April 2011


If you’ve ever listened to music on CD, one man that you need to thank is Norio Ohga, former Sony Chairman, who died on April 23rd at the age of 81. If the music on the CD was built on multiple tracks of recording and featured an electric guitar, spare a thought also for another man who is no longer with us – Les Paul, who died on 12 August 2009, and left us as a legacy not just one of the most famous electric guitar designs of all, but also multi-track recording and a range of effects devices for treating both live and recorded sound. Even if your entire collection of recorded music is now on an iPod or just streamed at you from Spotify, its existence was shaped by two men. But they have something else in common – their achievements sprang from a conviction that things could be both different and better, and that they had ideas that a big corporation would benefit from listening too. If neither had had the courage to complain, we might even still be listening to live recordings, in mono, on vinyl.

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Back in the 1970s, Shirley Conran famously thought that “life is too short to stuff a mushroom”. As a self-proclaimed Superwoman (the book is still in print), a certain fullness of diary was a natural part of life – and of the image that must be projected of it. Even slovenly instincts were something to be talked up, positioned with poise and verbally lit from the best possible angle, as another quote showed: “I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. But you have to be efficient if you’re going to be lazy.” (It’s something of a puzzle, however, that her presumably considerable book royalties didn’t allow her the efficiency of hiring a cleaner. Or just having the floor replaced when it got dusty.)

Efficiency must be something in which fashions change – as we’re sure the mother of Jasper Conran would agree with us, even if she might be slightly affronted by the Hairy Biker’s culinary response to her most famous moment (although we have no doubt in Lady Conran actually watched the 2010 World Cup avidly – either too busy or absorbed in the hovering, no doubt.) But being busy, it seems, doesn’t go out of style.

Despite knowing – as most of us do – that simply being busy is meaningless (is all that effort actually getting anyone anywhere? Is any of it invoiceable activity, or paying some non-monetary dividend – hey, even good karma will do – further down the line?), it is a popular thing to be. In business communities, the ‘correct’ social answer to “How’s Things?” is – or at least it seems to me – to be “Busy!” rather than “Great, thanks”. “Great!” is what you say by way of congratulation when someone else says they’re busy – being busy is up there with engagements and pregnancies when it comes to things to be immediately and almost unquestioningly praised.

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Mark Ronson – who, to parody Private Eye’s impression of High Court Judges, we might describe to the unfamiliar as a producer of popular music discs – isn’t the first man I’d turn to for insights into the impact of communications media on modern life. (No offence meant, Mr Ronson: if we’re maligning you too unfairly, perhaps a PR angle adjustment is due?) But his tweet of 30 March 2011 hit one modern nail very firmly on the head:

the problem with answering emails is that, then you’re almost always guaranteed to receive another one”

(If you’re susceptible to the idea of now playing text or tweet tennis with him, I hope you saw his more recent offering – “I read most my texts/tweets aloud in a Vincent Price voice. Don’t write me things like “ahahahahahahaha”, it comes off creepy and sinister”: any suggestions for messages to tweet to him appreciated. Perhaps we could match-make an online bromance with http://twitter.com/dalailama?)

My point – and I think Ronson’s also – is that sending emails or texts is now so easy it’s as difficult to resist temptation as it is to give in: that is, not very difficult at all. We may tell ourselves we live in The Information Age, but surely an economist would disagree: commodities gain value through either scarcity (which plainly doesn’t apply) or utility (which must be highly debatable).

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There are things we all know that we should do but sometimes don’t. Eating our five a day, saving used stamps for charities, visiting for Mothering Sunday. Mostly, we persuade ourselves just well enough that the consequences are something that we can live with: our mothers will continue to be disappointed, and chuggers will continue to rattle collection boxes in shopping malls. The more telling example is the five-a-day: the effects of a poor diet creep up on us like a slo-mo fog, rather than phoning us a day later to tell us who disappointing we are.

But not all our failings are personal. As L&D practitioners, most of us know that learning transfer is – to understate a point – important. Learning that leaves us – six or nine months on, still eating microwaved dinners and bacon sandwiches – doing nothing better, acting with no more skill or understanding or behaving no differently hasn’t taught us anything.

In the first of a forthcoming series of articles following on from the Learning Transfer 2010 national survey of current practice, Robert Terry has already identified critical areas where intention is – for many reasons – not necessarily translating into best practice. As he concludes:

Buyers of training and development, who responded to this survey, reported that transfer and application is only a slight influence on their purchasing decisions. I hope that, in years to come, subsequent surveys will see learning transfer take its place at the top table of selection criteria so that we can know that we are working as hard to provide performance improvement as we are to provide first class learning.”

To read the article (first published in Training Journal in April 2011), you can download a copy here, or from our Elsewhere page, where you can download PDF versions of all our feature articles.

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Two very different posts from out there across the Interweb in today’s Crackers sign-post (for a full list of our Crackers – links to great blog postings elsewhere – please just click here).

  • I’m not an experience-seeking user, I’m a meaning-seeking human person:  Tim Morris on how turning everything into a game or a social media experience isn’t necessarily a way forward. Or as he puts it in part:  “This is why I’m sceptical about gamification: there’s enough […] pointless distractions in life already, we don’t need more of them, however beautiful the user experiences are. But what we do need more of is people making a commitment to doing something meaningful and building a shared pool of common value”.
  • Personality and Knowledge Management Behavior: our old friends at weknowmore.org, reporting of the impact of different personality types on behaviours to support (or undermine) knowledge managing and sharing activities, and recommend understanding each other as a shorter path to improvement than attempting to change each other’s personalities.

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Kelmscott ManorThere is a fine line between having a vision and being an idealist: indeed, it can be so fine as to be invisible to others, as the following quote – from interior designer and TV personality Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen demonstrates: “Re: William Morris ‘He didn’t quite bring down the Walls of Jericho so much as cover them in nice wallpaper“. Morris’s historic wallpaper is obviously now in imminent peril of damage from those sharp little claws, and it will be amusing to see in a century’s time how many museums are dedicated to preserving and showing old VHS tapes of episodes of Changing Rooms.

Googling this morning, the quote from Llewelyn-Bowen I unearthed most frequently was “I’ve just bought myself a G-string – which is rather fun.” Not a vision I cared to have so soon after breakfast, and not one I’d argue compares too favourably with what is possibly Morris’ most famous quote:

If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

A pretty good mission statement for a man who (as Morris did) ran a decorative arts company, although the vision ran rather deeper than providing a nifty strap line. Few interior designers integrate their work and their view of the world so intensely as to write a Utopian novel – News from Nowhere, which describes a then future world as Morris would ideally imagine it (set partly at his country home, Kelmscott Manor, pictured top left) – and to be highly influential in the formation of a major political party.

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