Category Archives: Just Jay

Free form for self assessment and career development


Goals provide the motivation for self-directed learning. Writing down career goals makes it more likely you will attain them.

Participants in The Aha! Project asked for a structured way to go about self-assessment and goal-setting.

We developed this Learning Plan template to lead them through the process. Feel free to use it. If you have feedback, we’ll be glad to hear it.form

Learning Plan Template in pdf  |  Learning Plan Template in MS Word

Don’t Smoke

Don’t Smoke.

A friend confided she’s taken up smoking again.

Whoa! Full stop! Nicotine is a mind-altering trickster. It will kill you. Painfully. The short-term buzz is not worth the long-term consequences.

I gave it up 30 years ago after 20 years of Luckies, Camels, Gaulois, and worse. Here’s my Journal‘s notice of the day I quit.

Don’t smoke.

New Book: Aha! 75 Ways to Work Smarter

cover_smallMy new book, Aha!, is for all those people we’ve made responsible for their own learning. This is the missing manual.

Aha! explains self-assessment, setting goals, dealing with feeds and flows, improving retention, curation, working out loud, social learning, and more. Each technique is backed with a practical exercise.


Aha! reveals how to:

  • Learn from experience
  • Take advantage of the latest findings from neuroscience
  • Save time by accelerating how you learn
  • Remember things faster, better, deeper
  • Adopt sound learning practices as lifelong habits
  • Form a sustainable, nurturing community
  • Use shortcuts, cheatsheets, and rules of thumb

Aha! is about how to learn for yourself. No classrooms. No instructors. No training department. Little in the way of theory. Just stuff that works.  (Although learning with your team is encouraged,)

The core focus is experiential learning and tacit knowledge. It’s learning to be all you can be rather than amassing more content.

I expect Aha! to have more impact than my previous book, Informal Learning. There are tens of millions of prospects whose approach to learning has been seat-of-the-pants. Aha! can double their learning effectiveness.

The beta electronic version is available now for $2.99. The soft-cover edition will be available next month for $16.00.

The beta edition is the complete 170-page book that is going into print, with one exception. The content will always be fresher. Aha! is updated frequently. The electronic version is a snapshot of the most recent text.

Here’s a summary of Aha!, the table of contents and an overview of The Aha! Project.

The wake-up call

dogMonday morning. Flirt, the happiest miniature longhaired dachshund in the world, shakes all over with tail-flapping enthusiasm to wake me up. On auto-pilot, I arise, brush my teeth, and take the garbage and recycling out to the curb. I brew a cup of tea.

Undoubtedly email has arrived overnight. Phone messages await my pick-up. The day’s New York Times has interesting stories to read. I sip my tea. I write these words. I contemplate what I want to accomplish today. The interruptions can wait.

Each of us has a choice of what we think about, what we learn, and what we do. Our minds are an inner sanctuary to which we alone possess the key. No one else will ever see what’s inside. It’s ours alone. Private.

“each of us is at the center of the universe
so is everyone else”

e.e. cummings

Less than 99% of the light, sound, taste, and touch that bombard our senses ever make it into our consciousness. Behind the curtain of awareness, our minds take a snippet of this and a smidgen of that, connect the dots, and play the internal movie we experience as reality. Your mind’s eye and mine see different worlds. Reality is all in our heads.

“Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.
Albert Einstein

Listen to what’s going on in your head at this moment. There’s a conversation in there. It’s about that inner movie.

You can listen in or you can join the conversation. You can let the inner voice prattle on, making comments sparked by your inner movie. Or, if you like, you can actively participate in the conversation.

We’re working with neurons here, not film. You can influence the script writer, make suggestions to the director, and edit out things you don’t want to see.

Young thoughts need shelter from the elements to grow. I nurture my thoughts in the morning, before the cacophany of ringing phones, flashing lights, and FedEx trucks tries to make me a passive listener in my inner conversation.

Asked whether he didn’t hate the Chinese, the Dalai Lama responded, “They have taken my country. Why should I let them take my mind?”

There are few absolutes in life. Success requires balancing your inner self and new sensations.

You don’t want to shut out all the interrupters knocking on the door. The hot stove may not be what you think, but don’t put your hand on the burner.

You must revere your inner mind and believe that you are more than a mere pebble in the stream. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to reach an enjoyable destination.

That’s what the Aha! book will be about, help for people to get better, faster.


Roadtrip! What’s the coolest thing between Berkeley and Kansas City?

A dozen days from now, Uta and I will pack the dogs into the car and drive the 1800 miles from Berkeley to Kansas City, Missouri. After ten days at our son’s new house, we’ll drive the long way back via Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons.

coonskinLike most coastal Americans, we hardly know the interior of our country. I haven’t been in a car on this route since I was four years old.

We’ll be whizzing right along, my daredevil co-pilot at the wheel while I ride shotgun. I’d hate to miss a cool trading post or natural site or place to eat because I didn’t ask about it. Help us find the best stuff to do.

What are your favorite things along our easterly route from Berkeley, across Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska to Kansas City? 




Similarly, what should we not miss among the National Parks and natural wonders on the trip back? Food tips, off road suggestions, lodging, anything that put a smile on your face? 








Dogs. Flirt (left) and Azure (squirms too much to get picture) are geriatric miniature longhaired dachshunds. Ten pounds apiece. They will ride in a car cage on the back seat. This will force us to pace ourselves as well; breaks every two-three hours.

Any pet friendly suggestions for us?


Diet. When we moved to San Francisco in the mid 70s, I was impressed by the Californians’ dedication to preserving historic buildings. The next time I visited New York, Philly, and Washington, I found that historic preservation was a national phenomenon.

I have my fingers crossed on finding healthy food I want to eat. Hello, triple-D. (I have not eaten at a McDonalds, Wendy’s, KFC, PizzaHut, Burger Chef, or ChickFilla in over twenty years.) I usually find some local specialty to sustain myself; Uta is vegetarian.


Please comment on Facebook.



Future of Education 2020 Summit

mastheadcollegesiloAt a Stanford education conference this morning, speakers made presentation after presentation without once involving the audience, not even asking for questions. For the first couple of hours there was zero audience participation. Finally, following a panel session, we were invited to stand at a microphone if we had questions. Naturally, I was first in line.

I explained that I came to this event as an outsider. I am not an academic. In fact, my corporate title is “Chief Unlearning Officer.” A speaker had mentioned silos, referring to departments at schools. I said I felt like I was in a college silo. It’s as if the world outside didn’t exist.

Take STEM (Science, tech, engineering, math). All of these folks are vitally interested in STEM. After all, that’s what the Gates Foundation, the NSF, and the other benefactors are paying them hundreds of millions to produce. I said I don’t get it. The shelf life of STEM knowledge is about the same as for French mustard, several years. After that, the mustard begins to smell funny and the STEM knowledge is obsolete.

I didn’t mention my suspicion that STEM dumbs down education. It’s explicit knowledge. Life’s grand lessons are largely tacit. Besides, isn’t STEM often the algorithmic knowledge that robots are going to being doing in a few years? When that happens, lots of STEM grads may find themselves in the position of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man. Nobody here was talking about liberal arts and continuing the culture.

Consider the role of STEM education in someone’s career arc. A career is a marathon. College teaches people to run the first 100 yards. Running the rest of the race is the individual’s problem.

“But we are working with industry,” replied the panel. Oh yeah? People have been touting big data as the ultimate quality control and planning tool in education. Are any of you looking at big data on people outside your walls? Correlating education with what happens after graduation? No; it’s a closed system.

Big data can help Arizona State University refine their algebra course to near perfection, but unless they go off campus to look at the world of work, no data will tell them whether algebra is worth studying at all. (I love Roger Schank’s putdown of the quadratic equation. When’s the last time you had to solve for AX2 + BX +C = 0?)

How’s the water?

It was troubling to hear one person after another lecture about learning more about how people learn whlle violating most of the principles we already know. Aside from the Push format, problems included no hashtag, no Tweeting, no backchannel, no power outlets, inoperable wi-fi (for me, at least), slow wi-fi at the podium cut several presentations short, weak visuals overall, and no encouragement to network online (although many probably already know one another). I don’t know how someone as astute at Peter Norvig could sit through an entire day of this stuff.

A few highlights. The president of Capella talked of converting their curriculum to competencies. Competencies can be counted up after the fact to give credit for courses. I suggested he wasn’t going for enough. Who needs courses? He wisely pointed out that accrediting bodies have a fixed mindset on this one.

Arizona State has put an entire first year curriculum on line. For free. Pass a course, no matter how many tries it takes, and you can pay a fee for credits. He sees no reason the entire four years shouldn’t go online this way. (And the guy from Capella suggested that as in the UK, we could probably have three-year bachelor degrees without losing that much.)

True to form, the LMS vendor supporting the show twisted the definition of “informal learning” so it could claim to have some:


What’s informal about purpose-built content? Most people probably missed this because next up was a hip-hop singer who claimed to be a customer of the LMS (he lists his tracks there). Naturally, he had put together a song for us. As he began his incomprehensible lyric, the batteries on my hearing aids ran out and I bailed out from the event.

The other attendees seemed quite satisfied, even impressed. “Brilliant presentations.” I guess events like this are de rigueur.

The Stanford campus is beautiful, the weather cooperated perfectly, and nobody was keeping score.


Through the Workscape Looking Glass

Your Workscape is everything in your organization except the training department. It’s where work is done and where people hone the skills they need to add value. It’s the biggest frame of the big picture. It’s relationships and culture and secret sauce. It’s the organization as organism. To prosper, you need to nurture it, plant seeds, pamper the ground. It’s your job to help the system thrive.

Learning Ecosystem, Learning Ecology, and Learnscape mean the same thing as Workscape. I don’t use the word learn with executives, who inevitably think back to the awfulness of school and close their ears. “Let’s talk about performance.” 


The Workscape is a systems-eye view of the workplace. Everything is connected. Rather than try to control nature, we do what it takes to keep the environment thriving.

In the same vein, I talk about Working Smarter instead of informal learning, social learning, and so forth. Some people denigrate informal learning but nobody’s against Working Smarter.

Your organization already has a workscape where people are learning to work smarter. That’s where all the informal and social learning we hear about is taking place. The problem is that the learning processes are haphazard, often a paving of the cow paths. Many employees and stakeholders miss out—and stumble. Most companies’ systems fail to get the job done. Our Workscape ecologies are entering a do-or-die phase like global warming. Management is demanding that the workforce be more effective. “What got us here will not get us there.” We must nurture the Workscape or face corporate meltdown.

Global warming signals in Workscapes

clarkWe hear that if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yet most corporate learning and development is broken. 77% of the senior managers surveyed by the Corporate Leadership Council reported they were dissatisfied with L&D. 76% said L&D was not critical to business outcomes. Only 14% would recommend working with L&D. Clark Quinn’s recent book, Revolutionizing Learning and Development, slams L&D, which should be named Performance and Development, for seriously underperforming.    

Time is speeding up. More happens in a day than your grandmother experienced in a week. Keeping sharp and up to date is now a continuing part of everyone’s job. Corporate learning must expand from focusing on the classroom, which provides at best 10% of learning, to the entire organization  where learning while doing is the rule. Training a novice may lead to  productivity gains in the future. Helping an experienced person impacts the bottom line immediately. Little wonder that the training department is underperforming: they only touch a minority of employees, most of them newcomers.

transformationAs many as four out of five large multinationals report they are undergoing a digital transformation. It goes by many names, from Enterprise 2.0 to Radical Management or simply Going Paperless. Altimeter Group defines digital transformation as: “the realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”* The digital transformation of workplace learning involves moving from the limited training department to the holistic Workscape framework view of the world.

The input may be establishing social learning networks; the output is improvement in the business overall.

Scope of the habitat

Put on your ecologist hat. Let’s examine the diversity of species among those people in your Workscape drawing paychecks:

Novices and newbies have been the main focus of training. This includes new hire on-boarding and provision of basic and technical skills (we’re all novices at something). This minority uses a disproportionate share of the training department’s resources and mindshare.

Experienced producers bring home the bacon yet training departments overlook them. Training departments have single-shot solutions: courses. Courses are rarely appropriate for experienced workers. Many old hands will not tolerate them nor learn from them if they do. They know that experience is a better teacher. Tuning the learning environment to make systemic changes for this underserved population has fantastic upside potential, perhaps enough to get CLOs a real seat at table in the C-Suite.

Top performers are the 20% of the team that generate 80% of the results. A 1% improvement at this level makes waves. This species needs special handling, sometimes including personal service.

Compliance is a red herring that people point to when discussing how deep “training” goes into the organization. However, compliance is not learning. Sure, it’s required, but no body’s expecting much performance improvement in the area, particularly in its present primitive form.

Alumni are an overlooked opportunity in many organizations. IBM invested in keeping former IBMers abreast of what was going on back at Big Blue. The alumni connected over social media and saw demos in Second Life. The result? An on-going flow of leads from true-believers and those who contract with IBM.

Subspecies. L&D has traditionally focused on the needs of employees on the payroll exclusively, disregarding the fact that partners, customers, subcontractors, temps, service agencies, outsourcers, suppliers, and others are equally part of the value chain. Take the Workscape view. Let’s go up to a balcony overlooking a model of your business. Look at the flow of business. You can see that the product is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. Think carefully about who you want to be co-learning with.


The Workscape should address the needs of learners throughout the extended enterprise.

Theoretically, your Workscape — the realm where you’ll be wielding your influence on performance and learning — could stretch way beyond your firewall to include nearly everyone the organization interacts with. Imagine how much cooperation will improve if they all read from the same page.

Reading the temperature

The climate for Workscapes is changing, forcing a re-think of how things are connected.

Decision-making is migrating from institution to individual, from training to pull learning, and shifts “power to the people.” This is how digital transformation works: digital democracy first. Digital citizens exploit connections and take power. Making the shift is an enormous change management task.

Informal, experiential work is three times more effective than formal, top-down training. Experiential earning is migrating into the workflow at a very fast rate. Spread the footprint of the Workscape to the optimal size.

Workscapes are complex and unpredictable, in perpetual beta. Experiments are cheap. Plant lots (hundreds, thousands) of Workscape experiments and nurture those that catch on. Watch out for monoculture (using only one solution) and the echo effect (making judgments from a narrow spectrum of reality).

Nurturing the Workscape requires competencies such as business problem analysis, collaboration experts, community managers, and moxie. I foresee learning process SWAT teams attacking connection gaps. You don’t have these people on board now.

Forget about the traditional way you’ve trained people. Unlearn your assumptions about courses and top-down learning. Break with the present by looking ahead five years. Start with a blank piece of paper. Take a Workscape perspective. Assess the organizational benefits of:

  • embedding learning in work, covering a much larger audience
  • setting up learning as a continuous activity, not an event
  • leveraging self-sustaining processes instead of one-time courses
  • pinpointing high-return activities such as manager coaching
  • embracing social and experiential learning
  • changing the learning philosophy from push to pull
  • employing business metrics to gauge success
  • canvasing the organization for opportunities instead of waiting for requests
  • focusing on overall business outcomes
  • building self-sufficient teams
  • extending the Workscape to cover partners, customers, and outsourced services
  • making learning a driver with business impact

The learning conservationist toolkit

L&D’s collaboration experts and SWAT teams are digital MacGyvers who weave techniques like these into Workscapes:

Make Management responsible for development

  • Issue stretch assignments to grow staff
  • Mentors, coaching
  • Action learning

Personal Learning Network

  • Collaboration and cooperation
  • Friends and colleagues provide answers
  • Peer learning

Performance support

  • Job aids, bookmarks,
  • FAQs, aggregation, curation

Access to information

  • Wiki, inhouse YouTube, internet
  • Self-study catalog, portals

Enterprise social network

  • Activity stream keeps one up to date
  • Platform for conversation
  • Opportunity to share knowledge

Communities of Practice

  • Professional growth
  • Knowledge repository
  • Create knowledge


  • Individual publishing (Learn out loud!)
  • Follow thinking of others

Social learning

  • Make conversation easy
  • Collaboration


  • DIY

Performance feedback

  • Is it working? How can we do better?


  • Learning in tiny bites

Instead of taking requests, the traditional role of training departments, learning conservationists actively seek out opportunities where learning will have the most impact.

One group of L&D special agents posted this set of beliefs to explain how it worked to its internal clients:

  • We are open and transparent.
  • We narrate our work. Need to share.
  • We support continuous learning, not events.
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle.
  • We drink our own champagne (or mimosas).
  • Business success is our bottom line.
  • We are not a training organization.
  • We value time for self-development and reflection.
  • We establish business metrics for every engagement and report back publicly on outcomes.


Changing the physical environment can improve learning.

The staff will use any tool available to improve learning, right down to moving the furniture. A computer manufacturer discovered that its chip designers learned from overhearing conversations among their peers. They replaced a cube farm with comfortable sofas, rolling white boards, and espresso machines — and watched the production of innovative ideas skyrocket.

Environmental impact report

In a 2011 book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown described the kind of learning necessary in this new environment as “whitewater learning”—the ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills while at the same time practicing them in an environment that is constantly evolving and presenting new challenges. They argue that our learning environments need to match the speed and degree of change happening in the world around us.**

The emancipation of both nature and the human imagination depends first on the capacity to ‘unsay’ the world and, second, on the ability to image it differently so that wonder might be brought into appearance.***

Over a hundred CLOs told us what they were currently doing was insufficient to prepare them to deal with the future needs of the business. Obviously it’s time to do something different.

Our People Growing Fast Enough

One way to accelerate people’s development is to optimize learning by looking at the organization as an organic, unpredictable, complex system. It’s time to fix the big picture by working on the level of the Workscape.


*Digital transformation by any other name, Jason Bloomberg in Forbes

**Aspen Institute, The Learning Ecosystem

*** James Corner, “Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity,” in Ecological design and planning, George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner, editors, (New York: John Wiley, 1997), p.99. quoted in Design Education and Innovation Ecotones by Ann Pendleton-Julian


Research funded by Litmos

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.