LEARN|November 25, 2020
By: D.C. Alves M.Ed., Chief Leadership Officer, ExuLAB
Not everything that matters can be measured. Einstein
In the age of metric obsession, this revelation by Einstein is counter-intuitive to the dominant thinking and behavior we see today in organizations. Data, analytics, metrics- data fluency and having a distinct "data-orientation" are what is valued. All decisions must be "data-driven" and based on data. Data is critical, yes, but CLOs (Chief Learning Officers), is this obsession shrouding our true North Star?
People love certainty and security. Humans erroneously think that data provides this- but does it? What data often provides is a false sense of security. Ouch! No one will dare say this- but it is the truth. Often data is flawed and can be manipulated, exaggerated or bloated to fit a story. I have seen prima facie evidence of this stunning fact. In the majority of cases, learning data can be inflated out of fear or to prove or provide certainty-to prove that dollars spent were worth it- demonstrating strong evidence of ROI (Return on Investment), to prove learner affinity through influenced Net Promoter Scores, to prove online engagement through incongruent corollaries such as completion and click rates and to establish proof of scale without learner quality assurance. While not all data analysis is incorrect or intentionally nefarious of course, it can have an inherent tendency toward manipulation, inaccuracy and influenced behavior which, ironically, nullifies that certainty and security we all crave. Metrics become the obsessive focus of L/D (Learning and Development) and the learner somehow gets lost in the shuffle.
Such stringent adherence to a "data only orientation at all costs" is what I call data absolutism. Data absolutism is dangerous because it funnels thinking and informs action to one way of seeing, thinking, being and doing that can be skewed and inaccurate-consequently ignoring the world of possibility, creativity, innovation and wonder- the world that is uncertain- the world that cannot be measured- the world of solution and of outcome that fails the data world. This world ironically provides that certainty we all crave- for the certainty is not seen in numbers but felt as an inexplicable truth. To be clear, data is not "bad" per se, it is important- I repeat it is important- and can be helpful and should be used to inform determinative action. Not to mention that L/D metrics have now become a regulatory compliance reporting standard for publicly traded companies as the "norm" becomes valuing human performance as part and parcel to corporate vestiture- a whole other topic in itself!
Regardless, it is good, right and responsible to seek the clear picture of what is going on in our organizations- especially from the perspective of the L/D function. This aids in our ability to support organization health and viability moving forward but not to the detriment of the dangers of data absolutism.
I have spoken with many learning professionals and the same theme runs true- they struggle to show "proof of learning"- wasting inordinate amounts of time and money on this square peg round hole scenario. Of course we must assess reasonably, determine if learning is meeting objectives and modify where necessary- but it should be done in various ways. Reporting statistics are one thing but data obsession is another. The push for data absolutism neglects the learner as human. His potential exists in catering to the balance of the metric with the magic. Time should be spent on obsession not with data but with your learner- creating programs, products and services that cater to the balance.
I encourage CLO's to rise above traditional thinking and start the conversation on how to usher in the balance. I encourage CLO's to bring what Einstein has postulated into our learning and development world. It is much needed. Often catering to the balance will offer the solution when traditional methods have failed as we will see in the cases below. The scale has been so tipped in the direction of the metric that we ignore the magic. And it is in the magic that we will grow and evolve the L/D space. It is up to CLOs to usher in the balance. How do you make a case for the un-provable or the un-measurable in your organization? In fact, the old adage in business is that which can't be measured has no value. What missed opportunity. How do you give the balance a voice and value? How do you expand and advance traditional thinking here to usher in new thinking and new possibility toward our true North Star?
Einstein knew something - "not everything that matters can be measured"- we have an obligation as learning leaders to uphold this truth. The world of the non-measurable is uncertain- so it makes sense that people default to the perceived "certain" measurable world. It takes courage to usher in the balance- to go forward into the uncertain world and to guide others safely along the path- it takes real leadership- for it is in this world that the magic reveals newness and fresh limitless success, abundance and prosperity.
The following examples animate the power of courageous learning leadership that catered to the balance- you will see that in the end it was the magic that made all the difference.
Magic that Saves Lives- Despite training, a severe airline ground crew safety issue was repeatedly occurring and required immediate attention and urgent re-skilling. The issue had to do with the necessity and requirement of ground crews to master accurate and safe aircraft pushback. Pushback occurs when the aircraft is beginning its initial departure from the gate. It is critical to get this right for proper and safe gate departure. The ground crew plays a critical role in this operation. The ground teams were consistently missing one critical element of pushback which was causing potential for catastrophic malfunction putting ground crew and aircraft in peril. Despite formal training, and favorable consequent data and analytics on the training- this issue persisted putting ground crew in danger at every pushback. Since traditional training failed and failure was not an option, learning leaders took a courageous new approach and decided to train unconventionally. The goal was to cure this critical element of pushback and to keep ground teams safe. Since the traditional training was not working they abandoned traditional thinking. They opted to incorporate music and emotion to cure this issue and developed training that incorporated a popular Salt-n-Pepa mega-song that created a metaphor for the training safety concept they were trying to cure. This is a true story! And guess what? It worked! The creative, peppy, almost hypnotic beat and emotive nature of the training "stuck" in the minds (creating what I call "strong memory") of the ground teams and, therefore, curing the problem with 99% accuracy. I could imagine the look of colleagues when the learning leaders presented this concept! But they knew the power of catering to the balance. The metric was in service to the magic. They opted to incorporate and champion the magic and as it turned out it was the only thing that worked- and consequently saved lives.
The Magic of the MRI- When children diagnosed with cancer were required to undergo recurrent diagnostic procedural MRIs, the children were petrified and absolutely hated the experience- often not being able to get the test or causing skewed results due to the children moving in the machine and crying. The machine, an austere cream-colored tube, is daunting for children and adults alike. While the machine has a high rate of diagnostic efficacy, the patients did not want to even go near it let alone take the test thus nullifying its apparent efficacy. A team at a premier hospital came up with the idea to create a "spaceship" out of the machine. Training was critical to supporting and enlivening this concept. The team created an environment that utilized vibrant colors and animation that turned the machine into a galactic experience- a "ride" so to speak that the children could go on. The result, children were able to get their tests and even reported that they wanted to go "on the ride" again! The courage of the team to embrace and be open to the magic, especially in such a sterile and serious environment, turned out to be the only reason for success when all else failed.
Magic in Pandemic- During the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was called upon by government to turn the Javits Convention Center in the heart of New York City into a highly skilled and effective but "make-shift” overflow hospital for non-COVID patients. They were literally charged with making a hospital out of nothing! Imagine the task and the high stakes nature and pressure of this herculean effort---and time was of the essence. Upon completion of the hospital, they shared photos of the Javits Center and the newly designed hospital rooms. I was shocked- in a beautiful way. What I noticed was that each room was imbued with- love. Yes, I could feel it. How, under these intensely difficult and stressful circumstances, were they able to create this special feeling in every room? Conventional wisdom would have said to take a very "bare bones" sterile pragmatic approach- an approach that would support basic survival. But the Corps appeared to know the secret of catering to the balance and training each member to execute the same. Even in the midst of chaos, time constraints, fear and extreme high stakes action, in their design, they made sure that each room while highly functional also had something more- a special little living healthy green plant, a fluffy bright yellow cheerful soft blanket and a soothing ambient "home feel" light fixture in the corner. This has stuck with me as a beautiful reminder of the power of the magic which makes all the difference and is the reason for unexplainable success. In the midst of adversity, the secret they knew and the bold courageous action they took created an environment that would positively affect healing for each life that entered each and every room that they created.
I believe that Einstein is begging us as learning leaders to transformative expansion- he is guiding us to our true North Star-to the world where things cannot be measured but really really matter.
Ironically, it is in catering to the balance that you will find the proof of the certainty for which you crave. It is not in the world of numbers but in the felt world you realize that Einstein was right yet again where he teaches us that...
Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.