1,200. Huh? It was the same story with Lufthansa, Air Canada, and a host of other airlines.

In sum, the marketing strategy of airlines seems to be: encourage your very best customers to join a program where you can piss them off. Well, guys, it’s working.

Customers Last
My fight today originated in San Francisco. I flew from SFO to Houston first class. Entertainment? Infomercials on a tiny screen. No music, no movies, no route maps, just crapola television.

Would you like something to drink? “A mimosa.” I might as well have asked for a sky-hook or a Quetzalcoatle.

The fellow behind me complained that his tray table was filthy. “Couldn’t they have cleaned this before we got on board?” The cabin attendance responded “Do you can me to call someone to clean it up?” The implication was that this would delay our departure. He made do with his dirty table.

United offers two types of service.

There’s domestic, which is bare-bones, no frills, trashy. Back in the cattle-car section, you have to pay fo food and more than likely it will be junk food, potato chips, and crap loaded with high fructose core syrup. (A cabin attendant once told me “I can’t believe we are doing this to people.”) Leg-room is so scarce I don’t understand how tall people fly.

There’s international, with plush seats, decent food, and free booze. Why the stark difference? Competition from foreign carriers who would never try to foist off lousy service.

United recently acquired another former competitor. Less competition means less incentive for United to provide decent service. They’ve got us over a barrel.

I believe in karma. In time, the present incarnation of United will die and be reborn as a dung beetle.

I’m sitting on the deck of a villa on the island of Mallorca. I plan to spent the next three weeks in bliss and reflection. No more vitriolic blog posts, just enjoyment of life.


The Cluetrain Manifesto in action

themanifestoSixteen years ago, The Cluetrain Manifesto foretold the impact the Internet would have on companies’ relationships with their clients.  Some companies have yet to get the clue.

Excepts from the 95 Theses:

  • Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  • There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  • Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  • In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business — the sound of mission statements and brochures —will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court
  • Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.


CIGNA insurance refused to pay for my drugs because it was the second time in a year I asked for a refill in advance because I was going on vacation.  The story is online.

Here are a few Tweets from yesterday evening. I had warned them and they blew me off anyway. These guys put their undocumented in-house policies ahead of human decency and common sense.

cigna10 cigna9 cigna8 cigna7 cigna6 cigna5 cigna4 cigna3




CIGNA called me this morning and said this shouldn’t happen to anyone. They are reviewing their policies. They are reviewing their internal procedures. They are sorry this happened.

Too bad they didn’t say that yesterday instead of telling me this was the way things were, policy is policy, and I would not be allowed to speak to a person higher up.

I’m off on vacation. I think CIGNA’s doing a little damage control.


Blab with me

Have you tried Blab yet? It’s what Google Hangouts should have been, a free video conferencing tool for up to four speakers and an unlimited audience. Optionally, Blab records and archives conversations.

Brent Schlenker turned me on to Blab, and as soon as I saw it, I had to host a session.

blab Click for recording

Blab is tightly integrated with Twitter. You can Tweet announcements of sessions and invitations for people to join in.

I’ve been searching for something like this to enable readers of Real Learning to meet online to share their experiences and help one another learn.

On Monday at 11:00 Pacific/2:00 Eastern I’ll open up a session on Blab to talk about Real Learning. You can find the details on Twitter. Sure, I know it’s Labor Day. I figured you might have a few minutes when you’re not in meetings.

I just scheduled the session. This immediately appeared on Twitter: Real Learning Monday 11:00am PDT. Subscribe now ➼      Join me.

The developers are monitoring Blab closely and it improves every day. It reminds me of WordPress, where they are forever fixing things I didn’t know were broken.

Postscript. More than a dozen people subscribed, indicating they were going to join us. One person showed up; we’d had lunch together a few days before. Participation inequality lives on.

Real Learning

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
–George Bernard Shaw

 Aha! is becoming Real Learning.  The old name didn’t fit the book.


Aha! captures the spirit of “Oh, I see; that’s how you do it.” Cool.

Unfortunately, the term Aha! only focuses only on the magic moment of enlightenment. It doesn’t suggest the work that comes before (knowing your goals, tuning your networks) or what it takes to make learning stick (taking action and reflection).

As I worked with it, the term began to feel too close to the self-help snake oil that fills bookstore shelves. Creepy.

I am out to help people learn how to improve their lives by learning to learn and don’t want to be confused with the charlatans and their faith-healing promises. Real Learning is based on neuroscience and what’s proven successful, not the standard self-help bullshit.

Real Learning is what the book is  about. I’m not going to give you a sales pitch. (If that’s what you’re after, look here.) The book is a natural sequel to Informal Learning.  The earlier book talked about the importance of informal learning.  Real Learning explains how to do it .

Change is a pain at this point, but as Jack Welch said, it’s best to change before you have to.