Assumed Constraints and Elephant Thinking

Should the title be “Assumed Constraints and L&D Thinking” or should it stay the way it is, I’ll let you make up your own mind.

Since leaving my last role  with a large bank, I’ve continued to advocate and champion the need  for social tools and interaction to support learning and to work more effectively. In my new role I’ve have been lucky enough to develop and nurture a CIPD community of practice to support CIPD qualification programmes in the UK which I’ve blogged about here.  I’m not surprised by the challenges I’ve faced in embedding new approaches as it’s a change and no-one likes change but I’m always surprised by the beliefs I come across around what learning looks like and feels like.

After attending a recent webinar on bridging the gap between learning and work there still appears to be a big disconnect between how we learn and the ways and means that organisational learning is approached and delivered. Change is happening with a greater focus on collaboration tools but much more slowly than I anticipated and it reminded me of a blog post I wrote earlier this year. I wrote it after attending an unconference event similar to the Learning Cafe unconference events. I was challenged when following that unconference I expressed that I, as well as the other attendees would ‘change the world’ and approach L&D differently. The challenge that came back was that a small number of people cannot change an entire profession that is still stuck in the Victorian age of chalk and talk and an organisational mindset of “learning only takes place in a classroom.” I appreciate there are pockets out there doing things differently so forgive the generalisation but following the latest benchmark findings from Towards Maturity have we moved on that far?

At the time I of course challenged back and asked “Why?”

Why is it asking a lot for 50 people from a different backgrounds to change a profession? This for me is an assumed constraint that we all suffer from, why can’t one person let alone a small group of people change their methods, approaches to organisational learning or even a whole profession. It’s not really that small, yes there were 30 + people at the unconference but there are 1000′s across the globe all working towards the same thing. Change is in the air and you can either be blowing the gale or be getting blown away.

It was an assumed constraint of mine and still is to some degree that I have nothing to say or that no-one will be interested in what I have to say. Who am I to share my thinking and things I’ve been doing? I’ve been in L&D for a mere 6 years so I surely can’t contribute and drive change can I? Wrong, of course I can just like you can, and this links to another great bit of insight from my friend @Burrough

It’s more about personal leadership, spreading the word, walking the walk and showing what can be done. But as you and I both know that’s a long and hard road to tread in some organisations.

Yes I still couldn’t agree more, change is hard work and we’re all on the journey. A journey that has meant at times you might be the lone voice and the only person who sees value in doing things differently. Personal leadership for me, is about believing in what you believe in and if others see a genuine passion when and how you walk the walk then they will follow that passion and belief, irrelevant if you’re in a position of power or ‘a leader’. Leadership comes from within and everyone in L&D & HR right now should see themselves as a leader and role model. A leader of change within organisations and a role model for showing what can be done.

I do think elephant thinking still affects our professions (and not just ours I hasten to add), in that there are those who are still chained to the post. Blissfully unaware of the possibilities, of the change they could drive and be a part of. Then there are those who may be aware of the possibilities but because of their assumed constraints do nothing about it, “I can’t do that”, “that won’t work”, “I don’t do technology”, “social tools are a distraction”, “My organisation won’t / can’t / wouldn’t” – take your pick. It all leads down the same path… the same path that you’ve been going down for the last umpteen years.

For some (a growing number) the elephant has snapped the chains and bolted, it’s skipped the circus and is now making its’ large presence felt in many ways at unconference events, conferences, tweet ups, tweet chats, webinars,  in communities, and through blogs AND in some enlightened organisations through new and exciting roles. The elephants are damn good at sharing what they do and are making their presence felt so you can imagine what a herd of elephants can do when they’re together – they have the potential to trample old mindsets and assumed constraints like trees in the jungle.

My friend and #PunkHR advocate @Perrytimms made me smile when he said;

I’m in this game to create a better future….

I certainly hope every Learning & HR Professional feels like this, feels like they are part of something special and has a chance to change and evolve a profession and transform organisations in the way they think about learning, performance and how people work together. We certainly aren’t going to do that whilst we think we can’t have an impact or we’re still chained to the post.

Lets throw those assumed constraints to the side, lets be brave, lets role model, lets be prepared and recognise it will take time but let’s keep sharing what we’re doing with as many people as we can in as many different ways as we can. Lets put a stop to elephant thinking and recognise and celebrate new L&D thinking instead.

Are you in this game to create a better future or are you still chained to the post?

What change are you seeing in your own organisation?

What are the barriers you are facing in breaking away from the post?

Assumed Constraints and Elephant Thinking


  1. Hi Mike – Great blog. Sometimes we start with seeing the forest but soon can only see the trees. Timely reminder to learning professionals stand back and recognise self-imposed constrained. We had a Learning Cafe catch up in Sydney yesterday ,where we discussed the inability to recognise self-imposed (and externally imposed) constraints and remedying it could be career limiting.

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