December 12, 2013
I had dinner recently with my friend, a visionary, dynamic, nationally known leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. Weíve worked closely together in the past but hadnít seen each other for a couple of years. We sat looking at the New York skyline and caught up on the basicsófamily, work, the economy. He beamed with pride when he told me about his young grandson, the big apple of his grandfatherís eye. His grandson, 4, is already using computers, tablets and other devices to read, learn, communicate and entertain himself. Then we started talking shop. My friend is charged with building a global human resources strategy for a world renowned firm. Weíve always had vigorous debates and neither one of us backs down. We agree on a lot and disagree agreeably. He told me about advances his firm is making in learning: There are now multiple delivery platforms that can give leaders information on any topic. They can see learning modules on how to hire and engage new employees; there are avatars that can be readily adapted to simulate situations in different nations and cultures where the themes are the same but the settings, accents and demographics of the learners are different. He has always been able to see into the future and told me this way of learning is the next wave hitting our workplace shores now. Heís right. We get knowledge now like airóitís everywhere, and we expect it to be just as accessible. There are multiple apps for learning and completing just about every task. Iíve been learning this firsthand on my iPad and iPhone. But then a thought hit me. My good friend is right, but there is something missing. As I have written elsewhere, the learning is useful only if it is important to the learner and, for some of our toughest lessons, who delivers the lesson is the key. As we watched the sun set, I asked my friend, ìTell me, what apps are you going to use to teach your grandson to be kind, ethical, decent and honorable, just like you? Where are you going to find the app for that?î He paused. He looked me dead in the eye. What he said hit the mark: ìIím the app. Thatís my job. I am the app.î And thatís the point. Some lessons, especially those dealing with how we act and apply values, have to be delivered by the right instructor; the ìlearningî platform must be direct, human and credible. Thereís no technology, no interactivity and no clever avatar that can replace the power of a grandfather saying to his grandchild: This is important. I want you to remember this. Hereís a lesson youíve got to learn to live and work by. One of our strategic challenges is to figure out which lessons must be delivered like this to have a lasting impact. Thatís not the same question as asking, ìWhatís the most rapidly deployed or immediately accessible way to transmit information via the latest technologies?î Sometimes, like my friend, we as leaders must say, ìI am going to deliver the messages that matter.î There will be constantly developing new ways to reinforce these messages. We will and must use them. But some lessons have to come from me, or us, in real time first, to be heard, understood and applied. For those vital lessons, Iím the app.† Stephen Paskoff is president and CEO of Atlanta-based ELI Inc., a provider of ethics and compliance learning solutions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.