Editor’s Letter

Memes Matter
Mike Prokopeak Editor in Chief

hat do Rickrolling, Grumpy Cat, dabbing and Distracted Boyfriend have to do with learning? Quite a lot actually.

The silly, meaningless and fun little pictures and animations that zip around the internet are actually the building blocks of culture. Internet memes — from dancing babies to planking to LOLcats — are how we now learn at light speed.

Whether you find them amusing or irritating is beside the point. As a learning executive you need to think about how to use them.

The internet has given us the fastest, most powerful tool in history to collect, catalogue and share information. And what moves most swiftly across the internet highway? Here’s a hint. It’s not the 10,000-word thinkpiece, 1,000-page how-to manual or 10-page explainer or even the one-page job aid. For good or for bad, it’s internet memes.

designing or building, the small things matter the most.
The reason why, according to a theory called memetics, is that culture evolves a bit like genetics. Culture evolves through the sharing of memes, the individual units of culture such as an idea, belief or piece of information, that get passed from one person to another like a gene being passed from one generation to the next. Except in the case of memes, they move faster and quickly can take hold as part of the culture.
To bring it into focus for enterprise learning, people won’t always access your LMS or learning experience platform when they want or need to learn. But they will see and share memes.

Finding a way to make learning nuggets or moments go viral should be an essential part of the CLO toolkit. Keep on creating courses and comprehensive programs that address big organizational problems. But also think about the little details and stories that when shared can have an outsized impact. In the big picture, it’s the small details that matter the most.

That’s a lesson a group of Italian architects and engineers learned the hard way in the latter part of the 12th century.

Shortly after beginning construction of a new eight-story bell tower for their thriving seaport town they noticed a troubling problem. By the time they got to the third story, the building had begun to tilt. They tried several tricks to fix the problem, including making one side shorter to bring it back in alignment, but nothing worked. In fact, it made matters worse.

They failed to account for the soft soil under the foundation that eventually caused the building to lean 16 feet off perpendicular. Today the result of their simple design flaw — the Leaning Tower of Pisa — is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks.

Their great mistake somehow turned into a monumental success. Most will not be that lucky.

A small mistake or design flaw in the early stages can torpedo an important project and risk wasting millions of dollars and thousands of hours of effort. It’s important to get the moments that matter right.

There are several moments that matter in talent development. Onboarding, promotion and succession are examples of critical times where getting it right can mean the difference between success and failure for the individual. For the organization, it can also mean the difference between a culture that responds and adapts to change and one that withers and dies. For the learning professional, it’s critical to design successful experiences for those moments but also to make sure they are ripe for sharing.

That’s one reason that the theme for our Fall 2019 Chief Learning Officer Symposium is “Design, Build, Inspire.” The tools for success as a CLO include more than the ability to build and execute effective learning programs.

Clear and creative upfront thinking at moments that matter leads to success. Consulting, asking difficult questions, conducting needs analyses, reading between the lines and sometimes going against the grain are crucial. It also means designing and building with an iterative mindset, one that acknowledges each apparent ending is actually the beginning of the next evolution.

For three days, Oct. 14-16 in Chicago, we’ll explore the future of learning and what learning executives like you are doing to design the future of work. But perhaps most important, we’ll explore how it’s often the little things that matter the most in making big changes.

Mike Prokopeak Signature
Mike Prokopeak
Editor in Chief