Owen is the Chief Operating Officer at Good Practice Ltd. In a nutshell, GoodPractice helps organisations to support their leaders and managers by giving them the very best leadership and management resources to help them do their jobs.
In your opinion what is the biggest anxiety within the world of learning and development at the moment?
I think L&D, and HR as a whole, is in a constant state of existential crisis – and that causes quite a bit of anxiety!
We often hear smart people at conferences and through other channels calling for L&D to raise its game, change its ways and become more relevant. But there’s a bewildering array of suggestions for how to do that: we need to be more aligned to the business, or maybe to the people we’re delivering to, or both; we need to “get” technology better; use 70:20:10, but not be slaves to the numbers; experiment more; analyse more; become more evidence-based; throw out old, discredited theory; be more agile.
Determining which will have the greatest impact on the many things L&D professionals are being told they need to do is an intimidating challenge. That said, more people are focussed on the right questions now than in the past, when L&D was perhaps guilty of being swayed by distractions and weak theories.
Who or what is informing your thinking around L&D?
I get a lot from people I follow and interact with on social media. You can look at my following list on Twitter and get a good idea of who I keep close tabs on. What’s been a real benefit of those relationships on social media is how often they’ve translated into great conversations at conferences and other face-to-face events.
More and more I’m being influenced from outside the profession. I’m very interested in what consumer web and app companies are doing – how they learn from their users and react to their needs. People and organisations leading change in their marketing functions are also interesting. I think they have similar doubts about their effectiveness, but they’re better funded and have more scope to experiment than L&D. I’m also interested in how long-standing professions, especially medicine, have improved and continue to push for higher standards.
What is the most exciting innovation on the horizon for learning?
Well, first I’d highlight what Craig Taylor often points out: that learning is a process that happens in the brain. We’re still working with the same hardware as our ancestors on the savannah. The real innovations are in areas that can optimise that process or even replace it completely. I’d rather have a sat nav than be helped to learn an unfamiliar route more effectively.
There’s no single innovation I’d highlight as particularly exciting. I think what’s most interesting is an attitude change across the profession. Organisations like the LPI and, more recently, the CIPD are making all the right noises about the need for L&D to become more evidence-based, without losing its heart. For all that better use of data is an exciting opportunity, we mustn’t forget that each of those numbers relate to a real person.
What “game changers” would you like to see and why?
I really don’t believe that game changers exist – or if they do, I’m not aware of any. I think that’s one thing that might be holding us back: the desire to find a silver bullet – an equivalent to the discovery of penicillin in medicine. We’re in an age that’s more akin to where medicine was in the 70s, and it will be the emergence of small, incremental improvements that really make the difference. In case anyone thinks that’s a modest ambition, bear in mind that our chances of dying in middle age have roughly halved in the last 30 years, all thanks to incremental improvements in medicine.
What do you think the world of L&D will look like by 2020?
I think it will look a lot like it does now. The ATD’s Learning Circuits blog asked what learning would be like in ten years’ time back in 2009, and even then, most commentators in the profession were cautious about just how much change we could reasonably expect to see.
So over a five-year period, I think we’ll see L&D getting a little more evidence-based, a little more tech-savvy, and a little more comfortable with social learning initiatives. There will always be trailblazers, so there will be some people making real strides with augmented reality and virtual reality. And, hopefully, we’ll have improved at actually using mobile and wearables in useful ways.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Invest in Apple shares.
Connect with Owen on Twitter @owenferguson