It’s a Lego future

It is good to see offices reopening in London and elsewhere, as well as the welcome reintroduction of face-to-face meetings – nothing beats a handshake with another human being.

But as we carefully move towards a degree of normality, some weird and wonderful things have been happening under the radar that are worth a mention, including new terms and even a new language; the attention economy; crypto as the new rollercoaster; NFTs (where do I begin); and who invented tooth sensors that detect salt and glucose, and tell you off when eating cake?

In the workplace, everyone is overloaded with calls and meetings, but that isn’t so new. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an interview with Harvard Business Review, shared a great story explaining 70% of people want flexibility in their work, yet 70% are also looking for the human connection – he described this as the hybrid paradox, so this topic hasn’t settled and is likely to run for a while.

In the learning and assessment space, I describe it as the beginning of the Lego model – the unbundling of learning into modular pieces that stack together to meet the needs of the individual. I enjoyed being part of a discussion about the optimal length of a learning segment, and it could be anything from 2 to 15 minutes, formed into playlists.

Overall, it is good to be back. Lunchtime sushi on the run has never tasted so good.

Learn Different

Remember the great Apple ad (Think Different) that began the wave of change for the company and the genius that was Jobs and his team to elevate it to the leading creative machine that it remains today?

Post-pandemic (I am being optimistic) is a different world and while nothing stands still for a minute, it’s reading beyond the page that will create the next generation of genius companies.

Consider this – the price of annual video streaming services:

Disney+            £59.99
Netflix                £71.88
Prime Video         £79.00
University             £9250.00     

Can we see the risk here? We have spent a year working from home, experienced less formality in learning and more emphasis on the consumer as they seek control of every interaction. If the rise in digital tools will change how we learn – how much and how often – might the disruption be right in that table above?

Great expectations

A great little letter was published in a UK newspaper that went something like this – it remains one of my favourites:

“Sir – My internet went down for about five minutes the other day so I headed downstairs and spoke to my family. They seemed like nice people.”

Why does a computer issue or problem with internet connectivity carry such enormity of drama and emotion. Partly, it is down to next gen expectations that everything – including education – is similar to their day to day life.

For them everything is instant: they buy and receive deliveries on the same day; decide to watch a movie or binge on an entire season of a programme and start within a minute of deciding; and when they do log in to Netflix, they watch movies at 1.5x speed. There is no waiting, plus if they don’t like something or find learning engaging, or if they don’t get onto a new project or get promoted, they move on. We have to make the world as interesting as they see it – although to their credit, they typically look for two things: to do things that have a purpose and to make an impact.

Derek Thomson, from his great book Hit Makers, told us that the world’s attention is shifting from content that is infrequent, big and broadcast, to frequent, small and social. In work and learning and for our next generation of talent, and to get the best out of their skills and willingness to make a difference, we need to understand precisely how they like to consume.

You think you’re in touch?

Gen Z is changing and dictating how they want to consume but do we understand the new world and can we get involved? Moreover, are we even welcome?

The big-brand public-facing social platforms are not so cool amongst the younger generation and they are leaving for smaller online destinations. Within these walls they can message each other and connect with other likeminded cool people. Some call them digital campfires and I like the metaphor – even during the pandemic when people were calling out for social interaction the biggest cultural moments took place in these smaller environments, such as live concerts and streams of famous folk playing video games. Who knew of gaming platform Roblox until the headline that their founders had made a small fortune? What some dismissed as computer-games-from-which-you-learn-nothing have become the place to be to reach these audiences, and yet, smartly, some wont let us in!

I remember wondering whether Second Life would be a success and now brands are chomping at the bit to be a part of Creative Mode, Discord, Twitch and TikTok (100m active users!), umbrellas for every conceivable interest and trend. Top DJs and professional sports teams have a seat at the table, but sport is cool. How about the rest of us? I understand the relevance of custom designed sneakers (from cool artists as #thelittlecustoms) but how about chinos?

The pandemic changed the landscape forever and digital transformation accelerated overnight. You cannot take a guess at this and hope the next generation of workers and customers cross paths with you. To appeal to them, they expect you to have exactly what they want and the only way to reach them is via data and algorithms to target each as an individual, based on their preferences and personalisation.

As technology evolved to play a bigger role in a company’s strategy, we used to say IT went from the basement to the boardroom – now it’s marketing’s turn.

Sharing Learning

A short story from a brilliant client of mine and Oxford Professor whose vision transformed one of the leading UK institutes. We spent lots of time talking and whether in London or New York his stories and insight were rich with poignancy and relevancy. Always memorable, you could make decisions and hang your hat on them.

He once shared a story where having graduated and read all the books about combining technical skills (in his case core accounting and financial) with business and leadership skills, he was equipped for the world of work. Within days he realised he wasn’t ready, and fortunately for him he could turn to his university professor to help him understand and complete the work he was assigned, visiting him often to ask how to tackle individual tasks.

How often have we heard versions of this tale – super smart young people qualified but not employment-ready? To get more people into jobs with the skills employers are looking for, we need to link needs with outcomes, ensuring HR departments work with academia to define the skills their companies are seeking.

Thank you Noel, best wishes for the next chapter.

It’s down to you

“Research by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) showed 90% of people will need new skills by 2030.”

This is now making headline news, as was covered by Sky News recently. The need for people to own and constantly refresh and update their skills portfolio is no small issue, but how do we make sure it gets the attention it deserves?

90% of people equates to more than 29 million working folk in the UK, that is some number to get on board. Add to that what is learned at university is outdated by the time the student graduates, and we have a bit of an issue on our hands.

Apprenticeships, connecting education with employment hiring requirements and learning that meets the needs of tomorrow – smaller, faster, more applicable in the workplace. It’s time to take responsibility.

Learning: it’s personal

There is increasing value in customisation across all aspects of life. Yianni, of Yiannimise fame, has earned his reputation for the meticulous work he does customising cars, so why not learning? Why not tailor the single most important thing that will help all people for their entire careers and beyond?

An interview between Salesforce and Pearson this week highlighted that large numbers of today’s workforce not learning or being trained for tomorrow’s jobs, and that people are thinking about further study. Should that not always be the case – the concept of learn-apply, learn-apply?

We need technologies and programmes that encourage each of us to re-skill for the next role or project: modular in size and scope for us to build learning and a set of credentials based on our unique role and aspirations, essentially unbundling a curriculum into a stack that suits one individual. Not only does this fit in with lifelong learning, but it counters the shrinking shelf-life of skills, better connects learning with the workplace and is valued by employers and their HR departments by addressing the specific skills that companies are looking for.

All this and we have yet to truly come up against the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution: AI, machine learning, robotics and automation, where as Naval Ravikant so eloquently states, if you can be trained to do a job, so can a robot!

The New Classroom

Some say kids can’t focus. Of course they can focus, just not in the way that we try to interact with them. Have you seen how they concentrate when they play Fortnite or FIFA?

The future of education is where learning systems are irresistibly engaging for student and teacher alike, they are easy to use and steeped in real life problem solving. I am not surprised students switch off, especially when taking into account social media’s effect of focusing on short-term memory and ever decreasing attention spans.

The traditional model of learning was invented when your education would get you your first and last job but in the dynamic society we operate in today – and certainly tomorrow – people will needs lots of careers, because whatever is learned expires very quickly.

Introducing the internet as the new classroom. We have to take learning to the students, to engage them where they are driving the change. School will escape the classroom: the Internet has no walls and it could be that students attend classes online in other towns or possibly other countries. But the most exciting opportunity is that students will become producers. No longer do they need to sit and yawn at lectures, where they could sit for hours on end without speaking – the new classroom will mean students will learn by creating and building things. With a smartphone in their pocket and a HD camera connected to the world, they can tell their story and be as creative as their imagination allows.

Image courtesy of ‘A 19th-Century Vision of the Year 2000.’
https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-19th-century-vision-of-the-year-2000

Tsundoku

It has been a while since I posted, but we have avoided distractions to have a laser focus on our customers these past 6 months, helping them steer through unexpected change, and it was worth the effort. We have a brilliant team of people across the globe at Pearson VUE and those people have made the difference again this year. Thank you to all of them.

I want to share a term I learned from the book Hit Makers. Tsundoku means to acquire reading materials but letting them pile up without reading them. This surfeit of content is very relevant in the twenty-first century, way beyond books.

Today we all live in the shadow of a large multimedia tsundoku. I wonder if the pandemic will result in us approaching the information overload differently, to be more selective and to be more focused – the Beatles and their 10,000 hours of practice comes to mind. To concentrate on fewer things but be better at them.

Impact

This is a terrible time, challenging in almost every respect for people and companies alike, but it does also offer an opportunity to do something symbolic and high-impact to help our customers, colleagues and society at large.

I re-read this famous little story in HBR and want to relay it here, because it makes me smile but equally because it defines ambition and determination and impact.

When Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was presented the first iPod by the designers, he said the device was too big. The designers replied that they could not fit the components into anything smaller, so Jobs took the iPod over to an aquarium and dropped it into the water, pointing to the air bubbles floating to the top and explaining that it had some air inside it, which meant that it did indeed have some free space.

To do anything show-stopping, but especially today, you need to move up and out of the normal flow of organisational life. Incidentally, I showed my kids the first iPod I bought and they were mesmerised by it. Next week I will show them a cassette tape.