For some readers, the cover of Clark Quinn’s latest book will be evocative of a time when a popular battle cry urged, “Question everything!” In Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age, Quinn certainly raises a lot of questions about the way in which instructional designers go about their work, and about the future of Learning and Development (L&D) as a field of endeavor within organizations.
However, unlike the infamous “Little Red Book” referenced on the cover, Quinn’s book is not a catechism, or a compilation of dogma. It is a serious, thoughtful examination of the challenges to our profession and the resources available to us for responding. Quinn shares his thoughts and those of other leaders in L&D on the necessary changes in direction and the ways in which we can collaborate in order to realize a better outcome than the one to which we now seem to be headed.
“A Call to Arms”
Using a rather telegraphic style for the section and chapter titles, and keeping the early chapters short, Quinn creates a distinct impression of his sense of urgency about his mission: to find an answer to the question, “How does learning and development (L&D) move forward?” Why the sense of urgency? He is convinced (as are many practitioners) that the world is changing, business is changing, new opportunities are emerging, but L&D “is not doing what it can and should be doing—and what it is doing it is doing badly.”
To put it bluntly, Quinn asserts that the L&D profession is out of touch and out of step with what business needs, and continuing to do what we are doing is not an option that has prospects for long-term viability. Is this mere hyperbole, or are we really in trouble?
It may be dramatic, even confrontational like a counseling intervention with a friend who needs professional help to deal with a serious problem, but don’t let the style of the writing in the first section distract you from the substance. Quinn admits to being less than temperate there, as he provides in depth his observations about what L&D professionals (meaning “we”) are doing wrong, and why it is wrong.
“Reader beware,” he warns. He wants your attention, and he will get it, as he looks at our world and the changes that are taking place, and as he lays out his picture of the ways in which current L&D practices are not adequate to that world and fail to achieve what we think they do. Quinn does not rely on unsupported claims, but on the results of surveys and on hard data about the results achieved (or not) through current practice.
Even in Section 1, Quinn provides a glimpse of what he believes the world of L&D could look like. But how do we get there?
In the second section of the book, Quinn moves on to review what we know about learning (knowledge that L&D is not using). He provides specifics: what we know about the brain and learning, about organizations, business and culture, and about technology. These are the resources that we have in our inventory (or can add to it if we pay attention), and the resources on which we must capitalize in order to move forward, to become relevant, and to perform competently in the world as it is and as it is becoming.
In the penultimate section of Revolutionize Learning & Development, Quinn provides two important helps to the reader. The first is a framework for moving forward. Now, this is not an action plan. Instead, it offers a strategic way to think about L&D activities as a performance ecosystem. For practitioners who are only accustomed to measuring the success of L&D in terms of head counts, sessions delivered, and Level 1 evaluation, the framework may be a stretch, but it is an exercise that will pay off.
The second assist in this section is a number of perspectives and case studies that help the reader relate the resources and the framework to the vision that Quinn began to articulate in Chapter 1. I would particularly recommend Chapter 9 and the “Leader Reflections” from Allison Rossett and Marc Rosenberg, two of the most respected authorities in the learning and development field.
The last section of the book deals with process, at a high level, for implementing the shift in strategy described in Chapter 9. There is no checklist of action items here. It is more about defining a process by which we in the L&D profession can make decisions that are right. Quinn promises to support this process through an ongoing conversation within an online network.
Closing: Criticism or critique?
Getting through the first three chapters of Revolutionize Learning & Development may be a challenge for readers who take it only as a criticism of their personal efforts, and not (as it is intended) as a critique of our profession. For those readers, it might be important to remember that criticism focuses only on deficiencies, while critique focuses on getting us to what can be.
Clark Quinn has provided us with a critique, notes on strategy and process, and an architecture for moving forward. It seems to me that this is certainly a book that will be discussed and argued over, and one that will help many chart the way to their vision of what learning and development should be.
Quinn, Clark N. Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age. San Francisco: Wiley, 2014.