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Problems with Learning & Development?

A risky way to start an important conversation, by Peter Lodemore

I’ve worked in L&D for over 25 years so I think I’ve earned the right to get a few things off my chest. My accountant isn’t delighted with this idea, calling it professional suicide, but I’ve assured him it comes from a good place: a desire to see if there’s anyone else out there feeling the same way, and help UP OUR GAME.

LEARNING as the dominant narrative for losers and screw-ups

‘There are lessons we need to learn… ‘ This is what Eddie Jones, the head coach of the England rugby team was saying on Saturday after we got thumped by the French. Watch any kind of sport and you will see the losing team’s manager mumble something about LEARNING during their painful, sheepish, post match interview.

And it’s not just coming up in sport; LEARNING is increasingly the dominant narrative around screw-ups: when hospitals let down patients, when police let down victims, when politicians or businesses get caught bending the rules… up pops someone to say ‘there are lessons we need to learn’.

Is LEARNING starting to feel remedial to you too? Are we becoming increasingly adrift from the language of success? What else concerns you about L&D?

World of Learning

The learning industry does seem to inhabit a world of its own. I go to a conference in Birmingham most years called World of Learning. I often wonder what a line manager would make of it? While most everyone else in business seems to be selling benefits, we seem stuck on buying features. Slap ‘Latest Neuroscientific Thinking!’ on a typewriter and you’ll find a queue to buy it.

Why? We all want to be distinctive, right? Organisational buyers in L&D are no different. But what's distinctive within our own narrow community is not necessarily going to fly with the people we exist to serve. I wonder whether a NEURO label helps bolster our own self esteem issues?

If the only tool you have is a hammer…

I was unsuccessfully headhunted for a job recently. I wasn’t interested (I think I’m probably unemployable after 20 years running my own business) but I was flattered, so I chatted with the guy a bit.

Me: What’s the job involve?

HH: Half delivery and half TNA

Me: TNA?

HH: Training Needs Analysis

Me: What does that involve?

HH: Talking to line managers

Me: Oh, ok. Like ‘Hi, I’m Pete Lodemore; the solution’s training, what seems to be the problem?”’

HH: Err… something like that.

It did make me wonder how many people work for themselves because they are crap at interviews.


(the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one's knowledge)

Are you tired of listening to trainers who talk about things like emotional intelligence but don’t seem to have any themselves? Me too. YOU are the real advert for what you do; it's not the glossy flyer or the clever noise coming out your face. We need to show up less as the pious sage on the stage and more bravely and relevant.

One thing that’s always fascinated me about school is that the people tasked with preparing us for life-beyond-the-classroom have rarely worked outside one themselves. Is this true of L&D too? Are we close enough to the business? What’s the source of our credibility with our customers? (It’s not pretending to be a neuro-scientist)

Heroic Individualism

Heard the one about the manager sent on a Transformational Leadership course who returned to lead game-changing breakthroughs? Neither have I.

Digital technologies are revolutionizing workplaces and industries because they are inherently systemic. My guess is your own company’s IT strategy will be outpacing Learning strategy by a factor of at least 10 for the same reason.

‘I put all our courses on an elearning system, does that count?’ No, not really.

However we attempt to wrap our individualistic model, and whether it’s a course-based or a coaching method, it's unlikely to fly when it comes to driving enterprise-wide changes. We need to be taking more systemic approaches and engaging a more tribal concept.

‘Pimp my L&D Ride’

If we are going to UP OUR GAME in L&D we need to be BOLDER and more disruptive with our concepts, models, and methods. This will be the focus of a series of articles I will be publishing over the coming weeks.

What does the SCIENCE OF LUCK tell us about the myth of heroic individualism? How do game-changing breakthroughs really happen, and why does all the good stuff occur in course coffee breaks? What can we learn about risk-taking, innovation and creativity from pottery? Plus I will be sharing a systemic method and tribe-centered model I’ve been road testing and refining for a number of years.

I know what I’m doing is going to give my accountant sleepless nights, but the time is right for some constructive heresy in L&D; it may well help me with my approval-addiction too. But if it all does go wrong you may well find me back here, being humble, a bit sheepish, and saying... THERE ARE LESSONS I NEED TO LEARN.

Peter Lodemore is a disruptive and loving influence, leadership consultant, facilitator, coach, keynote speaker, and potter.