Category Archives: Aha!

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.

Screencast, Aha!

Screencasts are a great way to look over someone’s shoulder remotely to see what’s happening on screen. I used to use Camtasia for this but the price tag drove me away. I used Jive instead.

Both Jive and Snagit were rendered inoperable by the latest update of Yosemite for the Mac. Recordings show a black screen with a blinking cursor. Nothing else. I and a lot of other users are ticked. Couldn’t they have alerted us?

I snooped around a little and found that you can replicate what Jive did with QuickTime. It’s built into Yosemite. The interface is primitive but it’s simple and it works. Here’s a QuickTime movie I made this afternoon:

15 essentials for successful learning

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.


While cleaning up my office this afternoon, I came up this list of essentials for effective informal learning I wrote a couple of years ago for the ASTD Handbook.

I don’t know if I’m in a rut or simply unwavering in my beliefs, but I was surprised to find that every one of these appears in nearly the same language in my new book. (I’d forgotten that I’d written the earlier list.)

  1. Most learning is self-directed. Give people the freedom to chart their course. Make sure resources are readily available and easy to find.
  2. Set high expectations, and people live up to them. Help people make sense of and prosper in the world and the workplace. Facilitate social networks that enable people to compare their situation with others.
  3. Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Foster open, frequent, frank conversations both virtually and in person. Praise courageous conversations.
  4. People learn by doing. Encourage experimentation.
  5. Ensure that managers and mentors understand the impact of stretch assignments. Learning is experiential, and stretch assignments give learners new experiences.
  6. Teach people the least they need know to tackle things on their own.
  7. Make it drop-dead simple to access people in the know, the lessons of experience, how-to information, and performance support.
  8. Learning is social. Encourage participation in communities. Make collaboration the norm. Narrate your work and share with others. Communities and guilds create and consume knowledge. If you don’t have a vibrant social network, create one.
  9. More than half of us work part of our time outside of the office. Ensure support is mobile.
  10. We want what we want, no more. Whenever possible, provide choices. Give employees the pieces to create personalized learning experiences.
  11. Learning is for everyone, not just novices and up-and-comers. You can’t expect to prosper without it. Make sure everyone’s covered.
  12. Learning takes reinforcement to stick. Seek feedback. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your reflections. Revisiting what you learn fixes it in memory.
  13. Innovation is born of mashing up concepts from different disciplines. Encourage looking outside the box.
  14. Provide feeds for what’s going on in the team, the department, the company, the industry, and technical disciplines.
  15. People confuse learning with school. Build lessons on learning how to learn into the organization.


The list appears in ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development, 2nd edition.


Hacked on Skype. No collateral damage. Whew!

skypelogoThis morning I awoke to find messages from a dozen friends asking, “Did you send me this?”

Hackers had managed to send everyone on my Skype account a link to a weight-reduction site. (“How Rachel Dropped 25 Pounds and 4 Dress Sizes!”)

I wrote everyone, “This is spam. Please don’t open it. (I wouldn’t suggest you need a weight loss program even if it’s true.)”

Opening the spam is apparently harmless. At least, it didn’t cause any collateral damage on my site.

The only positive aspect of all this is that I renewed contact with a dozen friends I hadn’t talked with in ages. Some of them have agreed to check out Aha! I received a printed copy of the latest version only yesterday.

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Writing down your learning goals increases the odds you will accomplish them

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”
Lee Iococca

Do write down your goals? Share them with others? Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, says you are 21 percent more likely to achieve your goals by writing them down and sharing them with a friend or colleague.

[Errata: Originally, this post said “42 percent more likely.” Among other sources, Michael Hyatt had written, “Professor Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California did her own study not long ago that confirmed the power of writing down our goals. The study showed a significant improvement in reaching goals when they were written. In fact, just by writing down your goals you are 42 percent more likely to achieve them.”

One of the folks reading the Aha! beta raised an eyebrow. The 42% seemed fishy. He called Professor Matthew, who explained she had been misquoted.]

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Dominican reports that participants in Matthews’ study were randomly assigned to one of five groups. The research study reports that:

•    Group 1 was asked to simply think about the business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block and to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success). This group accomplished 43% of their goals.

•    Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

•    Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal.

•    Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.  This group accomplished 64% of their goals.

•    Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend. This group accomplished 76% of their goals.

Broadly categorized, participants’ goals included completing a project, increasing income, increasing productivity, improving organization, enhancing performance/achievement, enhancing life balance, reducing work anxiety, and learning a new skill. Specific goals ranged from writing a chapter of a book to listing and selling a house.

Click for summary responses to the survey

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

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.