Category Archives: Meta-Learning

50 suggestions for implementing 70-20-10

Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. implementing 70-20-10 is not simple. Sharing 50 suggestions on putting 70-20-10 to work has consumed five posts spread over two months. Today the series is complete. Here’s what you’ll find:

Post 1   Post 2   Post 3   Post 4   Post 5

Post 1 People learn their jobs by doing their jobs. Effective managers make stretch
assignments and coach their team members. Experience is the teacher, and managers shape their teammembers’ experiences. Knowledge work has evolved into keeping up and taking advantage of connections. We learn to do the job on the job. To stay ahead and create more value, you have to learn faster, better, smarter.

The Coherent OrganizationAs standalone companies realize that they’re really extended enterprises, co-learning with customers and stakeholders becomes important as everyone faces the future together. Players throughout the corporate ecosystem need to be operating on the same wave-length. This can only happen when we’re adapting to the future, i.e. learning, at the same pace.Internally, everyone needs to stay current.

These posts offer guidance to managers who want to make learning from experience and conversation more effective. Replacing today’s haphazard approaches with systematic, enlightened management accelerates the development of future workers and gets the entireorganization working smarter. The potential is great.

Among the organizations that have adopted the 70:20:10 approach are Nike, Dell, Goldman Sachs, Mars, Maersk, Nokia, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, L’Oréal, Adecco, Banner Health, Bank of America, National Australia Bank, Boston Scientific, American Express, Wrigley, Diageo, BAE Systems, ANZ Bank, Irish Life, HP, Freehills, Caterpillar, Barwon Water, CGU, Coles, Sony Ericsson, Standard Chartered, British Telecom, Westfield, Wal-Mart, Parsons Brinkerhoff, and Coca-Cola.

Charles Jennings made 70:20:10 a guiding philosophy of learning during his eight-year tenure as Chief Learning Officer at Reuters, the world’s largest information company. (Disclosure: Charles and I are colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance. He is the world authority on 70:20:10 and these posts draw heavily on his work.)

Post 2 The 70 percent: learning from experience. People learn by doing. We learn from experience and achieve mastery through practice. Experience is a difficult task master. We learn more from making a mistake than from getting it right the first time. That’s why wise managers throw team members into stretch assignments. It accelerates learning. Being ejected from one’s comfort zone is why some say that the only thing worse than learning from experience is not learning from experience. Matching the most appropriately challenging experience to the developmental stage of the worker is the most powerful lever in the manager’s toolbox.

Charles Jennings reports that performance inevitably improves when managers ask their team members these three simple reflective questions:

  1. What are your reflections on what you’ve been doing since we last met.
  2. What would you do differently next time?
  3. What have you learned since we last met?

Post 3 The 20 percent: learning through others. Learning is social. People learn with and through others.

Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Effective managers encourage their team members to buddy up on projects, to shadow others and to participate in professional social networks. People learn more in an environment that encourages conversation, so make sure you’re fostering an environment where people talk to each other.

A Community of Practice (CoP) is a social network of people who identify with one another professionally (e.g. designers of logic chips) or have mutual interests (e.g. amateur photographers). Members of CoPs develop and share knowledge, values, recommendations and standards. An effective community of practice is like a beehive. It organizes itself, buzzes with activity and produces honey for the markets.

Post 4 Formal learning includes courses, workshops, seminars, online learning and certification training. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations aren’t using online learning to its full potential, and the results at those organizations reflect that. Learning expert Robert Brinkerhoff figures only about 15 percent of formal training lessons change behavior.12 This is a reflection of both formal learning creation and of the lack of focus on experiential and exposure learning. If what we learn is not reinforced with reflection and application, the lessons never make it into long-term memory.

Formal learning is typically conducted by an instructor. So why do we address it in a paper on managers? Because managers can make or break the success of formal learning programs. Research has found that the most important factor in translating formal learning into improved performance is the expectation set by managers before the training takes place13. Understanding the needs of the learners and following up after the event are also essential for formal learning success.

Post 5 You will need to become a champion for the new approach to developing talent. You must convince your sponsor that managers and supervisors are the linchpins to developing new talent. Without them, the company could find itself with nobody on the bench to take on future challenges. For your career, this lead role is high risk/high reward.

Managers have to learn how to develop their people. It doesn’t always come naturally, and managers can get too busy to pay much attention to it. Let them know you don’t expect them to train their people. Rather, they will set examples for their team; they will foster experiential learning by leading their team to tackle new challenges (the 70), by helping them reflect on the lessons of experience and by coaching them at every step (the 20), and by showing them how to get formal learning on the subject (the 10).

The Learning and Development Roundtable of the Corporate Leadership Council pinpointed three management practices that significantly improve performance.

  1. Setting clear expectations and explaining how performance will be measured.
  2. Providing stretch experiences that help their team members learn and develop.
  3. Taking time to reflect and help team members learn from experience.

Managers who set clear objectives and expectations and explain how they measure performance are much more likely to succeed. Their teams outperform their peers by 20%. That’s an extra day every week to get the job done (and engage in deep learning). Managers should make explicit why they’re assigning particular projects, what they expect people to learn and what sort of debrief will occur after the assignment.

The 70-20-10 model depends on L&D teaming up with managers to improve learning across the company, but often managers do not appreciate how vitally important they are in growing their people. This is the absolute, must-do secret to success to improving learning and development. Frontline managers must take this as the very definition of manager: someone who develops others by challenging them with assignments that stretch them to the point of flow17. This takes a can-do manager who knows how coaching creates mental models and habits, how motivation activates a chain of high-performance activities and what success habits their team members need to adopt.

Charles Jennings says that the role that managers play is far more important than that of Learning and Development or HR. Your role is to help managers learn that:

  • People learn from experience.
  • Managers shape the experience of the people on their team.
  • Experience coupled with reflection sticks lessons in memory.
  • Daily mid-course correction is much more powerful than after-the-fact reviews.
  • Every project they assign is a potential learning experience for their team members.


The User Illusion

userill (1)The User Illusion, Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, by Tor Norretranders, published 1991 in Danish, English translation 1998.

Key: We’re primarily nonconscious. Shorthand: conscious self = “I”; unconscious self = “me” Training and preparation are key to any performance. The most important thing about training is that the I comes to trust the Me. The I learns to believe that the Me can feel the emotion and carry out the movement. Training creates a quantity of automatic skills that can be applied without the need for awareness that they are being so used. The I’s beady eye is there during the training but not during the performance proper.

Consciousness is at once the most immediately present and the most inscrutably intangible entity in human existence. Consciousness lags what we call reality.

Consciousness is riddled with deceit and self-deception. The conscious I is happy to lie up hill and down dale to achieve a rational explanation for what the body is up to; sensual perception is the result of a devious relocation of sensory input in time; when the consciousness thinks it determines to act, the brain is already working on it; there appears to be more than one version of consciousness present in the brain; our conscious awareness contains almost no information but is perceived as if it were vastly rich in information.

This is a profound book, particularly for someone like me who spends too much time “in his head.” Most of what we consider learning, from ISD to multiple-choice, focuses almost exclusively on the oversimplified, civilized, linear constructs of consciousness.

Trust the force. (The unconscious.)Could the effects of a little nonsconsciousness creeping into the conscious realm help account for ADD and schizophrenia?


Information is very tedious. What is interesting is getting rid of it-—and that means discarding it.

  • Gödel goes from the old paradox of “I’m lying” to “I cannot be proved.” Consistency and freedom from contradiction can never be proved from within a system. Unprovability and undecidability are fundamental features of our world. We can know that it is order when we see it. But we cannot know that it is not order just because we cannot see it—and no mathematics, logic, or computers can help us. Order is order. The rest is undecided.
  • Information is associated with entropy, a measure of thermodynamic disorder.
  • Information cannot be defined without knowing the context. Not because there is anything wrong with our notion of information, but because the notions of order and randomness necessarily include an element of subjectivity.

There is a terrain between order and chaos: a vast undiscovered continent—-the continent of complexity. Complexity appears midway between the predictable and the unpredictable, the stable and the unstable, the periodic and the random, the hierarchical and the flat, the closed and the open. Between what we can count on and what we cannot.

  • Complexity is to be measured not by the length of the message but by the work carried out previously. The meaning does not arise from the information in the message but arises from the information discarded during the process of formulating the message, which has a specific information content. What matters is not saying as much as you can. It is thinking before you speak.

“Exformation” and the richness of information remind me of the operations of compression algorithms. The more information, the longer it takes to create a ZIP archive. Compression from nonconscious to conscious is extreme, much heavier than compressing an image to jpeg at 1%. Nonconscious compression sands down all the rough edges found in the original.


Talking & exformation

  • From congé, Victor Hugo wired his publisher about the success of Les Miserables, “?” His publisher replied “!” The important part is what was explicitly discarded, the “exformation.” A message has depth if it contains a large quantity of exformation.
  • Exformation is the history of the message, information the product of that history. Each is meaningless without the other; information without exformation is vacuous chatter; exformation without information is not exformation but merely discarded information.
  • The least interesting aspect of good conversation is what is actually said. What is more interesting is all the deliberations and emotions that take place simultaneously during conversation in the heads and bodies of the conversers.

The Bandwidth of Consciousness

  • What we perceive at any moment is limited to an extremely smart compartment in the stream of information about our surroundings flowing in from the sense organs. Our consciousness processes about a millionth of the information it receives. Metaphorically, consciousness is a spotlight that shows but a tiny fraction of what’s on stage.
  • Consciousness consists of discarded information far more than information present.
  • Consciousness possesses peerless agility, but at any given moment you are not conscious of much at all. To be aware of an experience means that it has passed.
  • Human bandwidth is ±16 bits/second. The rate varies with age:

“All these numbers are approximations,” but there’s a giant mismatch of input to consciousness no matter how you slice it:

Sensory system  

Total bandwidth (bits/second)


Conscious bandwidth (bits/second)
















Impression à Consciousness à Expression



television >1,000,000 bps
radio >10,000 bps
text read aloud 25 bps

The Bomb of Psychology

In 1957, an enterprise named Precon Process and Equipment Corporate, in New Orleans, started offering the placement of subliminal messages in advertisements and movies—messages not perceived by consciousness but containing sufficient influence to get somebody to pay for their being there. Messages that work unconsciously or preconsciously, hence Precon. Backlash stunted pscyhological research for years.

Drink Coca-Cola

When the case reopened, scientists found that the unconscious is not merely a morass of repressed sexual desires and forbidden hatred. The unconscious is an active, vital part of the human mind. One canlearn form a stimulus that is so brief that one does not perceive it. A large number of social judgments and inferences, especially those guiding first impressions, appear to be mediated by such unconscious processes.

A person perceiving a familiar object is not aware that what is perceived is as much an expression of memory as it is of perception. Thinking itself is highly unconscious. In The Stream of Thought, William James noted that consciousness “is always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks.”

The View from Within

Computers find it easy to do what we learned at school. But computers have a very hard time learning what children learn before they start school: to recognize a cup that is upside down, recognizing a face,seeing.

Richard Gregory: “Our sight really consists of a hypothesis, an interpretation of the word. We do not see the data in front of our eyes; we see an interpretation.” And, “The senses do not give us a picture of the world directly; rather they provide evidence for the checking of hypotheses about what lies before us. Indeed, we may say that the perceptions of an object is an hypothesis.” We see a configuration (in German, gestalt). We do not see what we sense. We see what we think we sense.

Pablo Picasso was once asked why he did not pain people “the way they really are.” Picasso asked the questioner what he meant. The man pulled a snapshot of his wife out of his wallet and said, “That’s my wife.” Picasso responnded, “Isn’t she rather small and flat?”

Kant distinguished between things as they are, Das Ding an sich, and things as we know them, Das Ding für uns. A study of frogs showed that “the eye speaks to the brain in a language already highly organized and interpreted, instead of transmitting some more or less accurate copy of the distribution of light on the receptors.” Visual input passes through the thalamus before getting to the cortex.

attention. The essence of consciousness of the outside world. When a number of nerve cells oscillate in synchrony at forty hertz, this is attention.


Our actions begin unconsciously! Consciousness of the will to carry out an act decided on by ourselves occurs almost half a second after the brain has started carrying out the decision. Consciousness portrays itself as the initiator but it is a fraud – which requires considerable cooking of the temporal books.

Free will operates through selection, not design (It can veto.)

Man is not primarily conscious. We are not conscious of very much of what we sense, what we think, or what we do. We’re primarily nonconscious.

Shorthand: conscious self = “I”; unconscious self = “me”

Training and preparation are key to any performance. The most important thing about training is that the I comes to trust the Me. The I learns to believe that the Me can feel the emotion and carry out the movement. Training creates a quantity of automatic skills that can be applied without the need for awareness that they are being so used. The I’s beady eye is there during the training but not during the performance proper.

(Ref: The Inner Game of Tennis. “When you short-circuit the mind by giving it an ‘overload’ of things to deal with, it has so many things to attend to that it no longer has time to worry. The “I” checks out and lets the “me” check in. Also, this is what Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow is all about.)

The social field is established through agreements, social contracts, entered into verbally. So the cohesive force in our social life is something with a very low capacity or bandwidth.

Spirituality merely involves taking your own life seriously by getting to know yourself and your potential. This is no trivial matter, for there are quite a few unpleasant surprises in most of us. The dominant psychological problem of modern culture is that its members do not want to accept that there is a Me beyond the I. The Me is everything the I cannot accept: It is unpredictable, disorderly, willful, quick, and powerful.

“placebo” = “I want to please”

The User Illusion

Studies of split-brain patients show that the I lies like crazy to create a coherent picture of something it does not understand in the slightest. We lie our way to the coherence and consistency we perceive in our behavior. (It’s like making up logical explanations for a dream or filling in the missing portions of a fuzzy picture.)

What we experience directly is an illusion, which presents interpreted data as if they were raw. It is this illusion that is the core of consciousness: the world experienced in a meaningful, interpreted way. If there were not half a second in which to synchronize the inputs, we might experience a jitter in our perception of reality. I am my user illusion of myself.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, Princeton, 1976. >3,000 years ago, consciousness did not exist. All the nonlinguistic activity in the right brain was passed on to the left brain in the form of voices talking inside people’s heads. There was no independent reflective activity in people’s heads.

The body is in a state of interaction with the world. We eat, drink, and dispatch matter back into the cycle of nature. In no more than five years, practically every atom in the organiism gets replaced. The vast majority of atoms are replaced far more often. Identity, body structure, appearance, and consciousness are preserved—but the atoms have gone. The feeling of individual continuity is real enough, but it has no material foundation.


The dominant theme of our times is consciousness regaining composure through the recognition of the nonconscious; computer formalism regaining composure through the recognition of unpredictability; descriptions regaining composure through the recognition of what is being described; the low bandwidth regaining composure through the recognition of the high bandwidths.

Interesting things happen when and where order meets chaos. People live on coasts, rivers, mountain chains, mountain passes, near boundaries. Neat the transition from one element to another.

The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. But that is what we are consciously trying to do with the artificial lives we live in our technological civilization.

Most of the world has to be described through nonlinear mathematics—i.e., formulae and forms that are not regular and smooth but marked by the fact that the tiniest change can lead to a huge difference, because things bend and break everywhere. Our civilization is completely different from nature. Civilization is about attaining predictability; and predictability is the opposite of information, because information is a measure of the surprise value of a message: the astoundment it unleashes.

Zeno’s paradoxes. An arrow flying through the air. At any given instant, where is it? Stopped or moving? The impossibility of the question is the result of trying to split time and space into an infinitely divisible continuum.

The balance between the linear and the nonlinear is a major challenge for civilization. In the final analysis, it is closely related to the challenge of finding the balance between the conscious and the nonconscious. After all the difference between consciousness and nonconsciousness is precisely that there is very little information in consciousness. It can therefore apprehend only straight lines, having trouble with crooked ones, which contain far too much information.

The tendency of civilization toward linearity is therefore precisely the power of consciousness over nonconsciousness; the power of projection over spontaneity; the power of the gutter over the raindrop. The straight line is the medium of planning, will, and decision. The crooked line is the medium of sensory perception, improvisation, and abandon.

The I is linear; the Me is nonlinear. The social domain, the conversational domain, tends to be linear, unalloyed chatter. The personal domain, the domain of sensory perception, is more able to preserve the nonlinear.

Art seeks out the nonlinear; science the linear. The computer demolishes the difference, because it gives consciousness the ability to convert large quantities of information by machine.

Information society presents a lack of information. For just as there is far too little information in a linear city, there is far too little information in information society—a society where more people’s jobs are performed body, mind, and soul via the low bandwidth of language. Where artisans in the past used to possess vast tacit knowledge of materials and processes and crops, they now have to relate to consciously designed technical solutions presented via computer interface. Sensory poverty is on its way to becoming a major problem in society, provoking a cry for meaning amidst the flow of information. Man has moved down to a lower bandwidth, and he is getting bored. Consciousness is taking man over: The straight line is vanquishing the crooked one, and the amount of information in life is getting too small.

I used to filter many concepts and value judgments through the left brain/right brain metaphor. The more important distinction is what’s conscious and what’s not. CBT, PI, ID, and the like all embody the reductionism and oversimplification of consciousness. “Objective” tests are 100% reductio ad absurdum.

The Sublime

Information is a measure of unpredictability, disorder, mess, chaos, amazement, indescribabilty, surprise, otherness. Order is a measure of the opposite.

Consciousness does not consist of very much information and regards itself as order. It is proud that by discarding information it can reduce all the disorder and confusion around it to simple, predictable laws for the origin of phenomena.

Civilization consists of social and technological organization that rids our lives of information. As civilization has progressed, it has enabled the withdrawal of consciousness from the world.

It has enabled a worldview in which the acknowledged picture of the world is identified with the world; where the map is identified with the terrain; where the I denies the existence of the Me; where all otherness is disclaimed, except in the form of a divine principle; where man can live only if he believes that the otherness is also good.

But consciousness has also reached the age of composure. Through conscious studies of man and his consciousness, it has become clear that man is much more than his consciousness. It has become clear that people perceive far more than consciousness knows; that people do far more than consciousness knows. The simulation of the world about us, which we experience and believe is the world itself, is made possible only through systematic illusions and reductions that result from discarding most of the unpredictable otherness that imbued the world outside us.

Inside us, in the person who carries consciousness around, cognitive and mental processes take place that are far richer than consciousness can know or describe. Our bodies contain a fellowship with a surrounding world that passes right through us, in through our mouths and out the other end, but is hidden from our consciousness.

Consciousness is a wonderful creation, brought about by biological evolution on earth. An eternal awareness, a bold interpretation, a life-giving measure. But consciousness is about to retain composure by appreciating that it does not master the world; that an understanding of simple rules and principles of predictability in the world does not provide the possibility of guessing what the world is like.

Reposted from review in 2002.

Free Jay webinar with prizes


Join me for an hour on the last day of April to explore how to make learning stick. Register. I’ve unearthed some exciting material about how people convert learning to action in the workplace — how to make it stick.

You folks know so much about how to increase the productivity of learning. Something old, something new, something small, something larger… for the most part, you have recipes that make learning more profitable and pleasant. I don’t want to overlook stuff that’s easy to do and particularly effective. Help me out; win a prize.

Share your secret sauce in a comment below (or email me if you must).


booksOn April 30, I’ll award a copy of a book I really liked (or wrote) to a baker’s dozen of participants:

  1. Informal Learning by Jay Cross 
  2. A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
  3. Working Smarter Fieldbook by Jay Cross
  4. Implementing eLearning  by Jay Cross
  5. Engaging Learners by Clark Quinn
  6. Social Learning Handbook by Jane Hart 
  7. The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner
  8. The Connected Company by Dave Gray
  9. Now You See It by Cathy Davidson
  10. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
  11. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  12. The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning
  13. Designing mLearning by Clark Quinn

Harbinger will also award software. Raptivity® is a powerful yet simple interactivity building tool which helps you create outstanding learning content without any programming. It has 180+ customizable interactions which helps in adding a new dimension to learning.

Remember to Register.

Modularity, BMWs, & MOOCs

Recognize this? It cost me $1,000.

bmwWhen my car was detailed, this part of the steering column was damaged. It doesn’t come any smaller. You can’t buy these individually.

bmw1 bmw4bmw3



BMW has decreed that you have to buy all these parts, even when some of them are perfectly okay. (My car’s issue was with the collar thing-a-ma-bob in the center.)

Dumb design, eh? It’s just like college. There are separable pieces:

  1. initial assessment, interview, and admissions
  2. lectures, Continue reading Modularity, BMWs, & MOOCs

MOOCs = Skinner’s Box 2.0?

blackBoxA radical high school teacher came up with the title.

Last year his class ran under his experimental class operating system in stealth mode. Howard Rheingold, Jerry Michalski, and others, myself included, have dropped by. The teacher will uncloak soon to reveal an interdisciplinary approach where students select what to learn from Open Education resources. Learning is experiential and self-directed.

We had scant time to talk because I’m under the gun completing a project but I immediately Continue reading MOOCs = Skinner’s Box 2.0?

Isn’t this how organizational learning cultures progress?

Jane Hart’s post yesterday on The differences between learning in an e-business and learning in a social business got me thinking about the evolution of learning culture in organizations.

It’s all to0 easy to mistakenly think of formal learning as the antiquated, primitive way of doing things, something an organization shucks off as it becomes enlightened and gives its people the autonomy to work on their own. The notion of stages suggests that a corporation hops from one stage to the next, Continue reading Isn’t this how organizational learning cultures progress?

How to Replace Top-down Training with Collaborative Learning (2)

Second post in a series. In case you missed it, here’s the first.

Who’s going to be involved?
Every Kind of Employee – Temps Included

In the Hierarchical organization, employees were the only people who received corporate training. Aside from compliance training and new product introductions, most training focused on novices – either newhires who needed orientation or workers mastering a new skill or subject.

It’s not that seasoned and elder employees weren’t learning; Continue reading How to Replace Top-down Training with Collaborative Learning (2)

The game of course

The largest obstacle holding L&D professionals back from taking advantage of network technologies, distributed networks, social connections, peer interaction, and informal learning may be their bedrock belief that learning = courses.

What’s a course? Where did courses come from?

The word course derives from twelfth-century French for running or moving forward. Over time, it morphed into meaning the circuit that was being run on, as in racecourse. In the fourteen century, academics started Continue reading The game of course