More about “Great Idea, but….”

27 Feb

I recently shared an excerpt from the Intro of my workbook “Great Idea! But…”  a self-help guide to inspiring others to act on your ideas. The feedback was so helpful; I am busy re-writing it.  Thanks! Here is another excerpt, this time from Chapter 2: Inspire Yourself.

Focus on Genius

“Genius” means more than just intelligence. In ancient Rome a genius was the guiding spirit of a person, family, or place. The term comes from Latin meaning “to create or produce.” These days, we tend to attribute genius to people who are leaders in fields such as physics, engineering, mathematics, art, or spoken word. However, it can mean so much more. Sophie is a genius at asking powerful questions. Alesia is a genius at collaboration. Perry is a gifted story teller. Tigran’s genius is empathy. Lauren is a genius at motivating others. I like to think my genius is an ability to synthetize ideas.

Focusing on genius is in some ways, the opposite of analysis because you are intentionally looking for the good.

By focusing on the genius in others, you can appreciate your own. What do you most appreciate about yourself?

Worksheet: I am a Genius at…

Which of your qualities or strengths tend to gratify you the most when you apply them? For example, if you are good at problem solving, how does solving a problem make you feel? How does your genius tend to show up? The point of this worksheet is for you to focus on your strengths in order to build some confidence and hope. In other words, don’t be shy. Here is a great chance for you to celebrate your gifts.

My Genius How These Qualities Tend to Show Up





11 Feb
After decades of designing management and leadership solutions for consultants and organizations a pal of mine (Perry Carrison) asked me “Why aren’t you writing about this stuff for yourself? What is YOUR point of view, Deb? Great idea Perry, thanks so much for motivating me to write a self-paced workbook called “Great Idea! But…”  I plan to self-publish, a learning process that is turning out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I’m still working on a draft, but it might help if I start blogging about it so I can maintain some discipline and get feedback. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction. Please let me know what you think… good or bad I’m open to YOUR ideas about ideas! How to best share them. What works. How to motivate and inspire. How to overcome resistance.


Does this seem familiar?

You get a great idea. It makes sense. It is doable. It will improve things. It would make you and others look good. It might even be fun. The idea is so good you are totally inspired to get it out there.

You also know the idea won’t come to life in a vacuum. You need support, assistance, or resources. So, you run your idea by a boss, colleague, or friend. However, instead of wild enthusiasm your stakeholder saves you off or serves up some “talk to the hand” in the form of a big fat “NO” or a “BUT” or maybe by asking tons of questions that give the impression the idea is not “landing”. Your marvelous idea is shot down right away, or allowed to die through neglect. Maybe you try again and still get enough push back to get discouraged – maybe even a bit demoralized. So….

You give up on the idea.

Too bad, as you may have ditched a brilliant idea. What might have happened is that you made some incorrect assumptions about how, when, and to whom you pitched it. For lots of good reasons, your stakeholder was not as inspired as you. He or she was not ready to act. Maybe the timing or circumstances were off. Perhaps you picked the wrong person to ask. Chances are some element of your idea, or the way you pitched it, pushed your stakeholder’s buttons hard enough to push back on you.

“Talk to the hand” can feel like a slap.

Inspiring others to act requires them to move out of their comfort zones. It takes a lot of energy to overcome inertia. It takes courage to keep trying if you feel slapped down, discouraged, or have lost equilibrium or momentum. Inspiring others to wake up and engage with your idea calls for wits, confidence, and planning. It requires you to appreciate people who might not necessarily appreciate you back.

By completing this workbook, you can get better at inspiring one of your stakeholders to act on one of your great ideas. For the purposes of this workbook, a stakeholder is defined as someone who has power or influence you need to leverage. He or she could be a boss, colleague, team mate, partner, or friend.

Ideas embody a lot of meanings or intentions

The word “idea” is used here to mean a lot of things. An idea can be a solution, a plan, a way to measure, a form of validation, a way to improve relationships, a best practice, an innovation, and much more. A new idea usually requires one or more people to act. Most ideas tend to alter the status quo, which is tricky given that most individuals and organizations tend to resist change. Given that this workbook is all about YOU, feel free to interpret the word “idea” in ways that align with your interpretations. (to be continued)…

So my question dear readers… does this introduction inspire you to read more of the workbook? Let me know! Thank you! Deb



10 WILD Ideas for Designing Transformational Learning Programs

2 Aug

In June I had the privilege of attending a gathering at the Gestalt International Study Center in Wellfleet, MA. (I strongly recommend it!) There I met 50+ amazing individuals who work as organizational development consultants, life coaches, therapists, and educators. As we exchanged ideas about how to foster and inspire growth in individuals, organizations, and in ourselves… I was struck by the fact that I was probably the only “instructional designer” (“ID”) in the crowd. There were lots of gifted and talented trainers, teachers and educators, but I seemed to be the only one who chose this particular field. As I explained again and again, what I do for a living I had a big”aha”.

I realized that I need to do a better job SHARING my point of view with potential collaborators and clients. What ID’s do is somewhat esoteric… it’s easier to understand if you have visual aids, stories and descriptions of how we view and scope problems, how we lean in and move out, how we evoke awareness.

So I went home and wrote a book.

It’s not a very BIG book, only 14 pages. But it is a work of love called “10 WILD Ideas for Designing Transformational Learning Programs” (one musn’t give away the entire store!) and it was a blast to create it. I think it captures the essence of what I offer as a design collaborator. It has a few of my own illustrations and a few stories that explain how my love for art, community, and colorful office supplies combined into a passion for instructional design.  It gives some hints about why I think play is not just an okay thing to encourage in a learning program – it is mandatory.

If you would like to obtain a PDF of the booklet you only have to do three things. 1.) make a comment on this blog post so I can know you visited, 2.) email me at to order one. 3.) After you’ve read it, email me back with feedback or comments.

I trust and welcome your input!


What’s the deal with learning objectives?

19 Jun

My esteemed colleague, Abby Yanow, recently posted about unanticipated consequences of organizational development – see .

What she says also goes for instructional design. When training teams don’t agree ahead of time, on specific, measurable, and time-bound objectives for their programs, a lot of unanticipated stuff can happen. Unplanned outcomes hamper the design process, they waste time and energy and hurt morale.

For example, I once joined a training team which had been working for months to develop a technical training program. They were tense because the deadline was looming and they were kind of stuck. Turns out, they had never agreed on specific goals of their training program and had not asked their learners “Is this what you need?” Because they were data research-driven types, they had collected a massive amount of content, but didn’t quite know what to do with it all. Once we were started to articulate some core program goals, they saw that a lot of the data they had worked to collect wasn’t needed. It was nice to know stuff, not critical. They agreed that the critical competency their learners needed was the ability to engage others in tricky conversations. The program ended up being a lot more about information sharing and group facilitation. We ended up allocating most of workshop time for practicing soft skills such as group facilitation, sharing information in fun ways, and summarizing key concepts. The data was needed, but much of it ended up in handouts and bibliographies they could read on their own time.

Here are some poorly written learning objectives:
By the end of this program learners will…
– be told how to communicate better with each other.
– understand why it is important to use good customer service techniques.
– appreciate why teamwork is a good thing.

These contain classic flaws. These are written as if the learners are passive, empty vessels who can’t wait to be told what to do. They are vague and not measurable. (How do you measure if someone “understands” something?)

A better way: write goals that include observable behaviors. For example:

By the end of this training program, participants will be able to demonstrate two ways to engage customers in conversations about our product.

This can be measured by a role play that asks learners to demonstrate how they would engage customers in product-related conversations. As they act out the role play you can witness them perform. Did they use at least two engaging techniques? Objective accomplished!

Another idea: test out your objectives ahead of time to make sure they resonate with learners.

If a focus group can say “Yes, we can see a real, practical benefit from a program that helps us develop these specific competencies….” you are on the right track. Pretesting learning objectives also has another great benefit. You can gauge what your learners already know and design solutions that build on their knowledge. Chances are you don’t have to start at the beginning with the basics. Your learners already have amazing experiences and insights to offer – pre-testing learning objectives with them is a great way to collect real life scenarios which can help you create true to life case studies and scenarios.

The process of creating agreement on program goals is a great way to build training team cohesion.

When a training design team grapples with writing strong objectives that include observable behaviors… it has a lovely effect on team morale. They focus more on helping learners succeed and focus less on what they plan to tell. This helps the training team appreciate how to empower others instead of trying to control things.

Well-written learning objectives build empathy and move everyone toward positive action.

Making Good Ideas FIT (Into the Box) 2: Front End Analyses

17 Jun

This is the second in a series on “into the box” thinking – a core competency of resilient instructional designers (ID’s).

Training design is hugely fulfilling but there are some associated challenges that make it tricky. It is a science and an art to synthesize ideas and get them ready to ship on time, at the right price point, to the right learners.  An experienced instructional designer can help you save a ton of time, money, and team morale, as you begin to package your ideas.

WI v1.0Here’s a WILD idea… Don’t skip the front end analysis. An effective front end assessment is critically important if you plan to solve the real problem(s). In my experience, this phase is often skipped or given short shrift.  This is an important time to fully appreciate performance issues and systemic causes. This is also a time to ascertain if the issues can be solved by training (there are often lots of other contributing factors.) The front end analysis means you slow down a bit at first – so you can move more efficiently later. Not only will you diagnose issues more clearly — it’s a great time to build a shared vision with the training team of what success can look like.

A front end assessment answers many questions, including:

—  Who are our learners and how do they prefer to learn? Do we have a class of fact driven concrete, logical thinkers who prefer lectures, charts, lists, and worksheets – or learners who are engaged by dialogue, experiential “open space” learning, hands on practicums, and role plays? Chances are the answer is “both” which means that whatever methods you select need to seamlessly blend together to honor multiple intelligences. 

What do our learners really need to be able to do or to know? What’s driving the bus? In what context do new competencies need to show up? How will the training help save money or hassle, increase productivity, strengthen teams, or help everyone think strategically? How will managers be able to see tangible results? Are teams are more inter-connected, dependable, resilient, collaborative, focused and engaged in the organization’s mission? Was that the goal? Good job! Go celebrate! It’s amazing how rarely trainers do follow up evaluations to gauge long term impact. I guess that’s subject for another blog.

What business systems or contexts reward and or impede performance?  For instance, if we expect customer service reps to focus their time building relationships with callers, but we bonus them only when they increase the number of calls handled per shift, guess which behaviors change?

 How much do they already know? It is amazing how much we have rattling around in our brains that is not “top of mind” all the time. Like most folks, I took biology in high school. I clearly remember the day we had to dissect a frog. Today, I might not remember frog anatomy all that well (amazingly it almost never comes up in conversations) but if you asked me to do it again today I could probably muddle through it because the learning experience was so intense those many years ago. All of us have competencies we don’t know we have until we are challenged to go inside and search for them. Unfortunately some trainers default to an assumption that learners know less than they do. This can come out of a well-intended motivation to share what we know, not an assumption that everyone is incompetent. However that zeal to “tell” can jeopardize training effectiveness if it gets construed as a lack of respect for our existing strengths.

This means that as a key component of a front end analysis, it’s helpful to measure or pre-test your learners’ competencies. There are fast and even fun ways to do this.  Take a poll, distribute a survey, run a focus group, do a pilot test. Ask, ask, ask for input. Ask “What would it take for you to take your work to the next level?” Chances are you will receive honest, practical and truly inspiring responses. The homework pays off. It will prove to your learners and your stakeholders, that the training really  fits into the box – it’s worth the investment.

Coming up… what’s the deal with learning objectives?

Into the Box Design: Part 1: Model Kit Metaphor

9 May

When a company or a nonprofit needs to prepare a complex training program, it is best to involve instructional designers (ID’s) early in the process. Our skills are perfect for applying several forms of into the box design which help you get high quality training products out the door. As a seasoned ID, I especially love helping diverse teams of players to create complex training designs. The work calls for lots of creativity and collaborations with diverse teams: individuals who, at the start, might not completely agree on what the finished product should look it.

This entry will attempt to describe what I mean by “into the box design” as a metaphor for describing what instructional designers can offer IF we play a central role early in the process.

robotkitThe Robot Kit Metaphor. Let’s pretend we want to develop a “make your own robot” kit to be sold online and in toy stores to kids who are obsessed with robots and with building stuff. Our marketing mavens have told us that this type of buyer tends to love model kits that display finished products on the box . The key words “creative – fun – educational” need to be displayed to appeal to adults who will fork up the money. To create our kit, we need to design and develop several inter-related components: a box to hold all the components, printed card stock paper with robot pieces to cut and assemble, glue, instruction sheets and perhaps a list of extra stuff you need (scissors, ruler, etc.) All pieces have to fit into the box; they have to add up to a cohesive result. Even one missing piece can ruin the outcome. Since many kids (and adults!) hate to read instructions, we should provide visual clues along with the step-by-step instructions on how to assemble the components. What else? We will need to know the best way to market this product… the price point, brand, etc. We need to think about storage, inventory, shipping and handling, etc.  

So, a fun idea to make an appealing, “hands on” product can easily become a complex project. There are a lot of variables to consider. The “robot in a box” metaphor is a great way to describe how instructional designers help “box” training programs that are fun, creative, and engaging adult learning experiences.

To build a great training product and get it ready to ship, we need a team of experts. ID’s refer to such folks as Subject Matter Experts (SME’s). The team needs marketing and branding SME’s who understand our intended audiences, their motivations, and their needs. We need experts in graphic design, print production, box construction, inventory control, shipping and handling, product placement in the toy store business, social marketing, and more. Some experts are needed at the front end of the process, some at the end — a few need to be central to the process the entire time. ID’s tend to be start-to-finish players; we know how to work with diverse experts to get the job done by deadline. ID’s help everyone stay focused on core design elements that cannot be compromised.

Instructional Designers understand how to package inter-related components, fitting them together for optimal results. We continually study how adults learn, going deep into what motivates and inspires us. We work to understand a constantly changing training market. Because we understand the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of learning methodologies, we can make smart recommendations on how to “blend” them for optimal effect. This combination of competencies helps build an effective and highly marketable product with efficiency which keeps development costs down.  

In other words, experienced, resilient Instructional Designers know how to create measurably effective training products that apply the best of “into the box” thinking. It is ideal to hire an ID early in the process in order to develop powerful learning experiences that are ready to ship in the right box at the right price point to the right learners. Coming up: Part 2: Making the Pieces FIT Into the Box.


What IS an instructional designer?

29 Jun

Over the years, I’ve been challenged to explain what I can offer my nonprofit and business clients. The official definition of an instructional designer (ID) goes something like… we create a variety of measurably effective learning experiences. We combine principles of adult learning theory with a comprehensive knowledge of which methodologies are best to use, depending on a ton of variables. We are strong partners and collaborators who know how to listen, brainstorm, create structures or frames, write, edit and illustrate complex thoughts. We know how to get projects done on time and under budget. We help our clients transform a chaotic mix of ideas into compelling learning experiences and products that “ship” and “scale.”


This may be accurate… but it’s kind of boring and way too wordy. Let’s share some fun ways to explain what instructional designers can offer.

One great metaphor needs to be credited to my colleague, Beth Klein, who words it like this… We are like donuts. If you go to a bakery and order an assortment of filled donuts… you will get a mix of flavors, jelly, apple, lemon, etc. Fillings can vary, but they all end up inside the same type of baked shell. ID’s are donut shells for carrying learning content (the jelly or Boston Cream or what have you) from subject matter experts (the bakers) to learners (the eaters.) All parties need the information to be served up fresh, in easy-to-digest portions. That’s where us donuts come in.

Do YOU have a metaphor to describe what ID’s do? Please share!