July 22, 2014
ASTD 2014: CLS Reflections

In case you didn’t have a chance to attend, we were “all in” for ASTD this year. We had a booth at the Expo, we hosted a panel discussion at a concurrent session featuring five of our absolute best customers and we sponsored Networking Night at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. We even arrived two days early to participate in a highly enjoyable and productive exchange with our Global Affiliate network. When we returned (and recovered!), we sat down to reflect upon the entire experience. What follows (in no strategic sequence or pre-defined order whatsoever) is a representative sample of those reflections which are intended to provide perspective for those that were unable to make their way to our nation’s capitol earlier this month.

  • In General: Washington D.C. is a fantastic venue and this conference was well-designed, well-managed and presented a wide spectrum of relevant advice, resources and best practices for professionals in the field of talent development
  • Concurrent Sessions: Here are a few that distinguished themselves among our senior instructional design team:
    1. Coaching With the Brain in Mind: This session was delivered by David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute (www.neuroleadership.org): “Net-net” behavior change (e.g., habits) is a function of cognitive regeneration (e.g., insights). As a coach, if you can help someone frame a problem, challenge or opportunity differently, there is a high probability their approach will be altered as well.
    2. Revitalizing Role-Play: This session was delivered by Linda Smith and Dawn Holzer of CaseCards. Bottom line, a meaningful role-play is a function of four, highly interdependent, cascading elements (plan, setup, skill practice and debrief). At the end of the day, it’s all about the quality of the debrief (i.e., “We do not learn by experience, we learn by reflecting upon our experience.”).
    3. Capturing Mindshare With Story Theater: This session was delivered by Doug Stevenson of Story Theater International (www.storytelling-in-business.com): Long story short (no pun intended), emotions are the fast lane to the brain. If you can tell a good story, you can make an emotional connection. If you can make an emotional connection, there is a very high probability your message will be heard (and perhaps even appreciated and acted upon!). Beyond that, all/most good stories have similar structure (characters, the journey, obstacles, resolution, key points/parallels, etc.). As such, even if you are not a natural storyteller, you can become one — or (at a minimum) drastically improve.
  • The Expo: Training professionals are deluged with options  — all kinds of them! The booths at an ASTD Expo feature Ivy League schools, mind gyms, mind games, ladies in mint green pants and creepy guys in furry hats. There are “jump-to-conclusion mats,” online everything, coaching, mentoring and models galore! There’s a wildly diverse gathering of suppliers competing for the attention of a wide spectrum of training professionals. In our view, everyone in our industry should have the opportunity (on a recurring basis) to hit the Expo floor at a conference like ASTD, stand off to the side for a thoughtful moment and think/say something profound like: WOW!!
  • Most Significant Takeaway: There are some legitimate giants in our industry and Elliott Masie is most certainly one of them. His session at ASTD — Big Learning Direction and Big Learning Data — was far and away the “big winner” as far as our senior designers were concerned (see this PDF). As the title suggests, there were two interdependent themes to his presentation:
    1. Where is the Training Industry Headed? The short answer to that question is that we are migrating toward a norm of personalized training that is beyond anything Malcolm Knowles or other early pioneers of adult learning could have ever imagined. Masie used the analogy of television watching to illustrate his point. How did people watch television 40 years ago? (They met in the living room and watched whatever was on.) How do people watch television today? (They pretty much watch what they want, when they want to, wherever they are. They can fast-forward to the end, pause to take care of emerging priorities or rewind a scene and watch it as many times as they feel like watching it.) What did training look like 40 years ago?
      In general, new hires, new managers, etc. arrived at a central location and consumed whatever was being offered at a pace that was dictated by the person in the front of the room. What will training look like moving forward?Again, in general, learning will be increasingly personal.
    2. What is Driving That Direction? Two words: BIG DATA!
    3. This is an excerpt from a recent Fortune Magazine piece on the topic (May 19th):
      • “Companies across industries have always gathered vast amounts of data about their customers. But, only recently have many begun to streamline the analytical processes that accompany all that data. In the case of Cisco Systems, information that once took 50 hours to analyze is now handled in five, enabling executives to zero in on everything from real-time sales figures to the impact of marketing messages”

      Masie is convinced (and the March/April issue of Training Magazine would agree) that training is/will be impacted significantly by “big data” (e.g., access to experts, speed of effectively onboarding, the ability to retain key talent, the ability to identify root causes of complicated issues, etc.). In years past, organizations spent 80% of their time gathering and preparing data and 20% of their time analyzing it. Consider the implications as a training professional if those percentages are reversed (i.e., just-in-time training delivered in alignment with personal need, metrics that assess not only what individual learners are applying on the job, but how effective their next-level manager is in reinforcing what has been learned, etc.).

And, in thoughtful reflection, we say goodbye to ASTD — and say hello to “ATD” (Association for Talent Development). We encourage all to consider attending next year in Orlando. On the heels of our “all in” experience, we are convinced there is something at this conference for everyone!

We are the Center for Leadership Studies … and We Build Leaders™!

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Pencil in ATD in Orlando on May 17-20 in your 2015 calendar; see you there!