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Innovation: Step Away from the Box for Training and Development Professionals

I recently read an article about the state of our economy that had an interesting take on the problem.  It didn’t blame the Bernie Madoffs of the world, or the past administration, or the housing crisis.  Instead, it blamed the whole thing on an acceleration in technology over the past fifteen years.  This author postulated that somewhere in there, we moved from the Industrial Age to the Information-Technology Age, and someone forgot to tell the CEOs.

He has a good point.  Frames of reference and perspectives that have been valid to this point are now outdated and useless.  Information is finally more important than brick and mortar, and to be quite honest, it’s a little scary.  Making an impact on the bottom line in any organization requires more than just thinking outside the box; in some cases it requires disregarding the box altogether.
What does that mean for those of us who live in the training and development world?  In the past year, we’ve seen our budgets shrink, our headcount disappear, and our responsibilities increase.  We’re expected to deliver better training to more people for less money.  If ever there was a group of people in desperate need of innovation it would be this one.
The good news is that while this is a scary time to be doing some crazy stuff, it’s also the best time to be doing some crazy stuff.  When organizations are going through turmoil (and let’s face it, most of them are), people expect change.  And when they expect change, there is less pushback on new ideas and approaches from both management and employees.
So, fellow trainers and developers, I encourage you to start thinking differently about your responsibilities and how you plan on accomplishing them.  To ignite the spark of innovation that resides in you all, I offer the following suggestions:
  1. Copy shamelessly.  Companies like IDEO and IBM (among others) have made a name for themselves by doing things differently.  Look at processes from companies and organizations that you admire and see which ones are adaptable.
  2. Fail fast.  Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t bet the farm either.  Use small groups to test new ideas and analyze results quickly but carefully before launching broad initiatives.
  3. Be the box.  In this environment, there is no such thing as the proverbial box.  Boundaries have disappeared–embrace the freedom and create!
  4. Leverage technology.  Utilize existing tools in training, including blogging, webcasts, videoconferencing, screen sharing, podcasts, and others to maximize learning and minimize costs.
In the next few posts I plan on providing some examples of wild and crazy training and development ideas–companies or organizations that have effectively stepped away from the box.  If you have great examples, we would love to hear from you.