Impact Learning Systems


Can Learning Survive the Law of Boundless Brevity? Monica Postell

Recently I walked into a client’s office to say hello and con­firm our agenda for the day. As our cor­dial stand-up meet­ing pro­gressed I was really pleased to hear how gen­uinely pleased he seemed to be with the tech­ni­cal sup­port train­ing that was about to begin. In fact, he went so far as to say that the orga­ni­za­tion had made the right deci­sion and was sure to ben­e­fit. Yes, I was beam­ing. Then he said, “Oh, and can you make it any shorter?” Sigh. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that; I’m ever hope­ful, each time, it will be the last time.

At Impact, we believe learn­ing – espe­cially learn­ing to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively – takes plan­ning, con­sid­er­a­tion, prac­tice and fre­quent, peri­odic revis­it­ing of the key con­cepts. The “how”—whether you employ tra­di­tional class­room, eLearn­ing, social learn­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion or a com­bi­na­tion of all of the above—doesn’t change the fact that learn­ing is a process not an event. Behav­ior change hap­pens on the job, over time, and for the best results needs the hands-on atten­tion and sup­port of management.

Prac­ti­cal oper­a­tional con­sid­er­a­tions drove my client’s desire to shorten his spe­cific train­ing event. While I sup­port short learn­ing seg­ments, I also believe in lots of engag­ing activ­i­ties, lots of prac­tice, lots of col­lab­o­ra­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties, and lots of learn­ing by doing—and that takes time. I tend to believe that when it comes to learn­ing we’d be bet­ter off tak­ing a les­son from the slow food move­ment.

Is it really inevitable that all com­mu­ni­ca­tion as we know it, includ­ing train­ing, will be trun­cated by tech­nol­ogy? In his blog post, “Get­ting Shorty—The Ele­va­tor Pitch is Dead,” Jay Baer writes about what he calls the “Law of Bound­less Brevity” and claims “tech­nol­ogy has killed small talk”. He was refer­ring to per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion not busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tion much less train­ing but much of what he wrote struck a chord. Ulti­mately, he sug­gests we all cre­ate 120-character descrip­tions of what we do to replace our old ele­va­tor pitches. Even though I don’t totally buy the trun­ca­tion trend I’m will­ing to give it a try in the spirit of respect­ing diver­sity of opin­ion. So here’s mine: Opti­miz­ing per­for­mance for sales, cus­tomer ser­vice, and tech sup­port while sus­tain­ing results that make a dif­fer­ence. (118) Very retweet­able. (My spellchecker doesn’t think that’s a word. How very 2008.)

With a back­ground in per­for­mance improve­ment and instruc­tional design, Mon­ica Postell works with Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems in design­ing and deploy­ing train­ing and devel­op­ment pro­grams that fos­ter real cus­tomer loyalty.
4 Can Learning Survive the Law of Boundless Brevity?
Mon­ica Postell
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  • Jason Baer

    Mon­ica -

    Thanks very much for the shout out, and for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 120 char­ac­ter chal­lenge. I'm not sure I buy into it totally myself, and I wrote it! But, hav­ing been in online mar­ket­ing for 15 years, I've def­i­nitely seen a steady march toward shorter com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Clearly, it's not always for the best, but it's def­i­nitely happening.

    Iron­i­cally, I lot of my busi­ness is con­duct­ing full-day train­ing ses­sions on social media, so hope­fully we don't get so con­cise that nobody can spend a day learning!


  • Jason Allen

    Great Post,
    I recently had a client who hired me because I had billed myself as a cut­ting edge trainer, using the lat­est in 'in-class, high-engagement' learn­ing meth­ods. And then when it came time to actu­ally pull the reps off the phone, the ses­sion had to come in as a 45 minute chalk and talk.

    Do you remem­ber (maybe I'm dat­ing myself) the old TV show M*A*S*H*? I loved it, and watched it every time it was on. One of the main char­ac­ters, Hawk­eye Pierce, used to describe the type of med­i­cine they prac­ticed (namely patch­ing up sol­diers so they can either be sent on for more thor­ough treat­ment, or so they can go back and get shot at again) as "Meat­ball Surgery."

    Unfor­tu­nately, I have adopted the term "Meat­ball Train­ing" to describe clients who treat train­ing as a kind of field hos­pi­tal approach to sup­port­ing their employ­ees. In fact, when select­ing can­di­dates for in-service mod­ules with some clients, I even refer to it as 'triage'.

    My chal­lenge, then, is how to take what is really a day-long les­son, includ­ing role play, prop­erly chun­ked knowl­edge, and rein­force­ment through prop­erly spaced exer­cises, and reduce it to a 15 minute 'pre-shift' meeting.

    The key for me? Emo­tional engage­ment through really com­pelling story telling. It's the only way I am able to get any­thing to stick in that set­ting. I tell a story about how some­one else has done what I'm try­ing to get them to do — a story that is funny, easy to relate to, and has a dra­matic out­come. One such story this morn­ing got one of my clients' sales­peo­ple a round of applause!

  • Jim Rus­tad

    Hi Mon­ica, Always an inter­est­ing argu­ment! I get the same requests on a fre­quent basis. When pos­si­ble, I try and get the part­ner to give me a shot to have two ver­sions (short and long) of the train­ing and then com­pare notes.

    We recently trained on an impor­tant ini­tia­tive and found that the cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion num­bers were poor in one area and then ter­rific on another. As we researched it turned out that the 3 hour course was cut to 45 min­utes in poor per­form­ing area. It was a great endorse­ment on why it was designed the way it is.

  • Glenn Friesen

    The argu­ment that "brevity is the soul of wit" sure does stum­ble when brevity's forced. :) I totally agree with you, though — Some things just take time. And some­times, the more time spent, the more reward­ing the expe­ri­ence can be.

    I won­der if it's avail­able tech­nol­ogy that's fuel­ing the trun­ca­tion trend, or if trun­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy was devel­oped as a reac­tion to an exist­ing cul­tural trend to deal with infor­ma­tion over­load? After all, I've always loved me some aphorisms! :)

    Thanks for the thought-provoking arti­cle — I'm going to tweet it right now! ;)

  • Mon­ica Postell

    Hi Glenn! I won­der, too, if it's tech­nol­ogy that's dri­ving the trun­ca­tion trend or whether it's infor­ma­tion over­load that's the cul­prit. I'd add another trend to your idea — that is a trend dri­ven by a down­sized, tighter eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion that asks the indi­vid­ual to do more in the same or less time. Man­agers rec­og­nize the need to help staff but many have fewer bod­ies to cover the same amount or more work.

    I also think we're vic­tims of the effi­cien­cies that tech­nol­ogy has brought us. I'll date myself but I remem­ber when the Fax machine made it pos­si­ble to shave days off receiv­ing a P.O. or send­ing out tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion. I greeted e-mail as just short of mirac­u­lous (at first). FedEx overnight ser­vice was another huge break­through. Now inter­net por­tals allow us 24/7 access to infor­ma­tion and ser­vices. We've come to expect instant access.

    It's easy to for­get that easy access to infor­ma­tion, easy acqui­si­tion of key con­cepts does not mean a per­son knows HOW to do some­thing. Learn­ing takes time; it's a process.

    Your com­ment is very timely. I'm work­ing on a post with a work­ing title: Tech­nol­ogy — Bane or Bless­ing. Any thoughts on that subject? :)

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    Thank you con­cern­ing the won­der­ful information.

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