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How to Protect Your Relevance from Extinction

You Are Killing Innovation, and You Haven't Even Trained Them Yet

I have designed and carried out dozens of employee and leadership training and development programs for major organizations. We avoided many of the common pitfalls, but we still fell prey to some classics such as the siren song of benchmarking and copying best practices at other organizations.

On the surface benchmarking makes sense, especially if you’re trying to attract the same candidates that your competition is. It also helps develop a sense of trends and expectations and gives you a solid starting point.

Unfortunately, the best you can expect from design-by-committee is a program that is saleable to stakeholders and purse string holders. It may even win awards, but it indicates a low level of innovation and is unlikely to be remarkable. Not every business needs or has the appetite for the remarkable, or even innovation, but then I fear for their sustainability.

Here are six other warning signs that your environment won’t design a remarkable training or development experience and could be strangling innovation.

  1. You impose dictatorial brand standards and templates. Learning is not about being comfortable. Using the same template over and over puts people to sleep. Worse, it can lull people into blindly accepting what you’re selling and dampen their critical thinking. Great for creating drones.

  2. Copying best practices from businesses because they are impressive or in the news, even though they may not be facing the same situation you are. Stealing ideas is great, as is borrowing some social proof, however wholesale copying is a slippery slope. If you’re going to copy, go all the way and buy a great training program that’s already out there. And don’t waste a lot of time on customizing. I can’t tell you how many groups (all of them) who waste time and treasure expressing what I call “terminal uniqueness.” The chances that your people are really that different is remote.

  3. The design phase doesn’t involve talking with the prospective audience about their hopes and dreams—or at all. This is my favorite sin to commit and it almost always reduces the quality of the learning experience. As much as I want to believe I know what people care about, I simply don’t. At least, not until I talk to them. I’m not sure if it’s more impatience or arrogance, but either way it’s foolish.

  4. The program is being designed by a committee. Most stakeholders are not experts or even talented amateurs in program design. Their first thought is how the design avoids any chance of failure, a sure-fire originality and relevance killer. Those concerns must be addressed, just not during the design phase. Constraints like time and money can enhance creativity, but the constraint of pleasing others will kill creativity. Iron those kinks out, after design and during development.

  5. If you think generic training in design thinking can fix number four. Great design takes an instinct that should be informed and strengthened through training, but it’s something that happens at a gut level for the talented, even without training. The best designers also have some great failures under their belt. You still need to offer training in Design Thinking for the masses, as it’s a force-multiplier in the battle to maintain workplace relevance. Just don’t expect it to get you to great results.

  6. Expecting program designers to execute the detail. Kill me now. Design is both discipline and art. Talented designers “see colors” that non-designers can barely glimpse but are affected by even if they don’t realize it. It’s the same with talented administrators or managers or project managers or sales professionals; they see things the rest of us miss. Often those missed items are essential needs for the team’s success. If you want to erode that unique vision, with anyone, ask them to “do it all.”

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