Big shifts are an opportunity to do big things.
That’s the optimist point of view on change. But it’s not just a matter of opinion or difference in perspective.
Change happens regardless of our intentions and despite our best efforts otherwise. Change is ignorant of our lifelong hopes and dreams. The world keeps turning, the economy goes up and down and what’s new becomes old. When you look at it with clear eyes, optimism is really the only option. You can’t control many things but you can control how you respond.
That’s not to say it’s easy to be an optimist. In technology and science, it’s fashionable to take the pessimistic view. The evidence is all around. Rather than bring us together, social media has deepened divisions. Artificial intelligence threatens to automate us out of a living.
In corporate learning, new technology is marketed as a way to personalize career development and respond quickly to changing business conditions. Powerful software algorithms crunch data and create sophisticated career plans and learning pathways. But the reality for many is technology is a way to extract cost from the expensive and time-consuming process of developing people. Budgets are always limited and cost pressure never goes away.
The rise of evidence-based practices in corporate learning is undoubtedly positive. A rigorous, controlled and scientific approach rooted in data and fueled by continuous improvement has done more to advance the profession of corporate learning than anything. But pairing that clinical approach with powerful, easy-to-use technology makes it easy to reduce learning to a continuous cycle of skilling, reskilling and skilling again.
That’s shortsighted. Technology can amplify the art of learning, just as much as it does the science. The trick is to seize the opportunity to do things differently.
Take the example of Grammy-winning conductor and composer Eric Whitacre. When a young singer uploaded a video of herself singing one of his compositions to YouTube, he wasn’t simply flattered a fan found his music. He saw an opportunity to combine art and technology to bring people together in a new way.
Inspired by her example, Whitacre uploaded a video of himself silently conducting his composition “Lux Aurumque” and invited the world to sing along. The resulting videos submitted by a group of 185 singers were stitched together to form his first virtual choir. It took off from there. Whitacre’s seven virtual choirs have featured 8,000 singers from 120 countries, earning more than 40 million views on YouTube and performance spots at the 2012 London Olympics, the Kennedy Center and a live virtual choir performance streamed via Skype at the 2013 TED conference.
Some argue live performances have suffered as people opt to stay home and feast on a buffet of high-quality on-demand video and movies. Rather than see that as a threat, Whitacre spotted an opportunity to bring art and technology together.
“Technology tells us who we want to be but art tells us who we are,” he told the audience during his recent keynote at the Association for Talent Development conference in Washington, D.C.
Like singing, learning is a participatory art that is amplified when more people join the chorus. Technology offers the tools to do that in exciting new ways.
To paraphrase Reece Roberson, global head of talent management and learning at Interface, chief learning officers have an opportunity to do big things. After a decade-plus in learning at Home Depot, Roberson gave up the comfort and resources of an $80-billion company to join Interface, the maker of Flor tiles, as a team of one tasked with building a learning culture from the ground up. Why? Because he spotted an opportunity to move from getting stuff done to doing epic stuff, he told the audience at our recent Atlanta CLO Breakfast Club.
It is an exhilarating time for chief learning officers. In many ways, it’s the fulfillment of the original promise of the role as the bridge between the future goals of the organization and the current state of its talent. That vision is often hamstrung by limited budgets, bloated mandates and unclear mission. And sometimes by a failure to dream big enough.
The moment we are in is an opportunity to make that right — if you’re willing to raise your voice.