The human condition – faces and social learning

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme from the first webinar was about “The Human Condition”, with Emotion at Work expert Phil Willcox. You can read my post about ‘what is the human condition?‘.

“A mask tells us more than a face” – Oscar Wilde

There was a 45 minute video that Phil prepared specifically for the programme, which talked about “face”.

A google of “facework theory” shows a general purpose description on the Talk About Talk website as “the maintenance of one’s perceived identity”.

The website goes on to state that “this theory is concerned with the ways in which we construct and preserve our self images, or the image of someone else”.

Wikipedia tells me:

The sociologist Erving Goffman introduced the concept of “face” into social theory with his (1955) article “On Face-work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements of Social Interaction” and (1967) book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior.

According to Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, face is a mask that changes depending on the audience and the variety of social interaction. People strive to maintain the face they have created in social situations. They are emotionally attached to their faces, so they feel good when their faces are maintained; loss of face results in emotional pain, so in social interactions people cooperate by using politeness strategies to maintain each other’s faces.

Interestingly, the Talk About Talk website also states that “face can be built, changed, or lost during communication exchanges that may threaten the way we want to be seen”. This is an important part of communication with others, about how we portray ourselves and other’s perceive us, as well as interplay of communication between the two – which could be explicit or unspoken.

In his opening video Phil highlights that when you move to a new organisation, you can choose what images you want to portray and therefore how people perceive you. This resonated as I recalled moving from a technical training role into a people training role.

In the office, I didn’t want to jump in to all of the Excel problems etc as I didn’t want to be seen as “the IT geek” or “the person to ask all the software problems”. It felt very mean at first not to immediately help people with everything, but I knew it wouldn’t do me any favours for that to be my “face” or, as Phil introduced me to, “stuck in face”.

This also relates a bit to a podcast chat I had with Phil about, in my terminology, the different ‘persona’s’ we have, most specifically on social media.

Faces reflection

Phil gave us a document to think about our different faces, from a specific time we were communicating with others. I picked a particular client meeting to think about and started making some notes about my “competence face”, which is my ability to do the task or job that is requested of me, my “company face” which represents or takes on the identity of my organisation and others.

I was recalling the meeting and making notes of my thoughts about how I showed my technical competence in the meeting about the learning solution, which I thought I did pretty well. I reflected on the company face, about the crossover of personality between myself my Lightbulb Moment, being my company and my approach to business.

I wrote some more notes before seeing a Slack notification. Slack is a communication platform that Sukh Pabial is using for the Modern Learning Leader programme. We also use it at Lightbulb and I’m considering it for my programme delivery, but that’s another conversation…

Another member of the Slack channel, on this topic, included this in their post: “Certainly going to be watching myself this afternoon and evening for when my words aren’t in time with the face I think I’m adopting and that which others are seeing.”

This made me really think again about my reflections – I was hoping for self awareness but, if I’m really honest, they were heading towards self congratulatory. The comment above made me look at this again and realise where I was forgetting my conflict.

Specifically it reminded me of where my “company face” (at it’s most basic, wanting the business and the biggest value possible) and “competence face” where in a little conflict, of understanding the client, their needs (including budget) and wanting to recommend the best solution for the learners and organisation.

The need for social learning

The last piece of reflection from this comment was how important the Slack conversation was to get to this point. This person’s comment is the bit that gave me my lightbulb moment.

Without that comment, through that social learning channel that was collaborative and external to the specific learning event, I wouldn’t have had that insight. That’s why the conversation around learning is so important.

Not too late to join in

You can come along to the webinars (one is tonight, 24th July, 7pm UK time) and also the workshop too.

There is also a Twitter conversation on the #MLLeader hashtag.

You can read my first blog in the Modern Learning Leader series.

And my second blog!

The human condition

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme, the first webinar is all about “The Human Condition”, with Emotion at Work expert Phil Willcox.

What is “The Human Condition”?

Other than understanding the actual words, I’m not sure what that means. Obviously, the place to start is Google!

I thought I might start with an overview of some quotes that have been curated on the topic, including:

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
― Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

“Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

“Humanity is lost because people have abandoned using their conscience as their compass.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

So it looks like the focus is on us as people, individuals, team members and, ultimately, leaders. It’s about how we investigate, communicate, come to conclusions, make decisions, take people on a journey with us…

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

The human condition is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.”

This is a very broad topic which has been and continues to be pondered and analysed from many perspectives, including those of religion, philosophy, history, art, literature, anthropology, psychology, and biology.

As a literary term, “the human condition” is typically used in the context of ambiguous subjects such as the meaning of life or moral concerns.

The most fundamental element of us is our humanity, for all of us. However, looking even just at that Wikipedia introduction, that can encompass so many things – where I am in my life and career journey, my gender and health, my religion, or lack of, what philosophies or values drive me, what I read, how I see other people from my perspective and so much more.

It must also, therefore, be about how we relate with other humans, either those that mesh well with our perspectives, or those that don’t. Perhaps especially those that don’t, as there are always challenges in life and some we don’t have an easy choice about walking away.

The human condition and learning

In his PGCE documentation ‘Different perspectives on evaluating lessons and developing as teachers‘ Richard Denny’s opening line is “education is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.”

Without development and education, over thousands of years, we wouldn’t be the humans we are now, and in the society we are now. As well as then the huge focus on the jobs that we do in learning and development.

Part of the pre-work is a TEDx video shared by Phil:

One aspect I especially liked from this was about public understanding, that people generally think of it as “a blank slate” and as communicators we can make things that make sense to us and drop it into them. The speaker states that “it’s neither correct, nor is it productive. We have to understand that culture always complicates our jobs as communicators”.

We have to take culture into account in our L&D roles – both the geographic culture of the country and specific location we are in, the make up of the people within it, and that of the industry and the organisation itself.

The human condition webinar 24th July 2017

The webinar that is part of the Modern Learning Leader programme is explained as: “We’ll be exploring modern theories about the human condition, what they help us to understand about human behaviour, and how we can be better leaders in learning.”

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to Phil bringing his amazing insight and expertise to understand our communication and emotional context as leaders in learning for modern environments.

Join in

You can come along to the webinars and also the workshop too.

There is also a Twitter conversation on the #MLLeader hashtag.

You can read my first blog in the Modern Learning Leader series.

What is a Modern Learning Leader?

There are two main components to think about, “modern learning” and “leader”.

Being a super leader

You could argue there’s a crossover subset here, of “modern leader”, though I think by tackling “modern learning” I hope to cover that.

There’s volumes and volumes written on leadership and what I present here are only my personal thoughts.

There are different aspects of great leadership, depending on the individuals, the context, the organisation, what is trying to be achieved and much more.

One example of a great leader is Christopher Reeve, the actor of Superman The Movie fame. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Reeve Superman movies. Aside from my childhood love of Superman, part of my admiration is how Reeve behaved and performed after his terrible horse riding accident that left him as a paraplegic in May 1995.

Christopher Reeve photo by Andre Queiroz

Reeve was put into a situation which most of us can never imagine, how his life changed and was severely physically restricted. However out of that horror came strong leadership on a personal level. Reeve campaigned for rights of the disabled, stem cell research for spinal chord injury victims, became a beacon of hope for the physically challenged and a well known campaigner. He also managed to continue to act and direct films.

To me this is about leadership through adversity. Reeve was highly active in his campaigning, being a visible leader for people to follow. He was also personable and approachable as a normal human being and not a Superman.

You’ll have your own aspects of leadership that you see and admire in many different people and situations you’ve been in. Feel free to share those in the comments below, it would be lovely to read about a leader that is personally relevant to you in some way.

Modern learning includes…

This phrase is one that many of us in learning and development use a lot, though probably isn’t used in businesses and organisations that much. I use it because I want to differentiate myself from the poor ‘chalk and talk’ lecture-style delivery that is more traditional in some areas of training.

“Modern learning” highlights:

Jo Cook presenting at a 702010 session at Online Educa Berlin 2016

The world of work has changed and is constantly changing.

What we deliver as part of our role in HR, Organisational Development and L&D needs to keep up and, ideally, be leading the way forward.

We need all the skills mentioned above, and many more, in order to be leading our businesses towards a modern learning and performance culture.

Learning about being a modern learning leader

It’s a question that Sukh Pabial is tackling through a series of webinars, social learning through a Slack channel, and a two day workshop in London. I’m attending these as I want to confirm what I already know and do, share what I’m doing and m approaches to help others, to see what others are doing to update my own methods and learn things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Sukh, who is a brilliant and prolific blogger, has a particular post on modern learning and productivity here.

You can come along to the webinars and also the workshop too and I look forward to discussing this with you more over the coming months.

There is also a Twitter conversation on the #MLLeader hashtag.

Read my second blog in the Modern Learning Leader series.

Conference content – how to keep your delegates enthused

I wrote a blog about a free conference I went to and how it was sales over substance. After recently attending the CIPD L&D Show in London I thought I would share my thoughts again to see what was done differently, and if it was better.

The same… but worlds apart


Both the conferences I attended contained a similar amount of people and setup; an area for exhibitors and different areas for the seminars. This is where the similarities end.

The CIPD L&D Show was not a free conference, though there was a free-to-attend exhibition and sessions. The CIPD L&D Show also opened up the seminars to experts and professionals who had real content and the passion to deliver it, rather than in-house employees.

Nearly all of the seminars I went to I came out of them learning something or going away with a drive to focus on something in particular.

Content not sales

The speakers would of course mention where they worked and their company or institution as it’s a great opportunity to enhance profile. They might mention throughout their presentation specific points of how their company did certain things but it was never done as a sales pitch. Passion was delivered and strong content provided, people would be able to go away and start trying techniques that had been offered.

I know for myself that I followed on Twitter and on Facebook the majority of the speakers at the seminars I went to. I found websites and put them into my favourite resources to go back and reference. Will I convert into a sale? Potentially. Do I have brand awareness? Most definitely!

Separating passion and sales

The CIPD L&D Conference was a great blend of the two; the free exhibitor floor had many companies trying to raise awareness and make sales. This was expected and if you moved yourself into that environment it was the mind-set you had gone into and were ready for.

On the exhibition floor there were lots of free seminars on offer. As I spent more time in the Conference I only saw the Ignite sessions (you can watch them all on Training Journal).

The conference sessions had passion and you could tell it was mainly about people who really wanted to provide some of the knowledge they had gained on their way to becoming an expert in their field or area.

Splitting the free exhibition and the paid-for conference made the conference feel complete and adjusting mind-set depending where you were was easy to do. The previous conference I had attended missed that – there was no divide between sales and content, a constant badgering of sales with next to no worthwhile content.

Knowing what people want


As a delegate we want to come away from the conference feeling the cost of the ticket was worth it for our own personal development and understanding. We take painstaking time to choose the sessions we want to attend because we are trying to maximise our own take away knowledge.

Delegates also understand that people and companies who have attended to exhibit have their own needs and requirements, cost to gain ratio whether that is sales or awareness for the brand.

We want the best of both worlds and can understand both sides of the coin.


I felt the balance at the CIPD L&D Show was spot on. I could flit between the two areas when I felt the urge, I could find like-minded individuals and get their opinions and network with them.

Content and passion and will always win over the hard sale and I saw a lot of passion and absorbed a great deal of superb content.

Prepare to be flexible

Some of you know that over the last couple of years I have been reinvigorating a long neglected garden and have turned into a (very) amateur gardener and vegetable grower. 

My mum, who is retired and grows veg to epic proportions, gives me her old gardening magazines, including Gardeners’ World January 2013.

Gardener and TV presenter Monty Don wrote an article about preparing the garden for the year ahead and how the changes in climate are affecting crops, “from a field of wheat to a few radishes sown in a window box”. 

Monty Don Gardeners' World magazine talking about change

Monty Don Gardeners’ World magazine talking about change

One paragraph in particular resonated with me, not just for the implications of my seed sowing and crop rotation, but in the work we all do every day:

“Doing what you (or your grandfather) have always done and then complaining that the weather has been ‘against’ you is not the answer. However we do not know exactly what to expect. So direct the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.”

Monty is explaining the VUCA world and how to deal with it. We don’t know what the future will bring, so we don’t always know how to prepare for it. Therefore the only way to prepare is to be flexible; ready to change and adapt. 

Monty gives the example of “raising seed in smaller batches and more waves of succession”. This is about failing fast. If your first few batches of seed get ruined by an unexpected late frost, you have more to follow. It’s also not sowing all the seeds in one go, it’s doing something smaller and more often to see the results as time goes on. 

As I look at expanding Lightbulb Moment, I have many ideas of what to do and achieve. Just like I have many fantasies about what to do with my garden. I have to carefully select the ‘seeds’ that I sow, how many and at what time. 

In my garden last year, after removing dead and safety-risk leylandii trees, I wanted to get the newly made border dug over and planted up beautifully. That didn’t happen and still hasn’t. There wasn’t the time, money or energy. Likewise there are things I want to do with my business that I know probably won’t happen this year. But it’s ok, I can use that time to research, listen to my clients and plan. 

My border might get started later this year, and next year might look great. Just like my business. 

Jo Cook enjoying the garden!

Jo Cook enjoying the garden!

Soft skills gap – do appraisals really work for identification?

I was the guest speaker on the Bray Leino Learning webinar, “Identifying and Closing Soft Skills Gaps.” You can watch the recording here.


Appraisals are often used in organisations to review achievement and also look forward to goal setting for the coming year, which should include identifying all sorts of skills gap and how to close them. You can read a brief history of performance management here to get more of a background.

There are some that suggest the annual performance appraisal is a dying process. This includes Josh Bersin in his LinkedIn article, “Are Performance Appraisals Doomed?“.

The negative look at appraisals

In this article from Personnel Today, data from the Corporate Executive Board (now Gartner) showed that “the average manager spends more than 200 hours a year on activities related to performance reviews, but a staggering 90% of HR leaders feel the process does not yield accurate information”.

This Harvard Business Review article commented on the fitness of purpose for the future of business, that appraisals had a “heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behaviour at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organisations’ long-term survival”.

Are manager’s supporting the learner?

Moving away from the debate of appraisals and whether they are fit for purpose any more, a recent webinar with Lentum Learning Transfer Software and Lever Transfer of Learning highlighted results from their 2017 Learning Transfer Research (due to be published very soon).

The webinar included these results:


Above shows the steep drop from what is learned initially to sustaining that learning for longer term performance in the workplace, as reported by L&D survey respondents globally.

Lentum and Lever highlight that this is a significant issue in the investment of resources into L&D programmes without significantly showing change in workplace performance.

Additionally, this data was telling about manager support:


A staggering 46% of respondents stated that manager’s were not involved in supporting the learning transfer, and therefore work improvement, of their direct reports.

This post from 70:20:10 framework champion Charles Jennings writes about research that shows “managers who set clear objectives, explain their expectations, and clearly set out how they plan to measure performance have teams that outperform others by almost 20%.”

A great Training Journal blog from Paul Matthews of People Alchemy states that “the delegate should be sent back from the course with a list of actions and goals that will deliver on the desired, paid-for business outcomes. That is the core purpose of learning transfer.”

With this information it seems absolute madness that more organisations don’t have these processes, approaches and, probably most importantly, culture as part of their business. Why wouldn’t you want to improve performance by 20%? If your managers are spending 200 hours (or over five weeks!) a year on performance reviews, why wouldn’t you want to see the pay off from that time?

Is the problem that manager’s are too busy? Is it that they don’t see anything to do with ‘learning’ as their job? Do L&D do a poor job of uniting learning to performance? It’s yes to all of them, and many, many more elements involved too.

Harold Jarche, on his blog, states that ““We have come to a point where organisations can no longer leave learning to their HR or training departments. Being able to understand emerging situations, see patterns, and co-solve problems are essential business skills. Learning is the work.”

What can we do about identifying and closing the soft skills gap?

You can join us on the webinar on Wednesday 26th April 2pm UK time, 11pm AEST, 9am EST, and discuss further!

Watch recording