Thursday, November 18, 2010

The problem with potential

I have a super power. I know, everyone likes to think about what super power they wish they had (I like to do that too), but I actually have one. I could go into all of the reasons of why I know this, but suspend your disbelief and pretend like you believe me.

I can see potential.

Not some vague sense or hope or glimmer. I see the future. Or, what the future could be.

That's the problem with will. Also? Hard work. Let me explain.

Suppose I came to you today and I told you that you could be President of the United States. Let's say that was something you very much wanted. And suppose I could lay out for you everything that it would take to make that happen, or at least the major steps. "All you have to do," I'd say, "is X and Y and Z, and you can be President."

Most people probably wouldn't do it. And why is that? Oh...there are lots of reasons...fear of change, fear of failure, insecurities, self-doubt, doubt of others' belief in us...and sometimes its just too much work to live up to our potential. Sometimes its too hard and too scary. Most of the time, actually.

Which is why I have the crappiest super power ever. (In doing some research, I found this list of lame super powers. In comparison, I don't feel THAT bad about mine...). Because most people, in the end, value security over their goals and I'm left seeing all of that wasted potential of what could have been.

I'm writing about all of this today because of my oldest son. Maybe its a weakness in my super power, or maybe its a feature, but I can't see the future of my kids. I think its probably the one reprieve I get...I don't have to be tortured over the decisions of my children. Plus, all parents see, in some vague way, the potential of their kids. Some parents push their children to be the best they can be, some parents are completely hands off and let their kids find their own way. Most people probably fall somewhere in between. I always had the philosophy that I would parent by example...I challenge myself to live the way that I hope my children will live. Fearless, passionate, determined, honest, compassionate, and thankful...those are the characteristics I've tried to model for my kids.

But today, I am humbled by my son. I am humbled by his potential, the person he is, and the person I now realize he has the potential to be. Because of him, I'm seeing for the first time in a long time, the potential that we ALL have and what it takes to achieve it.

Today, my son performed an African dance.

I could point out to you which 3rd grader he is, but in the end, it doesn't matter. As part of an Artist in Residence program at his school, teachers of African dance and music worked with these kids one day a week for six weeks, teaching them about rhythm and dance and "the break" in percussion when the drums signal the dancer to transition from one style to the next. My son is quiet, a gamer and an intellectual, more pragmatic than a dreamer. He's not much for showing off.

In his 1st grade play performance, he stunned me by beatboxing to a rap song the kids performed at the end of the play. In the 2nd grade talent show, he decided to perform stand up comedy. He killed. Not that I didn't have faith in him, but I was shocked. But this year was different...this year was on stage. This was dancing.

This was going to be a challenge.

Except it wasn't. Because what my 8 year old son taught me today is what I've been trying to teach him. That you can accomplish great things, you can realize your potential, if you decide that's what you're going to do. He never doubted he could beatbox at 6 years old, he wasn't scared to tell jokes to a packed house of his peers and their parents when he was 7. Today, at 8 years old, he was fearless, passionate, determined, honest, compassionate and front of a crowded auditorium. He never even considered another option. And so, with a joy a wish I could bottle, he performed an African dance.

In the end, the people who realize their potential are the people who see no other option...and my super power ends up meaning very little to people who are willing to settle for less.

For the record, if I ever got to choose, I think I'd rather have the super power of teleportation. Kinda like Samantha in Bewitched.

Monday, November 8, 2010

DevLearn 2010 Reflections

Tim and Lynn at the booth (photo: Jay Cross)
Back from San Francisco and just starting to come out of the whirlwind that was DevLearn 2010. This being our third year attending, presenting and exhibiting at the conference, I think we had some assumptions of what to expect...but I don't think we got close to anticipating the excitement, energy, and flat out level of busy that we experienced this year.

Me at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Station

In no small part, what kept us jumping was running the Dr. Strangelearn ARG. HUGE kudos to Kristen Cromer who did the lion's share of the work on the ARG, including manning the Dr. Stranglearn Information Station at the conference and co-hosting the Breakfast Byte debrief. I think both Kristen and I will be writing up our reflections specifically around Dr. Strangelearn in the next week or so; but suffice it to say, I was thrilled with the participation and level of engagement of the players and am excited to continue the conversations started this week around ARG design for organizational learning.
Talking about the future
(photo: Philip Hutchison)

The other thing that kept me busy was the 5 sessions that I presented. It didn't sound like that much leading into the conference, but wow...the speaking gigs kept me on my toes. From the ARG session on Wednesday, to Thursday's guest appearances at Mark Oehlert's Social Learning Camp and Alicia Sanchez's Serious Game Zone, then onto the Dr. Strangelearn debrief on Friday and ending with my Future of Learning Technologies was a fun challenge to reframe the work that we do at Tandem Learning throughout the year for the different subjects and audiences.

I made people DO stuff...they seemed ok with it
(photo: Philip Hutchison)
The session I was most looking forward to was the Future of Learning Technologies session, and it was so much fun ending the conference with a packed room and talking augmented reality, virtual worlds, geolocation, and social media...I think we even talked holograms, jetpacks and teleportation. What was interesting in reviewing the twitterstream after the session was that the least technology-related point I emphasized seemed to resonate the most: Start with the problem you are trying to solve. In the end, all of the cool technology in the world isn't much use if it doesn't help us solve organizational issues that can't be addressed in other ways. But I digress...

Let me close with a few highlights of the conference for me, in no particular order:
  • Just being around all of you smart, interesting people. I know I'm going to miss mentioning some of you here that I had great conversations with or got to meet in person for the first time. DevLearn is still for me the one time of the year that I get to see my personal learning network face-to-face, and it was tough to walk even a few steps without recognizing a friendly face or someone recognizing mine. There's just nowhere else this happens on this scale, and it is an exhilarating ride.
      Hobnobbing at DemoFest
      (photo: Jay Cross)
  • Finally meeting Jane Bozarth. And immediately she called me out for not greeting her with the aggressive hugging that I had promised. I quickly remedied that. 
  • Hanging out in Berkeley with Clark Quinn, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Jane Hart and Jay Cross, otherwise known as the Internet Time Alliance. Although I had met each of them either in person or virtually before, it was such a pleasure to spend some time getting to know them outside of the conference scene. Thank you so much for hosting a great shindig and I'm looking forward to seeing all of you again soon.
  • Another "finally got to meet" was Tom Crawford, who was just as awesome in person as he's been virtually and via phone. He also co-witnessed the Irish Raverdance (not a typo...) introduced by a certain social media evangelist and I'm hoping his phone was better than mine at capturing some incriminating video.
  • Introducing Aaron Silvers, Brian Dusablon, BJ Schone and Gary Hegenbart to the Blue Bottle Cafe.
  • Getting people moving on social media tools 
  • Visiting Mark Oehlert's Social Media Tools workshop on Tuesday and noticing that Sumeet Moghe took a picture of me and Aaron Silvers. It was GREAT to meet him and it kinda made me feel like a celebrity...until I realized that Sumeet was literally the best documenter of the DevLearn conference this year...seriously, check out his blog!
  • Comparing dresses and shoes with Alicia Sanchez and Gina Schreck. The gamer girls were bringing it with the fashion this year, seriously.
  • Talking life, love and the pursuit of happiness with Neil Lasher. I can't thank him enough for his pep talk!
  • Catching up, even if only briefly, with Cammy Bean, Kevin Thorn, Nemo and Josh from Bloomfire, Ellen Wagner, Marcia Conner, Wendy Wickham, Kris Rockwell, Stephen Martin, Michelle Lentz, Kristi Broom, Joe GanciAndy Petroski, Philip Hutchison, Steve Nguyen, Enid Crystal, Stephanie Daul, and probably another 20 people who I'll think of after I hit "Publish" on this post.
  • Being SO excited to meet Anne Derryberry and not too long after getting into serious discussions on our views on gamification and gender perspectives on games. 
  • Hearing the players of the Dr. Strangelearn ARG give great feedback, and particularly enjoying hearing the perspectives of our big winner, Rich Miller
  • Getting to know Karen Burpee and having a lot of fun talking ARGs and bullets in military slides...
  • And finally, the one interaction that will stay with me far beyond DevLearn this year, was when I met Jeanette Campos and she brought me to tears with the kind of compliment that makes you think maybe all of your hard work, passion and faith might actually count for something. Thank you, Jeanette. You probably don't know how much your kind words meant to me.
Thanks to the Tandem Learning team for their innovation and hard work both before and at the conference...Jedd, Kristen, Tim and Lynn represented on site and Jen and Marcus kept the ship moving forward in our absence.
Our Master of Ceremonies: Brent Schlenker
(photo: Jay Cross)

And last but not least! A huge thanks to the E-Learning Guild, in particular Brent, David, Heidi, Luis, Juli and Mary, who put on such an amazing conference every year. We can't wait to do it all again in Las Vegas next year!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tandem Learning at DevLearn 2010

The Tandem Learning team is gearing up for next week in San Francisco at DevLearn 2010. By now you may have heard some of the buzz about what we'll be up to at the conference, but here's a complete list of where you'll see us at the conference. Hold onto your hats, everyone! Tandem is bringing the learning to the city by the bay...

Do this now:
  • Sign up for the alternate reality game (ARG) that we are running - Dr. Strangelearn: 
  • Download the DevLearn 10 app for your smartphone. Its amazing!
Wednesday 11/3:
  • Visit us at booth 410 in the Expo Hall.
  • Register to win an Extreme Makeover: Learning Edition! at our booth
  • Check out our "Why in 5!" Five-minute information sessions at our booth, where we'll be introducing new, emerging and exciting learning technologies and WHY you should be thinking of integrating them now.
  • Come find out more about ARGs (and maybe find some clues) at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Station (next to the Serious Game Zone)
  • If you haven't already, definitely sign up to play Dr. Strangelearn - it's not too late to see what all the excitement is about!
  • 4:00 - 5:00 Understanding Alternate Reality Games and Why They Work in Salon 4.
Thursday 11/4:
  • Visit us at booth 410 in the Expo Hall.
  • Register to win an Extreme Makeover: Learning Edition! at our booth 
  • Check out our "Why in 5!" Five-minute information sessions at our booth
  • Come find out more about ARGs at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Station 
  • If you haven't already, definitely sign up to play Dr. Strangelearn
  • 11:00 - 11:40 am Come hear me talk about Emerging Social Learning Ideas at Mark Oehlert's Social Learning Camp
  • 12:00 - 12:40 pm Come hear me talk about Emerging Game Technologies in Alicia Sanchez's Serious Game Zone
Friday 11/5:
  • 7:15 - 8:15 am Dr. Strangelearn: ARG Debrief is a Breakfast Byte in Nob Hill AB
  • 9:45 - 10:45 am New and Emerging Learning Technologies session in Salon 14-15
We are all really excited about the conference this year! Besides the activities listed above, there will be some onsite announcements and surprises as well. Stay tuned and see you at DevLearn!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Design considerations for conference alternate reality games

If you've been following along, you've probably heard that Tandem Learning is running an alternate reality game (ARG) at DevLearn 10. Dr. Strangelearn is our sophomore ARG at DevLearn, and we're excited to get everyone involved and playing. (If you're going to DevLearn, you really should sign up now. Really. Do it now. I'll wait...)

As I've been writing about ARGs for learning, I hoped to make some correlations between our conference ARGs and the ARGs that we've designed as learning experiences. But there are distinct design differences between the two types of ARGs because of the different play contexts, and for people investigating the use of ARGs for learning, its important to understand these differences.

In no particular order:
  • At conference ARGs, the ARG is not the main attraction. Unless the event is designed around the ARG, the game is likely to be a supplement to the conference. In these cases, people are there for some other reason...and typically, the reason is to interact with the other people at the event. Because of this, its important to design conference ARGs to supplement, not take away from, the main event. If you don't, people will abandon the game play to focus on the main attraction.
  • When designing ARGs for learning, presenting complex problems to be solved is part of the learning. For conference ARGs, complex problems seem like work. Designing for simplicity of play at events is critical...if the game is too complicated or the puzzles/challenges are too difficult, players at an conference are more likely to give up or stop playing.
  • Learning-focused ARGs can challenge the players to follow a path, or to find hidden information. For conference ARGs, give players LOTS of opportunities to play and join in on the fun. If the path to play or win is too linear, players are less likely to join an conference ARG if they feel they joined too late or can't keep up.
  • For conference ARGs, keep the content light, with opportunities to take-away content from the game to review after the event. Although there may be learning opportunities during the event embedded in the game, sparking a learner's interest and providing great content that can be explored after the conference is a more successful strategy than trying to actually train people at the event. For learning ARGs, the training is an important part of the design and the expectation is that players will have much more time and attention to focus on the content as they play through the game experience.
There are lots of other subtle design considerations that make conference ARGs different from ARGs for learning. The main focus of ANY serious ARG design should be the basic question: what do you want people to learn by engaging in the experience? After that, understanding your audience, the context of the game play, and the resources you and the players have available are the parameters within which you design. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FINALLY some research! Games improve corporate learning results

For years, the serious games industry has danced around the questions of whether games are better for learning. We've pushed past objections about something being too "game-like" or "fun." We would come up with other words for games, like "competitive environments." All the while, we have held our conviction that well-designed games really DO improve learning outcomes.

And now there's some research to prove it.  (Source: and article link here)

A University of Colorado Denver Business School study found those trained on video games do their jobs better, have higher skills and retain information longer than workers learning in less interactive, more passive environments.
"Companies have been designing video games for employees for years but so far it has all been done on a hunch. They suspected the games helped but they could never actually prove it," said Traci Sitzmann, PhD, assistant professor of management at the Business School whose study will be published in the winter edition of Personnel Psychology. "We now know video games work, and we know why they work."
Sitzmann spent over a year examining 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees and discovered those using video games had an 11 percent higher factual knowledge level, a 14 percent higher skill-based knowledge level and a 9 percent higher retention rate than trainees in comparison groups.
I only hope there will be more research and data where that came from.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What can alternate reality games do for you?

I've written a lot in the past about design considerations (here and here) and lessons learned (here) for alternate reality games (ARGs) for learning, but another important question to address is: what are ARGs good at teaching?

This is a multi-layered question, as ARGs are complex learning experiences and most are not designed as a simple linear process like you would see in a typical e-learning module. Because ARGs are storyline driven and depend on learners to engage with the content to complete the game tasks and/or inform their game decisions, it is important to consider two key questions when determining whether an ARG is an appropriate learning activity.

1. Does learner interaction with the content positively impact the learning goals?

This is a basic, but important question. Sometimes you just want people to know something, or do something differently. Company policies, learning a new process...these are training initiatives that are important, but they don't necessarily require learner interaction nor are they subject to interpretation. There are a lot of topics, however, where learners actively engaging with the content is critical to learning it. Think about topics like leadership development, project management and team communication, sales strategy, or quality assurance review. In all of these training areas, learners get better by practicing and engaging with the content. Designing an ARG that encourages critical thinking and learning by doing is a great application of an ARG.
2. Is it difficult to get learners to engage with the content effectively in other formats?
Sometimes its difficult to motivate learners to engage with content. Most training professionals don't like to admit this, but we all know its true. Training exercises can feel forced, and often it depends on each learner's personal motivation to get something out of the training. One reason for this may be that the delivery mechanism of the training isn't appropriate or creates barriers to learning. For example, can you develop a sales strategy for your customers after watching a PowerPoint presentation on developing a sales strategy? Can you lead a team after an e-learning module on leadership skills? Will you know who to contact or where to find the information critical to your job after sitting through your HR orientation? Probably not. And that's because the format of the training doesn't provide you with the proper opportunities to practice or the motivation to engage with the tasks. ARGs can be designed to address almost any topic or content in a way that allows for more interaction and with an overlying competitive element that provides additional motivation to learn and engage. 
ARGs allow for flexible design that can encourage problem-solving, communication skills, leadership skills, information gathering and critical thinking skills. Do you have a need within your organization to help learners practice these things? An ARG can help.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Obvious Ninja: a key to successful alternate reality games

I was recently at a conference and noticed the conference photographer. Yes, already you may see the problem. Photographers are supposed to blend into the scene. They document an occasion but aren't supposed to be the attraction themselves. Well, not this photographer.

Its not that she was trying to draw attention to herself. In fact, what I noticed about her was that she was trying SO hard to be sneaky that you couldn't help but notice her. Exaggerated sneaky walking. Sudden ducking and swinging the camera around. Watching her during one session caused us to break out into a fit of giggles.

That's when I named her "The Obvious Ninja."

Ironically, this concept is important for serious alternate reality game (ARG) design. Traditionally, entertainment ARGs have been very subversive, attracting a small group of players that invest significant time into figuring out the puzzles of the game in order to win. There are two problems with this type of design: "small group of players" and "invest significant time."

One of the most basic things we know about learning game design is the need to reduce the cognitive overhead and barriers of entry to play. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive given that most ARGs are puzzle-based. But good ARG design relies on balancing making the game obvious and easy to use and keeping it challenging (because if there's no challenge, there's not much fun).

So if you're planning an ARG and are aiming to involve a broad audience, think "obvious ninja." And tip your hat to my favorite conference photographer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SIEGE ARG Post-game debrief

Back from Atlanta, I barely had time to catch my breath before jumping into the next project, but wanted to share out some of our lessons learned from the latest alternate reality game (ARG) that we ran at SIEGE!

First, a HUGE thanks to Silly MonkeyGetting Girls in the Game, and Design Marbles for inviting us along for the ride. Not only was the ARG fun to put together, but it was a pleasure to work with such talented folks and I can't wait until our next adventure!

A few notes on ARG design coming out of the conference:

  • The augmented reality (AR) features in this game were new, and really got people involved in game play in a different way. We had QR codes that served as many of the clues and it was great to see how people were interacting with them. One important note for AR though--make sure your audience members have the technical capabilities to access the clues! I was surprised at the limited number of smart phones on site, but it was awesome to see people working together (and finding people with smart phones!) to access the clues. 
  • Just because they're gamers doesn't mean they'll play your game! Think about it...gamers don't want to waste their time on a game unless its fun and engaging--just like anyone else. Its absolutely essential that you design your game for engagement, understanding your audience, and providing ample information to get people involved in the game early. Subversive game play, even for gamers, seems like work when you're in the middle of a conference. Keeping game elements obvious and instructions simple goes a long way.
  • Get some celebrity endorsements. We were fortunate to be able to post our clues on the keynote podium, and Nolan Bushnell even wore a clue on his back one night! It always helps to get some prominent players involved to peak interest and get people playing.
  • Design as you go. I can't emphasize enough the importance of the puppetmaster in ARGs. As you see how people are engaging in your game, its critical that you are thinking of how to make dynamic adjustments to tweak and improve the game play experience. ARGs are not a static experience, and their execution should be as fluid and intentional as the nature of playing them. 
For more information about the SIEGE ARG, there was a really nice write up by Nettrice Gaskins for the National Alliance for Media Art +Culture (NAMAC).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Attack of the Classic Games: SIEGE ARG

So excited to be attending and speaking at the SIEGE conference this weekend--even more excited about the work we have done to put together an ARG with the collaborative efforts of Silly Monkey, Getting Girls in the Game, and Design Marbles.

Tomorrow, we'll be proud to announce the Attack of the Classic Games ARG.

This ARG is a bit different, since it will be mainly played during the actual conference. There will be online components and lots of onsite play. I'm looking forward to seeing what a conference full of gamers do in comparison with the learning audiences we usually design for.

And I'm really looking forward to hearing Nolan Bushnell speak!

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Tandem Learning does: the short version

I've been asked a lot over the last few years "what does Tandem Learning do?" and the question always makes me pause. There are short answers: "we're a learning design company" "we focus on immersive, experiential learning design" "we're a learning company that leverages the latest technologies" "we're experts in applying game theory to learning experiences." But those answers don't really explain what we do, or at least, most people look back at me blankly and I'm compelled to keep talking.

Over the past few weeks we've been working on updating our marketing materials to more closely reflect the work that we do and the value we bring. Its a difficult exercise to define these things succinctly when we do such a wide variety of work. After much discussion and editing and back and forth, our website introduces us as:

Tandem Learning strives to understand our client's unique learning needs, interests and aspirations. We infuse each project with insightful, strategic, and creative instructional and game design.  Our respect for learner experience, together with our passion for quality immersive learning and serious games, allows us to deliver the maximum benefit to the people who matter most — our clients.

Our purpose is to help you go from the training you have to the learning that will inspire your organization. 

And I think this is a great foundation. Yes, we build games, ARGs, do consulting and design immersive learning curriculum online and for mobile devices. Yes, we are constantly exploring the latest technologies and seeing how they can be leveraged for learning. Yes, you're more likely to see us talking about Sony Move than the latest update to Captivate. There's a reason for that.

We are a company that helps organizations design immersive, experiential learning that allows employees to practice what they have learned and leverages the technologies their employees are already using. We design the types of training organizations want when they realize the e-learning modules they've been building aren't actually changing learner behavior. No, we don't sell a one-methodology-fits-all rapid development tool, although some of our solutions are fast and budget-friendly--they're just more sophisticated to address unique learning needs.

It turns out that "inspiring, sophisticated learning experience designers" is a description that requires a little more explanation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A week without social media: what is Harrisburg University learning?

If you haven't cut off social media yourself, you have probably heard about the social media blackout imposed at Harrisburg University this week.

To be honest, I was surprised about the blackout for two reasons. First, I know these guys! I'm serving on advisory boards, presented at both LEEF conferences, and have plans to do more with them in the future. So I know they aren't crazy. And second? They are a technology-focused university. The whole building is wired and designed like a tech-girl's dream. All of their degree programs are technology-related.

This seems like the university least likely to cut their students off from social media.

Knowing the brilliant people who are moving Harrisburg University forward has its advantages when the topic starts trending on Twitter. I decided to reach out to two of my friends to get the scoop on their week off from social media.

Speaking to Charles Palmer (@charlespalmer), Exec. Dir. Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies/Assoc. Prof. of Multimedia, I could tell just two days in that there had already been an impact on him personally. "I feel like I'm missing out on conversations," Charles admitted after telling me that he was also imposing the blackout at home. "I miss Twitter, but I'm realizing that I use Facebook as a distraction.

Andy Petroski (@apetroski), Director of Learning Technologies and Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies, shared this about his experience so far:

For me personally, it’s had a big impact on me sharing out resources to my network.  There have been at least a dozen times over the past 1 ½ days when I would have shared resources via Twitter and was not able to (via the desktop).  Usually, the activity of sharing via Twitter also results in my finding resources from my network as well.  I’ve also received LinkedIn group notifications of resources and discussions that I’ve been unable to review.  Those resources are often valuable and have an impact on my work.  I’ve marked them for later reading (or the evening or next week) for now.

Charles shared some of the students' perspectives as well. The reaction started out as uproar on Friday when they first found out, but has settled into one of two camps: students who are accepting it and students who are figuring out how to circumvent the system. Both of those experiences may be valuable...either from an actively reflective perspective of how technology impacts our lives, or simply from the standpoint that these future technology professionals are gaining valuable experience about working around (or enforcing) network security. Ironically, Harrisburg University's Social Media Summit is this week. I'm sure the blackout will spark much of the conversation there, as it has been all over the world.

I think the big question is, what's the point?

Unplugging from social media may actually help students better assess how these tools can, and should, be used. By removing social media from the equation, students may become consciously aware of how they use these tools to communicate, build relationship, work, and learn. Taking a break might help them realize which tools are actually valuable and why they are valuable. As these students enter organizations, this reflective exercise may help them better understand how organizational dynamics are impacted by social media and help them lead organizations in implementing appropriate tools, processes, and policies to support effective use. 

Of course, Charles admitted, they might not learn much at all. A week isn't a big enough window to change behavior, and they don't have any misconceptions that it will. But Charles mentioned that this initial experiment may lay the foundation for a larger, more comprehensive future experiment where real research can be conducted. 

In speaking with Charles and Andy, I think the real value of this experiment is not what the outcomes are this week. People have become so engrossed in social media as a communication tool that they sometimes neglect other, perhaps more valuable, forms of communication. This week provides a chance to do some comparative analysis. Giving students an opportunity to experience an unplugged existence provides a chance for critical and intentional behavioral reflection on how they are using social media. As learning professionals, we often ask students to critically reflect, but don't always provide the space or environment to facilitate that reflection. Even a week without social media could provide valuable insight into how students gain value, or not, from social media tools.

In the case of Charles and Facebook? It sounds like I'll be seeing less status updates. But I'll be happy to see him and Andy back in my Twitterstream. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Bloomfire interview: What book has inspired you?

I was so flattered to be approached for an interview by the brilliantly innovative guys at Bloomfire for an interview on their blog. The key question Nemo Chu posed to me was "what book has inspired the way I approach corporate training?"

You can see my full interview here.

It's a great question, and I'd love to hear what books have inspired you or changed the way you look at training, learning, design...

Monday, September 6, 2010

The problem with selling training

You could talk to any company that offers training products or services or corporate training professionals and hear the same laments about the challenges of selling training:

Organizations don't value training
Companies focus too much on sales and marketing and not enough on developing employees
The economy is bad and training is the first thing to go

I don't agree.

There are definitely challenges in selling training products and services, whether its inside and organization or as a training vendor, but I don't blame the economy or organizations themselves, per se. We have a perception problem in the training industry. Some of it is the nature of learning and some of it is quite simply our own fault.

The nature of learning itself is a problem with selling training. Human beings are always learning. Our learning isn't tied to a workshop or an e-learning module. We learn all day, every day...our intelligence is the collection and synthesis of our unique experiences. We don't really ever stop learning. Even if we don't consciously acknowledge this, we know this. And so, its no wonder that, if money is tight or resources are limited, that training is an easy budget to cut. Rightly so, the unstated belief is "people will continue to learn what they really need to know in order to be successful, with or without formal training."And organizations act accordingly.

The much, much bigger problem with selling training is what we're actually trying to sell. Have you seen the crap that gets passed off in training in most organizations? Is it any wonder that executives don't have a problem cutting the budget for that?!? How many of us who design training would look forward to going through an Articulate module? Attending a typical workshop? Um, not me. In fact, if I was the CEO making budget cuts, that type of training would be an easy decision. AND I VALUE TRAINING! The problem is that most training is designed fast and cheap, and so that's the value that's placed on it.

Let's say I'm an executive at a large company. I want my people to be well-trained...of course I do. I don't know anything about designing training. I know, intrinsically, that people who are motivated will learn what they need to to be successful. I remember my training....booooorrrrring. I remember that I learned the most by doing my job, finding a highly skilled mentor, and interacting with my peers.

And then the Director of Training walks in. She's well credentialed and has many years experience. She's asking for money to develop sales training. Here's probably what I'm thinking:

Gee, that makes sense...we need to make sure our sales people are successful and have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to outsell our competitors. 
But, ugh. We have limited resources.
You know, we hired these people to do a job and we hire the best people out there. Shouldn't they already know how to sell? 
We have some of the best sales people I've ever can we teach the people who aren't doing as well what these superstars know?
Did I ever learn anything about sales from an e-learning module or workshop? No...I learned it by getting out there and doing it. I learned from watching people who were the best and then doing what they did.
I know the last time we spent money on sales training, everybody sat in workshops that cost a fortune and I didn't see any ROI analysis after those workshops were done. I also heard mixed feedback...some people said the workshops were good, but I also heard complaints about being out of the field, not enough real-world examples, and people didn't get to practice enough. Also, they kept complaining about the temperature in the classroom and they wanted more snacks.
Ok, but she's not asking for workshops...she wants to create online learning. I've seen those e-learning modules. Torture. Click, click, click. I don't want to make our sales people have to sit through that! Plus, they don't get to interact with each other. I don't see how that is going to help anyone get better at selling our (products, services, brand). 
I can't NOT invest in sales training if we have a need. But I don't see how this is going to help our sales people improve our bottom line. Still, she's the training expert, so I need to put trust in her that this is the best we can do.

Then the inevitable conclusion...I allocate some minimal amount of budget and the Training Director has to figure out what crap she can develop with the little money she has.

And the cycle continues.

If training professionals continue to settle for producing "fast and cheap" training to check the box, we'll never change the hearts and minds of the executives holding the purse strings. If we can't advocate for the difference between good design and placeholder training, we will continue to be undervalued. If we don't demonstrate good examples of how social learning can be supported, how technology can be appropriately leveraged, and how we can create immersive learning experiences that allow employees to practice real-life skills in a training environment...then the cycle will continue.

So let's stop blaming the economy. Let's stop blaming executives that don't value training.

Let's take a long, hard look at what value we're bringing to the training "table." If you're not proving your value, you won't be valued.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tandem Learning Innovation Community: 1st event recap

Just a quick post to thank everyone who attended our first official Tandem Learning Innovation Community event. We hosted the event on our new Second Life island and I'd encourage all of you who were unable to make it to stop by any time and take a tour. The island is open and public; we'd be happy to share the space with any member of the TLIC who'd like to run a meeting in SL. Feel free to contact me if you'd like a guided tour or assistance in how to work our browser displays.

I can't thank Earth Primbee (SL name, for those not in-world) enough...he did a fantastic job building the island to suit our needs, and he completed the entire build in just a few days. Amazing. He also served as tech support and transcriptionist during the event. Big kudos on an amazing job and for all of his help!

We had about 15 attendees for our first event, ranging from people in academia, corporate training, consultants and designers/developers. Although we kept the event informal, we spent some time doing introductions and talking about topics we'd like to see discussed in future TLIC events before letting people explore the island. 

One of the topics discussed was what new technologies community members would be interested in learning about through TLIC events. Suggestions included:
  • OpenSim
  • Unity3D
  • Alternate reality games (ARGs)
  • Jibe
  • Augmented reality
  • Geolocation technologies
The consensus was that community members would be more interested in hearing about case studies in future events than in seeing new technology demos. We also discussed what major issues organizations are facing in implementing new technologies. The major issues raised included:
  • access to the technologies (firewalls, hardware, etc.)
  • interface design issues 
  • ease of use
It was great to see our friends in avatar form and meet new community members who provided great feedback and insight. Plans are already underway for our next event and we're looking forward to some additional announcements to the community in the next few weeks. 

In the meantime, we'd love to hear your thoughts on what new technologies you'd like to find out more about and what types of programming for future events would be of interest to you!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Games for assessment

Another Twitter conversation, another blog post...another thought-stream based out of ADL's Implementation Fest #ifest (Srsly, this is the most a conference has inspired me to write in a long time. A good, and bad, thing...).

So, let's talk about the opportunities and problems with using games for assessment. Especially when you throw the "s" word in there..."standardized" assessment.

Deep breath.

First, I'll preface by saying that games are a natural environment for essence, they are assessing your performance just by nature of the game structure itself. Unless, of course, there aren't clear success metrics and you "win" by collecting more and more meaningless stuff (like Farmville)...but that's a whole other topic. So let's assume there are success metrics built into the game and those metrics align with what your learning objectives are. Its logical that by having someone play a game, you'll see how well they know something or know how to do something. Right?

Nothing is ever that easy. There are lots of aspects of game play that depend greatly on how the game was designed. For one, games have an intrinsic layer of cognitive overhead that may not exist in real life. For example, as I've been learning how to play Call of Duty 4, I first have to master the use of my PS3 controller. No, this isn't a learning game, but the same principles's why real guitar players get irritated playing Guitar Hero...there are skills that you need to develop to play a game, or to be successful in a game, that don't exist in real life or don't mirror the skills necessary to be successful at real life tasks. I think it becomes clear in first person shooter games, where your ability to operate your game controller does not directly translate to being able to accurately fire an automatic weapon in a combat environment. For any assessment, you have to make sure you're not just assessing how well someone plays the game, but how well they have mastered the real skill or content. In using games for assessment, you run the risk of assessing how well someone plays the game, not the objectives you are hoping to assess.

Another issue with games for assessment is the gender differences in how people play games. I'm about to talk about broad generalizations, so bear with me and recognize that some women game like "guys" and some guys game like "girls"...but there are different ways that people approach game environments and those differences do tend to follow along gender lines. Men are bigger risk-takers and explorers; women like to be guided, understand the environment, and follow the rules. Depending on how you design your game, you risk alienating a whole group of players if you don't consider the gender differences in game play. Worse, if you are using games for standardized assessment, you could be putting about half of the people you are assessing at a disadvantage just by the nature of the game design. Given the general acknowledgment that standardized tests are racially and class biased, adding a layer of gender bias in the game design risks making the concept of "standardized" even more meaningless.

Do I think games can be used effectively for assessment? Yes. Look at surgical simulations, flight simulators...close approximations of performing tasks in real life. Research has proven that successful performance in these simulated environments correlates to successful performance at the actual tasks. Where you can mirror game performance to real performance in this way, I think games are a brilliant and useful measure of assessment. But without careful design, thoughtful reflection on what the game environment adds to assessment, and what the trade-offs are with other forms of assessment, we risk creating another assessment environment that falls short of measuring true capability, potential, or performance.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

America's Army and gender bias in game design

Coming out of the #ifest Twitter stream, I once again heard how America's Army was a shining example of how games had been used to improve recruitment efforts. I posed the question...has it improved recruitment of women at the same rate it has improved the recruitment of men? So far, all I've heard back is *crickets*.

For two weeks, I have been looking for data or research on America's Army that mentions gender as a research parameter, but so far, I've found nothing. If you know of any research, I'd love to see it. My hypothesis? Recruitment of women was not as greatly improved after they played America's Army. If that's the case, what does that say about the relative value of recruiting women vs men into our military?

What makes a game successful? Is it ok for public institutions (government, schools, etc.) to measure the success of a serious game without looking at differences in outcomes along the most basic parameters (gender, class, race)? Is it ok to say a game is successful in achieving its goals if we don't consider those issues as part of the discussion?

I'm tired of hearing the marketing spin and the hype around how games can change the world if we're not even asking the most basic questions about WHO games are changing and HOW they are changing them. You won't find a bigger advocate of games for learning and as a vehicle to raise awareness and support behavior change. But not all games are created equal. We have to be vigilant and constantly questioning our design to ensure we're achieving the outcomes we seek. Ignoring questions of gender, class, and racial bias in serious game design makes me question the motives of the design itself and the motives of those promoting a game's "success."

As always, I welcome anyone's comments who can prove me wrong...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Announcing the 1st Tandem Learning Innovation Community event!

We are pleased to announce the first, official Tandem Learning Innovation Community event scheduled for Friday, August 27th, 2010 at 9:00 am SLT/ 12:00 pm EST. We’ll be hosting an open house on our new Second Life island. The official networking event, led by Koreen Olbrish (SL: Nina Sommerfleck), will be an informal discussion of community topics, including:

New technologies for the TLIC to explore
Major challenges in technology adoption for the community to address
TLIC at DevLearn 2010 – call for interested parties to be showcased

Please let us know if you plan to attend by emailing Jedd Gold via linkedin or at We will be sending out the SLURL the day before the event to everyone who RSVP’s.

If you haven't yet joined the Tandem Learning Innovation Community, you can request to join here.

We are looking forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What makes a good learning "tool"?

Even though I'm attending through the Twitter stream, ADL's Implementation Fest #ifest is getting me fired up about some learning technology industry issues that just can't be explored in 140 characters. For example, yesterday there was some lively conversation around the usefulness of learning tools.

And I, in a rash statement, said that most learning tools suck.

But let me clarify, because there can be a broad definition of what a learning tool is.

For me, a learning tool is not what I use to design learning experiences (those things might include pen and paper, whiteboard, PowerPoint, Visio, etc.). A learning tool is NOT a reference tool like Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an information portal where you can go, read, and maybe learn something new...but it was not designed as a learning experience. It does not facilitate learning, even though it can enable it. Can you learn from a reference tool? Sure! But good reference tools have good user experience design, not instructional design, making it a reference tool and not a learning tool. There IS a difference.

A learning tool, to me, is something that you use to develop a learning experience. In other words, a tool that allows you to "design" a learning experience and output it into "Voila!" a learning experience. Input = content, output = training. And here's why I think most learning tools suck.

Most tools limit what you can design intrinsically in their functionality. Let's take PowerPoint. What you're going to get is slides. Pretty didactic. Maybe a little video embedded, some nifty animations...but you're not going to get much in the way of learner interaction.

But now I'm going to ask you a question...have you ever learned in a workshop that was guided by a PowerPoint slide? Have you ever been in a learning environment where PowerPoint was the primary learning tool, but the content, activity, discussion actually taught you something? I'm going to guess yes. Maybe you've even been lucky enough to be in a session guided by PowerPoint that made you do something differently when you left. You know what that is? GOOD DESIGN. It's not the tool. Its how you design learning experiences that facilitates learning, not the tool that you use.

So what makes a learning tool "good"? Openness. Flexibility. Interoperability with other learning tools and reference tools.

What makes a tool bad? One that dictates design. I could list some specific examples, but I'm betting you know what they are. Online learning development tools would be a great place to start.

One of my favorite quotes from yesterday's Twitter discussion was from John Campbell @jpcampbell :
what's ur expected output from tools? Learning Content? Why ask the architect to output a house?

Which is my point exactly. Instructional design and learning technology development are two different skill sets. Instructional designers are the architects and technology developers are the builders. You shouldn't build a house without an architectural plan, nor should you expect your architect to go ahead and put hammer to nail to bring his plan to life. There's an essential relationship here that too many organizations neglect to recognize, instead hiring IDs to build their training content using some rapid development tool. Most organizations are guilty of this in someway..."Put together a PowerPoint - led workshop!" "Import our workshop content into a virtual classroom!" "Create an Articulate module!" "Make video clips accessible from a smart phone!" This isn't a fault of the tools, its a lack of awareness of the importance of design. As an industry, we should NOT be designing learning experiences dictated by what tool you have (if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail) but by the appropriate format to support the goal, supported by the appropriate design for that format. Instructor-led, game-based, online, mobile, print...they are ALL good formats when they are appropriate for the content, designed appropriately, and appropriate tools are used to develop them.

And that's why I think most learning tools suck...because they neglect to recognize the difference between design and development, and the default tends to be development at the expense of design.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The opportunity for government in the training industry

I've been following the ADL Implementation Fest #ifest stream on Twitter today and some of the conversation with my PLN has sparked some thoughts, maybe perspective, on how, or where, I see the government being able to lead the way in training. And, what prompted me to write this post, the ways in which its misdirecting its energies.

First, let me say, there are some great examples of people in government doing things the right way. Just from my immediate experience, Dr. Alicia Sanchez, who works for DAU, is the games czar who is helping integrate gaming into their curriculum. Mark Oehlert, also at DAU, is integrating social media technologies to support learning and knowledge management. Judy Brown at ADL is an industry recognized expert in mobile technologies and how they can be leveraged for learning. (Just realized, ironically, that these three will also be showcasing their knowledge at DevLearn 2010. You should go.) These three people, who happen to be people I know and respect, understand the unique positions they hold, and their opportunity to leverage technology for innovative applications. In short, they recognize that they have the chance to DESIGN really cool applications of existing technologies within the government and talk about how these projects are helping to improve learning, collaboration, and communication.

What I'm hearing out of iFest (so far...its the first day...;) is that the focus is still really on what technology can do for you and what technology initiatives ADL has been focusing on. To which I say...REALLY?!?! Sigh.

I don't need or want government agencies to fancy themselves technology companies. They aren't a start up, nor are they Microsoft. In short, there are companies who actually do that. And those companies need to make money doing it, which means that they need to build things that the market needs (even if the market doesn't want it...that's a totally different thing...).

What I'd love to see is that agencies within the government start looking at what REALLY helps support learning...good design. I'd love if they saw themselves as master implementers, not builders. Our government has tons of people that need training, its got tons of money and resources...why not leverage it for those things? Try innovative solutions. Experiment with design. Conduct research to establish best practices. That's what the learning technology industry needs. The government could provide could LEAD this. But for the most part, its not.

If a technology is needed, the market will push it because that's what the market looks for: meeting unmet needs to make money. I'm tired of hearing about how a technology the government is developing is going to solve some problem.  Let's face it, even Google has struggled with implementing innovative technologies (see: Wave, Lively) and that's their business...its what they do to make money...and they are arguably the best at it.

I'm hoping that as I hear more at iFest that its focused on design. Fingers crossed. If not, its an opportunity lost...

Admitting limits when you're a "no limits" kinda girl

Whether or not we like to admit it...there actually IS a limit to what we can accomplish in the little time we have. I'm not saying that our potential is limited...I'm saying that we have capacity issues. There are only 24 hours in a day. We actually need to sleep, eat...we can't just keep going full steam ahead, full out running, all of the time.

Oh, and then there's what other people bring into the equation. We can't control that either, and even the best laid plans sometimes get blown to bits because...well, we're social. We're complicated. We have all kinds of quirky relationship dynamics that guide our actions. And unless you lock yourself away to work away at your goals...sometimes life gets in the way.

So what happens when grand plans meet daily necessities and bump into unexpected events? Limitations.

And this is where dreams die.

The truth is, you can't do EVERYTHING. You need to prioritize. You need to figure out what's really important. And goals...dreams...visions of the future...they can easily get lost in this process. Try to do to much and chances are, nothing gets done. If you don't plan for your priorities, they get lost in the shuffle.

I've been working on admitting limits and setting priorities. Wow, its not easy. Its a process, for sure. I can easily convince myself to give up sleep. To work on vacation. To commit to doing more, to helping, to doing what it takes to get stuff done.

But then, of course, other things don't get done. And some of those things are really important to me. Frustration sets in. Less sleep. Distraction. And everything is affected.

How do you get past the limits?

1. Define your goals
You just aren't going to get there if you don't know where you're going. Write down your goals, make a plan to achieve them and be realistic about what its going to take (time, resources, etc.)

2. Enlist help
I'm horrible at this. You need people to not only to support you, but sometimes to actually help you achieve your goal. In fact, most things you CAN'T do alone. So ask and get people on your team.

3. Give up control
If I'm horrible at asking for help, I'm downright abysmal at giving up control. But once you get people to help, you have to let them help. So give it up. Seriously.

4. Prioritize (really, really)
This is the part of the process where you look around at what your doing and figure out if its getting you where you want to go. Are your actions supporting what you want to achieve? If not, change what you're doing.

5. Pace yourself
Be patient but not complacent. Don't confuse the two. Patience means understanding the realities of how much time things take. Complacent means letting things take too long...and then maybe them never happening at all. So be patient, realistic, and don't burn yourself out. Burn out is just as dangerous as complacency.

Sometimes you need to sprint, but sometimes you really are running a marathon. There are different limits to each and the winning runners acknowledge those limits and work within them effectively.

Your dreams shouldn't have limits, but all of us do. The only way we can reach our dreams is to be honest, strategic, and tenacious about who we are and what we want.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It takes a village to build a community

We've been busy behind the scenes planning for the Tandem Learning Innovation Community (TLIC). As excited as we've been to get things started, there are just some logistics that need to get taken care of, things that need to be planned, strategies to be set. And the truth is, we have questions...questions that we need the community to answer. We could certainly move forward with the things, strategies, initiatives that we're interested in, but this community is all of ours and we need all of our input to shape it. So let me pose some questions here with the intent to collect your feedback...let's plan the path forward together...

  • What technologies are the most interesting to the TLIC? Are there technologies you'd like to learn more about? Are their particular companies or products that would be interesting to feature?

  • In the interest of continuing a research arm of the TLIC, are their companies that would be interested in participating in or contributing to research or case studies? We have been exploring partnerships with several universities, but would love to see what, if any, interest there is for companies to contribute to the research initiatives.

  • We're considering moving the community off of the LinkedIn site, although we are hoping to maintain the link to our LinkedIn profiles. If there were no restrictions, what would be useful features/functionality on a community site, or what might you find most valuable?

  • We're thinking of holding our first networking event on our Second Life island (in development) in early/mid August. We were planning for the first event to be an open discussion to address some of the above questions and pose some additional opportunities. What kind of structure have you found most beneficial in the past for Innovation Community events? What would you like to see more of?

We're looking forward to your input and perspectives and will be announcing details of our first official TLIC event soon! Stay tuned...

Friday, June 25, 2010

ThinkBalm Innovation Community becomes the Tandem Learning Innovation Community

After we broke the news that we planned to disband the ThinkBalm Innovation Community, members of the community expressed lots of interest in finding new leadership for the community moving forward. We are excited to announce that effective immediately, Tandem Learning will assume the community management responsibilities of the newly named Tandem Learning Innovation Community.

The value of this community is in the membership and the collective wisdom and experience of the group, and Tandem’s focus on new technology, user experience, learning design, and strategic business innovation allows them to touch on the areas of interest that bind our community together. We believe the leadership at Tandem is committed to maintaining the integrity of the community while finding new and exciting ways to add value to everyone who participates.

Exciting times are ahead for all of us and we’re looking forward to what happens next!

Erica Driver, co-founder and principal, ThinkBalm
Sam Driver, co-founder and principal, ThinkBalm

We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to continue the amazing work that Erica and Sam began in 2008 as we assume responsibility for the newly deemed Tandem Learning Innovation Community. While we know many of you from our work in virtual worlds and immersive technologies, we’re looking forward to interacting with all of you in the weeks ahead as we plan for the future of the community. In our new role as the community managers, we will honor the tenants of the community as established under ThinkBalm and will seek even more ways to bring value to our members. Please feel free to contact me directly with your thoughts, ideas, and feedback...this community belongs to all of us and it’s your input that will continue to make it valuable and successful.

Koreen Olbrish, CEO, Tandem Learning

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LEEF wrap up: The best little conference you're missing

Just back from LEEF 2010 at Harrisburg University, and in its second year, it did not disappoint. Last year we attended the first LEEF conference, and were thrilled at the structure and the content. With a focus on serious games, simulations, and virtual worlds for learning, we were treated to in depth case studies and demos that you just didn't see at other conferences.

This year was even better. The quality of the sessions was amazing. We got to see demos of products, like IBM's Innov8, before they are released on the market. We got to play full blown games and ask all of the design and strategic questions that you don't normally get to ask at conferences. And we got to really meet and connect with brilliant practitioners in our field.

The keynotes blew me away. Mike Cuffe, Vice President, University of Farmers, Claims at Farmer's Insurance, is doing some of the most cutting edge training I've seen. It was refreshing to see a visionary in corporate training who practices what he preaches and is vigilantly staying ahead of the curve. Jerry Heneghan, Managing Director, Virtual Heroes Division at Applied Research Associates gave a really inspiring presentation on 3D immersive games that gave some insight into how they have been effective in changing behaviors. I am looking forward to seeing what his group will be doing next related to health.

Tandem presented two sessions on ARGs (alternate reality games) and both were really fun for me, in different ways. The first was our case study overview and we presented to a pretty packed house. Even more exciting for me was the line of people afterwards that wanted to talk more. I'm excited to see ARGs really seeming to have some traction for corporate learning, and I'm looking forward to our next projects in this area. The second session was a debrief of the ARG that we helped support at the LEEF conference, The Robots are Eating the Building. It was a truly valuable learning experience, and I got a lot out of the debrief.

Thanks so much to Jen Reiner, Andy Petroski and Charles Palmer for putting on such a great conference. Can't wait to see what you put together next year...and hopefully some of you who haven't already will join us!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Taking responsibility for big, bad problems

I just read this post by Patrick Strother about BP's failures in light of the gulf oil spill...or gushing, which is a bit more accurate than spill. It made me think about corporate responsibility, and personal responsibility, and knowing when to say when.

I'm not going to defend BP. But I might, just for a moment, empathize with Tony Hayward. Don't get me wrong, I think what BP has been doing is criminal and I think their attitude in dealing with a global environmental crisis is beyond reprehensible. And I think Tony Hayward is a first class douche.

But do any of us really think that this is one man's fault?

Tony Hayward is responsible for his actions and for the actions of BP in the gulf oil spill crisis. But he is also being positioned as the scapegoat in a saga that demonstrates that sometimes, you need to admit your failures and step aside. Tony Hayward's biggest problem is insisting BP can fix a problem that they created but now is too big for them to overcome.

The truth is, in any situation or crisis, what led you there is usually several people's responsibility. Very rarely does a problem start as a big problem...usually its a little problem that just keeps getting worse over time. Sometimes people ignore a problem or situation. Sometimes people are aware of a problem, but don't have the means or the skills to fix it. Sometimes even when people are aware and have the means, they just don't have the desire to fix it or don't want to exert the effort to take responsibility. All of these attitudes lead to the inevitable...if you ignore a problem long enough, something big and bad will eventually happen.

And when disaster strikes or big, bad things happen, someone has to take responsibility. Usually, the person who gets blamed for the problem is not the person, or certainly not the only person, who caused it. But in any big, bad crisis, someone is always left holding the bag.

Big problems are difficult to address. Because it was the collective negligence of many people that got you there, you'd think that if everyone just started paying attention, addressing the issue, that it would be fixed and things would be better because people would have learned their lessons. But that's not how life works and people are, in the end, who they are. What got you into the big problem will very likely be the very same reactions that prevent you from getting out of it.

Sometimes you get too far down the road, and there's no way that the people who caused the problem are going to be able to fix it. They are defensive, exposed, and confused. They grasp at half-baked solutions or go through the motions of looking like they are trying to fix things, all the while still engaging in their old behaviors that got them there. They consult with experts, they read about similar situations, and they vow to be different, to do better. But sometimes, too much has happened. Sometimes its too late. Sometimes organizations, cultures, relationships are not able to handle the big, bad problem. Sometimes they shouldn't. Sometimes, despite their best intentions, it just drags the problem out and makes it worse.

We're seeing that with BP now. They vow to fix it, they come up with solutions...but the attempts they are making keep falling flat. Why? Because BP had the ability to prevent this from happening, but instead of preventing it or preparing for it, they just hoped they wouldn't ever have to face it. They did not develop a culture of responsibility and now their laziness, their ineptness, and their fraud has been exposed.

And the scapegoat, the one who gets pinned with the problem, has to suddenly step into the spotlight and make a decision, take responsibility for the actions and decisions of everyone who got them to that point, for everyone that contributed to the big, bad problem. Yes, maybe a leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens, but that's usually because that leader is the one who has to deal with the consequences of the actions of everyone around them, and so it behooves him or her to stay in control.

You can't control everything. Sometimes you just have to trust people. The best leaders trust those around them. And when that trust turns out to be ill-placed, its the leader who must step up and say, yes, this is a really bad problem. Yes, we caused the problem. No, we aren't prepared to deal with it and we don't want to make things worse by trying. Unfortunately, we aren't seeing a lot of that from Tony Hayward.

Organizations fail at this all of the time. Look at Enron. The banking industry crisis. And now BP. Sure, there are one or two people that are blamed...but it was the organizational culture that failed, not just the leaders at the top. It was the organization that recognized there was a problem and ignored it, covered it up, pretended like everything was ok...until it couldn't be ignored anymore. And then, its usually too late. Sometimes when an organizational fails in such a big, bad way...the right answer is to step in and dismantle the organization. Or in the case of BP, to hold them accountable but relieve them of the task of fixing the problem. Its clear they are ill-prepared and unequipped, and their attempts are making the situation worse.

Who knew that Kenny Rogers would have so succinctly taught us how to face big, bad problems? Unfortunately, it seems too many times we err on the side of holding 'em when we should walk away, or run.

Tony Hayward is responsible for what has been happening with the oil spill, and I have no doubt that he will have to deal with the consequences of his actions and decisions. But he is not the only one who is responsible. I only hope that Mr. Hayward and BP recognize sooner rather than later that their attempts to fix the mistakes that they've made are making things worse for them and us and is ultimately dragging out the time its taking to get to the inevitable stopping of the oil leak so that we can start cleaning up and healing. Sometimes the most responsible thing you can do is admit when a problem is just too big for you to fix.