PRACTICE IS POINTLESS

Practice is pointless unless…

Yes. You read right. Practice is not effective towards mastery.

We have been conditioned to think that practice is the way to mastering something (such as skills) with quotes especially the popular quote “Practice Makes Perfect”. Some people even modified this by changing the word perfect to progress. Yet, both are misleading.

Practice makes perfect

Not many people know that there is a second part to the above quote which will give a hint why the quote is misleading. The second part also gives us the hint towards what is effective.

The second part of this quote was revealed to me by my late mentor, Mark Hemstedt in a Mastery class that he did years ago. He repeated it when I was being trained to train the trainers of the Malaysian National Service. And this concept was again iterated to me by my design mentor Ken Ito when he headed a design team I was in that was tasked with crafting the pre-national service module.

The second part of this quote is better to read with the first part for us to appreciate the whole quote in its entirety. The two-part quote reads; “Practice makes perfect, therefore, be careful what you practice”. 

Practice makes perfect, therefore …

This quote reminds us that there are different types of practice and that not all practice creates the desired outcome (effective). If we practice what is bad, we will then be very good at it while if we practice what is good, we will be good at that. Therefore, the epiphany is that we must be aware of what we are practising.

The awareness concept in practice leads us to the concept that what makes practice effective is not just any practice but it has to be a deliberate practice where we are aware, mindful and conscious that we are practising something. If we are not conscious or not deliberate in our practice, we might very well end up creating bad habits which are not effective.

So, based on this, it is not practice that improves and make us better or get us to mastery but deliberate practice.

In that case, what is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice is a process and takes the form of a loop. In deliberate practice we first must have intent; why are we practising. Next, we must have the action that we are practising; the what. The next step in deliberate practice is feedback from practitioners that appreciates the same distinction and context as what you are practising. Last in deliberate practice is debrief. From the debrief, a new intent is established and the loop continues.

Deliberate Practice The path to mastery

Out of the 4 criteria of deliberate practice, I feel the last two; feedback and debrief needs a little bit of unpacking because the other three seems to be straightforward and self-explanatory.

Let’s now unpack feedback.

The one query I always get is why must feedback be given by those that appreciate the distinction and context of what is being practised? Can’t feedback be given by those that do not have the same distinction and context as you? Of course, you can. However, the fidelity of the feedback is less. The fidelity of your feedback is determined by two factors; the quantity and quality of the feedback. The quantity provides you with the severity or magnitude pointing to a pattern while the quality of the feedback give specificity. The quality of the feedback is influenced by who is giving the feedback. The quality of the feedback increases significantly if the person giving the feedback base the feedback on shared distinction and context. The quality decreases when it is given by someone who doesn’t know or privy to the distinctions and context of the practice.

Feedback Fidelity

Let’s take for example a chef that is trying out a new dish. He can get some feedback from the customer no doubt because ultimately they are the end-user. However, in improving the dish, the chef will have better input if the feedback is given by other chefs. Achieving Mastery of the new dish requires a high degree of feedback fidelity.

A customer might be able to only give feedback that is limited or shallow like nice, delicious, good, I like it etc. However, another chef can elaborate on what is good, what ingredients is missing or need to be enhanced or what is just right. They can even make suggestions of various ways to reach the desired outcome the chef wants from the new dish. There is more depth in another chef’s feedback because they share the same distinction and context of cooking.

Let us now unpack the last criteria; debrief.

The debrief part of deliberate practice follows the conventional, established phases of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle – reflect on the debrief, make sense of them and decide on the next course of action. Once the debrief is done, we then set our intent and the loop of deliberate practice continues until the desired outcome is eventually met.

As we head toward mastery in various areas of our life, we need to remember and apply deliberate practice and not just practice (or even worse – practice for practice sake) so that we can be effective in our journey.

The Nuance of Being a Winner

“Focus on Winning not on Winners” is a saying that has such a profound message about the attitude of winning. 

Why focus on winning and not winners? Is it true that we should not focus our sights on the winner? Are they not what we want to be therefore shouldn’t we focus on them? These are valid questions to ask about being a winner. Let us take a step back and examine what has been the norm and how what we have been exposed to as a culture of winning might have just taken a wrong turn despite the best of intentions.

Now, how many of you, like me, over the years have joined and been part of what is contextually a marketing network? It could be a product or service and I do include insurance and unit trust in this category.

My experience in this endeavour has been a positive one. In fact, in hindsight, I can trace back what I am doing right in terms of competency and maturity having its roots to the days I was involved in Amway. It was my training ground for better things. So this is not about dishing network marketing. I choose it as a prevailing example of good intent taking a wrong turn when it comes to nurturing a winning culture.

So, in network marketing, it is the norm that winners are highlighted and celebrated in a HUGE way. Don’t get me wrong, they should because of what they have achieved. Almost all leaders in this sort of endeavour use these winners as inspiration. Again nothing wrong with this. They should be an example and inspiration. Now, this is where the turn happens.

These winners, unknowing to them, are now not only used as inspiration but also as a benchmark of what is a winner! Therefore, the culture of winning is no longer about winning but is about beating a winner; focusing on the winner rather than the winning itself. Now, inadvertently, winning is about beating or bettering someone else. This nuance is dangerous and base on my experience is a slippery slope that many people do not survive (Notice the no of people dropping from the game).

So, why did this detour happen without leaders realizing it?

Let examine the context of winning. Inherent in the word winning itself, there is a contextual element that has lazily been implemented. The meaning of winning comes with it a connotation of a competition. If it is a competition, then there must be a contest that denotes there is an opponent. If there must be an opponent in a competition for winning to take place, therefore, a least another person must be present and what better way of motivating people to win or creating a winning culture than competing with another winner. Therefore, winning is now being used to mean beating someone else. This is the lazy way of instilling a winning culture and has produced an unhealthy concept of being a winner; in order for me to win, someone needs to be beaten; someone needs to lose.

The above scenario has made wining all about focusing on the winner. However, that is not what winning is all about. 

Yes, winning is about competition but not with someone else. If winning is about someone else, then it is very unhealthy. It is unhealthy because it becomes a destination to reach not a pursuit to undergo. In this winning culture, once you have beaten the other person, the winning stops. Very transactional, not transformational, not continuous.

Winning is about competition with oneself. If this is the context, the opponent is always you. Thus winning becomes a continuous pursuit; a culture. Winning is about setting personal benchmarks and constantly achieving them and repeating the process again. Have you ever wondered why athletes have personal bests? They are obsessed with bettering their personal best; thriving at overcoming self-limits to be a better and best version of themselves. That is what the culture of winning looks like at its best.

If this is the kind of winning culture we have, we are constantly in a mode of improvement for improvement sake. We self-plan, we self-motivate and we keep playing the game for a lifetime. We see it as a never-ending game. Fulfilment is in the pursuit and not achieving a particular destination which by the way is just a fleeting moment.

If we focus on winning, we plan to beat the game. We even go further and invent our own game. If winning is about beating someone, we are not playing our game; we will be playing the winner’s game. We will be to playing someone else’s game. Once we achieve that thing we call a win, everything stops because we have beaten the winner and there is no more game since we didn’t invent the game. The end. How is this empowering?

When winning is about focusing on other winners, people over time get demotivated and eventually drops out of the game. As for those that make it, we have also seen them dropping out once they have achieved a win because they didn’t invent the game that they won thus after winning, they don’t know what else is there. The game has stopped. I am sure leaders in network marketing see this too often. Of course, this is also true in any industry.

Maybe we should start celebrating winning; focus on winning instead of winners if we want to create a sustainable-empowering culture of winning that creates true winners.

Therefore, if you want to build a culture of winning and create perpetual winners, build a culture of focusing on winning not on other winners. Get inspired by other winners, for sure but focus on winning your game and not focusing on beating the winners.

Evolution of A Trainer

aka What does a trainer really need to do nowadays and in the future?

We hear about the buzz of Industry 4.0. Especially for trainers, the question that should accompany this buzz is what are we doing to respond (note the word respond rather than react) to this? We as trainers will also need to evolve because we might still be stuck in a time tunnel not able to grow to what is happening out there.

This was evident when I had a short conversation with someone that is relatively new in training. She actually revealed her lack of understanding of the current state of learning and development when she said learning design is a bonus as a trainer that is a subject matter expert (SME). This is rather sad because this is exactly the time tunnel I was talking about. I say nowadays it takes more than just being an SME to become a trainer; a credible trainer with learning impact that is.

Gone were the days just because you are an SME, therefore you can train. This archaic mindset makes people think training is easy. This mindset is damaging to learning and people development because it disregards the focus on learning and emphasis that learning is all about extracting information from an expert.

I do have compassion for her because she doesn’t know any better and not surrounded by people that know. She jumped into training thinking it is enough to do so just by being an SME. Unfortunately, it takes more than just being an SME to be a credible trainer who is creating a learning impact. At the same time, I am thankful to her because she is a demonstration of what is prevalent out there about what training is. This has inspired me to pen and share my thoughts on the Evolution of a Trainer.

This evolution also is parallel to the evolution of learning & development we are seeing in the workforce. Clients are calling for more innovation in learning to fit to the ever changing work environment such as new generations entering the workforce, decentralisation of the geographical location of work, the speed of business transactions, etc. All these work issues requires different concepts and approaches to learning such as Agile Learning Design, Facilitative Training, Hybrid Learning etc. All these requires learning design. How can we become effective trainers if we are unable to design learning to suit the needs of our audience? There is no separating ‘lagu and irama’. The same applies to training; no separating ‘learning and design’ unless you focus as a trainer is not on learning but on delivering information. If this is the case, there is no room for learning design in training.

Maybe in the future, the word trainer will disappear and what will replace it will be a more appropriate and meaningful term such as a Learning and Development specialist or an L&D Practitioner. This term will truly speaks of the focus of the work we do which is not just in providing learning but also in providing developmental solutions. One thing for sure, the role of a trainer as just a provider of knowledge or even worst the custodian on knowledge is longggggggg gone.

Eight Glimmer of Optimism & Hope in a Field Plenty of P.A.I.N (Pessimism, Anger, Insecurity and Negativity)

-My experience of being vaccinated-

We can’t ignore that the 3rd MCO has brought much PAIN (Pessimism, Anger, Insecurity and Negativity) to all of us, so much so that we find ourselves in a toxic soup. There is no blame here. The situation does warrant such a reaction. Our reaction is indeed predictable based on how we see things. This is the good news and this is also the bad news.

No one is at fault for not being able to see something that is meant to be transparent. We see through our situation because we are in it fully. The is no opportunity for us to step out and neutrally look at our situation from afar. More often than not it is due to practical reasons such as don’t know-how, not enough time, no support system to allow such a thing or simple an ecosystem that doesn’t allow or even worst perpetuate this habit in looking inward.

There are many ways for us to be able to step back, look neutrally at our situation and re-evaluate it. Besides a support system or ecosystem that allows it, one other potent facto to install this stepping back is having new experiences. This was exactly what happened to me recently when I went for my Covid 19 vaccination.

The whole experience was perspective-changing so much so that I left with a general sense of optimism and hope with a generous dash of gratefulness. These feelings are not only the direct result of the vaccine itself but a lot to do with the result of my experience of getting the vaccine.

Firstly the organization and management of the whole experience is not only smooth and well organised but was also pleasant at the same time.

Secondly, the mySejahtera apps is a gem and whoever was involved in developing it must be commended. It created the perfect support for the whole experience. Who says we don’t create great things?

Thirdly, the volunteers were well trained. They were pleasant, empathetic and caring. They see me as a human being who needed support and not as just a number. Who says we don’t have great customer service?

Fourthly, the volunteers were from all walks of life, age groups, profession, race etc. There were represent various branches of the civil service and security forces as well as civilians. Just name a variable, there will be a fit. They work side by side and know what needs to be done. The spirit of Muhibbah and professionalism does exist.

Fifth is the timing is spot on. I arrived at 9.20am for my 9.30am appointment and went through various stations with a 15 mins self-observation at the very end and left the centre at 10.30am. Who says Malaysians are always are sloppy when it comes to time and are always late?

Sixth, Malaysian can queue!!!!! Everyone was patient, courteous and followed instructions to the tee.

Seventh, the instructions were clear and not only the verbal instructions but also the signages and the AV instructions. Who says Malaysians don’t know how to give great instructions?

The eighth glimmer of positivity from the whole experience is the sense of pride that can be felt from everyone in the space; from the police officers outside directing the flow, to the volunteers manning the interviews and briefing, to the medical staff that administer the all-important dose, to the various personalities on the video screens and to the people that came to be vaccinated. This can be seen especially so at the exit with people helping each other to take photos of at the photo opportunity booths; everyone smiling and light.

These are the eight glimmer of optimism and hope that I badly need in this time of P.A.I.N.

I choose to step back and reassess my situation and count my blessings. This doesn’t mean I negate my situation or ignore or even dismiss it or even in denial of it. Actually, I am doing the opposite; I am embracing it fully. Just like cooking; salt and sugar go hand in hand to balance each other.

Let us not be unbalanced and only see and feel the P.A.I.N of situation we are in but also taper it and make it more realistic by also seeking, searching and celebrating those glimmer of optimism and hope in the P.A.I.N of things.

ps: oh yes! The vaccination is FOC. Who says nothing is for free?

“It is not the WHAT. It is the HOW that matters.”

– My sense-making of a current unsavoury issue –

“It is not the WHAT. It is the HOW that matters.” is a saying that I have heard throughout my life, becoming more and more frequent when I got into training. But what does it really mean? How does this simple enough saying can make sense of what just happened recently with the debacle of one particular politician cum non-executive chairman of a local GLC?

This particular situation, the unfolding of events in this unpleasant issue is in fact the perfect backdrop to appreciate the above saying. Let’s first examine what it really means?

The WHAT in this saying refers to the message, the intent or let’s generalize it as the content of what is to be said or done. The HOW in this saying refers to the mechanism, the way or what was done to deliver the message, the intent or the content.

Let’s take communication as an example. The WHAT could be apologizing while the HOW is what was said to convey the apology. In training, the WHAT is the intent to make improvement and the HOW is the way the feedback is given. In parenting, the WHAT is to make the child realise it is a dangerous act while the HOW is the way it was delivered.

For me, contextually, the WHAT is the transaction while the HOW is the transformation.

Now, is it true the WHAT matters less than the HOW? This question has bugged me for a long time. Isn’t the message important? How can the HOW be more important when the HOW doesn’t exist if the WHAT is not there in the first place? Well, to me, inherent in the saying is an assumption that the WHAT has been determined and now the time has come to ensure the HOW carries the WHAT. That is why the HOW now matters since the WHAT is handled. What is not being said is that, just because your WHAT is handled, you don’t need to care about the HOW.

Now let’s examine the HOW of the WHAT. Remember, that the WHAT has been determined since without the WHAT handled, the HOW does not come into play.

So, why is the HOW so important to the WHAT? Well, remember about the WHAT being transformational? That is why the HOW is so important. It is because the HOW is the conduit or tool that affects the receiver of the WHAT. Without an effective HOW, the WHAT doesn’t land of effects the receiver the way the WHAT is intended.

Another factor is that the HOW is directly connected to the attitude, being, worldview and mindset of the source. It is through the HOW that people are affected or transformed.

People as the receiver gets the WHAT pretty straightforward because it is transactional in nature. However, the characteristic and personality of the WHAT is determined by the HOW it was delivered (the transformational part of the equation).

Let’s take an apology as an example of a WHAT. We get the message that it is an apology yet because of the HOW the apology is delivered, we feel (the transformed bit) it is not sincere or even serious because the apology is done (the HOW) nonchalant, as a matter of fact, condescending and comical. To make it even worst, the HOW reflects the character of the person delivering the apology. IT speak about him being insincere, indifferent and void of empathy because a person that is sincere and empathetic doesn’t behave in such a way thus will deliver the apology in an empathetic and sincere way.

When there is incongruence between the WHAT and the HOW the WHAT suffers; the message doesn’t come across well and the intent is not reached. That is why the HOW matters once the WHAT has been determined.

Therefore, to now be specific, the termination of his Chairmanship is not about the message he delivered but his character is not befitting of the situation and of leadership. I dare say, the way he delivered the apology has demonstrated his truest character; an arrogant-unempathetic person. He is terminated for being bongkak; that is actually what it was, nothing more, nothing less.

It is a reminder for me to be wary of not only WHAT I am delivering but also HOW I am delivering it since the people are affected not just by the WHAT but also by the HOW. The congruency of the HOW to the WHAT is important.

Choosing A Client

Doing presentations to potential clients is part and parcel of being a freelance trainer. The conventional view says that it is at this occasion that the client will evaluate or assess your training proposal. I beg to differ. I believe there is no way a training proposal can be assessed well on that occasion and I believe the client know this too. This is done and should be done before the presentation. In that case, why the presentation?

The occasion is actually an opportunity to size you up; to have a feel of who you are and what you are all about. It is to assess and evaluate you as the provider. The technicality of the training is already done prior to the presentation.

Because the context of the presentation is assessment or evaluation of you, it is no wonder that it can be nerve-wracking especially when we are in need of work.

Intuitively, I have always felt there is more to this for us trainers.

As time goes by, I realised that these occasions are not only an opportunity for us to be assessed but also for us to assess the client! Yes. It is also our right as much as the client’s to do our due diligence whether the client is someone we want to work with or not.

I notice that this context changes my level of confidence and certainty as a solution provider during these sessions. Automatically, the nerve wrecking-ness of the situation disappears and a new sense of purpose emerges. At the same time, I see these sessions as a sharing session to look for a certain type of client that we want to work with.

This new situation immediately begs an answer to the question “What are the various types of clients to choose from?”.

Based on our experience, we came up with a matrix describing various types of clients.
On the x-axis is L&D Practitioner. The L&D Practitioner label indicates how much of an L&D practitioner is the client. This includes the client’s depth of knowledge, competency and practice in L&D. The further to the right, the more of a practitioner the client is.

On the y-axis is Autonomy. This alludes to how much autonomy does the client give us to design, develop and deliver the work. Does the client allow us, as a solution provider, the freedom to advise and suggest the most appropriate and effective solution for their needs? This particular element has a direct correlation to other elements such as trust, certainty and vulnerability level of the client.
This matrix gives us 4 types of clients. All the quadrants are eligible to be chosen; not one is better than the other. It all depends on your preference.

Each quadrant has its very own personality. The key for us as a provider is to be aware of what we are getting into when we choose a certain type of client because each one has their very own expectation of us.

My favourite clients are the partners; MUTUAL partners and TRANSFORMATIONAL partners.

A MUTUAL partner is a partner-client that adds value to what you are doing. They are committed to co-create with you. Both your and the clients enrich one another throughout the relationship. For me, these partner clients are a joy to work with.

A TRANSFORMATIONAL partner is a partner-client that have a high level of trust in your ability to lead the project. They are also hungry to learn and transform from the relationship they have with you. They are there throughout the journey learning and contributing as we go along. For me, these partner clients are the most rewarding to work with. In the long run, eventually, they will become a MUTUAL partner.

A COMMENSAL client that knows what they want and that is all there is to it. You as a provider is just there to carry out their agenda the way they want it. There is no room for innovation or creativity what more experimentation in the work. This would be the ideal client for trainers that provides off the shelf solutions; a one fit all type.

A TRANSACTIONAL client more often than not has a lower level of commitment to the effectiveness of the solution. They are more interested in you conducting the program and finishing it. As long as you do what is deem to be needed is all that they care about. They are all about getting it done. Again, this would be ideal for trainers who are not really focused on learning impact and are looking for one-off gigs.

The question “How do you choose a job?” has been asked of me a couple of times. My answer has always been “Depends on whether we like the job and the client or not.” For us in neOOne, being selective of our clientele and the job is fundamental. It is important for us to be vested in the work more than just delivering it. We want to be able to create an impact and feel proud of what we are doing. However lucrative or easy the job is, if it is not going to create impact and leave a sense of pride, we will not take it. We also want a client that can be a partner to us; enriching each other along the way in all aspects of the work.

Each to his own is what I would say. Choose your job and client wisely because we do not have endless work to do. There is only so much work we can handle. Therefore, isn’t it prudent for us to be selective in what we spend our time with?

If a human is a sum of all his experience, then a training provider is a sum of all his work and clientele.

Criteria in Choosing Trainers

How to Choose A Trainer?

A perspective of a practitioner.

Recently, I have gone through an intense period of mentoring trainers from various level of experience. Many of the newer ones have one thing in common, which is the curiosity on how to position themselves and what game to play in the L&D eco-system.

These curiosities, for me, point to the desire to know what it takes for clients to choose them over another. The simple question that needs to be asked is “How do people choose trainers?” This question was a fundamental question Yasmin & I asked ourselves at the inception of neOOne. It is also a topic that I have always wanted to share.

This question of “How to choose a trainer?” was pivotal for us because the answer will lead us to know how to design ourselves so that we become the best choice for our learners. We came up with these criteria based on our own experience, understanding of the landscape and feedbacks from stakeholders. Albeit all these inputs were rather limited at that time because we were new, yet we knew we had to start somewhere. The criteria were rather short and over the year has been edited it as we grow in the industry as providers as well as a consumer.

The latest criteria we came up with has grown over the years. One of the main input to the criteria was our own experience as learners attending various training and workshops. We become a good consumer of our own industry for a couple of reasons namely:

  • Practicing integrity – how can our conscience be clear if we promote people to learn and preach people to learn and benefit from people learning when we ourselves are not?
  • Staying ahead of the curve – with the fast pace of L&D, staying relevant what more staying at the tip of the spear, a passion for life-long learning for us to acquire more knowledge, new insight and competencies.
  • To be a server of value to our learners – how can we serve left-over learnings? Just like food, should we be serving fresh and healthy food? In L&D to truly be in service of learning, we need to constantly learn and innovate our offerings. Our mentor, Gail Heidenhain, is fond to remind all of us, Accelerated Learning practitioner, that we are running the same content 2 years in a row, we are not doing justice to our learners. This trend we also see in many of our idols such as David Sibbett, Kelvy Bird, Capt. Dr. Shan etc.
  • To support our peers – we feel as a collective, the best way to support one another in this industry is to be the best learner for our peers. As the saying goes, treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • To benchmarking ourselves – being scrutinized is a good thing. Unfortunately, there are not outlets we can utilise to scrutinize our very own training. That is why it is important to have a community of practice that can do this for us. Another easier way is to attend other training & workshop to self-benchmark ourselves in terms of content, design, delivery and engagement.

In addition to our own experience as learners of our industry, a few months back, I made a small survey among my peers in L&D to find out their criteria in choosing a trainer to learn from. The finding validates what we have suspected and at the same time game a delightful surprise that many practitioners out that also share most of our view.

Below are the criteria for choosing a trainer and we have abbreviated them to 6Ps. Mind you, these 6Ps are not arranged in any particular order of importance. In fact, to us, all the 6Ps weigh the same; they have to be considered in choosing process.

6Ps in Choosing a Trainer

  1. Pedigree of Learning – This goes beyond just the qualification of the trainer. It also involves the origin of their learning. As a personal choice, I would want to learn from the authority or the original source of the learning. For example, in the subject of presencing, The Presencing Institute or Otto Sharma is recognised as an authority. I would want to learn from him or from someone who has leant it from him. If I can’t get to the source, I would learn from a person that is as near to the authority as possible. For me the purity of the learning is important; how genuine is it. In my bucket list, there are a few more people I want to learn from such as David Kolb for Experiential Learning, Peter Senge for Organizational Learning & Systems Thinking, Otto Sharma/The Presencing Institute for Presencing etc.
  2. Practitioner – I would draw the line and not attend training that is not conducted by a practitioner. I want to learn from people who have practised what they preach. There are two types of practitioners; a past practitioner and a present practitioner. A lot of us put emphasis on past experience but thinking slightly more, a present practitioner is a better candidate, especially if the past practitioner has left practice for some time. Learning leadership from someone who has not lead is a big NO NO. Given the choice learning leadership from someone who used to be a leader is far different from learning from someone who is currently leading a team. Therefore, my preference is for a current practitioner.
  3. Process of Learning – This is pertaining to the design of the workshop or training course. If the training is to provide certification yet there is no robust assessment process, this is to me is highly dubious. I am also rather suspicious of training that promises loads of content in the shortest time possible. Again this will reflect what type of learning design is being used which might lead to the notion that it is not effective due to maybe too much downloading and too little wisdom & practicum. A training course that offers multiple certifications in a short period of time is another example of a process of learning that warrants a further investigation on the quality of the training. Mind you, learning is not just base on the content delivered but also equally important is the mechanism or process of learning that infused the content within the learner.
  4. Perceived Value – Common convention will dictate that we look at pricing as one of the criteria. I must admit that pricing was a criterion that we looked at, in the beginning of our journey. However, along the years as well as through the survey that I did, it is actually not pricing that people look for but the perceived value of what you are offering. Perceived Value is defined as the customers’ evaluation of the merits of a product or service, and its ability to meet their needs and expectations, especially in comparison with its peers. This is actually what matters. Don’t just automatically go for a cheaper option and dismiss the more expensive offering. Ask yourself why is the price low? Choosing the cheaper one over the more expensive one will only work with the assumption that what is offered is of equal standing. However, we know very well that it seldom happens. I find asking what is missing such that the cheaper one is cheaper help my decision making. This is a better way of thinking versus the assumption that the cheap and the expensive have the same offering. There must be a reason why they are priced differently. Could it be because the trainer is not familiar with the topic, not enough experience and wisdom in training or subject, dated content, not a practitioner, the learning process is outdated, no customization of training design etc?
  5. Performance – In this case, a track record of training is important and I am not even eluding to just the number of training they have done but also who and how many their clientele. Again in terms of clientele, more doesn’t necessarily be better. This is an age-old argument of quantity vs quality. Let take an example of a trainer that has been engaged by a few clients multiple times for over 3 years versus a trainer that has trained a lot of clients but only once? Which might indicate quality? Well, some might argue this is not possible for all subject matter because of certain subject matter is just impossible to have repeat roll-out. Granted. This is the precise reason why just looking at clientele as a gauge of performance is not the best approach. References are a great way to overcome this. Scrutinizing the trainer’s track record is also another excellent way. One other way that I would caution about is the trainers rating based on feedback as an indication of performance. This is because it all depends on the feedback matrix used. If the rating is based on feelings – we call it a smiley sheet (Kirkpatrick Level 1) – then it is a poor indicator of performance.
  6. Personality – This might be trivial to some but not to me. The trainer’s values and demeanour are also important to assess. Is he someone respected by his peers, does he contribute back to the learning community, is he easy to work with, how is he conducts himself etc. all this indicates if I can work with the trainer or not. Doing some research in social media can provide you with some indication of his personality such as his activities in the social space, his point of view of current affairs, his philosophy about learning etc. Increasingly, I find clients mined social media such as Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram to understand the trainer better. I personally find my learning is better and deeper when I have a trainer that has similar values as I do. The spirit of the subject is easier to be understood and examples give sync with me.

These criteria of course will only kick in once we are clear we want to learn a particular subject. That is why I did not include the subject as one of the criteria because this condition is a prerequisite. If we are not out the learn something, then this criteria is irrelevant.

For some of us that read this article might find the criteria rather daunting and I must admit it is because the seriousness of growth warrants it. These criteria can be seen as a barrier or as a challenge to aspiring us. Even at this level itself, we already can distinguish a serious practitioner that is committed to his craft or otherwise. Are there ways to hack these criteria? There is and that will be the topic of a future article J. Regardless of whether we are applying a hack or not, the game is still a marathon, not a sprint.

It is my wish to be able to write more in-depth on each of the criteria to give us L&D practitioner more distinction in designing ourselves to be the best nurturer of people’s growth. Maybe the day will come when we are truly seen to be an unconditional nurturer of learners where we put them at the front and centre of our being.

Mistakes Are Not Learning

We hear this very often; Mistake is an opportunity to learn. However, this quote is incomplete because as you read it, the automatic understanding is when we make a mistake, we actually learn. It is as if the act of making mistake makes us learn. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. There is actually a process that we need to take the mistake through in order for it to be a learning. This is why a lot of our mistakes goes wasted because we don’t take those mistakes through the process needed for learning to emerge.

The process can be remembered by its acronym M.A.R.A.A. The pronunciation of this acronym sound similar to the Malay word mara which means moving forward; how appropriate J So, what does this acronym stands for? The poster below gives you the answer.

Let us now unpack each step of the process to appreciate this process.

ADMISSION is the second step and it is a crucial step because this is also the hardest step. Plenty a time we feel we have made a mistake yet we do not admit it. We brush it aside, sweep it under the carpet in hope we are not reminded of the mistake so that we can go on. This could be because of ego, shyness etc. Without us admitting that it was a mistake, we would not acknowledge its existence and more importantly we might not surrender to the fact that it was a mistake. This eliminates our ownership of the mistake such that we will be reluctant to embrace and study it which is needed in the third step.

MISTAKE is the start of this process. What is a mistake? A mistake is an act or judgement that didn’t produce the desired result. The mistake is not immediate a learning yet if we do not take it to the next step. 

REFLECTION is the third step. In this step, we will need to have the strength to look back at the mistake, however painful it is. That is why we need to admit it first. Here, we look at the event or series of events leading to the mistake. In a nutshell reliving it. That is why courage is needed in this process. It is important to stay neutral during this reflection so that we see the whole picture. Again admission helps in doing this. As we reflect neutrally, new data points will emerge to give us better all-round sense of what has happened. It is important for us to scan this mistake for us to be able to move onto the next step.

ANALYSIS is the fourth step in this process. What analysis? Analysis is a detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. Taking the data points available from the reflection, we now look at a couple of elements such as:

  • what elements were ‘right’ or effective and why it was so
  • what elements were ‘wrong’ or ineffective and why it was so
  • why did it happen the way it happened
  • what were the underlying factors that made it the way it was.

The above can also be called sense making. With these analysis we will than make some conclusions. This fourth step is where the learning emerges. However, it is still not truly a learning until we do something about it which is the last step in the process.

ACTIONING is the fifth and last step in the process. We than need to create some action to rectify or create a new path to result from the conclusion.  When this is done and we get the desired result we were aiming for, only then can we truly say the mistake is a learning for us based on the new result that we have created which is one that we desire.

In conclusion, mistakes are only learning if we embrace it, make sense of it and create a new reality from it. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat it and not be able to create a new reality; a desired one.

IT IS A MATTER OF CLARITY IN IDENTITY

“If you want to create clarity and be more empathetic, engage in a conversation.” This was exactly what I did yesterday in a Clubhouse conversation concerning the recent issue embroiling the L&D fraternity. Thank you Johan Irwan Kamarozaman, Bavani Periasamy, Jegatheeswaran Manoharan, Capt Shan Moorthi, Datuk Vicks dan Rajesh Shivanand Wadhwani (those that I know) that were there sharing authentically their POV.

As I listen to the other speakers and myself share, it suddenly dawned on me that our identity dictates our action and how others respond to us. If we are not clear of our identity or the identity of the person we are engaging with, this is where the breakdown happens. On the surface, the breakdown seems to be the result of actions taken. However, I see the breakdown happens so much earlier because the actions that are taken and the reactions resulting from those actions are just a manifestation of an earlier breakdown; unaware or refusal or confusion of identity.

Let’s take the recent ruckus of HRDF charging a service fee of 4%. The unhappiness came from two fronts; the charging itself and the ‘haste’ or unilateral decision HRDF made in implementing it. Now to some, this is unfair. How can they charge us 4%? Are they not thinking about us? So unfair. Why do they need 4% anyway, etc, etc,etc? The actions of HRDF is incomprehensible to some because their actions are contradicting their identity and anytime this happens, even in our natural life, confusion happens, emotions go haywire.

Let’s take a step back and examine what identity are they operating from such that they ‘sampai hati’ took the actions and decisions. If their identity is that of a Government agency, then I would say YES, their actions and decision are not aligned to a Government agency that is meant to ‘jaga rakyat’, develop the eco-system in a manner that is collaborative and empathetic. However, this is not the case. This has been highlighted by the COO of HRDF himself, within their ‘akta’ and last night was again pointed out by ex-HRDF CEO Datuk Vicks. This is nothing new. It has been there all the while.

HRDF is a company limited by guarantee. They are to operate like any company. The main differences are that they can’t make a ‘profit’ and their shareholder is the government. The salary and operations of HRDF are not paid by the Government. Their staff are not Government Servants therefore not the Rakyat’s employee. Within this identity, they have every right to do what they did. Imagine your company, own by you, decides to increase your rates or charge a fee for a certain service. Isn’t it within your right to do so without the need to consult others? Of course. Now, is that prudent and good practice? I would say no. But that is beside the point. The point is, it is the right of a company to do so.

The confusion of this identity stems from the fact that HRDF as a company, have decided to engage the training providers in their conversations. This is nothing new. This has been done even during the time of Datuk Amiruddin. His time being the CE was my entry point dealing with HRDF. Therefore, that is my earliest reference. This practice has continued over the years with other CE such as Datuk Vicks and the current CEO, Datuk Shahul. This is where we as L&D practitioners ‘kena sedar diri’. This practice is not a must. It is a courtesy they have decided to support the eco-system. We the L&D practitioners have to realise we are what is called secondary stakeholders. This is another breakdown in identity on our part. I have heard personally from HRDF years ago and from then on have repeated it many a time to others that HRDF priority is to the employer who is their main stakeholders not to us the trainers. Their loyalty lies with the employers; they take care of the interest of the employers. Again this is understandable given their identity as a company. Again is this prudent practice? And again this is not the issue. “What is a right? “and “What is the best practice?” are mutually exclusive. This is just like “What is legal?” and “What is ethical?” are two different things.

Now, why is the clarity of their identity and our identity is important? Well, it is important because this clarity allows us to respond accordingly. We can now respond to HRDF as we respond to any company. Let’s be clear and treat them like a company. If we feel they are not transparent, treat them as a company. If we think what they are doing is not legal, treat them as a company. Can we dialogue with them as a company, of course, we can but don’t expect the same result of having a dialogue with the government. A case in point. It is my practice that when a government agency makes a request for training or a speaking engagement, I will lower my fee or even give it for free because the nation-building agenda is heavy with them. Now since HRDF is a company, I shall charge my corporate rate. I will not budge. Why must I? It is within my right to do so. If they disagree, well, they have every right to look for another trainer or speaker.

The same principle should be applied TO HRDF just like when we are dealing with companies out there. If I feel McDonald’s is not giving me what I want, I can complain or make a request for a dialogue with them but I am clear that the outcome is not the same as me having a dialogue with the government or my employees. If I am not bothered to do so, I stop going to McDonald and go to Burger King instead. This is our right to respond to another company. It is that simple.

Imagine I am not happy with my paper supplier because he hiked his price, I can complain and request for the old price, knowing full well that my supplier has every right to not grant my request. If that is so, I can now decide to stay with that company or choose another one. It is my supplier’s right to not reduce his price and it is my right to look elsewhere for a better deal. Is it prudent of my supplier to do so? I say no because eventually, he will lose a lot of credibility and business. However, if my supplier is the only supplier of paper, he will not care and I need to live with it and be creative to deal with the hike in price that he decided to do.

So in that case, what can I do? A few things I can suggest:

  1. Don’t use paper; go paperless
  2. Use less paper
  3. Complain to the power-that-be that this needs to be looked at
  4. Find an alternative to paper so that I can continue doing what. I am doing as effective as not having paper. Meaning the absence of paper doesn’t disrupt me
  5. Be a paper supplier

My parting words are, as we are clear of each other’s identity, empathy comes in and our response moving forward is also clear. No more being a victim of the situation. What a relief.

The Tale of Two Bananas

Deep in the jungles of Borneo, there is a pristine valley. The valley is surrounded by high mountains inaccessible to other animals of the jungle what more humans. That is why this valley is unexplored by humankind. It is so secluded that it has its own micro-climate and flora and fauna. In this valley, the most dominant of the animals were the monkeys. There were two types of monkeys in this micro-ecosystem; the brown-faced monkey and the pale-butt monkey.

In terms of population, the pale-butt monkeys are eight times more than the brown-faced monkeys. Character-wise, the brown-faced monkey is quiet, thoughtful, observant and industrious while the pale-butt monkey is the showman of the valley – flamboyant, convincing, highly energetic and always in a hurry. With such contrasting characteristics, there is bound to be one that is admired above the other; albeit slightly.

The pale-butt monkey is the life of the party; everyone loves them. They are great public speakers and showmen. A natural entertainer, the valley animal folks love them. They are popular while the brown-faced monkey is revered silently by the valley animal folks.

The monkeys’ favourite staple was yellow bananas. They are tasty, easy to find and in abundance; in fact overflowing. That is why it is their favourite especially for the pale-butt monkeys. Since they are very busy strutting around, they have very little time to be bothered to look elsewhere for food.

In the valley, there was only one place that the bananas grew; in a piece of land between the waterfall and the rapids. This is where you will be able to meet all the pale-butt monkeys, especially during meal times.

This is not so for the brown-faced monkeys. Even though some of them do eat the yellow bananas, the majority of them prefer to travel a little bit further up a hill where there are delicious red bananas. These red bananas are definitely more tasty than the yellow ones however takes slightly more effort to peel. This factor added to the travel time to get up the hill makes the red bananas undesirable to the pale-butt monkeys.

As the story goes, one fine day, without warning, without fanfare, a terrible foul-smelling mustard coloured haze swept down the mountains and engulfed the whole valley. No one knows where it came from. It is the first time ever such a haze descended upon the pristine valley. For two days and two nights, the valley was wrapped in this terrible mustard haze.

Even though it is unpleasant to the nose, it did not bring with it an obvious side effect; so we thought. However, the animal folks of the valley decided to keep themselves indoor fearing that being exposed to such a haze might jeopardise their health.

After two days, the haze lifted and the valley once again was back to its normal pristine, fresh and green self. Once the haze has gone, the monkeys came out and made a rush to their favourite yellow bananas. Once there, they ate till their heart content and enjoyed the chance to play along the riverbank.

Things were the same the next week. On the eight days of the departure of the haze, the monkeys notice that the banana trees are not flowering and bearing fruit fast enough.

Among the pale-butt monkey, this did not raise any concern. However, the brown-faced monkey saw a similar trend among the red bananas as well and this concerned them. They tried to warn the pale-butt monkeys about being more concern about the situation and start making plans in case the yellow bananas cease to bear fruits.

The pale-butt monkeys decided that the situation is temporary. Why panic? Chill and let’s wait and see what happens. Most probably, things will return to normal. That was the strategy the pale-butt monkey settled upon.

The brown-faced monkey didn’t subscribe to that strategy. They begin to look around by sending scouting parties all over the valley observing what was happening elsewhere. Upon the return of the scouting parties, the brown-faced monkey decided to seek a more stable source of food.

One of the scouting party has reported that they heard that a new breed of red bananas is growing at the top of the mountain. This was reported by the doves because they were the ones who saw it flying over the mountain into the valley.

The brown-faced monkey shared this finding to the pale-butt monkeys yet it fell on deft ears. Excuses they hear from the pale-butt monkeys are like it takes too much effort for just a banana, even though it is a red delicious banana. Another popular excuse is that it takes too long to climb the mountain just to eat. Might as well wait at the yellow bananas. There is also the excuse that they don’t know how to get there and that they are monkeys and are not equipped to hike up mountains. And the most famous excuse of all; why would I spend the energy from the yellow banana to go find a red banana. Many of the pale-faced monkeys even laughed at the brown-faced monkeys for wanting to harvest the red bananas up the mountain.

With that snub, the brown-faced monkey set in motion their plan to increase their food resource. They started by gathering intelligence and confirming the existence of the red bananas on top of the mountain. The search yielded proof that not only red bananas were up the mountain, but they are also of a hybrid that is resilient to the mustard-haze, full of nutrients, easy to grow and very delicious!

The brown-faced monkeys seek the help of the mountain goats to teach them how to hike up the mountain, the dove for navigation lessons, the wild boar for trail building and the buffalo for stamina and strength lessons.

They also hired the beaves, paying them with red bananas to relocate their home from the hills of the red bananas to a place nearer to the mountain so that they are ready to hike the mountain anytime they need to.

In the meantime, the pale-butt monkeys looked at the efforts of the brown-faced monkeys and continued mocking the idea of going for the red bananas on the mountain.

Days go by and weeks goes by. Suddenly, one day, a heavy downpour descends onto the valley. This is indeed a rare occasion because even though it rains in the valley, but the rain is always small; can also be described as drizzles.

Right after the rain, the yellow bananas grew in abundance to the delight of the pale-butt monkeys. This became the brunt of the teasing of the brown-faced monkeys by the pale-butt monkeys. The brown-faced monkeys were not deterred. They kept to their plan.

Alas, the false fortune of the pale-butt monkeys did not last. After two months, the yellow banana yield decreases tremendously, almost to a nought.

By now, the brown-faced monkeys have established their home in between the hill and the mountain; enjoying the red bananas of the mountain.

I wonder what will happen to the pale-butt monkeys in the months to come?

Current news: Till today, the pale-butt monkeys are still waiting at the yellow banana trees hoping, praying and waiting for the heavy rain to come again or the yield of the yellow banana trees will return to normal.