“That won’t work for us.” A DemoFest participant said this to me a few years back as I started to explain Kaplan’s microlearning application. Considering that I was only two sentences into my summary, I found her response to be super abrupt and a bit awkward—so much so that it has stuck with me for several years. First of all, I wasn’t trying to sell her anything. The fact that my project “won’t work” for her didn’t really matter. Sure, I would have liked her vote and a high five, but I didn’t need her to run out and do as I do. Second, and more importantly, I hadn’t said nearly enough for her to judge the potential applicability of my approach in her organization.

Not the first time, won’t be the last time

By no means was this the first time someone told me that an idea wasn’t agreeable, but it did make me pay closer attention to this response as I engaged within the industry. I heard it now and then during my conference sessions on knowledge sharing. I read it in chat streams during webinars on gamification. I saw it in blog comments about microlearning and replies on Twitter related to BYOD (bring your own device). This all made me wonder. Were these L&D pros in a position to make snap judgments about the applicability of the content being presented? After all, would they have been in attendance if they were subject matter experts or had already tried the exact same thing in the past? What could this penchant to rush to judgment mean for our industry?

Of course, there are L&D professionals out there with a solid understanding of their business and a strategic vision who can quickly determine how an idea may or may not apply to their company. However, this is likely the exception rather than the norm. In more cases, I believe we simply know what has and has not worked in the past and therefore apply our existing mental models to new ideas. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Thanks, Einstein!

The snap judgment challenge

A “that won’t work for us” mentality represents a foundational challenge for L&D organizations struggling to provide value in a constantly changing workplace. An unwillingness to consider new approaches will cause you to miss out on great ideas along the way. It can also limit your awareness of the latest developments within the field and therefore reduce your long-term value as an L&D pro. Furthermore, snap judgments may indicate a lack of influence within the organization, especially if your criteria are defined by stakeholders outside L&D. Finally, I fear that this mindset may demonstrate potential misplaced value on the part of L&D. Sure, the ability to say yes or no indicates power, but deriving your value to the organization from this power is a recipe for long-term failure.

For me, this all comes back to the importance of collaboration as a core principle of modern workplace learning. Every team, organization, and industry likes to think it is special. However, in real life, most companies are trying to solve similar problems that are foundational to the way work is done today—regardless of team, organization, or industry. We must escape the organizational bubble and open our minds to ideas that may seem unconventional or even contradictory to our current approaches.

Now what?

Here are a few practical ways L&D pros can overcome the “that won’t work for us” mindset.

Stay vulnerable

Vulnerability is essential for learning. This is just as true for L&D as it is for the people we support. We must acknowledge the potential for new ideas and recognize that—even if we have extensive experience and knowledge of our business—we can be wrong.

Put new ideas into context

Whether it’s a salesperson or a conference presenter, the person sharing a new idea with you likely doesn’t understand your business nearly as well as you do. Therefore, rather than taking their idea at face value, you should add context to the conversation. Provide them with background on your organization’s challenges, goals, limitations, and past approaches so they can reframe their explanation accordingly and help you make an informed decision regarding applicability.

It may not work here, but what about over there?

Maybe gamification—as an example—won’t work right now for a particular part of your organization. No one said every idea has to work for every employee right away. When presented with a new idea, consider potential variations within your organization and the value of applying flexible strategies. If there is a potential match, pilot a new strategy with a select audience and leverage continued success to stimulate organic growth.

Look for the secondary idea

When I talk about the power of knowledge sharing within an organization, I don’t require every employee be granted permission to personally contribute content. There are plenty of organizations that see this as a risky proposition and prefer to take a more measured approach. That said, shared knowledge should still be a basic component of every learning ecosystem. Who does the sharing and what is shared can vary as needed. When handed a new idea, you don’t have to apply everything exactly as presented. Dig into the concept to understand both the strategic foundation as well as the tactical side so you can apply your context and find elements that may be useful within your workplace.

Seek out “that won’t work for us YET” conversations

Maybe your employees aren’t mobile. Maybe they don’t have access to mobile devices, and you can’t allow employees to formally use their own for work purposes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand BYOD and how you can leverage it to support modern workplace learning and performance. A big part of staying relevant in our field is seeking out ideas that we can’t apply in our work right away. However, we can use this awareness to incrementally improve our methods and build toward the possibility of applying new ideas in the future. I may not be applying augmented reality in my work right now, but I am definitely paying attention to Pokémon GO to see how it influences consumer acceptance of this technology.

I was speaking with a peer tonight as I wrote this article. The topic was movies. He told me The Beaver was a terrible movie. I asked, “Have you seen it?” He said, “No.” Hmmmmmmmmm…

The tendency to rush to judgment certainly isn’t new. It seems even more accelerated in our media-rich modern culture. We have become increasingly accustomed to forming opinions using limited source information in favor of past experience. While this may feel good in the moment, it is unlikely to lead to positive long-term outcomes. As L&D professionals, we must avoid the “that won’t work for us” mentality if we hope to keep pace with workplace evolution and provide continued value to our organizations.