School is Where We Create the Future


[Note: The numbers have significantly increased since 2011 … and that’s the point.]

A Different Way of Looking at “School”

School is far more than a building in which we educate our children to pass tests and grades. It is the place where we create the future of our country.

During the last 5 years I have had the pleasure of meeting young students from around the country. I only asked them one question: “What is your dream for your future?”

Here are some of the answers:

“I want to be a teacher like my teacher.”

“I want to be an astronaut and go to Mars.”

“I want to cure cancer my Dad died from.”

“I want to be a doctor and help people.”

“I am going to be going to Mars.”

“I think I can be the President or maybe a Governor.”

“I want my Mom to be sent home from prison.”

“I want to finish this grade.”

“I want to find a place to live.”

“I just want to be safe.”

“I want to find enough food for me and my brother.”

“I want a home.”

I grouped the answers into two categories for a reason. Some of the answers are from kids who have a home, food, a feeling of security. Basic Maslow pyramid foundational stuff. Too many of the kids I met are missing a parent or parents, do not have enough to eat, live in poverty, and worse are homeless.

If schools really do create the future, here’s an idea about the ‘least of us’.

During many tornadoes and hurricanes, I see that shelters are put together in gymnasiums all over the country. Disaster relief for people in need of help. The kids who are living in poverty, hungry all day, in homes that are not safe or worse living homeless are also in need of help. Their very lives are a daily disaster.

Personally, I cannot fathom why or how these kids manage or even bother to go to school every day. I suspect that it’s a temporary shelter, warm and dry in the winter, there’s some food, a safe bathroom with toilets that work and running water. Other kids with whom to play, some structure.

And perhaps for many, even the dream of doing well and graduating to a better life, which has always been the basic underlying dream of education.

They need help. And it will not even cost a lot, especially for the kids who are homeless or in need of a safe place to spend the night.

Many people pray for what most of us take for granted.  

The cost to end homelessness among school children would be a fraction of what it would cost to ALL homelessness

I propose that school administrators redefine the idea of school as more than getting grades and passing tests. I suggest that we adopt and adapt the Red Cross disaster relief model.

Some of these kids will choose not to be identified as needing help. Too proud. To into their gang or drug or alcohol addiction. Too lost. Too much freedom from irresponsibility and nothing left to lose. Enjoying a life with no expectations or any rules. Not thinking about anything more than today.

For others, a small leg up will be most welcome. They will consider it an invitation to the future, their future, a better future.

They would welcome some rules as a small price to pay for admission to their temporary home:

  • Class attendance and passing grades
  • Homework completed and on time
  • No smoking, drinking or drugs
  • No gangs, no bullying, no fighting
  • No loud music (use your earphones)
  • Cellphones (if they have one) used in a calling area only
  • Lights out at a reasonable hour.

These kids will no longer be targets for judgments. It is not their fault, and no one is to blame. We do not heap blame upon the victims of a hurricane or tornado. We should not heap blame on these kids. Most of them just want an even playing field to show how smart they are, and how far they can go with a little help from their friends. In many ways, their success is harder to earn than their more fortunate schoolmates.

And for the kids who are doing okay, it would be a chance to act as a mentor and help these kids learn and progress in school. If they have clothes that have been passed down as far as down can go or stuff they no longer wear, they can provide it to those in need. They can experience sharing and caring and learn the value of helping others. Of empathy. Of kindness. Again, school is where we create the future. The question is, what do we want to teach kids about the kind of people we want them to be in our future?

School is the place where we build the future of our nation. A nation where everyone has the opportunity to become the best they can be. A level playing field. For them. For us. For our future.

The Inevitable Future of Your Workplace

Following is an excerpt from our new book, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy co-authored with Stephen J. Gill

We think that the heart of managing minds was summed up years ago by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who was a keen observer of the relationship of hands and minds at work, is thought to have said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” We cannot anticipate the turbulent seas and uncharted territory ahead in the economy, but we can prepare managers for navigating their organizations to success.

Imagine that we have traveled to the not-too-distant future. All organizations are managing minds, from the most high-tech companies to the oldest factories and mills. What would a day be like? Imagine a company in which:

  • Continuous learning, and learning fast, is key, even in the face of unprecedented change: managing tremendous amounts of information, creating new products and processes in response to global competition, using new apps to be more efficient and effective, and responding to the learning preferences of a multigenerational, diverse workforce.
  • Employees are hired because they are excited about learning and improving themselves. They have a history of taking responsibility for their own learning. They aren’t afraid to admit that they do not know something, and they willingly seek out the help they need to improve and become high performers.
  • The message from the CEO to new employees is that learning and self-development are highly valued. Continuous learning is expected from everyone in the organization, from senior leadership down. Incentives and public recognition reward those employees who seek out opportunities to enhance their competencies and increase their capability to contribute to the success of the organization.
  • Critical information is easily accessible on the go. Equipment operators can view safety information on their smartphones when and where they need it. Managers can download coaching advice prior to meeting with a direct report. Leaders can see a video on open-book management just before discussing it with their teams.
  • Managers meet every few weeks with their direct reports to discuss performance and learning goals. Employees report what they’ve been learning. Managers give employees constructive feedback, and together they decide how to achieve goals. Managers provide opportunities for employees to practice newly acquired skills and put into practice what they’ve been learning.
  • Team leaders ask for feedback on their leadership. They discuss their communication, delegation, coaching, team facilitation, and planning with team members. Team leaders are constantly improving the effectiveness of team meetings and modeling meeting management for team members. Together, they are learning how to facilitate and contribute to meetings that are engaging and productive.
  • Leaders of projects conduct an after-action review at the completion of each project. Project team members discuss what happened, how it happened, the results, how that compares with what the project was intended to accomplish, successes and failures, and what should be done differently in the future. Project managers and team members put these lessons learned into practice on their next projects.
  • Organization-wide strategic planning is seen as an opportunity for learning. Participants are asked to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the planning process. Leaders and managers use that feedback to improve the organization’s strategic planning process, and this new process is standardized in the organization.
  • People start their workday with an attitude that can be described as fearless, looking forward to using their minds to contribute to the success and happiness of their organization.

There is a purpose to imagining a company in which people are managing minds. The current neuroscience theory is that we use the past as a scaffold to build an image of the future; the way we did things in the past helps determine what we will do in the future. But the biggest problem any organization has when it tries to change is the inability to imagine a different way of doing things. So imagining a company in which we are managing minds, doing things very differently from when we were managing hands, is necessary if we are to get from here to there, from today to a better future.


Ketchup and Complexity


I recently saw a subject line cross my inbox. “Boring Content = Boring Courses?” I felt compelled to answer with 2 words: Malcolm Gladwell.

As a writer, reader, and speaker I have always enjoyed the way the best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference takes complex ideas from performance prediction to behavioral economics and, through the magic of his insatiable curiosity, wide-ranging interest in seemingly everything, and his incredible storytelling chops, transforms the potentially “boring content” into readable, digestible lessons. With the aid of the everyday from ketchup to Dijon mustard, hush puppies to falling crime rates, his books are readable, relatable, and the lessons he provides are memorable and fun.

So, my answer to the question about boring content? There is no “boring content”, only a boring mind approaching the content and trying to teach it. Take the equals sign out of the equation. So-called boring content tells me that the lesson is being prepared without imagination, creativity, or the ability to take the mundane and transform it into the amazing. If the teacher cannot get excited about the idea, the result will be boring content. If the lesson does not help turn the complex into the understandable parts and then rebuilds it back into a complex whole, the lesson creator is not getting the job done.

It’s really all about mindset. I am forever amazed by the commonplace, everyday things, the way things work, the connections between initially disparate parts. I cannot imagine writing a boring lesson or giving a boring presentation since I cannot imagine being bored. Take a page – any page actually – from Gladwell and see how Big Ideas can be made understandable and enjoyable. There are other writers who do the same. Find them, read them, copy the way they look at the complex world, and study how they write about it. Learn how they use the alchemy of their words to transform the Big Ideas into tasty bite-sized pieces that can be easily chewed, digested, and remembered.

They all fit into the following definition.

“The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” — Albert Einstein




When History Happens and No One Notices

tech 5_3

“When we look back across five centuries, the implications of the Renaissance appear to be obvious. It seems astonishing that no one saw where it was leading, anticipating what lay around the next bend in the road and over the horizon. Even the wisest were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out — the only guide anyone ever has — was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new.”

—William Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire

Book by Steven Gill and David Grebow Minds at WorkIn the 1980’s, technology, automation, artificial intelligence and globalization combined for the first time to form a new powerful force. The impact of this force began the historic  and too often unnoticed ­­— transition from a labor-intensive workforce that had existed for thousands of years to what is still a relatively new and emerging mind-intensive workforce. In our book, Minds at Work, we refer to this period as The Great Inflection Point when we moved from managing hands to managing minds.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates the loss of the relatively unskilled jobs that populated most of the labor-intensive economy would impact more than 1.4 million workers by 2026. Yet, a World Economic Report analysis and report in response to these numbers pointed out that 96% of the 1.4 million jobs could be easily upskilled and transitioned into more challenging and skilled work once automation and AI replaced the repetitive, labor-intensive parts of their jobs. For example, assembly line workers could become construction laborers, electronic equipment assemblers could transition into electricians, and machine operators would learn to be machine mechanics.

Labor-intensive work that can be more cheaply and effectively done by automation and AI has aspects and elements to it that AI and automation cannot do. It means that parts of many jobs are, to use a new term, “robot-proof.” They are the parts of a job that requires you to use your mind  life experiences, creativity, ability to continuously learn, and more  in the work you do. Harry Davis at the University of Chicago summed it up when he said, “We have to make it so that people don’t leave too much of themselves in the trunk of their car.”

Some countries have paid more attention to this historic shift than others and are doing a better job training and educating their workforces for these upskilling transitions. In Singapore, they have started what is referred to as a “Lifelong Learning Initiative.” The focus is on training and education for skills that will be required in a world that is mind-intensive and not labor-intensive, the brainful work that will need to be done in the future. In Germany, there is the Educational Vocation Act that offers 500,000 Germans with up to three years of education in the classroom that is then coupled with a transition into the workplace as paid on-the-job apprenticeships. These countries have a growth mindset and know that people want to learn and prepare for the future.

Some countries, such as the United States, are still not seeing the implications of The Great Inflection Point and have no strategy for succeeding in this new mind-intensive world. A few companies are leading by example. AT&T realized (almost too late) that their new competitors include not only the new cellular phone companies Verizon and Sprint but also the internet service providers Amazon, Netflix and Google. Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s Chairman, and Chief Executive knew he had to reinvent the company to compete. So in 2014, he asked 280,000 employees worldwide to start a retraining program called Vision 2020. In his mind, it was an easy choice: Take classes and begin to upgrade your skills or limit your opportunities at AT&T to zero. The company knew that a large portion of the workforce needed to learn the new digital technology and quickly be able to work with AT&T’s cloud-based system, scheduled for implementation in 2020.

The World Economic Forum summed it up: “As the types of skills needed in the labor market change rapidly, individual workers will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to achieve fulfilling and rewarding careers. For companies, reskilling and upskilling strategies will be critical if they are to find the talent they need and to contribute to socially responsible approaches to the future of work. For policymakers, reskilling and retraining the existing workforce are essential levers to fuel future economic growth, enhance societal resilience in the face of technological change and pave the way for future-ready education systems for the next generation of workers.”

History does not happen to someone else. It happens to all of us. The cost of not noticing when history happens is failing to react and falling behind other countries that have been paying attention.

David Grebow has been considered a visionary in the management and education fields for over 35 years. He has held senior management positions with leading technology and education companies, including IBM where he co-founded the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. David’s blog, KnowledgeStar, is one of the most widely-read on learning and technology.

Stephen J. Gill, the co-author with David Grebow of Minds at Work, is a co-founder of Learning To Be Great, an online resource for creating and sustaining a learning culture in organizations. He has designed and evaluated training and learning programs for office systems, manufacturing, utility, healthcare, education and philanthropic organizations, and has written over 50 articles.

On The Brink podcast with David and Stephen

Take a listen to our On The Brink podcast with David and Stephen about the changes taking place all around us in the way people work. Today’s “knowledge worker” in a typical corporation is very different from the line worker in a plant, yet so many of our businesses have paid little attention to this significant shift in the labor force and what their response to it should be. Pretty important stuff. Don’t miss this!


From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants


Real Learning is Creative



The Question

“What is the relationship between creativity and learning?”

I get that question from many of the people I talk and consult with and usually babble some vague cliche about you can’t have one without the other, and that real learning depends on creativity. While that’s true the real answer is more complicated.

It’s not because we don’t have a good idea about the first part – the learning process –  but because the second part – the creative process – is still a mysterious unexplored territory. Like the old mapmakers would say about uncharted waters “Beware! Here there be monsters!”

Here’s what we know about the first part.

Rote — The First Type of Learning

There are two types of learning, rote and real. Rote is all about someone feeding the employee-cum-student with a spoonful of knowledge or know-how. The student eats, digests, and literally regurgitates that information back on a test and gets graded. (Actually, it’s the teacher who is being graded for their performance in the knowledge transfer since the student’s performance is rarely tested in the real world.) Rote learning has been the default for delivering and measuring learning for well over 100 years, starting in the formal school systems and carried over into the workplaces of the world. It is very structured, neat, linear, and inhibited.

Rote learning is all about recovery.

Rote learning is by-the-book learning. It’s bound by rules, guidelines, regulations, procedures, facts, and figures. It is designed to be shunted into short-term memory, regurgitated quickly, measured against the right answers, and just as quickly forgotten. And that is the biggest problem with this approach — The Forgetting Curve.

The Forgetting Curve

We know from research on the process of forgetting – a critical part of the learning process – that the rote approach is not effective. As far back as 1885, during the early part of the industrial economy, researchers wondered why training did not immediately meet the expectations for improved performance. Hermann Ebbinghaus extrapolated the hypothesis of the exponential nature of forgetting. The following formula roughly describes it: R = e – S / t, where R is memory retention, S is the relative strength of memory, and t is time.

A typical graph of the forgetting curve shows that we tend to forget as much as half of what we remember of the newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless we consciously review and use what we learned.


Yet we have persisted for well over 100 years employing rote learning as the primary way to learn. 

Research at IBM in the late 1980s, and in many other companies since then, showed that a disproportionate amount of learning—anywhere between 70 and 80 percent—takes place in context, on the job and in the course of your work. The implications are eye-opening. If rote-based programs account for only 20 to 30 percent of learning (if learners remember that much), then employees are entering the workplace with 70-80 percent left to try and remember and relearn. When these events are, for example, focused on compliance or safety procedures, it’s unsettling to imagine the results when we send people back to work having learned only 20-30 percent of what they need to know, which could endanger their lives and the lives of others.

How to Waste $289 Billion Dollars

Rote-based programs are the primary method of training. In 2017, almost 50 percent of the training hours were rote-based, including actual classroom and virtual classroom-in-a-box. When you factor in the results of the forgetting curve, where up to 80 percent is forgotten, the numbers add up to an incredible waste of time and money. Consider that $362 billion was spent on learning and development activities in 2017. This means that 80% of it or $289 billion of that was never fully realized and translated into improved performance. And yet I keep hearing it over and over. The answer to a problem is always more training.

Real — The Second Type of Learning

Real learning is the opposite of rote. Real learning is uninhibited learning. It’s freeform, creative, messy, unconstrained, and improvisational. You learn by continuously exploring, inventing, failing, creating, and then succeeding. Failing is hardwired into the process of real learning. Real learning—the kind of aha moment signaling that the brain has connected the dots—is a wonderful and amazing mystery. It involves long-term memory, synapses, endorphins, and encoding. Real learning is a result of those accidental and serendipitous moments. That’s what we mean by uninhibited. The process starts when your mind adopts new information and then adapts it (in a sense relearns it) under a constantly changing set of circumstances.

Real learning is all about discovery.

Every time—and we mean every time—you learn to do something new, you have done so by trial and error. Genius short-circuits the process. Talent gets you there quicker, but the process of learning is the same: trial and error. The latest neuroscience findings show us that the brain aggregates memory and builds trial and error into the way to do something. It appears that the “failed” trial and error cells are held back, while the “successful” trial and no error cells are moved to the front of the line. The current theory is that the old trial and error cells get recycled.

Enter Creativity

Creativity is a critical part of the real learning process in which knowledge and know-how are adapted in the real world. Here are just two examples.

  • I work in a supermarket at the deli counter and go to a class to learn the basics of handling meat and cheese. Every time a new customer comes to the counter with a different request, I need to creatively adapt what I learned in the class to provide service. And I need to do this every time thereafter when I serve a new and different customer. The overall impact is that all the learning, adapting and relearning adds up over time to a become level of mastery.
  • I learn how to play golf and, as a key part of my game used the putting green to learn to grip my putter the right way, gauge the distance to the hole, measure the energy in the stroke, move my body correctly, read the green, line up the shot. and putt. Every time I go out and play a round of golf, the conditions are different and I end up in a different place on the green. I need to adapt what I have been constantly trying, failing, succeeding and relearning about putting to make the putt.

That process of adaption is a creative process. The opposite is true and telling as well. In a situation in which an employee is learning by rote, if they raise their hand and say they have an idea – often a creative approach to whatever they are learning – they are told to stay focused on the material being presented. It starts the first day of the first year at school when the natural creativity that kids have is extinguished to support the fact that the schools and teachers are forced to meet state and federal standards as proven by the summative tests kids take at the end of every year.

… And The Answer Is …

So creativity is the driver for real learning. If we do not enable and support creativity we kill real learning. When we focus on recovery instead of discovery real learning has no chance. And that’s the answer to the question.

Stop Killing Creativity

Here’s a short animated video that shows you how creativity and real learning dies a slow and painful death.


The War of the Management Worlds

There’s a battle going on in the world that most people have never heard about that will soon rock your work world.

On one side we have the management and learning models developed during the Industrial Revolution when most people made things and companies needed to manage hands. This old 19th-century approaches and models are so entrenched we still use them by default today.

On the other side is a new smart model of management and learning born in the 1980’s that is spreading across industries and countries at an increasingly rapid rate. It reflects the fact that most people today work with their minds and we need to learn to manage minds. Some companies around the world are learning how to do it. Soon all companies will need to follow the leaders or they will be out of business.

Managing hands or managing minds is a choice that will dictate whether your organizations succeeds or fails as the Knowledge Economy grows. Learn more about it in our recent podcast with Andi Simon workplace anthropologist.


Do you work? I bet you do. Listen in on my conversation with Stephen Gill and David Grebow about the changes taking place all around you in how you work. We have moved from building things with our hands to thinking things and creating them with our minds. Today’s “knowledge worker” in a tech startup is very different from the line worker in a plant, yet so many of our businesses have paid little attention to the changes happening every second. Don’t miss this!

Whether you are a college president or a college student, a worker or a boss, a leader or a manager—the times have changed and they are not going to stop, or even slow down. Time to pause and see work in a new way.

As Stephen and David describe it:

“For the first time in history, in the last 50 years, most people have been using their minds to produce work. We no longer need to manage hands; we have no choice but to restructure our organizations and change our approach to management and learning to reflect this historic change. In this mind-intensive knowledge economy, we must learn to manage minds to get the smartest, most creative, and most innovative results.”

Many companies have taken the lead in learning new ways to manage people.

They are discovering what it takes to enable people to grow and perform at their peak, professionally and personally. In this podcast, you will hear all about what you can do to build your organization around today’s knowledge workers.


The Conference in Paris


I recently had the honor of presenting a keynote address about the research from my latest book Minds at Work at the 2018 Learning Technologies Conference and iLearning Forum in Paris, Porte de Versailles. There were over 8,000 people attending the two-day event and the interest in learning and learning technologies in the EU is as intense and focused as I have experienced.

The book is becoming a bestseller, and the groundbreaking research is helping promote a new and progressive form of management centered on what we are learning about the ways to effectively manage minds at work.

The book Minds at Work will be featured in the conference in January.


The only sustainable advantage in our hypercompetitive marketplace is the ability to learn and adapt faster than everyone else. Companies that cling to management practices of a bygone era continue to fade away. They desperately need managers who empower people to seek out learning at a moment’s notice.

Minds at Work can help you be that manager. This book captures the role managers play in the knowledge economy—where uninhibited, on-demand learning inspires employees to achieve higher levels of performance. Author David Grebow describes how managers can move from a traditional “command and control” position to become advocates of communication and collaboration. They share what happens when managers help their direct reports grow as people and use technology to pull the learning they need when they need it.

Minds at Work illustrates this shift to a learning community with success stories from forward-looking companies that are managing minds. With this better way to manage, these companies have unearthed those “aha!” moments as the dots connect after continuous problem solving, trial and error, and innovation. Each has redefined norms, made knowledge sharing flat, and created a workplace culture built to innovate, grow, be agile, nimble, and more competitive.

Use this book to embrace learning anytime, anywhere. Nurture the minds at work, and you’ll win the hearts of your organization.”

Using the Pivot Point for Real Learning

new-paradigm-ahead (2)

When I was finishing the last chapter in my book, Minds at Work, co-authored with Stephen J. Gill, our focus was on a new model of managing and learning designed to respond to the needs of the new Knowledge Economy. We called it “managing minds” to distinguish it from the previous industrial era model of “managing hands”.

We studied the small but growing number of companies all over the world successfully “managing minds”. These companies were leaders in their industries, without the problems other companies were experiencing including finding and retaining talent, engaging employees, or driving innovation and growth. Because of my background in corporate education, I was especially interested in what it would mean to develop and manage learning programs in these progressively managed companies.

The current industrial era managing hands approach relies on push training – classroom or online scheduled events are pushed to employees. They go back to work as soon as the program is finished with the expectation is that they can do their jobs as a result of their training. They are getting ‘just-in-case training’- just in case they need it someday.

We know from our research that this model does not work. As far back as 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus extrapolated the hypothesis of the exponential nature of forgetting. The following formula can roughly describe it: R=e^{-\frac{t}{S}} where R is memory retention, S is the relative strength of memory, and t is time. A typical graph of the forgetting curve purports to show that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material. Yet we have persisted for over 100 years in using the formal approach as the only way to train.

Further research, initially done at IBM in the late 1980’s, and many others since then, show a disproportionate amount of learning – as much as 70 to 80 percent – takes place during the pull phase after the classroom-based or online learning is completed [2]. The upshot is eye-opening.

The Numbers Are Depressing

What little learning we get (20-30%) during the formal training stage is rapidly forgotten. This means every $1.00 spent on training returns on average 20¢ – 30¢ of value.

Plus, the majority of training programs today are based on the old push model. The training stops when the initial 20% training period is over. Learners are on their own as they enter the workplace with 70-80% left to learn. The numbers change when you are presenting “high-wire” training, the kind that involves life or death split second decisions. That’s the only exception and it involves lots of simulations and time to practice.

In a managing minds organization, the push training programs are often designed to catapult the learner into the more critical period of pull learning, where the research tells us that as much as 70-80% of the learning occurs [3]. We imagined a future in a managing mind pull model [4] in which learners can get the information they need whenever and wherever it is needed. That would be just-in-time learning. And with the advent of new AI systems, learning can be customized even more to become just-for-me as well.

A push training program in a managing mind company would focus on how employees can get the most downstream from the class, from the pull learning side of the equation. That is a dramatic departure from the current push model that focuses on elements like attendance and test scores, and considers push training to be the beginning and end of the learning process.

The new push model, which is only the beginning of the real learning process, could include:

  • An ebook of key takeaways from the push training
  • Incorporating push training materials back at work as poster reminders
  • A place for feedback to report how easy it is to apply what was learned
  • Inclusion of useful apps to reinforce learning after training
  • Instruction on using just-in-time performance support tools
  • Contacts for finding experts for support
  • Opportunities for learner to teach what they learned
  • Ongoing ways to be tested on the lessons
  • Email or text reminders of key lessons.

We quickly realized the implications for change between the old and new models of training is significant. The old managing hands push model delivers formal training and stops. The new managing minds pull model that supports real learning uses formal training as a jumping off point. Push training is just the beginning. Push training programs would be the first step in the learning process [5], and would be more focused on laying the groundwork for the skills that need to be adopted, adapted, tested and acquired back at work.

In the new model there is a clear continuum from formal to informal. And that was the problem we uncovered. How do you identify the switch from formal to informal learning? What do you need to do to create the most useful bridge between these two aspects of the learning process? We call this the “The Pivot Point”.

The Pivot Point is Critical to Real Learning

Figure One: The Learning Process and The Pivot Point.


Minds at work 2018

The Pivot Point is the moment formal training ends and informal learning begins. Focusing training on the Pivot Point is important for several reasons.

Learners need to be aware of what is involved when they pivot from formal to informal learning (and back again). The focus on the Pivot Point will make sure employee’s training is supported when they return to the workplace. A plan for a well-timed hand-off from the formal to the informal can be developed to support employee performance during their informal learning.

The training can take the Ebbinghaus curve [6] into account and provide tools to reinforce the basics upon which learners need to build skills and knowledge as they adopt and adapt what they learned in a formal training program. Training can be designed to mirror the actual environment in which learners will work to make the pivot as seamless as possible. This approach will reinforce the new goal of training: to prepare learners to successfully pivot and learn how to improve their skills during their informal learning period back at work.

How the Pivot Point Works

All learners start out unequal. That simply means no one brings the same level of skills to a training program. Yet a training program can still be one-size-fits-all. All learners will need certain basics as they go forward from the formal to the informal part of the learning. Those basics, listed earlier in this paper, can be covered in ways to help bridge the transition between the two parts of the learning process.

The initial learning curve represents the research done by Ebbinghaus and others. The research shows that there is a precipitous drop in what someone learns during the formal program. The learning curve peaks during the learning process at the Pivot Point, immediately at the end of the formal program. If nothing happens past the Pivot Point learners start to drop off the curve and forget their lessons.

At the Pivot Point, informal learning takes over. This may be towards the end of the formal training program even as the learners are still in class completing a survey or a smile sheet. We believe that learning is a process of employees adopting what they learn in a formal setting and then applying that learning to the workplace during the period of informal learning. What is adopted needs to be tested and expanded upon – in a sense relearned in a new context – and goes through a series of similar, shorter learning curves.

“We learn by strengthening connections between related elements, and only so much strengthening can happen in any one day before we literally need to sleep before more can be achieved. That’s why an “event” model of learning has a low likelihood of actually leading to meaningful change. Instead, learning needs to be spaced over time, with sufficient practice to achieve the retention we require. Consider ways to reactivate learning at intervals after the initial learning presentation.” Dr. Clark Quinn  [7]

Each of these later learning curves in the series has a downward side where there is a falling off of new learning. The difference is that each succeeding curve in this extended learning process becomes less steep. They remember more, need to learn less, and forget less as well. As employees draw closer to an expert level, the curve is almost a straight line.

“There are several ways to strengthen the relationships between related elements that lead to learning. We can represent the concept that guides performance, ideally in a new way. We can present another example of applying the concept in a new context, which both helps establish transfer to appropriate situations and, of course, supports greater retention. Or, best of all, we can provide another opportunity for the learner to practice applying the concept in context. All these activities, spaced over time, will support extending the learning, but, of course, the most important is sufficient spaced practice.” Dr. Clark Quinn [8]

The Pivot Point is when formal training needs to handoff to informal learning. Formal training needs to lead up to the pivot and create a bridge that helps learners move along the learning process continuum. Training programs in a Learning Culture can no longer be the end of learning before working, but, instead, as a critical beginning to being able to learn to perform a job or task at the highest level.

When we start to see learning as a continuous process from formal to informal (and maybe back again), we realize the value of the Pivot Point. And we realize that with planning, we can make that pivot a seamless move from only pushing knowledge and skills, to employees pulling what they need, when they need it, where it’s needed.

Minds at Work is the bestselling book from David Grebow and co-author Stephen J. Gill. Based on their groundbreaking and careful research into progressively managed companies, the book explains how many of the ideas we have about management and learning are outdated. These ideas were developed to meet the needs of the previous industrial economy, and are the root cause of the many of the problems experienced by companies around the world. These problems range from hiring to retaining talented people, increasing the engagement of employees, to having them be more collaborative, creative and innovative. All these problems can be viewed as symptoms caused by the impossibility of meeting the challenges of the 21st century knowledge economy using solutions developed for the 19th century industrial economy.

[1] Formal training happens when knowledge is captured and shared by people other than the original expert or owner of that knowledge. The knowledge can be captured in any format—written, video, audio—as long as it can be accessed anytime and anywhere, independent from the person who originally had it.

[2] Andrew Jefferson, Roy Pollock.”70:20:10: Where Is the Evidence?”, ATD Science of Learning Blog, Tuesday, July 08, 2014.

[3] Ibid., ATD Science of Learning Blog

[4] Informal or pull Learning is what happens when knowledge has not been externalized or captured and exists only inside someone’s head. To get at the knowledge, you must locate and talk to that person in real time. Pull learning is learner-centered and in response to just-in-time need for knowledge and skills.

[5] We believe that learning is a process of adapting and adopting. Learners adopt what the lessons they learn in a formal program. They then adapt those lessons – through a self-directed process of trying, failing, succeeding and learning from experience – during a constantly changing set of circumstances.

[6] Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from

[7] Clark Quinn, “77 Tips on Today’s Hottest Topics from DevLearn Thought Leaders” On Cognition and How the Brain Learns, 15-18, The eLearning Guild, 2015.

[8] Ibid., p.18

What a New Year Surprise!

What an honor! John Baldoni is a popular leadership keynote speaker, executive coach and executive educator. He is an internationally recognized thought leader, and the author of 13 great management books, which have been translated into 10 languages. His most popular books you must read are MOXIE and Lead with Purpose.  He recently posted his “Inspiring Reads for 2018”. My latest book co-authored with Stephen J. Gill, “Minds at Work”, was on his list.

“Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy by David Grebow and Stephen J. Gill. If you think that management does a good job of bringing out the best in organizations, you don’t need to read this book. But, if you think as I do, that we too often squander the talents and skills of employees by not providing them an environment to learn and culture to thrive, then please read this book. Straight to the point and packed with research insights, Grebow and Gill (my friend) provide a road map to helping organizations unleash the power of their greatest assets: their employees’ minds!”

Here’s the full list to start off your New Year’s reading:

Inspiring Reads for 2018

Another Slice of Pizza, Please

zumeOne of the most widely read of my recent posts was The Pizza Story about the artisanal pizza made by robots in the Zume pizzeria in Palo Alto, California. The post showed that we have no idea how far automation has already reached its steely fingers into the many places in our lives. The point was to prove how far and how fast we are moving away from the industrial model of management and learning that focused on managing hands. We are rapidly approaching a time when almost all work will be performed either partly or completely by people’s minds, and we will need to discover how to manage minds and provide ways for them to learn and grow.

I loved this article in a recent issue of The Atlantic Monthly because of what happened to Freedom Carlson. Without a high school degree, let alone a college diploma to insulate her from the transition to managing minds, she was promoted from kitchen helper working alongside the robots to  “culinary-program administrator”. She is learning coding and how to use the software that determines the nutritional facts for a pizza you order from Zume.  She is a great example of how we can revise our old industrial era ideas about management and learning and move from managing hands to managing minds. The key is believing that people have a growth mindset that enables them to learn and providing the knowledge they need to grow.

Here’s the piece that appeared in The Atlantic Magazine:

“Less dystopian was the scene at Zume Pizza, in Mountain View, California, where I watched an assembly line of robots spread sauce on dough and lift pies into the oven. Thanks to its early investment in automation, Zume spends only 10 percent of its budget on labor, compared with 25 percent at a typical restaurant operation. The humans it does employ are given above-average wages and perks: Pay starts at $15 an hour and comes with full benefits; Zume also offers tuition reimbursement and tutoring in coding and data science. I talked with a worker named Freedom Carlson, who doesn’t have a college degree. She started in the kitchen, where she toiled alongside the robots. She has since been promoted to culinary-program administrator, and is learning to navigate the software that calculates nutritional facts for Zume pizzas.”

What struck me as instructive was the way the savings in labor costs – down to 10% from the standard 25% – was reinvested into the workers including

  • above-average wages – starting at $15 an hour
  • full benefits – health, vacation, and sick time
  • tuition reimbursement – this was what I loved that included tutoring in coding and data science.

The article goes on to point out something too often overlooked when we talk about the impact of automation on the workforce.  We need to focus on people’s minds and their ability to learn new technological skills, regardless of their level of educational attainment. It also makes a key point: We need progressive employers – with the help of a progressive government – to provide that learning and make it happen.

“This has typically been the story of automation: Technology obviates old jobs, but it also creates new ones—the job title radiology technician, for example, has been included in census data only since 1990. Transitioning to a new type of work is never easy, however, and it might be particularly difficult for many in the service sector. New jobs that arise after a technological upheaval tend to require skills that laid-off workers don’t have, and not all employers will be nearly as progressive as Zume. A college education helps insulate workers from automation, enabling them to develop the kind of expertise, judgment, and problem-solving abilities that robots can’t match. Yet nearly 80 percent of workers in food preparation and service-related occupations have a high-school diploma or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

The Atlantic Magazine

Minds at Work is a groundbreaking and carefully-researched explanation about why our ideas about management and learning are more than 100 years out-of-date and need to be revised. The book is published by ATD Press and is available in paperback and ebook versions on ATD Press and Amazon. The ATD Press site also has a free Executive Summary and Sample Chapter.


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