Bruce Lee on L&D Data

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“I am but a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t look at me; look at the moon.”

Love me some Bruce Lee.

I began this weekend’s mental wanderings with a thought that maybe, just maybe, when it comes to discussions on data the issue may be a “finger/moon” issue. For those not schooled in the ways of Enter the Dragon allow me to bring you up to speed.  In the movie, Sensei Lee is instructing his pupil on kicking.  He is actually exhorting his student for “more emotional content.” Maybe there are future Bruce Lee blog posts coming. Maybe ATD should re-issue this movie with associated CPEs. When he sits down to hammer home the lessons of the day with his student he explains to the student that,

“the finger is useful because of what it points us toward, not as an object of study for its own sake.”

Thanks to FakeBuddhaQuotes.com for the perfect summary. Upon reflection, I am now very convinced we have a finger/moon situation going on. And here is why we should care. The peaceful Essence of Buddhism Blog gives readers the big three reasons not to just look at the finger.

  1. You’ll miss the moon
  2. You think the finger is the moon
  3. You don’t know what is naturally bright (has enlightenment) vs what is naturally dark (lacks enlightenment)

We will leave #3 to others to ponder.  But #1 and #2 need some more time in the dohyō.

The moon is beautiful. Don’t miss it!

How do you know how fast you are going in your car?

How does your car know? Sensor on hub? Sensor on axle? GPS movement? Transferred on a tension wire? Onboard calculation?

Without knowing about “the moon” you can’t validate/invalidate a reading. You can’t know the impact changing out the axle for a thicker one or getting the big rimless tires on the odometer, speedometer and other measures.   And by understanding the moon you are able to draw the connections and queries that lead to actionable insight.

This is where most data conversations get awkward.  Most people don’t know the source data and so the conversation starts to sound like an interrogation.  But it is just genuine curiosity. There is a lot of recent talk about the importance of curiosity. Feel free to get curious and go find some of these great articles.  Scorecards are great but if you don’t trust where the numbers are coming from or don’t understand the calculations used you can’t understand why an initiative may or may not move the needle. The definitions of key data points are often undefined and it is only through this curiosity that the questions that need answers can get needed attention?

Let’s look at a simple question like, “How many FTE did your company have last year?” Answering this question is not as straightforward as it may seem. For example, how does your FTE answer treat elements such as working days per year? (220? Less due to vacation policy?) Hours per day? (8? 6.5?)  Answers to these questions open a range of >23%. in a 10,000 person company that is 2,300 jobs that can make a big impact on any metric.  Now the big moonbeam here is that FTE is part of the calculation of a ton of numbers.  Wherever you see the lovely phrase “per employee” there FTE is, somewhere in the Excel spreadsheet…giving you the finger.

The key to avoiding #1 is simple.  Get curious. Ask questions.  You will be rewarded. And if you are wondering what the answer to the speedometer question is.  Click here.  Warning, the answer is really cool and while it feels a little bit overcomplicated (showing off?) it is still awesome.

“Don’t look at me; look at the moon.”

Ok so let me start this round out by assuming the following:

  • You are not/no longer suffering from #1
  • You are “nice”
  • Your boss is only watching the finger (all she has time for? understanding of?)

Taking #1 off the table saves us a bunch of time. Many New Orleans restaurants/bars have a sign somewhere in their establishment that simply says, “Be nice or leave.”  I agree.  If you want to game the numbers go ahead.  Most good thieves have a deep understanding of the numbers so a slight hat tip to them. But since embezzlement and theft are not nice, they are out.

The last one…I will simply say this.  I get it.  If the finger is my $scorecard$ then yes I will look at the finger. Ignoring this dynamic is not going to help. We are all grown-ups and can talk about this stuff right? I wish business execs all wore their scorecards like handkerchiefs.  I could instantly find business alignment and have an idea of the economics on the business leader’s side.  A high impact learning event delivered in an area that moves a business sponsor’s personal scorecard is more valuable as the one for a non-scorecard business unit. Eye of the beholder and all, it just is.

And then there is 70/20/10

Please reconsider the value of this metric today. Blindly measuring Blend (delivered, available) is not valuable.  Like Malcolm Gladwell’s 100,000 hours, we love clear finish lines.   However, this part of the finger is my nomination for the most gamed stat in the L&D organization. What likely started as a slide to justify the costs of a digital library conversion became an industry gold-standard for a hot minute is pretty amazing.  Someone should do a map of the acceptance of the 70/20/10 concept (google search?) along with Skillsoft stock price. We all get lazy and when everyone is yelling 70/20/10 you know where your safe place is. Sometimes we need to remember that there is a moon out there.

As for re-imagining the stat, with the moon on my mind, here are my thoughts.  It should still be blend but from a learner’s perspective. So typical employee persona (please tell me you have these for your org) is seeing learning from all these channels at this %. The right mix is the one that drive results, just be prepared to defend your mix. By starting from the learner, not the media, we can now follow a valuable path of questioning:

  • How is this mix impacting employee experience?
  • How can mix be improved through scheduling?
  • How does this media mix compare with non-business related learner behaviors?
  • Every channel (online, in flow, etc) should have a channel objectives quant and qual. How are we doing against those channel objectives?

Sensei Lee would say to stay curious about the moon and remember to ask why of the finger.  Crazy uncle Elon would ask if we are prepared for Mars.  I would say that all we need to do is to get the boss curious about the moon.

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