Using familiar examples to make complex ideas more relatable.
I just got back from keynoting the AICPA & CIMA LEAD Symposium in Atlanta. A BIG THANKS to Max Fitch and Kristin Henry for inviting me to share my story.
I wrapped up my early-morning session by opening the floor for questions. A hand shot up in the middle of the room. Clearly, this gentleman had something important to ask about the deep, insightful, forward-thinking presentation he just experienced.
“Does this mean you’re NEVER going to ride a bike?”
I’m the world champion of Two Truths and a Lie! This game pops up at least once per year, and I have the ultimate list of options to throw down:
I was accepted to Harvard.
I once physically assaulted Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’m a 2-time BMX champion.
Which option do you think is the fabrication?
If you pick #1, you’re saying I’m not smart enough for the Ivy League.
#2 sounds too random to be made up.
Going with #3 challenges my athleticism.
The “correct answer” is #3. I’ve actually never ridden a bicycle. I grew up rollerblading and never had a need for alternative self-propelled transportation. And I don’t count my Peloton as a real bike. I’m sure I could figure out how to ride one, but now I’m firmly committed to the bit. In fact, my lack of two-wheel talent is part of my professional bio. It also inspired one of my favorite L&D analogies.
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Schemas are mental frameworks that we use to organize and understand new information. As we encounter new concepts, they’re integrated into existing schemas. This process helps us make sense of the information by connecting it to what we already know. It also helps us retain and recall what we learn because it’s organized in a meaningful way.
This makes the analogy, or a comparison between two things for the purpose of explanation, a powerful schema building tool. Analogies allow you to leverage the audience’s existing knowledge to help them understand your new idea. A well-crafted analogy paints a clear mental picture. It can also simplify a complex concept by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts.
But you can’t just analogy for the sake of analogy-ing. According to John Pollack and his book Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas, an effective analogy must meet five criteria:
Relevance: the analogy must be closely related to the idea being described and provide a clear comparison
Familiarity: the analogy must be grounded in information the audience already knows
Simplicity: the analogy must be easy to understand and avoid unnecessary abstraction or complexity
Accuracy: the analogy must not misrepresent the idea being explained or include inaccurate comparisons
Novelty: the analogy must be new or surprising to make the concept memorable
I use lots of analogies when telling stories, especially when it comes to big, transformational ideas. Here are quick summaries of my fav four L&D analogies.
Workplace learning is like a good bike. It can get you where you want to go - even through the most uneven terrain. It won’t do the pedaling for you, so you have to put in the necessary effort. Sometimes, when the terrain changes, more effort is required.
You may start out requiring extra assistance (training wheels), but you quickly find your balance and take control over the situation (or at least that’s what I’m told). As you develop and circumstances change, you’ll probably need to replace your bike every now and then to meet your current needs.
Traditional workplace learning is like a well. We ask employees to go to a specific place (classroom, LMS, LXP) when it's time to learn something new. But they can only carry (retain) so much water (knowledge) to bring back to the house (job). Going out to the well is an inconvenience, so people only make the trip when they absolutely must. This means lots of problems that water could help solve don’t get solved.
A modern learning and support strategy is a lot like modern plumbing. The pipes bring the water to the places it's needed throughout the house to solve different problems. Need to clean your clothes? Water shows up in the washing machine. Need to water the lawn? Water shows up through the sprinklers. To provide employees with right-fit support, L&D pros must become better plumbers and foster connections between those who know and those who need.
L&D is a lot like the coyote. He’s always chasing, never quite able to keep pace with his desired goal. He has the best ACME equipment. He has detailed, well-vetted plans. Nevertheless, at the end of every cartoon, he ends up at the bottom of a cliff with an anvil on his head. Then he gets back up, and does it all again … and again … and again …
Find out what L&D can learn from the coyote in The Modern Learning Ecosystem.
I once thought building a career was like riding an elevator. If I pushed the right buttons, I’d climb up and up and up until I got where I wanted to go. But I wasted years pursuing a narrow career path that ultimately didn’t fit. Turns out, moving up isn’t the only way to move forward.
Today’s employees don’t need an elevator. They need a Wonkavator - the opportunity to go sideways and slantways and longways and backways and any which ways they can think to find roles that best fit their interests and capabilities. The traditional career path just can’t keep up with workplace reality. Instead, we must help employees continuously develop their skills so they can seize whatever opportunities may come their way along the ride.
Speaking of the Wonkavator …
In The Know. We’re going FULL WONKA on the next episode of ITK. Lori Niles-Hofmann joins us to explore the importance of continuous upskilling in today’s workplace.
We’ll discuss the shortcomings of traditional career paths and why a skill-based approach is essential to fostering opportunity, staving off disruption and increasing operational agility. And YES, as your guide on this fanciful tour of L&D strategy, I’ll be dressed in full Willy Wonka garb!
Tune in for a scrumdiddlyumptious 25 minutes on Wednesday, March 29 at 1130am ET on LinkedIn Live.
The modern learning mindset.
ATD Webinar. Join me on Thursday, March 30 at 2pm ET for an exploration of the modern learning mindset. I’m partnering with ATD to present a 60-minute webinar featuring some of my favorite ideas from my new book - The Modern Learning Ecosystem.
A company can only transform as fast as people can learn. This session will help you kickstart your L&D evolution and get employees the support they need to do their best work today while building the skills they’ll need to be successful tomorrow.
SPOILER: I’ll be using lots of analogies along the way.
Until next week, be well. JD