February 2011


If you follow sports you have heard an athlete describe situations where the game seemed to slow down.  Under these circumstances receivers look a little more open to the quarterback.  Holes in the offensive line look bigger to the running back.  The ball looks bigger to a hitter.  In each of these cases, the player is seeing things that others are not.

How does this happen?  It can’t be just great talent (but that helps).  There are plenty of athletes who occasionally perform at a high level simply due to their physical abilities.  Why can’t they do it consistently?

Performing at a high level consistently takes more than great physical ability.  It takes a deep understanding of the basics.  I propose that players like Peyton Manning, Emmit Smith, and Albert Pujols have in common is mastery of the fundamentals.

I believe this applies to all disciplines.  Whether its your job, parenting, or recreational pursuits.  You cannot expect to consistently perform at a high level until you have spent time examining the basics and mastering them.

In my experience when you master the basics, things that were once challenging become enjoyable and sometimes fun.

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There is so much I agree with packed into this post by Seth Godin.

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don’t have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you’re trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.

The first standard in human performance technology is “focus on results.”  Based on that standard the first question you should always ask yourself is, “What am I trying to accomplish?”  The second question should be, “How do I go about accomplishing it?”

Too many of us view our days as a series of items on our to-do list, measuring our success by the number of items we get crossed off the list.  Don’t go through your day blindly going from meeting to meeting, task to task, email to email.  Approach everything you with intentionality.  Be fully present.

ISPI’s eighth standard for performance improvement is development.  As you may have figured this phase of a project deals with the actual creation of training materials.  According to ISPI it can be much more than training, “The output is a product, process, system, or technology.”  This array of solutions underscores a key difference between human performance technology (HPT) and instructional design.  Where instructional design tends to focus exclusively on training and learning, HPT looks at the way work is done and the tools that are used.

As I have written before, a common mistake is to start with this step.  As I write this, I stand by that position because this approach usually results in unfocused materials and unmet expectations.  However, a recent trend in learning development is rapid prototyping.  This approach combines elements of analysis, design, and development.  By combining these into one process, the team is able to refine their expectations, goals, objectives, and materials as their understanding of the project grows.

In a traditional approach, commonly referred to as the waterfall method, lots of meeting time and resources are spent drafting goals and objectives.  The expectation of this approach is that each step flawlessly flows into the next.  Unfortunately, experience has shown this is not always the case.  When the team finally gets to the development step there is no room to reconsider decisions made earlier.  If something was overlooked or the focus changes it requires significant rework to implement which results in delays and cost overruns.

Rapid prototyping, also called iterative prototyping, puts the emphasis more where it belongs, creating a solution that improves performance.  Through iterations the design of the learning intervention is refined, expectations are clarified and outcomes are documented.  The designer solicits feedback from stakeholders and subject matter experts to get approval on acceptable design elements and direction for future iterations.

The strength of an iterative approach is that it emphasizes what is important, actual learning materials, and focuses the team’s energy there.  It is also less labor intensive.

What are the keys to success when applying an iterative methodology?

  • Create.  Don’t just be creative.  An idea is only useful if it results in something
  • Discard. Be willing to throw out unproductive ideas
  • Learn.  An iterative approach is exploratory and prototypes are disposable.
  • Focus.  Appoint a timekeeper or reality checker.   If the group has spent too much time on an idea without producing anything usable it is their job to call us on it.