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.


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


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



Ukelele break

Sorry, off the point, but I just love this. 

Where I’m coming from

recykceThese are my core beliefs about how to get along in the world.

I wrote this post fourteen years ago and rediscovered it this morning. I’m amazed at the consistency of what I believe. I still hold to these, although now they’d be supplemented with newfound knowledge about complexity, mindfulness, informal learning, community, social media, and other topics. Here’s how I saw it in 2001:


Perception is reality. (See The User Illusion)

  • Placebos work.
  • Hawthorne effect.
  • Halo effect.
  • There need be no commodities.
  • Reality is relative: we each have our own.

Mental expectations set real limits.virgil

  • Learned helplessness.
  • “They are able because they think they are able.” Virgil
  • Optimism works better than pessimism.
  • Logic = blinders to intuitive exploration.

Modern people have cro magnon brains.

  • The human brain is the product of 10 million years of evolution, 99.8% of it in caves, on the savennah, hunting and gathering.
  • Our relatively modern “thinking” brains are in perpetual contact and conflict with our ancient “feeling” brains.
  • Pre-agricultural troglodytes lived entirely in the now. Our brains didn’t need to plan very far ahead, so looking longterm is not in our natural repertoire.
  • Our brains seek patterns, often finding one when it’s not intentionally there. As we retell a dream, our brains invent the context to make sense of nonsense. We do this in waking life as well, but are not conscious of it.

cromagPeople are warm-blooded, omnivorous, sight-mammals.

  • We are creatures.
  • Circadian rhythms control our thinking.
  • If it full empty it; if it’s empty, fill it.
  • Fight or flight response is the root of stress in the office as well as the jungle.

People like what they know; they don’t know what they like.

  • In marketing, position services for maximum halo effect.
  • First we make our habits, then our habits make us.
  • Personal comfort zone = blinders, rut.
  • Change threatens stability.

beherenowBe alert. Keep an open mind. Follow your heart.

  • Mindfulness matters.
  • Be here now.
  • Walk in other people’s shoes.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • Learning is an active process.

To every thing there is a cycle.

  • You’re born, you live, you die.
  • You live on through your children, your start-ups.
  • Epigensis = born at the right time.


betaEverything flows.

  • Time flies.
  • Nothing alive is ever finished.
  • Worthwhile documents, policies, reports, and relationships live.

All things are connected.

  • Connections often as important as the things they connect.
  • Value of a network increases exponentially to the number of nodes.

Less is more.

  • Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication
  • When confronted with two explanations, choose the simplest.

Everything exists on numerous levels.

  • Level of abstraction/detail. Meta-.
  • balconyNo matter what’s happening in the plaza, you can always go up to the balcony for a look at the bigger picture.
  • Laterality, everything/idea has neighbors, related by concept, co-location, timing, etc.
  • Everything is rooted in a life cycle. It’s young or old, evolving or dying.

Process is power.

  • Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  –Chinese Proverb
  • One person’s process is another person’s content.

Virtually everything is on a continuum. It’s shades of gray rather than black or white.

  • There is no absolute truth. There is no meaning without context.

Most things in life are beyond our control. (See Serendipity)

  • Better to think things through than to thrash and force-fit.
  • yinyangThe mind and body are one.
  • Diversification decreases risk.
  • We are smarter than any one of us.

Shit happens.

  • Entropy.
  • Moorphy’s Law (On Internet time, shit happens exponentially.)
  • Chaos.


tradeoffDecisions are a tradeoff of risk & reward.

  • Leverage = How much risk or reward.
  • R & R are not logical.
  • …rather, a mix of logic, emotion, biological drives, habit, associations, current state of mind, etc.
  • Information is valuable only to the extent that it will change decisions.

wattsDoes it matter?

  • What’s in it for me?
  • What business are we in?
  • Principle of materiality.
  • Don’t fret over the inconsequential.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • The past is a sunk cost.

Invest time and resources wisely.

  • Time is the scarce resource.
  • Optimize mix of up-front preparation and auctual doing and folllow-up.
  • Do not confuse thought with action.
  • waqatchThere is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • Beware of armchair data.
  • Diversify
  • Leverage

When management treats time, space and no-matter as resources rather than as roadblocks, our methods of organization will no longer be lagging behind, at the end.  —Future Perfect.


welchIn business, take Jack Welch’s advice…

  • focus on customers
  • resist bureaucracy
  • think imaginatively
  • invigorate others.

How to behave

  • Live as if this is all there is.
  • Look for the best in others. Other esteem.
  • Share my thoughts and feelings. Be authentic.
  • feedbackOpen the door to feedback.
  • Smile. Learn. Laugh. Pay attention.
  • Practice optimism. Be here now.
  • Live with intention.
  • Think out of the box.
  • Do what I love. Do it with gusto.
  • Maintain balance.
  • Don’t obsess.

Seek patterns

  • Homeostasis — central tendency, self-correction, standard deviation.
  • Pareto’s law: 20% of the resources yield 80% of the results.
  • Self-organizationpareto
  • Organize by product or area or function

I don’t ask him ”What’s the problem?” I say, “Tell me the story.” That way, I find out what the problem really is. –Avram Goldberg

Structure follows strategy.  (Strategy = plans and policies by which a company aims to gain advantages over its competitors.)

Drivel, BS, and caution signs

Time problems.

  • knightAnachronism. Fighting the last war.
  • “And so he continues to plan his future with the rules of the present in mind — heedless of the possibility that the future will have rules of its own.  Change in inherent in civilization.” –Harry Brown
  • Finding comfort in obsolete, vestigial rules and concepts. Accounting is BS.
  • Short-term fix for long-term problem
  • Too busy chopping down trees to sharpen his ax

Accepting the wrong answer to the right problem.

  • madnessIllogical expediency
  • Group think
  • The madness of crowds

Evaluating with what’s easy to measure rather than what’s appropriate.

  • examples: $/hour, academic grades, IQ
  • need to measure what counts
  • Nasrudin story
  • confusion of means & ends

Information is not instruction.

  • teachTelling is not teaching.

Using my context to understand your situation.

  • Jimmy Swaggart syndrome
  • Jungian projections

noiseConfusing meaningless social noise with a message.

  • “It’s a communicating problem.”
  • “We don’t have time.”
  • “How ’bout them Niners?”
  • “Thanks a lot.”

A word is not the thing itself.


Fourteen years ago, my post didn’t have illustrations. I didn’t appreciate how much they reinforce what you’re saying back then. Furthermore, in the days of 300 baud modems, images took forever to download. Crafty designers put them way down in posts so you could read the start of a post while the images were gradually appearing on screen.


My life as a sysop

internetI love the internet.


I detest the amount of maintenance that’s required just to keep things running.

I didn’t sign up for wasting several hours a week dealing with nuisance requests. It’s beginning to feel like the old days, when you had to kow-tow to IT to get anything done.

Over cautious?

Take this morning. eBay emailed that my account had been compromised. Change your password! So far so good. Next instruction: change the password for your primary email account. Great. Now my passwords are so obscure than if I don’t have my online password manager at work, I’ll be locked out of those accounts in the future.

Then I log into my bank. As a routine security measure, I must change my password and username to access my account. What? Change my username? Now I’m jaycross everywhere except my bank. My username’s never been secret. Why mess with it now?

Changes like these cascade to other linked accounts. No doubt I’ll be dealing with vestiges of these account changes for weeks.

Google and others keep bugging me to set up two-stage identification where I’ll have to enter a code they email or message me in order to get into my accounts. No thanks. I’d be checking messages 20 times a day. Some companies don’t give you the choice; they implemented this clumsiness without asking permission.


Yesterday we got a letter (paper, stamped, brought by the letter carrier) from Anthem Healthcare. They reported that our account security may have been breeched. Yeah, we read about that three months ago, when it happened to 80 million current and past customers. It may have started almost a year ago, in April ’14.

It appears the breech was caused by phishing access credentials from five different Anthem employees. It was simple old social engineering, not sophisticated software, that opened the door to expose your and my name, social security number, email addresses, physical address, employment history and income. Anthem hadn’t bothered to encrypt any of this information.

Anthem wrote, “There are steps you may take to guard yourself against identity theft or fraud. We urge likely impacted members to stay alert for incidents of fraud and identity theft.” What a load of crap. There was nothing I could do to protect the information in the hands of Anthem or Chase or Target or the others who are sharing my personal data with Russian hackers. My crap detectors are always out for criminal hackers and their scams.

Aa far as I’m concerned, if a company requires me to submit personal information, they have responsibility for keeping it private. That’s part of the deal. Break that promise, and I’ll no longer be your customer. In fact, I’ll spread the word in order to scare off other potential customers.


Today’s mail brought this gem:

I Am Mr. Phillips A. Oduoza, Chief Finance Officer & Executive Director of United Bank for Africa (UBA). We wish to bring to your notice that you have an Accrued Interest worth of $775,500.00 usd (Seven Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Five Hundred United State Dollars), in our Bank to claim.

Worse still is the free program I downloaded from the net. The software used to work just fine. This time, hackers inserted malware that took residence on my computer. It took a couple of hours to remedy the damage.

I could go on but we’d both be bored to tears. Experience has already taught you this stuff.