The Learning & Development Podcast: Developing A Digital Mindset With Myles Runham

March 30, 2021

Written by Kiren Kahlon

Digital mindset

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The Learning & Development podcast is hosted by our Chief Learning Officer David James. Featuring L&D leaders from across the globe, each conversation focuses on hot topics in the profession. This transcript is from the conversation between David and Myles Runham on developing a digital mindset.

Listen to episode 66 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

David James: Welcome to The Learning & Development podcast. I’m David James from Looop. In each episode, I chat with guests about what lights them up in the world of people development. In this episode, I’m speaking with Myles Runham, who is a digital consultant, former General Manager at searchengine ask.com, and formerly Head of Digital at the BBC Academy. Before we get into it, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please do give us a five-star rating on your podcast app of choice, and it will help others to find us, and thank you if you’ve already done so. Now let’s get into it.

David: Myles, welcome back to The Learning & Development podcast.

Myles Runham: Hi David. Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me back in fact.

Delivering Results Using Tech Starts with Developing a Digital Mindset

David: Myles, we spoke on an earlier episode of the podcast that’s over a decade ago in lockdown years, or perhaps it was just 2019, but it feels longer than that. In that episode, we talked about digital capabilities, because we shared a view that L&D was largely remissive of these and believe this accounted for many failed learning tech implementations, and why digital technology has largely failed to deliver results of scale within our profession.

Here we are again, but I suppose maybe it doesn’t start with capability, as what we discussed previously, and to the point of a blog post that you published very recently, maybe it starts with a mindset.

Myles: Yes, I think so. It’s interesting we’re reflecting on that, and remembering that conversation from what does feel like another universe, another lifetime now. I think probably what I’ve thought about since then, and in considering and writing that blog post was the fact that whether it starts with the right mindset or not, I guess having the right mindset is a prerequisite of success.

You can’t succeed I think in digital initiatives, whether it’s digital change or implementation, product development, without a good mindset, you’ll limit your chances of success. I think mindset means a number of different things, which I’m sure we’ll come on to. Part of it’s about how you organise, part of it’s about how you take decisions, part of it’s about how you set the vision, and part of it then is about how you attract and organise those capabilities into an organisation process, with more of a digital leadership mindset.

I think what I’ve discovered in working with clients, and in previous life on reflection, is that actually a lot of what I help clients do, is to start to develop or understand what that mindset and those ways of working look and feel like. I think that’s something that has been, I guess what I was reflecting on in part in the blog post, that that feels like something that’s been really valuable about the work I do. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but actually, what does work for clients, where they’re satisfied is because we’re working on those themes. I think it’s foundational, even if it might not be the only first place to start, if that makes sense.

David: You mentioned a previous life there, and just in case the listener hasn’t listened back to that previous podcast. Very personally, there’s a very good reason why I’ve invited you back onto the podcast to discuss this, and that’s because you really know what you’re talking about when it comes to digital. Could you just explain to the listener your digital credentials, and what you’ve seen outside of L&D that leads you to believe that as a profession, we’re a little way behind?

Myles: I was a little bit nervous reading this question, actually David in preparation for this, and it makes me feel a little bit old when thinking about answering it, but I guess I’ve been around what we now call digital since before it was called digital. I’ve been working in internet or digital-related services and businesses since the days of the bubble and bust, the turn of the millennium.

Probably most importantly, I did some work in management consulting around the information superhighway and the impact that was going to have. That was pre-bubble. Then I spent time working at AskJeeves, which then became ask.com, and I think that’s where a lot of these things really started to come to life for me.

I think what’s interesting in reflecting back to that time, so working in Ask, getting various guises in marketing, product development strategy, and then in commercial roles as well, was that we were working what we now call digitally, but we didn’t realise it at the time, we were just doing work. We had a clear focus on data and analysis, particularly in commercial and digital advertising businesses. That’s your oxygen really, you can’t move without it, without the data.

Arguably, we had too much even back then so this is now alarmingly 20 years ago. These were themes that we were working towards. We had a very sharp user focus, because competitively we had to, and that meant a number of different things, understanding what users require, and we also had to be very agile in developing the product and the platform.

There was a lot of– we were living, build, measure, learn, as we went, before it had been documented as an approach I guess. I think that in terms of history, that’s where I picked up a lot of my digital background and moving that through to roles more content-related as the head of interactive learning, sort of rather, as BBC job title. Running BBC’s education services, including GCSE Bitesize is probably the big brand there, and then on to the head of digital role at the academy. 

It’s been a long journey in digital, but I think what’s been interesting about that is observing how L&D is starting to warm to these themes now, and now I mean these last perhaps one to two years, and then with a real urgency since the COVID impact over the last 12 months.

We Need to Move Past the “L&D Knows Best” Mindset

David: I’ll come on to that in just a moment but something’s just occurred to me, as you said about putting the user first has been a core principle to what it is that you do, with digital principles for as long as there’s been digital, but there is a phrase that litters my comments boxes whenever I create a post about user-centricity or understanding the employee journey, and that’s that the learner, so if we’d like look focus on that phrase, not one I particularly like, but the learner doesn’t know what they need to learn.

Which I think as a mindset and as a belief, has prevented us from truly adopting a user-centric approach, because of our firm belief that the learner doesn’t know what they need to learn. Would you like to tackle that one, at this early stage Myles?

Myles: Yes, it’s a good one, isn’t it? Yes, it’s a big one. It feels like there’s a slightly patrician and patronising approach, I think that can hide behind those remarks that people don’t know what’s good for them, and we’ll tell them what’s good for them. They don’t want to be old brand, but it’s good for them, so we’ll try and persuade them that that’s your most healthy dose of fiber in the morning as well, not to be too flippant about it.

I think there is and I suppose it does extend into this theme of mindset. If you believe that your ultimate stakeholder, which is the person who’s going to be using or doing this stuff, whatever it is, doesn’t know what’s good for them, then you need to go and find out, and you need to approach them on their terms to understand how and why this is relevant for them. Why will this be useful? How to motivate them if required.

I think you can get stuck on a distance from your audience, or stuck at a distance from your audience if you don’t break that down. If you think you know better, or perhaps even more concerningly, if you think that someone else in your organisation knows better without going to check and working with your audience, then I think you’re on thin ice. I do think, in my experience, one of the reasons why digital L&D activity can falter and fail is because it doesn’t have that insight. What’s in it for me, why is this useful? What problem will this solve? From the user’s perspective.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll get funding just because for a project or you’ll be required to do it simply because users demand it. There’s always an organisational imperative and context. Commercial law, change management, or projects require it, but you have to have that insight from the user’s point of view. Whether you call it empathy or user research, etc, if you don’t have that, then I really think you’re in trouble.

David: Yes. I couldn’t agree more. Touching on something else that you mentioned in the previous response, these COVID and lockdown times have hastened the adoption of “digital” in L&D, and there’s been a scramble to transfer face-to-face content onto digital formats, but this is, generally speaking, one tiny part of what it means to do digital, and without other important elements, which you already touched on there in the previous response, it can be pretty ineffective. Can you describe to us how this approach to creating “digital solutions”, sometimes misses the mark?

Myles: I think what we’ve all observed either personally or through conversations or for yourself through the clients you work with is that people have had to make quite a dramatic change in many instances really, really quickly and have either, through necessity or through choice, have done what you described, which is almost transfer existing activities into the digital realm.

I think there’s been a focus on instruction. How are instruction activities digital, so that tends to be something that looks and feels like a webinar or a virtual classroom. That’s been a huge area of growth and demand. It looks like it won’t stop and it’s been the ongoing transfer of some of that instruction activity into the creation and distribution of content. I think there’s a real preoccupation and focus in L&D on those two areas of activity when we talk about digital change, we talk about digital instruction, and we talk about the creation and distribution of content.

They are probably going to be very, very important, but I think they’re only a part of the story. One of the ways that I try to think about this is that to me, there are two really important foundations alongside what should be an obsession with user focus. There’s connection and data almost like they’re the building blocks of the digital world. I think we may come to data later, which I think is something that as L&D we all really still struggle with.

Listen to episode 66 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

I think we don’t necessarily make the most of that theme of connection. We tend to think of connection in an L&D world as being connected to a system, connected to an instructor, in whatever guise that might be, you know to a facilitator, or a course leader or whatever and connected to content. I think that those are important connections, but there are a limited set of connections that are available because of digital. I think exploring those other areas of connection is a really important theme, and it’s starting to happen I think.

David: First of all, as you were talking there, I think that the L&D approach to solutions, it’s the tip of the sword, isn’t it? That if you’re providing content and a platform, that is the tip of the sword, but it’s not the sword. If you took a tip of a sword into battle, you’re going to get stabbed really early on because you’re not seeing me with anything substantial.

Then I thought that examples of what you’re describing here is the transition from classrooms to virtual classrooms and training sessions, providing libraries of e-learning, investing in a new LXP to replace the LMS, replacing what would have been a predominantly face-to-face offering. It misses the point doesn’t it because it’s all about providing an end experience that assumes so much about the end-user, their situation, the challenges that they currently face, their current level of capability, and their will to do something else.

We’ve gone so far down the ‘this must be a good learning experience’ route, or this is scientifically or robustly instructionally designed. If we don’t understand the context of the person that we’re seeking to influence, then that investment is largely redundant, isn’t it?

Myles: Yes, I think so. It’d be interesting to see, whilst we’ve been through this period of pivoting or refocus or whatever we call it, I think there’s a real risk, and it’s just probably– this is what you’re describing as well. There’s a real risk that we, as an industry, have used digital to solve the problems of doing what we would like to do of our delivery. We’re solving the problems of digital delivery of learning and development services or solutions or products.

We’re finding a way to make them live in the digital world, which is supply-side thinking. I wonder whether we’ll find the time, or I think we should try to find the time to look at the other end of that, as well as what does the demand side of this looks like, that isn’t just about distribution, but distributing to whom and when, and what and why, and in what context, as you said.

How does that feel to land? It’s interesting to observe now how many webinars are out there, but I think, whereas maybe 18 months ago, a webinar was an interesting thing that you might do on your lunch break. Now your lunch break is basically, maybe a moment between Zoom meetings where you’d want to do something different. I think that there’s an obvious point of context that’s changed there, that we need to be aligned to. That’s one small example, perhaps.

We Need to Focus on Employees’ Needs and Measuring Impact, Not Delivery

David: You’ve had another point there different modes of delivery. You may have seen that Donald Taylor’s sentiment analysis, his annual sentiment analysis came out. He noted that there was a new number one, but that top 10 or top 20 is largely about different delivery models. It’s never really about the digital capability. It’s never about what I might do differently to develop my skill set. It’s what I might buy in to offer something different to my clients.

It’s really interesting how AR and VR aren’t visible in the sentiment analysis, where you go, “That was a short-stay”, and I think it’s another example where there’s a new and novel mode of delivery. Therefore we must learn all about it. If we’re not able to find an application, then it will just fall away, and the one bit that’s missing is we’re not developing ourselves, we’re just seeking novel “digital solutions”.

Myles: Yes, I think so and it’s solutions to how we deliver, I think you’re right. I think there’s probably some of those other themes that might help us unlock this. Maybe there’s an opportunity to experiment now with different ways of thinking and working. If you think back to the early locked down phase, lockdown one, back to March and April of last year, it was terrifying yet exciting to see everyone just having to be thrown out there to try and find ways to make stuff work.

Quite often using the tools of the workplace to meet what we might typically call our L&D goals. People were using Zoom and Teams, etc, and other tools and services to make that work. I think what encouraged me about that was effectively that it was kind of lean experimentation. What have we got here? How are we going to solve this problem? How’s that working? Don’t set it in stone as a programme, but treat it as a first phase or release one or whatever you might call it, and then build, measure, learn, and evolve from there.

I think there’s a huge opportunity to continue to do that. The risk is if we fix in finding new ways to deliver, then we’ll avoid some of that experiment, because we’re not going to be measuring all of the right data in those experiments perhaps. You see what I mean? We’re going to be stuck on how well does the delivery work, rather than satisfying user goals or learner goals and the impact we’re having, therefore. I’m ambivalent about that. I think there’s a great opportunity, but I’m nervous that we’re missing it as well.

David: What you’re describing there with the lean approach can be a less risky and less expensive approach to experimenting and finding out both what the real problem is, and then finding a solution that makes a demonstrable difference. Whereas in so much of learning and development, and this is where I think we’ve not really shaken off the shackles and the expectations of the early 2000s when online products were expensive, therefore they needed a great deal of currency in order to shoehorn them or at least shoehorn the expectation into the organisation.

It took a great deal of attention and a huge amount of commitment. It was big bet, after big bet, after big bet, and if you’ve got any of that wrong, I don’t know what the definition of failure is as far as learning technology is concerned, because I think that largely it is an industry of failure. If I can be so bold.

Myles: That’s pretty bold.

David: What you’re describing there, and I’d love to go on and ask you to paint a bit more of a picture there, if you are chasing data by simply taking what you hear as needs and assumptions, exploring that a little bit more with the end-user so you’re really laser-focused on what the problem is.

You work with them in order to see whether that can be solved, and then you try perhaps with what is freely available on the net or within your organisation to see whether you can scale something, and then you’d spend the money on automating that when it actually works. That’s my layman version of perhaps what it might look like to paint a picture of what L&D is missing in digital. I wonder whether you could throw a frame around it to bring this to life.

Myles: I’ll have a go, but definitely I think it’s interesting because a lot of the work I do is to bring out this theme of build, measure, learn, or lean start-up thinking and practices etc. There is an anxiety that, “Well, we can’t afford to do that. We can’t afford to run experiments, we’ve got stuff to do.” Which is perhaps a natural response to that. You feel like you’re teetering at the edges.

I think if you go back to where this stuff came from and why it’s been organised into a method it’s because it came from start-ups who don’t have any money. The reason the lean start-up approach came to life is because people are bootstrapping with very little funds and very few people and very few resources to try and build a business. They were focused on working out from first principles, what seems to have the most value for our end users?

Get a version of that up and running, and find out if it has value. But don’t do so much that you’ve committed a load of your money and time and you’ve burnt your cash. Do it in the smallest way to measure the most value and then, as we say, iterate from there. I think there’s a misconception of where lean comes from. It doesn’t come from these funded start-ups who’ve been given $20 million, it comes from the people trying to get to that point.

I think there’s also a point to this, perhaps just to chuck a bit more digital jargon around on a Wednesday morning, and so the notion of a minimum viable product can suffer some abuse as well. I think this idea of focusing on the smallest step to the most value is where the MVP is most helpful. I think, and I’ve been guilty of this as well, we over configure an MVP because stakeholders think, “Well, it doesn’t do this, it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t do the other.”

Then you’ve committed so much that you’ve effectively got to go live because you’re so far down the roadmap, and before you know what the roadmap should be. I think there’s something really important to recognise about those approaches that are built from a poverty of time and resources. I think if we get back to some of that mindset, back to the mindset theme, then I think we might find if you can curve a little time in your teams to run experiments in that very lean way, you might start to find that you understand what the organisation values more and more quickly.

David: What you’re describing there, Myles, isn’t new. I don’t want to burst any bubble. I’ll move on quickly.

Myles: No, no. As I said, I’m not here to– These aren’t me revealing the tablets of stone. These aren’t my ideas, it’s just I suppose these are themes from my working history both on the client-side and now as a consultant, I still think are very, very valid. When I get excited I might think, “This is great. Look, all the answers are here.” Then on the other hand I get very despondent and frustrated, “Why aren’t people doing this?” It’s never that simple.

Listen to episode 66 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

Product Management is at the Heart of Digital Disruption

David: It’s not that simple, and I’ll look to backtrack and cover myself a little bit before we move forward on this. What you are talking about with agile and lean has its genesis in software development. Many in learning & development will be saying, “Oh yes but I’m not a software developer.” Some of these have been proven and have transformed marketing into digital marketing.

There are all sorts of other disciplines and professions that have truly been transformed and don’t just do different stuff to get the same results, they do fundamentally different stuff and they achieve more quantifiable results and reliably unpredictable results than perhaps we do in learning and development where we’re still chasing clicks to justify the investment in expensive learning tech.

You’ve also spoken before about product management being a key, perhaps to learning and development. I wonder if you could just give us an insight into where these approaches are currently working and perhaps go some way to dispel some of the beliefs that, “Oh, but those are different from Learning & Development. We do things differently here.”

Myles: I suppose, you know I’ve been banging the product management drum for a long time, and I think, one of the most important reasons I think it is valuable is because we’ve just seen it work. As you’ve said, it’s transformed industries. Not the only thing, no, but a part of the reason product management works is because it has got a commercial and business focus. It draws in what’s the commercial potential? What are the commercial dynamics, the investment requirements, the return etc that are required?

A good product manager understands those business requirements, and how the industry works, as well as being focused and really insightful about what users and consumers need and what’s really driving. What are the underlying needs and desires from them? Plus they have some technology understanding as well. They don’t necessarily need to be a developer or an engineer, but they understand the components of building a solution. They bring those three elements of mindset together. Commercial business, user obsession, and technology understanding.

I think one of the things that we’ve probably observed is that L&D has tended to, and it’s not just L&D, I think lots of other functions and organisations have done this. Digital belongs to the technology part of the organisation because it’s about technology, isn’t it? Which is kind of a limited definition of digital. You tend to have digital growing through in L&D and in HR, sometimes in operations and other functions come through the technology part of the organisation.

It tends to be– It tends to focus on systems and systems implementation which is the heritage of learning technology, about systems and the implementation, the roll-out of systems etc. I think that is one of the reasons that we get a bit stuck in L&D on product management. It’s a challenge because it brings in those other components. Good product managers are hard to find because it’s valuable– If you’re good, you can choose your work in a sense because it’s a very, very highly sought after set of capabilities.

If I had conversations in L&D about this, and think, “That’s not relevant to us.” I can’t think of an industry where digital disruption has occurred where product management isn’t at the heart of it. Whether it’s media, it’s retail, it’s music, it’s communication, now comes the social components of all of those things.

It’s all built on that product management approach. I don’t know if you need– Why would L&D not require that? I think is my question back. What’s different and special about L&D that shouldn’t adopt that approach? I can’t think of much other than internal resistance to working that way, which isn’t always true but I can’t– I don’t know, if this is slightly an unhelpful answer maybe. What’s different about L&D that where the product management approach should not or couldn’t work?

David: I might have an opinion or two on this. Do I think it is? I think it is our obsession with learning. We look at product management and we say, “Yes, that works for them but my e-learning is instructionally sound. I know the science of learning. I create brain-friendly learning, right?” What we’ve done, you’ve got this over here then you’ve got the other guy go, “Yes, but with product management what you do is you understand the critical points of failure with any given organisation, you’d take that data, you validate that with the end-user.” Then you got the learning person go, “Ha, ha, ha. They don’t know what they need to learn.” 

You’re stuck in a learning box over here while on the other side, you’ve got a profession or a discipline such as product management that is used to now getting real business results. The learning and development, the “pure” learning and development person, is a term that I’ve used that means that we don’t really want to branch out into your digital stuff. We look at that and wonder how it can possibly improve their learning offering.

I think that that’s where we’ve got a real disparity and where learning and development will see themselves as artists that use science to back up what they believe in their art. Elements from neuroscience and a lot of the pseudosciences associated with that where if you take a step into product management, you’re going to have to become a bit of a scientist, a bit of an engineer, and I think that learning and development don’t wish to identify in that area or perhaps feel very uncomfortable in identifying in those areas. I wonder how that lands Myles?

Myles: Yes it’s interesting because I suppose where I’ve seen the product management approach work well in learning, it tends to break things down into maybe if you take that lean approach, for example, you break things down into the smallest possible step to value, and then you build from there and it can become quite detailed and sophisticated from there. It tends to break things down into smaller components so that you can get started.

I think probably that might feel from the scenario that you were painting, that might feel like, actually, but you’re then, therefore, reducing my insight and understanding and therefore my impact from a learning specialist point of view.

I wonder, I suppose if you’re a good product manager coming into the L&D world or born from the L&D world, you should be able to take that on though. Say, “Well, okay, that’s part of the business benefit and part of the user’s need is to solve that problem for the organisation and for the end-user so that the learning does happen.” They can solve that problem. They can lead that team or they can manage that product, but you don’t necessarily need to call it learning.

David: Sorry, Myles. I lost you for a long period of time there. I wonder if you’ve heard that you said if you’re a good product manager with a grounding in L&D you started off like that, and I lost you right there. I wonder if you would like to do that part again. Is that okay?

Myles: Yes. Sorry about this connection, it’s a pain. I’ll go and go and discipline my children later for using the bandwidth. I wonder if you’re an effective product manager, whether you might come from an L&D background, or you might be coming into it to the L&D world as a product manager from elsewhere. In a sense, if you have the time and you can do your job well, you should be able to bring out those learning needs and what is it that the learner is trying to solve? What is it that they’re trying to get done? What difference do they want to make? 

With the organisation’s needs, the business needs, what changed they want to see, what outcomes are they looking for? You should be able to bring those things out with your learning design specialist, colleagues, or instructional designers, or your neuroscientists, or whichever network of experts you have, to bring those insights to bear in the product environment most effectively and knowing that you’re doing it because you test as you go.

That’s how I think it should work. I guess that feels, perhaps, to your thinking about the scenario that you painted, maybe that just feels like from a learning point of view, we’re losing control, that we’re not in charge of the design then, which I think you are, but it just feels different because it’s actually the product manager who’s putting it together with their team, the overall construction of the solution.

I wonder if that’s part of the challenge. I think one of the things that L&D tends to do is like to control because if we’re in a training room, part of the history is you’re in front of the classroom and you’re in control. Whereas in the digital space, you have to cede control to your user. Otherwise, it’s not going to work well, hence the woes with mandatory training. I wonder if that’s part of the challenge there. It feels like as learning designers, we’re losing control.

David: I think that there’s something in that, I think continuing this theme as well. I think that stakeholders probably play a role in this that it’s much harder to sell an iterative and emergent solution than it is to sell a course or a programme because everybody knows what a course in a programme looks like, regardless of content. It’s easy for the stakeholders to sell to their people as well.

Whereas, if you don’t know what the solution is, then that as an alternative to the known can be quite tricky and uncomfortable, but as I’ve had guests state on the other podcasts previously, if you sell progress towards a defined outcome, that’s usually accepted rather than just the delivery or the provision of a programme or some content. Now, Myles, you recently published a post that unless I’ve written it down wrong, it’s called Time To Move On From Digital Mindset, in which you outlined 17 features of good digital teams.

Many of them will be alien to a traditional L&D team. I wonder whether you could touch on a few of these perhaps some of the more prescient of those, and I’ve got a question. Is it necessary to address all of these at once or is there a logical place to start? Of course, before I hand it over to you, I will put a link in the show notes to that article so the listener can see all features.

Data Lets Us Know When There is a Real Problem That Needs Addressing so we Can Focus on Providing Solutions

Myles: I suppose we’ve probably covered some of the points and I guess just a little bit of as an intro to where the idea of the post came from. I was thinking on this theme as we’ve discussed digital mindset. The root of my thoughts was the idea, “Well, aren’t we all working digital-first now?” We’ve been catapulted into that like it or not. Here I am sitting at my little desk in the playroom at home where I’ve never worked before, working entirely digitally.

I was thinking, “Well, if that’s true for us, then maybe we need to stop thinking about it as a digital mindset. It should just be a good mindset.” Then maybe we shouldn’t have a head of digital role because actually everything’s digital now. Maybe we shouldn’t have virtual classrooms because there aren’t any classrooms. Actually, it’s just a gathering of people. I think that partly, does this change signal something deeper that we need to reflect in the language we use, was a bit of the motivation behind it.

Then I suppose what I was trying to do is gather what I see and have seen as these themes of a good mindset, not just for individuals but for teams as well. When it’s working well with the mindsets at play and you can observe it, what are they doing? I think some of the components we’ve talked about a bit build, measure, learn, etc. I think there’s probably one that we referenced quickly that I would call out something that I think we all need to really consciously choose to do is this theme of evidence-based decision-making and the data gathering as a reflex.

Listen to episode 66 of the Learning & Development podcast here.

It’s along with connection, as I said earlier, this data is the foundation of digital. It works because of data. Way back in, whenever it was 1994 or ’95 when the Netscape browser hit the markets. Part of the data gathering capability there was the server log file which was gathered as engineers decided, “We want to know what happened.”

That was almost like the seed of that data revolution, everything that happens leaves an imprint of data behind. It’s our responsibility to look to that data as a really important source of decision-making. Not the only source of decision-making. I think that’s somewhere we have to start along with some of these other mindset changes.

David: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I think data can provide us a good signal, something that could let us know that there is a real problem that needs addressing and if it isn’t addressed, then there could be a critical point of failure in any given operation, whether that be at an organisation level, departmental level, or simply just a team, or individual level, but that’s the signal. I think that what you’re describing is that it’s not the only thing that then does require further investigation.

The evidence that’s required. If we see that there is a problem, there is a signal, then it’s going to be pretty logical then to determine who’s actually involved, whose performance is accountable for that data, or who are the main actors for which we need to then explore with them what they are actually experiencing. What is and isn’t effective and efficient within their ability to perform? You’ve got your data and your evidence. Then once you’ve got that, the solution can be really pointed.

That’s when we go back to what you described before, having an experimental mindset, thinking lean, to build, measure, learn, to actually affect the data that at the outset was your signal. Then use smart technology, or just use dumb technology to begin with to scale and get smarter to automate and to continue to learn. It gets more sophisticated as you wish, but I’m with you. I think that so many learning and development problems are created rather than fully investigated. A good one would be, say quality conversations or courageous conversations.

There’s a solution looking for a problem, and then any problem can be picked up and said, “Well, quality conversations could fix that.” Then everybody agrees around it because it seems pretty logical, but the only thing that’s not explored is that there is actually a problem with that group of people for which they’re looking at a solution that might be the one that’s been hawked around and largely agreed upon because it was a “success elsewhere”.

Myles: I think that theme of signals and not the truth is really important actually. I think we tend to get stuck on promising proof and expecting proof when proof might not be available. It’s interesting that the eternal quest for return on investment, and I think that a lot of data gathering gets misconstrued as a contribution to return on investment. It’s important, but it’s not the only thing. One of the ways back in the search engine days, and I’m sure it’s become much more sophisticated since, I hope so anyway, we used to look at frequency of use as a really important leading indicator of satisfaction. That people come back to the search engine more frequently, that doesn’t tell us that they love it, or they think it’s better, but it’s a pretty good indicator and actually also frequent users were more valuable. They tended to be more loyal and they tended to click on more ads as well.

We thought frequency of use was a really important indicator, but it was only one number. It didn’t tell us a whole bunch of other things that we also needed to know and find out. I think it’s really important to think about the digital data we can gather as those leading or proxy measures that don’t tell you the answer, but there are really important signals as to whether something’s working or not, or how far it’s working or how quickly it’s working.

Start by Making Connections to Find out Where You Can Help and Provide Value

David: Now Myles, as we look to wrap this up especially because we talked about 17 features of good digital mindset from earlier on, we’ve touched on many of them here. I’d like to end this by providing some comfort, as well as some guidance as to where L&D folks, individuals, and teams could develop their skill sets so that they can take advantage of the opportunity that digital provides. What development should they do? What should they focus on first?

Myles: I think there’s one thing that I’ve always really loved about working in L&D that I don’t think should be overlooked, is actually one of the most important impulses that I’ve come across with the L&D professionals is they want to help people. It’s one of the most important motivations of people in the profession is they like to help people, help people solve problems, help people develop, help people make the most of themselves, etc.

I think that’s a really good place to start. It’s trying to almost find out where you think you can start to help in small ways perhaps. It matches maybe our personal impulse with actually adding value. I think probably where to start to help is try and find those places where the organisation has a problem and the user has a problem at the same time. Almost start to find ways to meet those demands.

I think one of the things that I think is really interesting that I’ve seen work in and around L&D is helping people make the right connections. I think it’s one of the things that digital does best, as we said connection is one of those foundation stones of digital, but also it’s something that we as L&D can be quite helpful to in many organisations. Because we know the organisation well, if you’re doing your job well, you’re probably well networked. 

You might get to start facilitating those connections in simple ways and see how that goes. You can start small and develop from there, and you may or may not need to actually invest in any technology at all for that, because typically organisations have some way of managing those connections. In fact, often, there’s lots of informal WhatsApp groups where it’s happening anyway, and find out what they are and build from there maybe.

David: Fabulous. Thank you, Myles, if people wish to follow your work and connect with you on social media, how can they do so?

Myles: I guess Myles Runham at LinkedIn is probably the best place. There’s a website and blogging as often as I can at mylesrunham.com, with a new regular website feature to be unveiled actually. I’ll leave that there as a tidbit. Also @Mylesrun on Twitter, as well. That’s probably the three best places to look.

David: Brilliant. Thank you very much Myles and thank you very much for being a guest on the Learning and Development podcast.

Myles: Thanks so much. That was a great conversation again, thank you.

David: It may not be recognised from within, but L&D is certainly lacking in digital competence and there are skills gaps reports that call this out. The ramifications of these being that we don’t close the skills gaps for our organisations, but we actually contribute to them with our own lack of digital capability.

Fortunately, there are those, like Myles, who have laid out what we need to focus on, so we can address this right now. If you’d like to get in touch with me, perhaps to suggest topics you’d like to hear discussed, you can tweet me @Davidinlearning and connect on LinkedIn for which you’ll find the links in the show notes. Goodbye for now.

Listen to episode 66 of the Learning & Development podcast here or book a free demo to find out more about developing a digital mindset.

About Myles Runham

Myles is an experienced consultant, senior manager and general manager of online and digital business in the private and public sector. He has a particular depth of experience in digital transformation, leading the development of digital and online learning and products in the corporate and education worlds with extensive experience of digital learning strategy, managing implementation and digital product strategy and design.

Connect with Myles on Twitter and LinkedIn

Connect with David on LinkedIn and Twitter

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