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Kim Kardashian, Twitter, and Leadership – Part 1

By Barry Stern and Russ White

What do you get when a learning scientist and a technologist get together? An idea to spark a conversation on reimaging how leaders today learn, develop, and perform. This is the first in our #LearningPerforming blog series.

As leaders responsible for a significant portion of technology and learning strategy and execution, we have for years enjoyed—no, marveled!—at the accelerating rate our paths continue to converge. Today we are consumed by the notion of how to enable the digitally empowered leader to enhance his or her performance.  We believe that meaningful, organizationally contextual application is far more limited by our imagination than the technology itself.  And, we also firmly agree technology in and of itself is neither a force for good nor evil, especially in the leadership performance game.

Like any tool, it can be misapplied and do damage. One need to think no further than email and technologized performance management systems to conjure up painful images of the technological shrapnel piercing the hearts and minds of employees. Yet the upsides are staggering—and especially in our learning and development space, where we are not making progress nearly rapidly enough.

While this indictment may seem odd coming from an organization that has an unparalleled primary research base proving the efficacy of our solutions, we recognize that leaders around the world have spoken, and have found L&D efforts wanting. Global research has shown that there’s a need to create better leaders who meet today’s demands and are ready to propel organizations towards future success.

Undisputedly, technology is a significant part of the answer

Consider for a moment that at the time of this writing, Google reports 40,000 searches per second globally which amounts to 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year! These stunning facts indicate that intellectual curiosity, despite reports of its death, is alive and kicking. We are wired to learn, to seek information; it is our essence! But the L&D community is being outpaced by those who understand much more about how to use today’s technology to engage others, share knowledge, and impact behavior.

Just think: as we write this, Kim Kardashian has close to 38 million Twitter followers. Talk about engagement! And aren’t Twitter posts nothing more than an extreme example of micro or chunked learning? She, or more likely her engagement (or PR) machine, has it wired; they understand how to leverage technology to drive interest and action. And if you’re ever inspired to learn beyond 140 characters, then a click gets you deeper knowledge about whatever you want (including that stuff about the clairvoyant who predicted the name of her and Kanye’s baby).

Sound ridiculous? What does Kim K really have to do with the L&D space? Actually we are very serious when we ask ourselves, and you, why not us? Why can’t we be as brilliant in educating and engaging our leaders as celebrities are about getting to their followers? Why can’t we harness all the tools at our disposal so that our field does not find us as wanting? Why not have “Kardashian-like engagement” coupled with meaningful dialogue and impact? Communication is both social and layered and we can admit that we have grown too complacent with our current models. Perhaps it’s time to err in the opposite direction, to reach for what might feel today impossible and in the process change our paradigms.

How can technology help? Let’s consider how difficult it is for instructors to adapt simultaneously to multiple students’ individual learning styles and in real-time. Even the very best college professors are only able to do this for a handful of students at a time. Technology, however, is able to adjust to every learner’s individual needs in real-time as they are learning.

A way to reimagine: The learning/performing fan

At DDI, we’re examining where technology is taking our space. It’s a great time to rethink some old paradigms and models, and manage our reaction to the unexpected twists and turns this journey will surely take us.

A project in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University’s METALS program (Masters In Educational Technology and Learning Sciences) brought life to the “fan model” below. It presents an alternative way to think about knowledge acquisition, learning, and performance; it has helped stimulate thoughts and ideas, especially when it comes to the design and utilization of meaningful technology for leadership development. The fan represents a limiting dichotomy in leadership development between learning and performing. The wider the fan, the greater the distinction between the two, and the wider the span one needs to cross in order to transfer any knowledge gain into performance on the job. Our objective then is to collapse the fan, to challenge the limiting “I learn, then I perform” mindset.

There are three levels that present different vantage points; correctly taken into consideration and acted upon, these three will help compress the fan. Misunderstood or not considered at all, they will serve to expand the gap and impinge upon knowledge acquisition, retention, and transfer. Considering these three vantage points is instructive:


1. Individual perceptions

In today’s world, we must re-ask ourselves, how do we earn the right to have our learners perceive our information as more important than anything else out there? We are all being relentlessly trained to “dismiss” and “filter” that which we don’t perceive as relevant; to do less than that is paralyzing. Add to that the time assault and ambiguity inherent in many leadership positions today. Plus, the typical leader has largely had to take charge of her own development perhaps even during our finely tuned onboarding program. She is very likely to be one of the “searchers” mentioned above contributing to Google’s billions.

While you may carefully craft a learning journey for her as a HiPo, she must also feel that the information we are presenting to her is highly credible and worth her engagement. She’s not going to turn off the search button on her phone; if she sees a YouTube video that she considers more relevant to her than the information you are feeding her, well tough on you.  How do we rise to that challenge in today’s world? Asking leaders to “please turn your cellphones off” in a classroom is old and antiquated in today’s virtualized world.

2. Solution dynamics

Our well-designed L&D efforts don’t take place in a bubble or a laboratory with thick walls; our learners are increasingly learning on the move, whether in grocery lines, in the subway, or in between meetings. And even if you get them in a classroom, you can’t completely shut out the outside world. Given this, the second layer of the fan compels our instructional designers to place today’s mobile, connected, and social realities front and center as we create our solutions.

Let’s talk about social. We all see the power in social learning, but is it truly safe to be social in your company or do you feel “big brother” watching? Can your leaders ask for help, admit what they don’t know, freely comment and help each other without fear of repercussion? Are you still thinking about controlling a dialogue while being terrified of unleashing one? These are very tough calls that the L&D community is struggling with, and we must equip ourselves with better informed approaches if we want to create solutions that truly impact behavior.

3. Environmental support

We’ve always known that manager support is a critical determinant of knowledge transfer, and it is still true today. But are we limited by considering traditional knowledge acquisition as the necessary precursor to enhanced performance?

Let’s turn it inside out. Does it have to be, “I learn then I apply”? Or does technology give us more of an opportunity to be an “I tried that, it worked, I conclude I must have learned something”? What are the “wearables” for performance support? How can we help people be more excellent today or right now? Imagine driving engagement through a performance-first mentality; perhaps then a person would be inspired to learn more deeply.

The big question for all of us: How?

While we certainly don’t have all the answers, our next installment in this series will focus on a critical emergent role we continue to talk about and refine: the Learning Experience Manager. Today’s learning and development leader requires a radically new set of skills, experience, and motivations and we’re excited to explore some ideas with you in our next blog.

Through this dialogue we hope to help bust through some of our old paradigms and truly harness the power of the opportunities that lie before us all!

Join the conversation on Twitter at #LearningPerforming or via email: or

Barry Stern, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President of DDI’s Leadership Solutions. Russ White is Vice President of Technology Strategy in DDI’s Global Technology Group. They are committed to have more heated debates over many beers on the nexus of learning science fueled by technology.

Posted: 12 Jan, 2016,
Talk to an Expert: Kim Kardashian, Twitter, and Leadership – Part 1
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