David Hutchens

Sometimes the Barrier to New Skills is the Cost of the Tools.

That’s one reason why I’m a terrible snow skier. (Or maybe it’s just an excuse.) When I evaluate the cost of the travel for my family of four, plus the lift tickets and everything else, the price for mastery is prohibitive. My motivation to increase my family’s capability in skiing is not sufficiently strong enough to balance the steep entry fee. As a result we remain forever tethered to dry, warm ground.

I’ve seen the same scenario play out for my organizational partners who feel the urgency for increased coaching skills among their workforce. Have you ever purchased coaching training? It’s worse than lift tickets. Coaching training almost always requires role-playing. And that requires a lot of warm bodies and man-hours to create and execute the simulated conversations. Coaching becomes a back burner, nice-to-have while the organization pursues more urgent learning priorities.

There are options. I recently had a compelling experience with an online coaching simulation. It blew my mind.

You should check it out, too. It’s a demo of a new simulation Blueline is rolling out this month: PeopleSIM™: Coaching and Performance Counseling.

I logged in from the comfort of my desk, and was introduced to Brooke Learner, one of my virtual direct reports. Logic told me that she was simply an actress captured on video, whom I was now watching on the screen. But the algorithms that dictated her responses to my coaching interventions were realistic to the point of being bizarre.

“I notice that you talk a lot during meetings,” I told the young woman onscreen, who had been sitting there blinking, looking at me, awaiting my coaching.

Immediately Brooke became defensive: “Well, I’m the only one who is contributing anything in meetings. Everyone else is quiet! So I guess you don’t want my ideas?”

Oops. This is not going well, I thought. Now the conversation was off on the wrong foot, and it would be difficult to recover. My mind raced with other prompts I might have used to frame this coaching conversation. Brooke sat there staring at me, awaiting my next brilliant intervention.

It felt real.

As vivid and engaging as this experience was, what was most interesting was what was not there. No training breakout room. No “real” person to step into the role of actor. No need to create a script or build anything. Brooke was ready to go. I could imagine dozens – no, hundreds – of organizational learners having their own coaching experiences, all from their desks, simultaneously, in a way that is blissfully easy on stressed training budgets.

Even better, the simulation deals with the “inconsistency problem” that plagues role-plays. Brooke Learner responded to my coaching with pinpoint-accurate, unambiguous feedback. The PeopleSIM™ felt real, provided me with detailed feedback and offered comprehensive remediation on the spot. It offered me a fun and engaging path to becoming a great coach.

Brooke is ready for a conversation with you, too. It’s a lot of fun even if – and especially if – you blow it as badly as I did. The learning insights stick.

Check it out for yourself. Demo the coaching simulation now. Then we’ll see how well you do.

It’s Not a Game. It’s Gamification.

How Blueline Simulations is Creating New Levels of Learning Retention.

I try not to care about FourSquare. The simple location app, which my teenage daughter helpfully loaded onto my iPhone, encourages me to “check in” every time I go to Starbucks, to Kroger, or to the hip new restaurant downtown.

Help me. I can’t stop. Every time I check in somewhere, I earn points and am able to compare my activity against my friends. I even earn “badges” for dubious achievements such as “checking in at three places after midnight.” And it is a source of some kind of misplaced pride that I have been named “mayor” with the most check-ins at Nashville International Airport’s gate C-9.

Yes, I’m being self-deprecating. But the principles behind my behavior are no game. According to tech research firm Gartner, gamification techniques (like the ones I just described) will be used in 25% of all redesigned processes in business within the next few years.

The cynical view says this trend is little more than a trick of operant conditioning. (The rat presses the lever and a pellet comes out.) But gamification is much more than that. Employed strategically, it brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning.

How? It does this through:

  • Play. Research is increasingly showing that play is a potent force in organizational contexts. Have you ever seen videos of adorable tiger cubs wresting with one another? This play is actually their primary avenue to learning key skills for hunting and survival. Freedom to experiment and joy are not techniques to enhance the learning process; they are the learning process.
  • Collaborative competition. How did I perform compared to Joe? Where do I rank compared to the rest of my team? In gamification, these questions are in no way cut throat. The stakes are bragging rights, and playful ribbing in the conference room.
  • Immediate feedback. One element common to most gamification techniques is a constant assessment of where one stands in the process of learning. This may be accomplished through badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When the boss tells employees how well they are advancing or regressing in their work, the result may be feelings of vulnerability.  When that feedback comes from an unbiased leaderboard, it is surprisingly engaging.

At Blueline Simulations, programs featuring gamification techniques have been transformative for our clients. In our next blog, we’ll take a look at how these technology-enable elements of play, competition, and feedback are leading to new levels of learner engagement.

Give us a call, and we’ll explore how gamification techniques can be used in your organization’s learning programs!

What if You Could Bring the Collective Wisdom of the Organization Together to Jump Start Critical Initiatives?

Each of us sees the world through our own lens. That is, we interpret data, events, and other intangibles of our organizational experiences through unique mental models made up of our closely held beliefs, and assumptions. This can make it all but impossible to honestly evaluate the organization – or to generate fresh insights in response to organizational challenges.

At Blueline Simulations, we help our clients to overcome this every day through our Voice of the Business Process – a comprehensive series of dialogues that encourage leaders in the organization to articulate and examine the beliefs they individually hold about the work, about the culture, about key strategies and change initiatives, and more.

It is, at times, a profound experience.

At the heart of the Voice of the Business Process, Blueline’s learning experts (who are, by necessity, external to the client environment) conduct dozens of expertly facilitated interviews with key executives on a strategic topic of the clients’ choosing.

In these penetrating dialogues, leaders are invited to speak in an unguarded way about their mental models – the insights, perceptions, beliefs, assumptions, and even emotions they hold– about a critical organizational challenge.

This is remarkable from the participants’ point of view. Many confess that they have never had the opportunity to reflect so thoroughly on the initiative in question.

The outcomes are remarkable, too, from the sponsor’s point of view. After the Blueline team is finished collating, dissecting and synthesizing all these unique perspectives, we share them with the interviewees through a series of facilitated group discussions.  What happens during these discussions is quite spectacular. Insights emerge.

And the best part is that they’re not our insights – they’re yours.  We’ve just created a forum for your people to view the organization and its challenges through a different lens.  So by the time we’re done, everyone has already bought into the action plan.

We’d love to tell you more about Blueline’s Voice of the Business Process offering, and explore how this disciplined process might jump start your most critical initiatives. Call us today.

Data You Can Touch

How Blueline is using new “digital textbook” technology to engage learners and increase retention.

Whenever we build custom learning solutions for our client partners, most of them request some kind of pre-work or pre-read document. This usually leads to a conversation during the design process that goes like this:

“We need to create an exercise that establishes the foundational ideas and definitions.”

“But we already put that information in the prework document!”

“Yes, but we have to assume that some percentage of people won’t read the prework, so we need to get them caught up.”

Then why even give them prework?!” Hand wringing commences.

Okay, so maybe this kind of behind-the-scenes confessions of a harried learning designer isn’t so relevant to you and your world.

But what is relevant, I bet, is the need to create and deliver your key messages in a way that your people will consume, engage… and even integrate into their paradigms and behaviors.

At Blueline Simulations, we are constantly experimenting with new approaches, new technologies, and new ways of creating enrollment within organizations like yours. Sometimes we come across a new media that gets us excited. That happened just recently, and I wanted to tell you about it because I think there are some opportunities here for you.

This Is Not Your Father’s Data Dump

A big part of organizational learning is assimilating data. You know: those reams of charts and data that you need to somehow transfer to your audience’s brains. As much as we love experience at Blueline Simulations, sometimes there is a need for a “tell” approach. (Often we use the term – somewhat derisively – of “data dump.” This is where the dreaded pre-work document often makes an appearance.)

In a recent program, we dramatically increased engagement and retention of this data dump by using new technology provided by Apple’s iPad.

As you may have heard, Apple has made a significant entry into the world of textbooks. With their iBooks platform, Apple intends to revolutionize how students consume information. Apple has also released the free iBooks Author content creation tool to allow designers like us at Blueline to repurpose and design content in a highly engaging, multi-media, iPad-ready platform.

For our recent program, we created a pre-work document that rivaled the actual learning program in terms of generating participant enrollment. We delivered the client’s key content in an iBook format that included:

  • Embedded videos – from YouTube, and also TED Talks – that deliver a more penetrating look at related content.
  • Embedded graphics and charts that could be scrutinized with the iPad’s now-familiar “pinch and zoom” gesture.
  • Links that take learners to related websites, the company’s intranet, or other content located elsewhere in the document.
  • Short quizzes that allow learners to demonstrate that they have indeed internalized the material.

The game-changer here was the kinesthetic nature of the document, thanks to the iPad interface. The ability to touch, swipe, click, watch, and listen to content proved to be highly immersive. Learners, and the client, were unanimous: More of this, please.

Whenever we have an opportunity to add to our toolbox of approaches, we get excited. But the bigger opportunity here is for you. What is the key content that you need to transfer to your team in a change context? Rather than distribute another 60-page PDF document over email, what if you could deliver it in a novel medium that allows your audience to touch, move, and manipulate the content – thereby practically guaranteeing that they engage?

We’d love to show you a demo.

And if that’s not what you’re looking for, that’s okay. We have a few other tricks in our toolbox as well.

Give us a call. And let’s make some change happen in your organization.

“Can We Hold Class Outside?” Taking Your People to the Field for Full Immersion Learning

In our previous blog entry, we looked at Blueline Simulations’ full immersion approach to learning. These are highly coordinated learning events that take your people out of the organization, away from the computer screen, and away from the classroom – and then place them in an unfamiliar environment where they can begin making connections to big ideas that they can take back to their work.

We shared with you one example, in which we took a global biotech sales firm to Disney, Starbucks and Apple to explore engaging customer experiences.

Okay, here’s another example. Recently, we built an Innovation Tour of San Francisco for a global manufacturing firm. These executives were immersed in the alien world of Silicon Valley where they encountered innovation practices at places like Google, Frog Design, Oracle, The Institute for the Future… and even the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Yes, it was jarring and disorienting. And, in the words of that organization’s CEO, “was one of the most meaningful, valuable learning experiences of my career.” (At this very moment, they are rewriting their five-year strategic plan based on the connections they generated on the Innovation Tour.)

We’ve learned some key principles for making these experiences work.

  • Define the target. No big surprise here; Learning experiences must always be designed in the context of well-defined learning objectives. Don’t start with “let’s go to the Magic Kingdom!” Instead, define the pressing business challenge… and then identify the organizations that have something valuable to bring to that conversation.
  • Get lateral. Theorist Edward de Bono describes lateral leaps as a key capability for breakthrough thinking. Lateral thoughts happen when we connect one idea to another that was seemingly unrelated. When we build immersive experiences, we do identify organizations that are very similar to our clients. Equally important, we identify others that are dissimilar, and can create a productively disorienting lateral leap. That’s how a group of manufacturers found themselves exploring abstract paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and how pharmaceutical executives found themselves in line at an Apple Genius bar to engage customer service around issues with their iPods.
  • A little showmanship doesn’t hurt. The mind is never as engaged as it is at play. That’s why we are purposeful about building in a “cool” factor to our immersive learning experiences. Wouldn’t you just love to visit Google, or hang out at Disney’s EPCOT for a day in the name of learning? Of course you would. So would your people. And the high engagement delivered by these experiences translates to lasting, “sticky” learning.
  • Connect it back. There are critical conversations that must happen for the immersive experience to produce change in the organization. So, what, exactly, did that afternoon at Starbucks say to you? What did you notice, see, hear, smell, experience… and what are the principles behind those experiences that can deliver value at our (very different) organization? In our experience, these facilitated connections conversations are the genesis of true organizational transformation.

Ready to give your employees a peek at a world of possibility far different from your own? Call the learning experts at Blueline Simulations. We’ll build a transformative, immersive learning experience that delivers on your unique learning objectives – all while ensuring that your people will never view their world in quite the same way again.