Cleaning up the Corporate Learning Mess: A Tool is not a Workpiece!

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As an introduction of this blog post I would like to use an analogy. Look at the following slide:

In the center you see the tools that are needed in order to paint a painting: Colors and brushes. On the left you see the outcome of the creativity of a little boy, on the right the outcome of a Michelangelo. Both use the same tools – but the result (the workpiece) looks totally different.

I have chosen this analogy as it can reveal a lot about a major misunderstanding, both in everyday life as in Corporate Learning: it is about the confusion between workpiece and tool.

Generally spoken, a tool is an object that allows us to modify our surrounding or a workpiece. It gives us for example additional strength (like a hammer) or additional fineness (like tweezers). A tool is always used to modify or shape something. In the above analogy the brushes and colors are being used to change the appearance of a paper or a canvas.

It is obvious that good tools don’t automatically make good artists. Two people, a little child and a famous artist, use exactly the same tools, but their results are completely different. What makes the difference are the skills, the persistence and the imagination of the two.

But why do you see so many men in hardware stores falling spontaneously in love with a shiny tool and buying it (I call it the DIY-syndrom…)? Do they think that a good tool will make a good craftsmen out of them? Why do almost all of us fall for shiny tools? Because we think that expensive tools carry the promise to solve our challenges better than cheap or no tools at all.

Coming to Corporate Learning: Will an expensive tool, an app, a LMS make us become a “corporate learning artist”? I think you already got the answer: no! A golden baton doesn’t make a Herbert von Karajan out of us and an expensive LMS won’t conjure up solutions for all your learning problems.

A successful Corporate Learning program has shifted the focus from tools to workpieces. A workpiece is the “material” that you want to shape with a tool. Before introducing a new tool ask yourself:

  • what is my “workpiece” that should be shaped?
  • How does the “workpiece” look like today and how should it look like when it’s finished?

To make it less abstract:

  • where do we need a better/faster/more efficient knowledge transfer in order to reach our corporate goals?
  • What should be the effect? For example: “Complete sales staff is trained on new products before the start of an exhibition.” Or: “New team members work independently after 4 months.”

Once you have a clear vision of the shape and characteristics of your workpiece, you will find it a lot easier to choose the right tool – if you need any at all.

Don’t forget:

A tool is always in the service of the workpiece. A tool won’t have any positive effects, if you don’t know how the workpiece should look like.

And last but not least:
I know how important good tools are to reach the final 20% – if you are a good artist! The first 80% can be reached with simple tools or even household equipment, as the following video shows:

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