Women in Learning & Leadership

I was proud to be invited to speak at the Women in Learning & Leadership (WILL) event today in Manchester. It was a great meet with some very good speakers and lots of interaction and participation – Pearson at its best!

I opened with a quote from Accenture that stated digital is the main reason half the companies have disappeared from the Fortune 500 since the year 2000, and we delved into technologies impacting the workplace, education trends we need to be cognisant of and especially the need to attract and retain the best talent.

I referenced one well-known UK businessman who said, “You have to Kill Your Business,” and whilst dramatic, I agree that you have to embrace digital transformation and do business totally differently. We lamented the demise of Nokia and a former CEO made a great comment that they didn’t do anything wrong necessarily, but somehow the industry disrupted around them. The frightening aspect of this is that the traditional graph with a 30-degree growth line is now even referred to as the “path of doom;” in other words, if you are only growing at that rate, you may not survive the disruption. Plus those that are complacent are at greatest risk.

We don’t own our ideas for very long either, according to a former Marketing Officer of McDonalds – today we own our ideas “for about an hour and a half” before somebody is snapping at our heels updating and improving what we started. A simple yet great line cited from Cisco Chairman John Chambers summed it up: “It’s no longer a question of if or when the digital revolution will happen, we are in the middle of it.”

Somebody asked about AI in education: educators and teachers must not stop the drive of AI in the classroom; it is in the real world so if we don’t introduce it into our learning, the next generation wont be ready when they go out to the workplace – we must think of the future.

I closed by using the Fox and Hedgehog story to answer a question about why Pearson VUE is so successful at what we do – we have a laser focus on what we do and we hire and develop the best people.

Technology and our leaders of tomorrow


I was thrilled to be asked by the Pearson Diversity team to present to the interns who joined our organisation this week and I was even more pleased to see how positive they were.

I chose to present something different – with our company tagline being ‘Always Learning’ I didn’t want to just talk about our division and the business we are in, so I told them why I think they are our future! I sprinkled my story with technology of course, but my emphasis was on talent.

I took this direction because I was enthused by a person who inspires me, CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts. She recently posted on the importance of storytelling. Each time I have been truly uplifted by a presentation, it was because of the story told and shared, and in the current digitally-driven world, where are we are often overwhelmed with information, rediscovering the age-old principles of storytelling will help us connect and differentiate, so I took that course.

It paid off – I met some great young people, our workforce of now and our leaders of tomorrow, and I had fun telling sharing story.

Normal is boring

A student was asked to describe her good teachers but she couldn’t, explaining that they were all so different, but she could easily describe her bad teachers because they were all the same.

A recent, brilliant report from Sir Michael Barber at our company, Pearson, about the future of education called ‘An Avalanche is Coming’  (www.pearson.com/avalanche) emphasised great teachers as one of the biggest differentiators in learning, and we see it time and again where students of all ages are inspired because of the person that leads their class.

Isn’t that always the case? Whatever a company stands for, is it not always the people building the relationships, doing the deals and serving the customers who are the face of our companies? Therefore why do we attempt to recruit anything but the best to represent us? As the great quotes states, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Some companies I know such as Cisco Systems recruit staff at odd places, such as the finish line of great races, because they figure these are people with true character, grit and determination.

Normal is boring, quirky is memorable and remarkable is the difference between success and failure.

New York, New York

I spent most of this week in the Big Apple at a Pearson event called Forum.

Forum brings together 120 people from across the company to brainstorm, network and focus on a specific theme to help drive continuous improvement throughout the company. This year’s theme was ‘Culture.’

It was a great experience, especially listening to Marjorie Scardino enthral us with her stories at dinner, meeting the Management Team and working with people I have never met before. We were assigned to ‘Home Group’ number 7. We called our group ‘I’ll Have Another.’ John, Allison, Ramesh, Natalie, Ken, Adrienne and myself. We hit it off immediately. I don’t know why and I am not sure how. But it clicked right away and it worked. On an evening assignment we created one of the best videos, as highlighted by our faciliators the next morning. Seven people in a group spanning a range of countries and continents – and yet it all came together very quickly. What does it mean? It tells me that when the chemistry is right, and when people get on, amazing things happen in the workplace. I thank the team for a great 3 days. We laughed so much.

I also learned that culture is not down to the CEO or management team to establish and cascade down to us. Culture is us. It is up to us as a team to find the connections, have the right attitude, communicate, share and motivate others, to feel and to be the culture. It was an inspirational week, especially going for runs along the Jersey shore facing Manhattan and waking up every day to this view. Thanks New York, thanks Pearson, thanks Team 7.

Technology allows us to have a go

I presented at the Pearson VUE Testing Centre Managers Conference and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The audience was full of comments and questions which showed me a genuine level of engagement.

I talked a lot about how the technology in our midst is shaping how we live and work, with a special emphasis on some of the trends that will impact how we learn in the future – on the go, in modular form and both alone and in social groups. The cool thing with technology that must be embraced is that there is never really a good time to start using it – to open a Twitter account, launch a Facebook page or start a YouTube channel – but it is so easy to have a go, to start and update and change as we progress and evolve. Technology facilitates trying things and learning along the way. Our mantra at Pearson is ‘Always Learning’ and technology in this respect encourages us to use these tools and platforms to try stuff and be comfortable with making a mistake, because you can adjust, correct and continue on your pathway to greatness.

The thing that pleased me the most about the conference is when a lady stood up at the end of my session and explained that she works part-time, whilst also creating music for meditation. She described how she has learned to create CDs of her music and put them onto CD Baby and has since made her first sale on Amazon. This is the beauty of technology.

How do you sleep at night?

Just back from a whirlwind visit to the Pearson VUE headquarters in Bloomington, Minneapolis. What a slick operation. Professional, exceptional talent working in well-organised teams to serve its clients.

A lot can be learned from watching people at work, although generally I find I pick up a lot more ideas and nuggets of information from the US when I travel there than anywhere else. How can we capture some of that “essence” and ship it home? Is it the people and their attitude, their education or just the unflinching desire to succeed? I think it is a combination of all those things, and especially the philosophy of learning by failure. The US is the only market I know where mistakes and failure are a recognised part of growing up and the learning process.

It all about continuous learning. Every discussion and every experience is an opportunity to learn something new. On every plane journey I take, I weigh myself down with books, magazines and printed articles, always capturing quotes and stories along the way. That is how I assemble the content for my presentations.

The future of IT jobs and learning? That is a little harder to predict. The world of work continues to evolve and IT jobs are moving up the value chain, combining technical with business-savvy skills to give IT a seat at the boardroom table (more of this next post). But what is absolute, is that surrounding yourself with the best people is how to make the difference, regardless of business model. That is, yet again, the one standout thing from my trip to the US. I close with a comment made by fashion mogul Tommy Hilfiger in a recent interview:

“Hiring the best, most intelligent people allows you to sleep at night. One of my advantages starting out was that I was never afraid to hire someone smarter than me.” Rock on Tommy.