Lessons from being ill for a while

First things first, this post will probably be even more of a mess than normal. 

Part of the reason for this is that the post is going to be a compilation of some voice notes I’ve left myself over the last couple of months but by the time I edit/publish it not all the dates/timeline will line up.

These notes are a reflection on an illness I’ve had in the last month (the voice notes being down to the fact I couldn’t type very easily).

Bit on the illness

Now it must be said up front, it has been a relatively minor illness thanks to modern medicine. Many articles online would suggest that there should be no (major) lasting effects, and it is certainly not been life threatening by any stretch of the imagination.

However, it is fair to say it has taken longer for me to recover than those articles suggest, and it is certainly the most ill I have ever been.

On reflection, it has really reinforced for me the nature of learning from experiences and experienced-based learning being so valuable compared to, say, learning theoretically through reading or activities. If I had simply read or even watched videos of some of the information around this illness there is simply no way I would feel like I now do about the illness compared to having the lived experience. See the NHS article, for example, on such eye infections

So, first things first, I did the classic thing of having some symptoms that I thought would just go away. In my case this was a badly bloodshot eye that was increasingly sore, and I did not do anything about it for three and a bit days. Here I can blame my mentality of not wanting to bother medical professionals as you know they are so busy. I have always had the mentality that unless you are really sick, you do not go to the hospital or doctors or anything else. Here I under appreciated the gravity of the situation.

This mentality will probably have to change now I have been through this experience, by far the worst illness I have ever had with certainly the longest I have ever had off work sick. Even as a child, I do not think there was ever any time I was ever off school or sick for any anything like a month or so, like I have been this time.

Lessons from this then? 

  1. If you know you are poorly, seek medical assistance, do not try and “ride it out”.  
  2. Try and pre-empt, in future situations, some of the problems. So, for example, the antiviral drugs making me very sick. I could have pre-empted that by perhaps asking if that was going to be likely as the 2nd doctor I saw did give me some medication to help with the vomiting. 

Illnesses and the nature of work

In the greater scheme of things this is a relatively minor illness, and I am very much at the bottom end of the age range of people that normally get troubled by this. How much I have struggled with it has reminded me how lucky I have been up to this point in my life, in terms of illnesses and injury.

The fact that we know so many people are not so lucky is another reason for, as I’ve written before, the need for HR to be focused on the humane side of work. That idea being taken from a CIPD event a few years back, which in hindsight I am increasingly appreciating. Even with the need for recognising people needs related to COVID, I wonder how many HR departments have really taken on this focus? Have we simply reverted to hire and fire HR models, especially with inflation and recessions putting pressure on organisations globally?

There are, of course, other health issues we could support better – sleep obviously is a key thing and I bang on about sleep a little bit on here and on Twitter

Back to my illness and light sensitivity in both eyes is now a major issue, for example even impacting how easy I can walk down the street. While before, when the virus was in my eye and face, it was obvious to people in the street that something was wrong with me now it is much more a hidden illness/condition as I (hopefully) continue to recover.

Yet again, how we can make our workplaces more inclusive – such as with points like the below? 

  1. Acknowledging that people are dealing with a lot of stuff, day-in, day-out.
  2. Catching up, even after only a month off, can be a big ask. And obviously there’s other situations with longer spells away, not least paternity and maternity leave. Dealing with e-mail inboxes and Teams notifications must have become much more time consuming and daunting issues for returning staff in recent years. 
  3. Operating at 100% all the time is not realistic for knowledge work (and not for many other fields either). Did Don Draper have the right idea with lots of rumination, drinking and disappearing from the office for days on end?

So, here’s hoping all organisations are considering this kind of thing – not least with Monkey Pox fears (and COVID continuing).


Sitting in dark rooms for days on end isn’t fun. Coming home early from holiday because my symptoms changed, not fun. I suppose this post is in part:

  1. the learning points I mentioned,
  2. just a wider call to action and
  3. just a bit of venting off my chest.

Also, just a huge shout out to everyone who has helped in the last few weeks – not least the medical professionals involved, colleagues/friends and family.

Also, much empathy with the amazing people who live with constant sight and other health issues. The experience has given me a much more realistic view on just how difficult life must be for some – from silly things such as me walking into the parking meter directly outside the eye hospital itself through to realising quite how screen-based my lifestyle is.

All in all, a very eye-opening experience [sorry not sorry for that bad joke!]. 

Certifications and completions

I’ve recently been having a look at Moodle HQ’s “Moodle 4.0 for Educators” course. Whilst the course itself is fine for introducing the new Moodle features (they also have plenty of videos on YouTube and a recent webinar covered most of what you would need as an experienced Moodle user) one section stood out: the “General discussion forum”.

Yes, you guessed it, an online course designed to help educators (basically just get up-to-speed on some relatively minor, if important, changes from Moodle 3.x) has a discussion board taken up with comments of two main types – “how do we complete the course” and “can I have a certificate”. Depressing. Neither of these things are important, especially in this experience, yet the expectation from these global educators is that this IS important.

Similarly, I recently had a piece of feedback on one of my designed online courses which was one of the lowest scores received to date (yes, I know, Level 1 feedback but it is kinda relevant here). Do you want to guess the reason for the poor score? The feedback was “how do you know people have learned anything” – in some ways a valid piece of feedback (i.e. we don’t) but it also jumps to the assumption that every online piece of learning content needs an exam. Particularly galling in this example as it is an introductory course and the content is assessed in later courses (the introduction branching to various follow-up courses depending on the user’s interest).

On a related note I’ve recently added a bunch of LinkedIn course completions to my profile, thanks to my employer paying for LinkedIn Learning. Some of these completions are a result of previous LL trials or LinkedIn premium use, others I have completed in the last few weeks to test content, learn something new, etc. I have not added all of what I have ‘completed’ onto my profile, instead opting to just include the (in my opinion) more useful items. However, the LinkedIn approach risks massively diluting the value of their own “certification” system/sections. There is a massive variety in quality between the LinkedIn ‘courses’ in terms of what value I would put on the “credential”. Ultimately these certificates, just like Moodle educators wanting a certificate, are just likely to be used to raise someone’s profile in search and/or add something to a CV – both examples of surface learning with no real judgment on knowledge or skill.

The skills to pay the bills: Learning Technologies Digital Days (March 2022)

I blogged a few weeks back that the Learning Technologies (LT) conference and exhibition had been delayed. Since then, three days of online talks were announced and run to somewhat plug the LT gap, under the branding of “Digital Days” (DD) – #LTUK22.

I have tried to summarise how I was feeling during these DD sessions via the power of gif:

Say skills one more time.

“Skills” was the buzzword. No doubt about it.

Thoughts on the sessions (skills)

Now I perhaps have to jump straight to the final day and Don Taylor‘s session to say that he did set out clear warnings about the “skills” bandwagon. This was timely and I particularly liked a section where Don had gone through the archives to try and find the genesis of this current buzz/focus. Interestingly it seems the initial focus was on “knowledge and skills” (i.e. that knowledge workers need ongoing development) but “knowledge” has been dropped through the news, consultancy, white paper, WEF, etc. hype cycles (LinkedIn have been at it since the DD). As Don explained, what we are now seeing is, amongst other things, lots of tools promising AI-powered solutions to the supposed skill crises. However, his call was to remind us all that skills alone do not lead to performance. As always, L&D needs to push back on the latest trends and concentrate on what we know, for example that knowledge alone does not help either (see, for example, this recent argument about needing more than knowledge for real transformation). In a few of the sessions, including Don’s, there was mention of what we really mean by skills, how/if the word is being used to encompass knowledge, if it is just rebranding of competency/capability, etc. Personally I revert to KISME (knowledge, information, skills, motivation and environment) as pretty much encompassing what we need to consider (with a doff of my cap to performance consulting accreditation with Nigel Harrison way back when). If anything, KS and the M/behaviour combine as the competency. Ultimately every org talks about this stuff differently but as Don and others suggested in the DD we are really just talking about people’s ability to ‘do the work’.

RedThread Research’s excellent recent podcast series has shown how business leaders have identified changes and implications around the ‘skills agenda’ [if I can call it that] (for example Deloitte being clear on the importance of skills, not least in ensuring their agility to create project teams). However, you presume this goes beyond the tech skills (which are obviously the bit that does change quickly as argued on the pod) into other things like engagement/project management (activities which also require a lot of behavioural competency). Indeed Deloitte’s model of development paths (as explained on the pod) sounded less than revolutionary – basically a formalisation of 70/20/10 concepts for ongoing development of competency.

The Fosway Group’s DD session mentioned the growth in skills platforms but also (just has been in the case in the past) the issue of what needs to be in the learning platform versus a HRIS or other location. Personally it feels like you really need to take a big picture view of your ecosystem and link things together as appropriate. The session called this something like ‘out of the box ecosystem-ness’ which is probably more suggestive of aspiration than the market’s reality(?).

RedThread did have a slot in the Digital Days too, with a focus on learning content. This session had various messages but I did like the idea of moving “from control…to facilitate”, this has always been part of my mindset to some extent (probably due to my learning experience growing from libraries rather than teaching). The growth in content however, of course, means a greater need for personalisation and RedThread did argue that if you are embracing a skills focus then you also need to think about content from that perspective. They argued for a 4 category approach to learning content:

  • specific and durable
  • specific and perishable
  • generic and durable
  • generic and perishable

The suggestions on what to do with the above was fairly straight forward but I guess makes sense for those who feel overwhelmed with content. Ultimately the most useful bit, for me, was a quote that asked a key set of questions:

“What’s the strategic change that’s happening? Is your learning content relevant to get to those organizational outcomes?”

Roundtable participant quoted on RT’s slides

The event finished with Nigel Paine, I recently blogged agreeing with some of Nigel’s arguments in an article and I similarly found myself agreeing with much of his DD presentation. Learning was pitched as needing to help with transformation by moving from “safe spaces to brave spaces”. This is fair, enough and to some extent an acknowledgment of the need for ‘stretch‘. However, I would say the humane requirement for having safe spaces at work remains, it is not to say that a team building day can not have a safe (culture) but also be very challenging in terms of team aspirations, agility and development. There was mention of Communities of Practice (CoP) as argued for by Wenger, this always get my support as CoP theory was one of the areas that hooked me in learning design in my MA and got me into my career in learning. Nigel correctly tackled the focus on skills, arguing that deep understanding of problems will lead to learning offerings made up of multiple components (people, content, data, technology) under the auspice of appropriate governance. There was a call to reframe, rebuild and redefine learning to grab organisational development, make knowledge management organic and more. All-in-all, a wide ranging call to action that I have probably not done a great job of summarising. There was also a bit on indicators of success.

Indicators of success

Nigel correctly suggested the organisation’s strategic plan has to be the basis of learning’s work. Learning should make promises that developing self-learning groups and other solutions will positively impact on the plan’s goals. Ultimately I think this is the challenge – we might know that learning needs to be reframed when the “classroom assumption” and “training ghetto” are not good for our organisations but how to prove this works for an organisation with very fixed views on “training” and divisions of labour based on that.

As well as the Digital Days, I also recently watched an excellent session in the Content Wrangler series, entitled “Rewinding the Web: The Internet Archive and Its Wayback Machine“. This session reminded me to look again at archive.org and the excellent Wayback Machine. These are tools I have used a lot in the past but not so much in the last couple of years. Anyways… I thought I would have look to see which of my “to read” wish list of books are available to borrow via the archive.org loan system. One such book was an early edition of “Learning and Development” (by Rosemary Harrison). This book’s editions are nice snapshots of L&D status (the online edition being from 2003). According to the book (which reads like it is essentially exam prep for CIPD qualifications) there are a number of L&D “indicators”:

  1. Integration of L&D activity and organisational needs
  2. Provision of value-adding L&D function
  3. Contribution to the recruitment and performance management processes
  4. Contribution to the retention of employees
  5. Contribution to building organisational capacity and facilitating change
  6. Stimulation of strategic awareness and development of knowledge
  7. Design and delivery of learning processes and activity
  8. Evaluation and assessment of L&D outcomes and investment
  9. Role and tasks of the ethical practitioner
  10. Continuing professional self-development

Ultimately if we consider such a list as what an L&D professional can be assessed on (see also the English Apprenticeship standard) then clearly skills (be it upskilling, reskilling or right-skilling) are very much only part of the puzzle (I also quite like this list as too much focus historically has probably just been on point 7) both as a professional and in what we (can) help with (if empowered to do so by management). Therefore, as Don argued on day 3, lets remember skills but not forget everything else L&D teams can/should be doing.

Thoughts on sessions (Case studies)

There were a couple of good case studies showing how we do have to go beyond skills to really impact our organisations. The British Red Cross and Girlguiding both simplified and aggregated learning for their stakeholders on new platforms. Both took plenty of time to analyse issues, the stakeholder experience, etc. Both found their improved online learning platforms have led to retention, recognising stakeholder’s past experience and building on that (not mass sheep dipping). I liked the Red Cross simplification of message by their presenter, their Chief Learning Officer:

There were some other aspects that sounded similar to models I have used in the past, including Red Cross having a buddy relationship between central learning and those with those responsibilities at site level and the Girl Guides retraining their classroom trainers to run virtual classrooms/webinars. Overall, good examples of being strategic, holistic and delivering modernisation of stakeholder experiences.

[I probably attended a couple of other DD sessions but I’ll leave this post as it is already long enough !]

The awful staying power of Myers-Briggs

Spurred on by a recent LinkedIn poll on the usefulness of Myers-Briggs (results below) I felt the need to do a short post.

Do you believe that the MB personality test is accurate poll result from LinkedIn.

That this group of professionals (it was on the “eLearning Industry”* group) can be so split, almost into equal thirds, really does suggest some of the problems in the learning industry. MB is poor/non-science and is a ponzi scheme, end of. No learning professional should be saying this test is accurate.

I took a look at some of the comments posted to try and get my head around this continuing obsession with MB. The interesting commonality in comments was that lots of people suggested that, whilst some acknowledging faults in the accuracy of the model, there is value. This value coming, allegedly, in making people reflect about who they are, what differences they have, etc. Personally I would say there are more useful approaches to this. Indeed just some targeted reflection, away from daily work, would probably help for most people. If the focus is on teams you could use Belbin as a more practical route. Meanwhile if you are considering team/individual strengths then Strengthscope (and others) are more proven, better, options. Personally I wish Strengthscope went in harder on MB than trying to sit on the fence a bit.

* You would presume a more “classic HR” orientated group would have even higher %s in defence of the assessment.

The ultimate interview question: “If you were a G1 Transformer which would you be and why?” (aka – the impact of early experiences on workplace behaviour)

A few weeks back, I updated my LinkedIn profile with a video introduction to my page. Within the video I mentioned that my LinkedIn job history is not all of my work history. I felt this was important to mention given my first listed job, my first post-undergrad office job, was at a law firm and it could be presumed (incorrectly) that I must have got “an in” thanks to family, friends, etc.

As we all know nepotism is rife, especially in the UK. Therefore, I made the point on the video that I had plenty of experience earlier to try and hint at my background. There are of course more formal ways to classify your background that you could include, e.g. child of a parent who had grown up in social housing, first generation university goer, etc. I could have included earlier jobs such as fish factory operative, burger flipper, barman, etc. all of which would also suggest how I have worked a variety of jobs to pay for travel, study, rent, etc. before that first office job.

Part of the reason I do not include my full job listing is that the range of mostly minimum wage jobs I had in my teens and early 20s (if memory serves my first hourly wage was £1.14) probably don’t add much to my current knowledge and skills. Indeed most of us will not list all our “professional” roles on CVs once we are past a certain point (aka I’m too old to still do that) and you try to tailor to the advert.

However, perhaps we should all be transparent on LinkedIn as the formative experiences will impact our behaviours and expectations more than we might like to admit? For example, I would argue my experience gives me a perspective and influences my behaviour differently to someone who, say, grew up at the extremes of poverty or extreme wealth.

This also got me thinking:

What other early experiences have heavily influenced my personal outlook on mentality and behaviours?


Now having a bit of fun...

The obvious answer to this question was watching “The Transformers”, perhaps my favourite childhood cartoon, comic, game series, toy, etc. After a quick Google it does not look like anyone has ever tried to take Transformers and create a model for workplace behaviours, so here we go…”If you were a G1 Transformer which would you be and why?”

Why it is a great question

The question, or one like it, would help reveal someone’s cultural zietgeist, and therefore (arguably) if they will be a good “fit” in an organisation. The candidate’s actual choice of character/transformer would highlight quite a lot about their personality given the very broad brush approach to character stereotyping in the series.

Reflections on some of the possible answers

Warning *spoilers* for the Transformers series ahead, obvs, and apologies in advance for any misremembering of details on my part.

1. Optimus Prime

Who? Leader of “The heroic Autobots”.

A good answer? The obvious answer to the question, not least as this is the name most likely known by non-fans, losing the candidate points for originality at least. Suggests a desire to lead but also a risk of a holier-than-thou mentality which may damage team dynamics.

Candidate might say: “When push comes to shove I put the team before myself”.

2. Jazz

Famous for, amongst other things, using his car radio so loud it becomes a weapon.

Candidate is likely trying to suggest they have a fun side, they might actually be admitting to being the kind of person who tries to get you to meet their boy-racer mates in the Aldi/McDonalds car park after work.

“I am really fun around the office”.

3. Blurr

One of the G1 robots introduced in The Movie. Blurr operates at high speed.

This answer suggests a high capacity for work, without a drop in quality. However, the candidate might be at risk of underestimating the complexities of the role. In reality a person pertaining to be like Blurr is at risk of burnout, if acting like Blurr they are a drug addict.

“I can help. I wanna help…Nobody can get the job done faster than I can” (excerpt from Blurr’s actual opening lines).

4. Perceptor

Originally stuck in microscope(?) mode following the Transformers crash on Earth, Perceptor is an intelligent member of the Autobots.

If the candidate is after a science/lab job this is a fine answer. Perceptor even suggests he is willing to sacrifice himself for a colleague once he can walk/fight in The Movie so goes beyond ‘science nerd’ stereotypes.

“My major weakness? I am probably too analytical and data driven”.

5. Blaster

Introduced as the Autobot tape deck robot (the tapes transform to smaller robots) to counter one of the original Deceptions (Soundwave) who had similar capabilities.

If looking for someone who wants to work in music/media editing this is another decent answer. Might suggest they literally live through music – perhaps the kind of office worker who ends up having to have their own office as even with headphones on their music is too loud.

“I have developed leadership qualities as the lead singer of my 80s synth band”.

6. Soundwave

As I mentioned him in #5 let’s move to our first Deception (bad guy/heel) entry. Soundwave is effectively 2nd in command, at least when on Earth, to Deception leader Megatron.

Soundwave would be a curious choice. Criticised in The Movie as “an uncharismatic bore” the candidate is likely hoping to suggest they are a strong number 2, a Spock to your Kirk perhaps. Perhaps not a bad choice for a COO or regional manager.

“Really I have two strongest strengths; I am very efficient at delegation and all my former bosses would say I am very loyal”.

7. Megatron

We jump to the top bad guy. Perhaps the robot with the most name recognition after Optimus Prime?

Megatron might be the choice for someone who is keen to shake things up and cut the deadwood. Perhaps the ideal mentality for a cost-cutting consultant or if your culture is (curiously) based around power/fear.

“Death to all traitors (who are not living the corporate values)”.

8. Starscream

Starscream, right from the first episode of the cartoon, is after Megatron’s job. In The Movie he finally manages to reach the top, briefly. He even gets a nice crown (see video).

Not the choice to go for if you want to suggest you are loyal. However, you could perhaps make a good case for ‘being a Starscream’ if you are suggesting you are strong at managing up and keeping leaders from becoming complacent.

“In 20 years’ time you say? I see myself sat where you are in 2”.

C64 Hound - I loved this game!

9. Hound

Hound is a scout for the Autobots whose vehicle mode is a jeep and is 100% included in the list so I could use a gif from the C64 video game.

Hound is a fairly middle of the road choice but would allow someone to make the point they enjoy the countryside. Potentially a very good option for someone wanting to stress their love of nature. Hound can also project holograms, a skill reference that could be a deep cut for anyone working in that area (or just remote work more generally).

“I am bored of office life and have always wanted to work outside”.

10. Unicron

A “monster planet” that can destroy whole planetary systems at ease. Famously Orson Welles’ final role was voicing this main villain of The Movie.

As a destroyer of worlds, perhaps the option if you are interviewing at an organisation with a known really terrible culture.

“Greed is good”.

Finally, why the question in the post’s title is obviously not a great question

The question is highly reliant on (most likely non-work relevant) pre-existing knowledge. “G1” means “Generation 1”, i.e. the original iteration of the toys, comics and cartoons under the Transformers brand. By Transformer I mean “The Transformers”, not something to do with electricity or transforming in another context.

The ability to answer the question is also highly cultural and potentially age/sexist given you would likely need to be of a certain age in the 1980s to even know what it means never mind answer it in a meaningful way.