Better practice, or, dullards and sense

I came across materials from a training program the other day.   Could have made a great post: these were not just poor materials; they radiated “bad choice” like a four-month-old liverwurst sandwich in the office refrigerator.

I like to rant, but I’m also softhearted.   And I recalled this saying:

Good judgment comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgment.

So I thought I’d reflect on some of my own experience, a good part of which had emerged from (initially) bad judgment.   A dullard is “a stupid or unimaginative” person.   I don’t know what to do about stupidity, but unimaginativeness can be cured.

In fact, the origin of dull is an Irish word for blind — and often I’ve failed to learn (or learn quickly) from the evidence that was available for me.

Take logos in presentations, for example.   This is a bugbear: I’ve never understood why you’d clutter up cognitive real estate with the same image, page after page — much less the same three or four images.   You know the kind of thing: the company logo, two unrelated pieces of clip art, a stock photo of the headquarters building.

I finally learned to cope with the mantra show, don’t tell (off).   I just created my own presentations, mostly with the goal of guiding people while they did something, or else serving as an after-the-fact memory trigger.

I’ve learned over time that I shouldn’t keep too many pets.   I don’t mean the furry, feathered, or finned ones (the critters  lurking in my house are mainly plush dinosaurs), but the favorite games, tame analogies, and other bric-a-brac that trainers tend to drag around like Marley’s chains.

I realize that someone, somewhere on the planet, has not yet seen that connect-nine-dots puzzle that must have been one of the two Noah took on the ark.   (The other, no doubt, was the young girl / old woman illusion.)

A lot of this stuff appears as icebreakers.   When you’re dealing with adults and job-related training, I think you can break ice by having people do things that related to work they want (or need) to get done.

One course I worked on dealt with vendor-managed inventory, a computer system used in warehouses to predict demand and reorder accordingly without having excess stock on hand.   Most people coming to the training had no inventory experience, so there were several concepts that could boost their confidence in (and competence with) the system.

So the “icebreaker” was a brief explanation of about ten terms (“safety stock,” “lead time,” “reorder point”) followed by a hands-on exercise: starting with a given supply of widgets and the day’s sales, figure out when and how much to reorder, every day for ten days.

The first couple of days were hard — not impossible, but they required you to apply the concepts and some rules to a specific situation.   I didn’t care if people “copied” from one another — in this context, that meant you were asking someone what her answer was and how she got it.   By the time you finished figuring the results for day 5 (do you need to reorder? if so, how much?  If not, why not?), you began to understand things like what lead time means (how long it takes from the time you order till the order arrives) — not as a Jeopardy answer, but as part of how you reorder efficiently.

Finally, I recognize that I need to get out of my own way.   On one project involving a complex, customer computer application, the vast majority of the participants had no prior experience with computers.   When we designed the course, we put off-the-shelf software into the first half of the course, with the custom application (still in development) into the second part, schedule for a month after the first.

I was quite pleased — the decision was efficient, and the standard software provided a kind of scaffolding.   When people got to the custom application, they’d be masters at clicking, dragging, using application menus, all that stuff.

I conducted the pilot session for the second part of the course with the same group I’d piloted the first part with.   About halfway through, one guy leaned back in his chair.   I thought maybe the complexity of the new application had gotten to him.   But no…

“Geeze, Dave,” he said, “Why didn’t you teach us this stuff first?”

“This stuff” connected directly to his real job.   The new application was how he’d plan his daily route of store visits, how he’d check the store’s performance, how he’d choose prospects for special promotions, how he’d measure his daily activities.

This was real work, while the word processing and spreadsheets we’d covered were more-or-less nice to know.