The Angels’ Share of Learning

A romantic perspective on the ROI of learning 

I happened during one week. On Monday my two sons and me watched our favourite TV show ‘How it’s made’. The episode was about making whisky. We learnt about ingredients, the brewing process, ageing, the function of the wooden barrels and the idea of ‘the Angels’ Share’. Later that week I watched a nice Scottish movie about Robbieangels-share-poster, a criminal guy who avoids a prison sentence by doing community payback. He is under guidance of Harry who finds out that Robbie is about to become a father. When Robbie’s son Luke is born Harry insists on celebrating this event by drinking a whisky. Robbie likes the whisky and is fascinated by the background information he learns from Harry. During the movie Robbie accidentally becomes a whisky expert. And the title of the movie? Here it was again: The Angels’ Share. Surely a sign for me to explore the topic a bit further and see how it might apply to learning & development.

What is the Angels’ Share?

The creation of whisky has a number of different steps including malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation or ageing.  The ageing process is critically important. Ageing takes place in barrels made of oak wood. During the ageing process there is ‘interaction’ between the wood and the whisky giving the whisky it’s beautiful colour and additional flavour. The process is influenced by the conditions in the warehouse where the barrels are laid on shelves. The temperature and humidity in the warehouse influence the process of ageing as does the exact placement of the barrel on the shelves. Ageing also has another effect: due to evaporation a portion of the liquid ‘disappears’. One could say that portion is lost but they call it ‘The Angels’ Share’. I think it is a brilliant and kind of romantic idea to reframe ‘a part is lost’ into ‘a part is consumed by the Angels in the warehouse’.

The Angels’ Share of Learning?

Every time I come across an interesting idea I can’t help but want to explore how it could be applicable in the field of learning and development. There is a lot of pessimism around the effectiveness of learning interventions or programs. We want Return on Investment instantly aiming for newly acquired skills and knowledge to be applied directly on the job. Isn’t that like drinking whisky before ageing and directly after the brewing? I guess we need to be a little more patient and let the ageing do its work. Could it be that ‘fresh brewed’ knowledge and skills need interaction with the physical, digital and interpersonal environment of day to day work thus uncovering the essence and deepening the ‘flavour and colour’ to turn it into performance?

Good barrels made of the right wood, with the right treatment and stored in the right place are the optimal context to turn the distillate into real whisky. So – we should create the right context to turn learning into performance. And shouldn’t we accept that during that process a portion of the new knowledge and skills ‘evaporates’ thus being the ‘Angels’ Share of Learning’? I’m sure whisky makers aim to minimize the Angels’ Share so they will have a bigger portion for themselves and that is what ‘learning and performance brewers’ also should aim for. Both are delicate processes. I hope the idea of the Angels’ Share will smoothen your next discussion on ROI of learning with your stakeholders. Cheers!

(Thank you to my Scottish friends Peter Casebow and Stef Scott GoodPractice for checking the whisky ageing details! They brew some real good performance support services.)

Ger Driesen

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A Garden Metaphor for Leadership Development

Once upon a time there were three brothers who inherited a nice piece of land. Although they were different personalities with different approaches to life, they got along well. They decided to clear the land and split it up into three equal pieces so that each of them could develop and use it for their own purposes. weideThe first brother was a kind of ‘go with the flow’ type. He decided not to put any effort into his piece of land and just let nature take its course. He was just curious what nature would offer him spontaneously, what kind of flowers, herbs, trees and maybe berries or other fruit it might offer and what kind of animals would live there. The land didn’t need any effort from him nor did he need to hire someone to help him.
The second brother was a commercial guy. appelboomgaardHe decided to create an orchard on his land with as many trees as possible to grow the type of apples that were so popular and high in demand. He bought trees that would bear fruit next year so the return on investment wouldn’t be too long. Besides that, his trees would bring him nice blossom in the spring and shade in the summer. At the end of each summer he had to take countermeasures to keep the birds from eating his apples, he had to harvest the apples at the right moment and prune the trees at the end of winter. At some points during the year he had to hire some people to do the necessary work.
The third brother wanted to create his ‘dream’ garden. Together with a landscaper he created a design that would allow him to enjoy the garden all year long. In spring there would be blossoms and early flowers, in summer even more flowers and berries and the trees would provide shade and some fruit. During autumn late designgardenflowers and trees carrying beautiful autumn leaves would provide different beautiful colors and even in winter some colors would remain. Besides the beauty of the plants and trees, the design aimed to attract the most beautiful birds and butterflies all year long. It would take a serious investment to pay the landscaper and to buy all the plants and trees and he also needed some patience so this ecosystem could grow to its full potential. He also had to hire a gardener to do the necessary gardening work all year long.
Similarly, if we look at leadership development different approaches are also possible. We can use the garden metaphor to elaborate on those approaches. An organization could choose the ‘let nature take its course’ leadership development strategy and just go with the flow. Just by doing one’s work, getting feedback from peers, looking at one’s performance data and being involved in changes one can learn a lot. Moreover, principles from social psychology such as ‘pecking order’ and informal leadership will naturally shape leaders and processes like ‘the survival of the fittest’ will take effect. Just like with the piece of land of the first brother, you will get some results but they will be rather unpredictable. Or as Forrest GumpForrest Gump’s mother would say: life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get. Sometimes you might be happily surprised, and sometimes disappointed. This might sound attractive from a financial perspective but one should also take into account the possibility and risk of a ‘natural disaster’.
Approaching leadership development from the orchard perspective shows some different results. One could think of a standardized leadership development program consisting of logical interventions as building blocks. It is a much more organized approach and it leads to rather predictable results. You need to have a clear idea of the results you would like to achieve to start with and the why, what, how and when of activities that have to be done. Once designed and put into place, this kind of program is rather easy to manage, it provides clarity, and it is predictable. It is also easy to calculate investments in terms of time and money as well as the revenues of such a Blueprintprogram. This more rational ‘blue print’ type of approach might be very effective and efficient. The downside can be seen from the orchard example. What if our popular apples are not so popular next year? What if another type of apple or fruit becomes more popular? The results of our orchard will still be apples but they will be less value or even ‘obsolete’. What if a specific disease strikes our type of apple trees? We might have no fruit at all at the end of the season. We might have to face the high costs of replacing the trees and wait for the next year to gain some revenue. With at an ‘orchard like’ leadership development program, disruptive changes might influence our organization and its leadership needs; the program might become less effective or obsolete. Developing a new program might require a huge budget and a lot of time before the next program is available.
The third option is the designed garden or ecosystem style of leadership development program. One should have a vision and plan of what the ecosystem should look like in the future. From there the next step would be to gather and put in place all the building blocks that create the eco system. This would include all kinds of formal, informal and social learning interventions, a learning and collaboration platform and the involvement of all stakeholders with specific roles adding value to the ecosystem. An important feature of an ecosystem is the interconnection and interdependency of each part in the ecosystem and the ability to add specific qualities to the whole. In terms of leadership development, this would mean the creation of a vibrant community working together, adding value, sharing experiences, creating and joining learning interventions. Thus provides lots of opportunities to develop leaders. Like the designed garden, one has to be patient. It won’t be available over night; it needs to grow over time. And like the garden, the leadership development ecosystem needs little gardener‘gardening’ all year long – the type and intensity of the work to be done depends on the season. If one part of the ecosystem becomes obsolete, it will be easy to support it with other parts or replace it. The gardener takes advantage of nature’s power of growth and sometimes helps nature by adding water or fertilizer, removing weeds and dead plants, and pruning for a better result. The ‘gardener’ of the leadership development ecosystem creates structure, optimizes circumstances, creates connections between people, aligns with strategy, renews interventions, stimulates cooperation, prunes obsolete parts, starts conversations, harvests results, pushes or pulls relevant stakeholders into position, offers platforms for cooperation and facilitates knowledge sharing to let the ecosystem bloom to its full potential, thus creating maximum results for leadership development.
All three approaches can be effective for organizations today, depending on their specific situation and context. I have to say that I feel privileged to work with clients on their leadership development programs based on the ‘designed garden’ approach. I have worked with some of these clients for many years and during that time we have managed to create effective eco-systems for learning that still need gardening every year. I also have to be honest and admit that I prefer these kinds of gardening activities much more than the ones in my own backyard.

I want to thank Ollie of Noddlepod – a tool for collaborative learning and leadership development – for inviting me to present the first draft of my ideas on ‘A Garden Metaphor for Leadership Development’ at the Noddlepod breakfast meeting at Online Educa in Berlin. And believe me or not – Ollie’s full name is Olaug N. Gardener!

Ger Driesen
Challenge Leadership Development Academy

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Psychology for New Year’s Resolutions…..and beyond

resolutions 2Many people make plans to change or improve something around New Year and discover how hard it is to sustain the initiative. So let’s take a look if and how psychology might be helpful to manage our New Year’s Resolutions. But let’s not limit this to New Year: we do have challenges all year through and I hope this post is also useful beyond January. The hard part of resolutions is the fact that they have to compete with habits. That’s not easy so let’s bring in so hotshots to help us win the struggle. What about Dan Pink, David McClelland and Burrhus Frederic (B.F.)  Skinner!?

The first thing to know is what really motivates YOU and how it is connected to your resolutions. In his great book ‘Drive’ Dan Pink helps us to find out more about our drives and I think they can be very helpful as first step. In the ‘Twitter summary’ of the book Pink says: ‘Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says: for the 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose’.  So to start with ask yourself: what is the real background of my New Year’s resolutions: is it about growing my autonomy, do I want to get better at anything so improve mastery or is it about some deeper meaning of life, what is the purpose? This can be a very nice step to start with but I want to make it more concrete.

McClelland DavidThat’s why I’m a fan of McClelland and his Theory of needs. He shows us three human needs: the need to achieve, the need for affiliation and the need for power. If you prefer the need to achieve you like to work on tough challenges, want to be a winner like in sports or games, like to figure out smarter solutions, prefer to work alone and like to get feedback often to know you’re on track and celebrate achievements. If you prefer the need for affiliation you like to meet other people, you like to work with them and to get to know them better. You like to create a more personal relationship with them and receive recognition from people around you.  If you prefer the need for power you like to be influential, you like to lead, be an example, create better circumstances for other people you like to be the director. If you  ‘know thyself’ try to apply it to your resolutions. If you’re an achiever make your resolution a game, create a system to provide you feedback, keep on track create milestones and celebrate achievements. If you like affiliation, share your resolutions with your peers, ask for help and support, try to team up with ‘resolution colleagues’ so you never walk alone. If you’re a power person think about how you can delegate (parts of) your resolutions, try to ‘change the rules of the game’ if it helps you, get additional resources to make it happen. So this is why I like McClelland: it can give you very different clues how to manage your resolution depending on your own personal style.

duiven ping pong skinnerBut we’re not done yet. Hey, Dan Pink can say carrots and sticks are old fashion but wait a minute. I think it can be useful today, I mean if this guy B.F. Skinner was able to get fricking PIGEONS to play ping-pong I want to know more about his approach! And yes it is about carrots and sticks, about punishment and reward. To apply this to our New Year’s Resolution we should try to create a system that punishes our old behavior and rewards our new. It’s about paving the path for our desired behavior and creating some roadblocks on our worn out comfortable routes. Goede voornemens UK2The real art is to apply instant reward and punishment – the sooner the reward or punishment follows the behavior the better. The best way is to work with rewards: try to create a direct positive reward for the desired behavior and take away – or delay – the direct positive rewards for the undesired behavior. Try to be creative in what can be a reward or punishment for you and try to ‘automate’ it so it won’t take you additional effort to deliver the reward or punishment. If this this blog was helpful to manage your New Year’s Resolutions please reward me by posting your story as comment. Good luck and have a nice year!

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Wrestling with the CoZoLo of Learning: No pain no gain?

sumoworstelaarI must admit it. I have been struggling for a while now with CoZoLo. But I’m lucky to have social media available these days. I can simply share my concerns and assistance is always available 24/7 from every conceivable corner of the world. So I’m counting on you! Oh yes, let me first explain what CoZoLo is. ‘CoZo’ stands for Comfort Zone and ‘Lo’ for Logic. My struggle involves the logic behind how one’s comfort zone is related to learning. I often hear and read about how it is necessary to go “outside the comfort zone” to learn something. Otherwise, many insist, there will be no learning at all. I even heard one learning and development lecturer from a university preaches that “real learning has to hurt”. I was even more surprised when I recently heard someone’s vision regarding talent development for the new generation at work. I will repeat it in my own words: “the generation now entering leadership positions has always lived an easy life, always had a lot of attention and positive feedback from their parents and at school. Before they take a leadership role they first have to do some very tough self-analysis”. I don’t agree with this assessment. Throughout my intensive work with a lot of young leaders I am often surprised by all the tough situations in both their work and private lives these people have experienced and survived.

Logic and Raccoons

So some say “real learning must hurt”, “for real learning you definitely need to go outside of your comfort zone”, and “for real learning the shit has to hit the fan (and YOU have to clean up the mess)”. But now let’s look at the Logic part of CoZoLo. Sure, I have had my own experiences where I learned from painful situations. I also challenge learners to stretch and experiment with behavior that feels unnatural at the start but might be more effective in the end. I have even named my company ‘Challenge Stretching Talent’! But even if learning sometimes hurts, it doesn’t mean that pain is a prerequisite fwasbeer2or learning, does it? Let’s learn something from the famous Dutch soccer player Johan Cruijff, who sometimes comes up with nice philosophic quotes. He once said, “every raccoon has a tail but not every tail has a raccoon”. I think this is also true for the relationship between pain and learning. Sometimes learning might be painful but that’s no reason to create painful situations in order to facilitate learning. I think that pain is sometimes just a side effect of learning. For me, it is an undesirable side effect, and sometimes an unavoidable inconvenience created by poor lesson design. But I’m not absolutely sure either. I strive to achieve the ‘Flow approach’ of Csikszentmihalyi, I search for Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’, I like to discuss Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to find other learners’ ‘optimal drive’ for learning, I try to be a ‘midwife for knowledge’ as I learned from Socrates and I’m a believer in the Growth Mindset of Dweck.

But I need you to help me out and clarify this issue. What is your idea? I turn to you in person and hope you’ll post your answer as a comment. I’m asking YOU: (in alphabetical order)

Allison Michels, how does this work for social learning using platforms like Yammer?

Shlomo Ben Hur, will you discuss this topic during the new IMD Organizational Learning in Action program?

Bob Mosher, what’s your idea from this dicussion when focussing on performance support?

Chan Lee, please explain the South Korean perspective and the relationship with ‘the hungry mind’.

Charles Jennings, please shed a light on this discussion through the 70:20:10 lens and invite the members of the new 70:20:10 forum to join the discussion

Craig Taylor, I’d love to hear your opinion based on your experiences in the army. Is it possible to train without pain to prepare for life threatening situations?

Dan Pink, can you think of a combination of pain mixed with autonomy, mastery and purpose for great learning results?

Dan Pontefract, can you please comment on the discussion from your flat army perspective?

David Kelly, is there any answer to this question somewhere hidden in your magnificent cuarated backchannel resources?

David Zinger, what is your opinion from a employee engagement standpoint (and feel free to engage all participants of your great employee engagement community)

Denise Hudson Lawson, can you inform us a bit on how this works in a political environment from your work experiences at the Houses of Parliament in the UK?

Donald Clarck, where can we find the answer in your excellent blog marathon of 50 posts on learning theorists?

Donald Taylor, please share your ideas on this topic from your specific postion: you are the center of the UK L+D community.

Elke Wambacq, you’re a courageous, innovative HR expert renewing some Belgium Governmental services, please comment from that experience.

Greet Pipijn, I’m sure you’ll have some ideas from your Emotional Intelligence expertise, please tell us about it.

Hannelore Calmeyn, I’m curious about ‘the official standpoint’ of the Belgium L&D Community, can you share some thoughts as VOV Director please?

Hallely Azulay, I’m very curious about the implication on this topic when you focus on Employee Development on a Shoestring. I count on your creative ideas.

Hans de Zwart, what happens when employees apply self directed learning: will they be able to stretch enough for optimal learning?

Ira Chaleff, what are your thought on this topics in relationship to the Courageous Follower, please let me know

Jane Bozarth, what is your – always bright and sharp – Positive Deviant idea on this?

Jay Cross, how does this comfort zone stuff relate to informal learning?

Jeanne Meister, how will this theme evolve looking at all these different generations working together in the 2020 Workplace?

Karl Kapp, I have this idea that Gamification could be the oppositeway of learning where pleasure instead of pain is related to stretching the boundaries of the comfortzone, please tell us more about that

Kate Graham, what did you discover as a professional learningeventtwitterexpert and from mylearningworx?

Laura Overton, I’m so glad you research the ‘toxicating’ effect of compliance training on learning, can you please share some findings from that perspective? And is there a relationship between pain and learning when you want to grow Towards Maturity?

Lesley Price + Lisa Goldstein, you share so many great resources and did so many nice interviews with L&D pro’s at ldglobalevents, did you find any clues about the relationship between pain and learning in all these nice conversations?

Lisa Johnson, I think in your work at Barnardo’s learning is an important way to reduce suffering and pain. I’m curious about your story.

Marlo Kengen, what is your opinion as a lecturer in L&D focussed on the connection between research and the L&D bachelor curriculum of HAN University?

Martin Couzins, how are your learningpatches related to the comfortzone?

Masako Kato, could you please as an expert in international cultures give some examples how the relationship between pain and learning are experienced in different cultures. You know there are Many Truths ( a beautiful name for your company on intercultural management)

Mike Collins, please share some thoughts on this from your learning asylum

Mike Prokopeak, we like to hear your comments from the CLO magazine perspective

Niall Gavin, you’re a wise man with impressive L&D expertise but this time I prefer your opinion from your background as a professional actor (and tell us a lot about a little topic)

Nick van Dam, looking at Deloitte ‘s  new University the company invests a lot in comfort in relationship to learning. Can you as CLO please tell us more about how this fits with Deloitte’s vision on learning? And ‘don’t hesitate, feel free to promote the great work of your ‘e-learning for kids’ foundation

Nigel Paine,  I’m sure you‘ll prefer the slogan ‘No Paine, No Gain’ so what’s your always enthusiastic opinion?

Owen Ferguson, please share some thoughts from the Scottish perspective.

Paul Matthews, can we find any clues in your new book on Informal Learning at work?

Paul Rasmussen, maybe there’s an answer somewhere in your great posts?

Reader, if not mentioned in this post, this invitation is special for you: please share your thoughts and comments.

Remco Mostertman, please share some ideas from your perspective as an expert in building (HR) Communities

Steve Wheeler, what is the relationship between pain and learning with ‘e’s ?

Thomas Lang, when I attended your drumclinic in Eindhoven last year you shared so many interesting things about learning from your experience as a top drummer. What is your opinion on this topic? (watch this video)

Tom Spiglanin, you always share nice visions on learning, hope you’ll share some here.

Valery Noll, as the great curator of The Learning Explorer, what is your top story in relationship with this topic?

Wei Wang,  hope you will share some thought from your overview as ASTD’s Director International Relations and maybe from ASTD ICE 2013


Ger Driesen


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Juggling with Formal and Informal Learning: the 70:20:10 approach unmasked?

criss angelWhen I visited Las Vegas in 2010 I went to the Luxor to watch Criss Angel’s ‘Mindfreak’ show with my family. This unique illusionist – with his punk-like appearance – cleverly tripped us up. After the performance you can see how the audience is discussing how various tricks are done. In our L&D discipline we are also often tripped up. Not deliberately but as a sort of side effect: by concepts, ideas, or models that are in fashion. Something crazy happens to these models, concepts and ideas when they are transformed from a conceptual model into a straitjacket or recipe. After a magic show the audience wants to know how the tricks are done, but with a ‘trending topic’ in our area of knowledge it seems as though that urge just vanishes. In a certain sense I think it is a shame, but in another sense it is a great reason for a blog.

The 70:20:10 trick

Take the illusionist’s trick of the 70:20:10 concept regarding formal and informal learning.
This concept is based on research that shows that work related learning is made up of:
70% through simply doing your job
20% through feedback from others, observation and cooperation with others
10% through formal training/formal learning
The last 10% is called formal learning; the other 90% is called informal learning. Only 10% of results actually comes from formal learning: what should we do with that expensive 10%! Popular ‘thought leaders’ enthusiastically drag us to informal learning and in so doing create – no doubt unintentionally –the illusion that informal learning is the most important or even only thing there is. Formal learning is being frowned upon and hordes of L&D professionals are joining the ‘informal learning sect’ while formal learning is being looked upon as a dirty word. I think that this is a shame because I see this as a kind of negation of our own profession. After a discussion or reading a blog about the 70:20:10 approach I get the same feeling as after one of Chriss Angel’s good tricks: I was entertained, but I want to be able to understand how it is done. And ESPECIALLY when it dwangbuis 4is about my profession! Help me to see through the illusion and to unmask the trick, because I can’t do it alone! I will share my wild ideas if you’ll please share your revealing insights. How can we best tackle this?

Just join in and simply scrap it?

My first thought is nice and simple and gives you the chance to leave a lasting impression as internal Training Manager. Let’s go with the flow and just scrap all formal learning programs! That’ll save tons of money and maybe even a few jobs (at least yours!) and we only lose a fraction of 10% in the results. As a reward you will undoubtedly be offered a new job. In short: a brilliant idea (as long as it is not carried out in ‘my’ hospital, ‘my’ airline, ‘my’ pharmaceutical company or ‘my’ nuclear power plant: I like those professionals being formally trained before they serve me).

Exploring the dark side

Maybe it is a good idea to have a closer look at the 70:20:10 approach. Let’s start with the 70% of learning done by simply performing your work. Yes, of course you learn a lot by doing your work. In fact: even in the time which is not considered work time, I learn a lot. Even on vacation I learn a lot: last summer in Greece I learned to windsurf, ride a donkey and found out what Koukouvagia is (delicious!). What I want to say is: that 70% is easy, ‘just’ do your work, no, ‘just’ suffer life and you’ve scored that 70%. Of course I learn even more if I get feedback from others, if I observe them and work together with them. I can then learn all sorts of useful things in order to do my work better and smarter: how to get a good performance review, how I can shape my career, how I can best get out of doing troublesome tasks and avoid responsabilities and how I can terminate my enemies at the office. Informal learning does not just lead to desired or constructive learning results but also to performance improvement related to the dark side of corporate life.

Make your own calculations and don’t get sucked in

But back to the facts, back to the formula. Let’s have a closer numerical look at that 10%. rekensom 1There are 52 weeks in a year, of which about 7 of those are vacation (in my country). That means we are left with 45 weeks of 5 days = 225 working days. How many formal training days do you have a year? How many does the average employee in your company or country have per year? I think less than 10% of their working days (less the 22.5 in my equation), lots less, in fact. Take your own situation and fill in an amount: if the number of formal learning days is less than 10% of your working days then formal learning is more effective than informal learning! If it is 11 days in my calculations then, according to the formula, by spending 5% of time on formal learning I get a 10% result: that is a ratio of 2. The 95% of time left over is taken up with informal learning that yields 90%: that is a ratio of less than 1. Formal learning is then twice as effective as informal learning. If you should get anywhere near 5 days of formal learning a year then the ratio increases to 4! Let us put forward an official policy plan that everyone spends 1% of their work time on formal learning and then we’ve got a ratio of 10: we’re bound to get a place on the C-suite table for that one!

Carrying on to the next idea

But hang on; I’m pretty sure something’s not right here. If I want to build a new house then there are substantial costs in laying the foundations – something that is simply going to be burried under the ground. Still, it’s good to have a solid foundation in order to have a, um, solid foundation. Let’s shift to drinks. The mint leaves are the smallest ingredient inmojito 1 a delicious Mojito but it wouldn’t be the same without them. What is a house without foundations, a Mojito without mint and a learning route without formal learning? I feel that the art is to bring together the right mix and join the elements or ingredients together depending on what you want to achieve and making allowances for specific conditions. Every house has a different sort of foundation, depending on the soil type and the design. A recipe should always be interpreted on the basis of the available ingredients. The Mojito recipe that I recently looked up is a good example of that. The whole story is full of ‘tacit knowledge’, such as: ‘the quality and size of the limes and mint can vary, so you’ve got to decide for yourself how many are needed’. That brings me to the following point.

Continue reading

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To Sell is Human. The surprising truth that Dan Pink’s new book is about Sales!

to sell is human2Expectations are running high for Dan Pink’s latest book, thanks to the worldwide success of his book ‘Drive’ and the wonderful animation video that went with it. During an interview in March 2011, I was able to wheedle out of him what his new book is about: Sales. He said about sales then: ‘I have discovered that, essentially, so many things we do are about sales. Not only the car salesman but also parents bringing up their children, entering into relationships in your private life, working as a consultant, learning processes: sales actually has an important role in all of these activities. That’s why I want to investigate the essence of sales and understand it better. I will be actively exploring various sales jobs – yes, even a second-hand car salesman.’ Now Pink’s book is ready: ‘To Sell is Human, the surprising truth about moving others’ and it is being launched in the US on the last day of 2012. Here is a sneak preview.

Everyone in Sales

Pink started looking into sales and determined that 1 in 9 Americans have an official sales position. But the other 8 are also involved in activities which he labels sales. It is not about selling ‘things’ but about selling concepts and ideas. The amount of conceptual work has increased enormously in recent years and all of these concepts have to be sold in one way or another. The web designer sells his design, the consultant her approach to the board, departments try and get the lion’s share of an organization’s budget and we try and get as many followers as possible through Twitter. Essentially it is all about influence, getting others to move. Pink’s theory is that everyone has sales tasks; also the 8 out of 9 Americans who don’t have a salesjob are involved in ‘non-selling sales’.

How Sales Has Changed

In part 1, Pink shows how the rise of the internet has changed two crucial things. salesmanFirstly, ‘things’ and ‘services’ are more often bought online. Electronics, clothes, airline tickets or insurance, things which used to be sold by salespeople are now sold online, without a salesperson. Secondly, the asymmetrical relationship regarding the availability of information about products and services is disappearing, or has even been reversed.  Whereas the seller used to have a lot more information about products or services, now it is often the buyer who knows just as much. When buying very complex products or services this leads to the role of the seller at a much later phase in the decision-making process and based on other expertise and competencies. He covers this in Part 2.

ABC’s of Sales

This new sort of sales asks for different expertise, qualities and competencies. The most important ABC for sales was always ‘Always Be Closing’, but Pink has come up with a new one: ‘Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity’. In chapters 4 to 6 he talks about these concepts. Attunement is about the ability to see the world through the eyes of someone else in order to be able to really understand their concerns and needs. Buoyancy means literally ‘staying afloat’ and is about resilience, perseverance, and optimism. In our attempts to influence others we are confronted with ‘seas of rejection’ in which we have to keep our heads above water. Clarity is about lucidity, brightness. This gives added value today: probably because in comples sales it is more about organizing and sorting abundant information to reach the core of a problem, than about the solution itself.

What can be done?

elevator gangnam stylePart 3 of the book is about what can be done: Pitch, Improvise, Serve. Pink promotes a new form of ‘pitch’ because the ‘elevator pitch’ is no longer good enough: everyone is checking their smartphone in the elevator, these days.  (Or has the elevator become an unsuitable location thanks to Gangnam style? – GD ponders). Also the importance of improvisation and how this can help the power of persuasion is dealt with. And lastly the importance of making (non-selling) sales personal and meaningful (Serve) and how that can be done.

I am looking forward to Pink’s new book and expect that it will also be an interesting source for L&D professionals in order to understand better the non-selling part of our work and apply it more effectively.  Apart from that I really hope another wonderful animation video based on this new book will be released. In the meantime we’ve got to be content with the book preview.

Ger Driesen


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