Every year, thousands of educators, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders descend on a different city, and for three days, share ideas about how to change the world.
So far as I know, this is the only conference that intentionally puts these four groups in each other’s spaces and encourages them to solve problems together. It’s chaotic, crazy, loud, crowded, and it’s still one of my favorite conferences of the year because it challenges lots of my thinking.
This year, 5 quotes stood out for me as indicators of the way mindsets and technology are moving:
“Most jobs have been explicitly designed to take judgment out. Once we ask people to quit using judgment, their job can be automated.” – Jennifer Riel, Managing Director of Knowledge Infrastructure Project, University of Toronto
No one is going to argue that the robots are coming. But that’s not a bad thing – as long as we’re still not training people to do a robot’s job. Employee development, education and for that matter, talent strategies in general, should focus on helping humans do what robots can’t.
In many cases, this means moving past the mechanics of any role and focusing instead on the critical thinking and reasoning that only humans can do. It also means a return to the soft skills – leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management (from LinkedIn’s Skills Companies Need Most in 2018) will become increasingly important (robots still can’t feel).
“Really exciting things in the learning space deal with making personalized learning easier. The problem is that L&D is in charge, and how they’re recruited, trained, incentivized, and promoted are based on a command and control model. Has anyone told them they have a new job?” – Todd Tauber, VP Product Marketing for Degreed
Embracing technologies and new ways of thinking is one thing, but we think many L&D people fail to understand that their job has to fundamentally change – and so do the systems that support the job. Starting now we need to recruit and train different skills and mindsets if we’re going to be useful in executing the business strategy. This idea was further reinforced by a book I read this weekend called Talent Wins, which cites several examples of senior talent professionals partnering with CFOs to move the business forward.
“Data about data is important.” – Ramona Pierson, Head of Learning Products at Amazon
I’ve been talking about feedback loops and learning as a part of the work for awhile now, but this conference was the first real evidence I have seen of technologies that can make it happen. Ramona Pierson, from Amazon, spoke on utilizing metadata (or data about data) in order to drive inline learning. She mentioned the goal of never having to log into a laptop to learn – it just comes to you when you need it. I agree with this mostly, although I still do see a need for long form learning, and I’m pretty sure I would like my doctor to memorize anatomy, not refer to an app.
Natural language processing, use of metadata, APIs, and plugins are making this vision much more of a reality. The sheer number of companies pitching on AI this time around was astounding.
“Content is abundant. Expertise is scarce.” – Leah Jewell, Managing Director, Career Development and Employability, Pearson
There was a lot of talk about expertise at this conference. It was made manifest in everything – from the technology, to the discussions on analytics, to the education panels. Leah spoke on a panel about the future of work, and I found her insights profound, particularly because she changed my mind a little bit.
In a world where the half life of a workplace skill is between 2.5 and 5 years expertise sometimes feels like a luxury. And in fact, I heard arguments for and against it throughout the conference. However, this panel, in concert with several discussions on credentialization and badging has me convinced that expertise can exist peacefully in a world that continuously changes. I also saw several parallels between the discussions on expertise and the rise of reputation – utilizing signals of expertise as a replacement for more traditional indicators such as resumes, degrees, etc. Incidentally, a great article on that can be found here.
“It is no longer ok to pull people into a room once a year, fire hose them with information, and then expect them to be happy productive employees.” – Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify
What struck me about Carol’s statement was the fact that for so many years, the fire hose approach has been accepted and acceptable. It was a good reminder that the care and feeding we provide for employees when it comes to their development matters – whether it’s more formal learning or learning that occurs on the job. If they don’t like the menu, they’ll find a different venue.
And that’s it. Given the size and the multifaceted goals of this conference, I’m sure if you poll 10 people about what they got out of this conference, they’d say 10 different things. But this is my take. I’d love your thoughts! Also, sign up for our newsletter and every week we’ll send you our analysis of stories that matter to people leaders, notes from our HR Tech vendor briefings, and a summary of events we’ve attended.