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“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

―Benjamin Franklin, “The Way to Wealth”

“Knowledge which is created in the mind of individuals is of little value to an enterprise unless it is shared.”

-Cynthia T. Small and Andrew P. Sage “Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing: A Review” (2005/6)

Knowledge is one of the most critical assets in an enterprise. It exists from the highest level to the most granular. It encompasses such questions as “How do I excel at my position?” to “How do I use Dropbox?” Yet companies often do not identify the location of relevant knowledge throughout the organization and facilitate it being shared to the proper individuals.

Back in 1999, David Gurteen, a knowledge management consultant, defined knowledge in the organization as “know-how” and “know-why.” He cited the example of a cake. Its molecular constituents are data; its ingredients are information; its recipe is knowledge. You can know the molecular constituents and the ingredients but without the recipe you can’t make it.

So how does the organization gather all of this know-how? How do they identify, capture, evaluate, retrieve and share all that they need? How do they create a knowledge-sharing community in their organization?

Over the past decade, I’ve held learning positions with various companies. Most recently, I’ve been building online knowledge sharing communities for a variety of initiatives for organizations (e.g., Military Personnel transitioning into Civilian Life). In my opinion, there are three key questions, which can be remembered by the acronym APS, that an organization needs to ask, answer and adapt throughout the employee life cycle to unlock and share as much knowledge as possible.

1) Acquire: What knowledge has this individual acquired in his career?

2) Procure: What does each individual need to procure for himself?

3) Share: How can we share the knowledge he has and get him the knowledge he needs?

The answers to these questions at critical stages of the Employee Life Cycle build an individual’s Knowledge Inventory. Together multiple employee Knowledge Inventories can build a true knowledge-sharing organization.

Recruiting Stage: What does the candidate know that is relevant to the position?

The APS Knowledge Inventory at this stage can be used to assess the individual’s existing knowledge base in terms of suitability for the position.

1) Acquire: Has the candidate acquired the overall knowledge to do this job? Beyond his skill set, does he possess the overall “know-how” and “know-why?” An individual may have a series of disparate skills but he may lack the “know-how” to coordinate them to achieve the desired results.

2) Procure: What knowledge does the candidate still need to acquire for the position? Does he need to acquire more knowledge than what he possesses, which could indicate a poor fit? Or does he need to acquire little additional in the way of knowledge, which could hint at an overqualified candidate.

3) Share: How can we (i.e., the organization) facilitate the sharing of this knowledge? Does the individual possess the capabilities to not just share the knowledge but also use the existing tools and platforms? A candidate may be absolutely brilliant at something yet completely unable to articulate how he does it.

Onboarding & Orientation: What else does he know or need to know?

At this point, the organization most likely has a strong sense of the individual’s skills and experiences (or at least it should have)! But individuals also walk in with all sorts of knowledge outside the core competencies of their positions. Most likely, you wouldn’t ask a sales candidate the HR benefits systems that he has used in the past. But that information could be quite useful in the future if you plan on rolling a new one out and looking for internal evangelists.

 1) Acquire: What tools, systems and platforms is he familiar with? What types of training has he had in multiple areas (e.g., public speaking, meeting management)? What software has he been trained in?

2) Procure: Which of your systems, processes and platforms has he not used or mastered? According to a Harris Poll for Entrepreneur magazine, one in three workers say they are not proficient in the technology tools for their jobs, which is costing the US economy $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. Determine his knowledge gaps at this stage.

3) Share: A simple questionnaire can be filled out during onboarding to determine his familiarity or lack thereof of all types of systems, processes and platforms. Then, the organization can capture as much information as it wants at a time convenient to both. (Provided of course that he has been trained on the tools to capture information!) It can also set a schedule to ensure knowledge sharing in his “needs-to-know-more” areas.

Career Planning & Development: Ensuring that old and new knowledge is captured and shared

 A recent Gallup Survey showed that companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by as much as 202%. And one-third of all employees, according to Workforce 2020, say that career training and education increases engagement. So how can a Knowledge Sharing Inventory help here?

1) Acquire: An organization needs to continually take inventory of, recognize and value an employee’s existing knowledge base. Throughout the career planning and development process, design ways and strategies for him to demonstrate and share his knowledge. How can he share it at the start? How can he be recognized as an SME in various areas? How can the organization keep doing this throughout his career as he acquires new knowledge?

2Procure: In a 2012 study of 1200 young managers published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors identified a career-development knowledge sharing gap. On a scale of 1-5 (5 most important), young managers assigned a 4 to mentoring/coaching in importance to them, yet felt the organization’s value in this area was just below a 3. In terms of training, while they assigned a 4.5 in importance to them, they ranked the organization’s value here at just above 3.

Throughout an individual’s career planning and development, inventory should be taken of what he knows, what he needs to know and what he wants to know. In a recent survey by Udemy, 54% of workers said that they do not know everything that they need to for their position. Find each individual’s missing pieces of knowledge. Then in career planning, identify the path to knowledge procurement in a way that he considers of value (e.g., formal, informal, coaching, mentoring, self education)

3) Share: Do the proper processes, tools, systems and platforms exist for sharing to commence? What is the proper mix for him to both share and receive the knowledge (e.g., formal learning, informal learning, coaching, mentoring, wikis, meetings)? Does the individual know how to use or excel in the identified channels for sharing – or is this one of his “need to learn areas”? What has worked best for the individual in the past? What has not? Most likely, different employees share and receive knowledge best in different ways.

Transitioning out of the Company: Ensuring that the Knowledge Acquired has Been Captured

 SHRM estimates that the departure of a salaried employee costs the organization an additional six to nine months of his salary, a large part of it due to training a new individual in that position.

There are, of course, all types of transitions out of a company. In some cases, it may be impossible to capture the knowledge leaving with an individual. And if an organization has a strong knowledge sharing community infrastructure, then there’s a less pressing need. Still, try to download (and upload) as much as you can!

1Acquire:What knowledge has he acquired during his tenure at the company? What particular area is he a specialist in or possesses particular expertise in?

2) Procure: What knowledge does he need prior to departing the company (e.g., non-competes, benefit programs)? How can it be shared to him in the remaining time? How can it be shared with him after if it needs to be?

3) Share: How can what he knows be captured as much as possible in the remaining time? What triage can be done, so that the most critical knowledge to the organization (e.g., areas where he is an SME) is gathered first? Who are the key individuals who should receive it?

In conclusion, we all would be in a better place both personally and professionally if we began each day with these questions:

What did I learn yesterday?

What do I still need to learn?

How can I share what I know and have need-to-know information shared with me?

By taking Knowledge Sharing inventories throughout an employee’s life cycle, the organization can facilitate the answering of these questions for the individual professionally. And as Ben Franklin would say, it’s an investment that will pay the individual and the organization a healthy amount of interest.

Jean McCormick is VP of Content at BraveNewTalent. 

Talent has no Age, Talent has no Gender, Talent has no Passport,

Opportunity has all three.

Human capital is the worlds most wasted resource.  At BraveNewTalent we are on a mission to help our clients create more of a meritocracy around their human capital by enabling them to facilitate more effective knowledge sharing.  In this blog I wanted to explore the connection between Meritocracy and knowledge sharing.

Most of the world’s knowledge remains locked inside silos.  Knowledge is not effectively shared and this creates dire consequences for companies, communities and society at large.  I often like to say the majority of solutions to our toughest challenges already exist; they are just not evenly distributed.  If we could improve how people share knowledge both inside and outside of the walls of organizations and governments I believe we will have made a huge step towards realizing more peoples potential.  In doing so we will create more of a meritocracy in the labor market.

I’ve often argued the formal education system is no longer fit for purpose.  It is, in my eyes, the worlds largest ‘middle man’.  The formal education system sits between supply of talent (people) and demand on talent (jobs).  Year after year the gap between what the education system is producing and what industry is demanding is growing.  People often describe this as the growing Skills Gap.  But I would argue there is a larger gap out there – the Potential Gap.  This is the gap between what you do today and what you could be doing today if you were having impact at your full potential.

This month I attended a summit called Innovation for Jobs held at Google by David Nordfors (Creator of the Stanford Innovation Centre) and Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the Internet).  We debated extensively new innovations in the labor market and consequences of the coming Machine Age among many other things. David published this powerful argument in Techcrunch arguing that a People Centered approach to work as opposed to a Task Centered approach to work could create an additional $140 trillion in annual growth.  What David is arguing for here is a meritocracy where everyone had the opportunity to achieve their creative potential in the economy.

The Internet has arguably facilitated the sum total of human knowledge to be accessed to us all.  The challenge and the opportunity is the sheer amount of knowledge.  In fact in 1900 it took the world 150 years to double its knowledge, in 2010 it was only 3 years. By 2020 we will double every 2 months.  We are deal with exponential change around the knowledge we have access to.  Another way I like to say this is the ‘Half Life’ of knowledge is getting shorter and shorter.

While knowledge is emerging at an ever-increasing pace, it is taking longer for new knowledge to disseminate through organizations and industries. A new innovation in clinical healthcare for example takes nearly 17 years to mainstream according to research from the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

Historical approaches and tools used for knowledge management were architected in a different era, one that did not present the same scale, scope and cost challenges of today. Knowledge distribution focused on diffusion through tightly controlled disparate networks that more often than not excluded individuals to whom the knowledge would be most beneficial.

Employers need access to workforce participants that not only possess basic knowledge, but that also possess emergent knowledge i.e. knowledge that can only be obtained through emergent work experience or direct interaction with individuals possessing emergent work experience. In certain fields, namely those related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), an educational curriculum developed only two years earlier would be considered obsolete and irrelevant today. Such professions rely on the ongoing attainment of emergent knowledge and the application of it to practical purposes. This ‘half life’ of knowledge is validated by most employers to such an extent that in the Bersin by Deloitte 2014 predictions 60% of employers surveyed sited capability gaps as their number one challenge.

With all this change the opportunity is to use knowledge to unleash human potential and creativity – to ultimately facility meritocracy. However, I believe this is only possible if organizations recognize the need to change the approach to knowledge sharing.  In the old world knowledge was power.  In this world sharing knowledge has become power.

I would end with the comment ‘Education is what others do to you. Learning is what you do for yourself’.

Wherever there is change, there is opportunity.  This applies also to education and learning.  We are going through the largest changes in the way the world learns since this invention of the printing press.

I was Topic Champion for Employment and Skills at the ‘Summer Davos’ World Economic Forum gathering in China last year. I participated in a session called ‘Better, Faster, Smarter’ where we discussed the implications of the change as well as the gaps that need to be addressed.   As Topic Champion I tried to highlight the collective wisdom of the group and noted the following top gaps:

1.  Economic and social opportunity gap - If one thinks about a classroom in the US and a classroom in India in the 1950’s there was not a huge amount of difference.  With technology the gap between the privileged and the under-privileged is increasing at an unprecedented rate.  A classroom in the US today will usually be digitally enabled and looks radically different from the classroom in India.  One of the biggest risks is that innovation in education and learning will not be inclusive and the education divide will continue to grow.

2. Language and communication gap – Language still remains the largest barrier to online learning for the majority of the world’s population.  We discussed the opportunity to leverage technology to creating a universal language that could break down the language and communication gap.

3.  Ecosystem gaps – There is far too much fragmentation of effort with parents, education systems, employers, governments and the learners.  Stakeholders need to bring together stakeholders remodel the education ecosystem in the interest and benefit of the end learner.

3.      Supply/Demand gap – The gap between supply of skills and demand of skills it growing every year.  The formal education system is failing to adequately prepare people for the world of work.  Human capital is the most wasted resource on the planet.  There is a enormous opportunity for technology to help people achieve their full potential and more adequately meet local market demands. We need employers to be in more sync with what education providers are training.

4.  Purpose gap – What are the two most important days of your life?  The best answer I’ve ever heard comes from Mark Twain ‘The day I was born and the day I found out why I was born’.  Finding ones purpose is phenomenally liberating and powerful.  However, for most people they never discover what their ‘purpose’ in life is.  Every individual is gifted with a unique blend of skills and aptitudes but the conveyer belt formal education system is notorious for killing creativity.  There is an opportunity is for technology to provide individuals better methods to discover their purpose in life.  We asked ‘what is the equivalent of Amazon’s recommendation engine for how I can best utilize my unique talents and discover my purpose’.

5. Teacher development gap - It was strongly felt that teaching as a profession was not sufficiently respected or invested in. Compared investments in defense and health investments in education lag behind. Larger budgets are required to get the long term results that society needs.

6. Technology gap – In 2013 still 61% of the world’s population did not have access to the internet (Source: International Telecommunications Union   Perhaps the largest gap needing to be bridged is the digital divide as technology holds the promise to democratize access to education and in doing so increase access to opportunity.

To conclude, it is obvious to agree that the current education system was failing to have supply meet demand.  In effect the current formal education system is the worlds largest and most dysfunctional ‘middle man’.  Technology could reinvent this and better connect supply and demand in the human capital marketplace.  Ultimately, disrupting and disintermediating the current education system is perhaps the greatest opportunity to better deploy human capital in the Digital Age.

As technology transforms millions of jobs around the world, it has created a “second machine age”, which represents a new inflection point in history. Just as in the industrial age, machines are improving the effectiveness of the workforce – but they are also automating tasks that humans once performed.

How will technology affect jobs in the future and the well-being of the people who carry them out? It is unclear whether our increasing use of machines will create more jobs than it replaces, but there is a growing fear that the coming “robot revolution” could make work less meaningful.

“I see a dashboard full of red lights,” says José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs of the International Labour Organization. Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s “Summer Davos” in China this year, Salazar-Xirinachs explained that the effects of technology have been extremely varied across industries and skill levels. Knowledge workers are becoming more employable and in demand, while the lower-skilled are increasingly commoditized by machines.

What does this mean for social stability around the world? We need only look at places where there are rising rates of unemployment to see how this issue can tear societies apart. Personally, I have no doubt that the rise of ISIS in the Middle East is fuelled by, among other things, youth unemployment; it is all too easy for disaffected young people to turn to extremism.

It is clear that the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing wider – and that this is exacerbated by technology. Can innovation be made to be inclusive? Or is there something in the words of science-fiction writers here, and our future world is one where innovation has broken down the fabric of society and created an Elysium-like divide between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else?

The scale of this problem should not be underestimated. Just look at the billions of agricultural workers living close to poverty whose work could be replaced by machinery. No society has the capacity to absorb this dislocation and connect all these workers with income-generating activities. And where would such displacement end? If smart machines depress the salary of lower-skilled workers, they may reach a point where they can’t access new jobs as they won’t be able to afford to reskill and retool.

With the rise of MOOCs and online free education, however, this may not be the case. The promise of online training is to enable anyone and everyone to up-skill and respond, in real time, to the changing demands of the economy. Essentially, what it means is that education and professional development can go from “high touch” and high cost to no cost and almost entirely automated. However, the potential of this depends on our ability to bridge the digital divide.

The real question here is who is serving whom? Are machines serving man or is it the other way round? “Ubiquitous computing” has reduced the barriers between private and professional lives, and between home and office. This has had questionable benefits for individual happiness.

Speaking at the Forum’s China meeting this year, MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Justine Cassell of Carnegie Mellon University both expressed their belief that the changes are inevitable. Cassell said: “Will smart machines make humans worse off? If the answer is yes then we should stop developing them now. But the reality is that this is not possible; we are on the journey and smart machines will become a reality. When machines substitute for muscles we need jobs that require brains.”

While both professors expressed cautious optimism, Brynjolfsson maintained that the future is under our control, we just need to lead it in the right direction. “The question is not what technology will do for us, it is how we use technology to create shared prosperity,” he explained. “How we divide the bounty opportune by technology is not decided by machines, it is decided by us; we can’t blame the machines.”

Participants in the session separated into those who were for the machine age and those who were against it. A vote was organized, but the result was 50/50. It’s clear that more discussion is needed about the disruption unleashed by unprecedented technological advancement – and the dangers and opportunities it presents.

I, too, remain undecided. I have grave concerns but am still hugely optimistic. It’s clear we have entered a period of digital enlightenment. It’s not too late to use technology to democratize education and, in doing so, enable people to reach their potential. For the promise of technological inclusion to become a reality, however, it will take strong leadership and collaboration between governments and businesses. The future of our society as we know it depends on it.


- This blog was originally written for the World Economic Forum blog and is published here:

We are at the dawn of the disruption and disintermediation of traditional forms of education by technology.  In September 2014 I attended the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos in China.  I was the Topic Champion for a highly interactive and engaging session on what the future will hold for education.  This blog aims to summarize the session.

The disruption coming to the education system can be split into two areas – (1) early stage to K-12 education and (2) lifelong learning.  The concept of being ‘‘in education” (i.e., at university pursuing a degree) or “in the workforce” is  eroding. We all are becoming “lifelong learners” and in constant education.  A big driver for this is the ever-increasing requirement of professional knowledge.  The half-life of skills is getting shorter and shorter.   Self Directed learning has become far more important and people need be perpetually learning.  Technology is the key enabler.  Key ideas discussed in China were:

1. Super teachers will become stars and facilitators – With technology and the emergence of the ‘global digital classroom’ not all teachers will need to create or deliver content.  Instead I believe there will be meritocracy based on teachers ability to inspire and teach.  There will be world famous teachers with classrooms of millions of students and salaries to match.  Salman Khan of Khan Academy is an example of the future that is already here.   We will then need to ask what will happen to teachers that don’t become the celebrities. The role of teachers will become more one of curators, facilitators, mentors and sherpas.   They will essentially become the conductor and community manager of the online and offline classroom.

2. Content sources - We will all become participants rather than just consumers of content.  Everyone will be a learner and a teacher at the same time.  There will be many more channels of delivery of learning and knowledge content and access will be democratized through technology.  Learning content in the future will be more experiential and will involve more of the learners senses such as sound, touch and small.  The interconnection between informal learning and technology will facilitate optimized learning environments that engage the learner in new ways.

3. Contextual relevance – We have entered the age of context.  Content used to be king but now Context is king. As a result content curation is becoming far more important to provide contextual relevance.  Big data and communities based on purpose, interest and action will be leveraged to ensure people can learn what they want, when they want it.

4. Borderless learning – With technology, education has transcended borders.  Access is democratizing geography and place.  You will be able to learn what you want, from whom you want, when you want it.

5. Gamification – Leaning will apply game dynamics to increase engagement and motivation. This will provide the learner with more real-time feedback on their progress.  In short – learning is expected to become more fun and more personalized (see for an example of adaptive learning).

6. Motivation to learn – This is a key challenge to help more people learn how to learn.  Competition in the labor market is increasing as more and more people have access to the same content.  Motivation and attitude will become a key separator in the talent market.  As the saying goes “It is not how good you are that matters.  It is how good you want to be.”

In conclusion, the evolution of education and learning is following the development of technology and changing in fundamental ways.  Most powerfully, it will be accessible to anyone with Internet access whenever they want.  It will be delivered by the best teacher in a contextually relevant way.  It will be personalized, fun and a lifelong experience.  However, the real opportunity lies in solving the biggest gaps in education and learning innovation that are preventing us from realizing the second human potential movement.

In 2015, the debate around the issue of talent mismatch and the skills gap has continued.  A key part of the debate recently has focused on whether there is a ‘War on Talent’ with such high levels of unemployment.  To this, I like to answer ‘The war for talent is over. Talent won’.

In September last year I attended the World Economic Forum ‘Summer Davos’ gathering in China.  I was the Topic Champion for Employment and Skills.  One of the sessions I participated in was called “Got Talent?” The panelists included:

Jeffrey Joerres, Chairman, Manpower Group

Fabio Rosati, CEO, Elance

Ho Ren Hua, Executive Director and Country Head, Banyan Tree Holdings

Lu Mingxia, CEO Career Frog

Moderated by Gary Coleman, Managing Director, Global Industries, Deloitte

We explored how large enterprises and entrepreneurs are recognizing an increasingly tech-savvy workforce and leveraging that to increase retention rates, productivity and interconnectivity.   To attract and leverage productive talent, various tech-centric recruiting mechanisms, training tools and cultural shifts are required.

This led to an examination of the themes of So-Mo-Lo – Social, Mobile and Local on the talent market:

  • Social: Training tools are changing.  There is less one-way lecturing and more interactivity with social media, video and mobile tools. Fifty-six percent of training and HR professionals feel that social and interactive training is more effective than traditional training. Social learning tools make sharing new skills,technologies and best practices simpler and faster.  Companies are increasingly using social media to enhance recruitment and build talent branding.
  • Mobile: Today’s workforce is more tech-savvy and expects their business tools to cater to their particular style, (e.g., texting v. e-mailing), of digesting information and executing business tasks, which is increasingly taking place anywhere.
  • Local: As companies expand into emerging and frontier markets, hiring the right talent becomes an even bigger challenge. Companies are adapting to the local culture while preserving the global organizational culture by hiring “cultural hybrids.” While these hybrids are originally from the emerging/frontier market heritage, they also have experience in the organizational culture (i.e., from western headquarters)

On top of these high level themes, we discussed demographic changes in the workforce, and in particular how the millennials are changing the world of work.  Millennials tend to be loyal to their skill rather their employer.  This attitude and approach to work is compounding the war on talent.  By 2025, millennials will comprise more than 75% of the workforce.  They are not looking for a career but rather an experience.  Sixty percent of them say they don’t expect to work for a traditional company for more than 3 years. Fabio Rosati of Elance argued that the most commonly word used among millennials is “purpose.” “Purpose is more important than anything else.”  Jeff Joerres of Manpower asked “Are companies communicating their values and building communities? Unless companies are giving context, sharing their vision, their strategy and the millennials role in achieving this, then they may well not retain millennials.”  Corporations must have diverse approaches to work as “one size” does not fit all any more.

Rosati then added: “The labor market is the least transparent, least efficient market there is.  People in jobs that best utilize their unique combination of skills is the best way for us to achieve world peace…  I cannot find a more important thing to work on than wasted time and wasted talent.”  Elance supports talent finding fractional work.  These are opportunities that can apply more efficiency to people’s time and talent.  Fifty-three million Americans (1/3 of the workforce) freelance full-time or part time.  People can use freelance opportunities to be able to be more challenged than a full-time position.  There are also people that want to use freelancing opportunities to develop their skills

The panel also recognized the growing global skills gap crisis.  Despite growing unemployment, many jobs are going unfilled.  In 2020 there will be up to 25 million college educated jobs that will go unfilled in China.  Lu Migxia argued that the structure of the labor force is changing and that the university education system is not ready to adapt to this change.  She stated  that the career services in China’s universities do not function well, which compounds this problem.  Lu Migxia then summarized the issue “There is very poor matching.. with talent being matched to the wrong opportunities. There is no wrong talent.  There are only wrong positions.” However, Ho Ren Hua argued that recruitment is just the first part of the problem,  “Integrating talented people is just as important as the recruiting strategy.”

The panel agreed that huge systemic changes are needed in the education system to respond to industry demands.  As Roseti summarized “I believe the education system needs to be completely rethought.  It needs to be much more aligned to employment…  Education institutions should not be able to be in business without a focus on thinking about how they best prepare their students for employment.”

It is not only the education system that needs to adapt to the changes but also the corporate HR function.  As Joerres said: “Every CEO needs to ask the question ‘Is our HR Director as valuable as our CFO?’  If not, then you either have the wrong HR Director or the wrong CEO.”

I had the honor of giving a commencement speech to the graduating class of Hult Business School in London.  I tried to reflect on the best lessons learnt and advice I would have for this group of people on such and important day.  I thought I would share what I said here:

You are graduating into a world of opportunity.  Never before have we seen such exponential change taking place throughout the world.  As an entrepreneur I know ‘where there is change, there is opportunity’.  However, there are also winners and losers around change.  You want to make sure you are on the right side of change.

Today, you have the opportunity to be part of the future and create the world you want to see.  I honestly believe there is no better time to be an entrepreneur.

I started my first business straight out of University and had 18 months with no salary.  For 18 months I did not eat food that was not in the reduced section!  Being an entrepreneur is by no means easy – it is such a roller coaster – but the journey is part of the fun.  I don’t believe you can learn faster.

Let me start by sharing with you a little bit about my experience as an entrepreneur.  For me it started at the age of 4.  I grew up in Herefordshire and we had apple trees in our garden. I noticed at a very early age that my mother would pay for apples in the supermarket yet they grew for free on the trees.  It was then that I realized money really does grow on trees!  I started selling the apples from a wheelbarrow.  I went on to run the sweet shop in school.

However, it was my father who I think is the real reason I am an entrepreneur and do what I do today.  My father was one of the early pioneers in vocational education – Setting up a training program in for disabled people in India in 1964. My father then began taking me to India to visit the training programs from the age of 9. My second home became the worlds largest leprosarium and I would work with my father on our vocational education projects. He would involve me in his work.

I went back most years and this was my second home.  From the age of 18 I took over the running from my father and created the UKs first entirely student run vocational education charity, Take Heart.  I still run this today and we just celebrated our 50th Anniversary.

Whilst I was in university we raised enough money to start an IT school that specialized in training blind students.  It was here that my passion for education began. We could multiply peoples salaries by given them 6 months training. This would transform their self-respect and dignity but also begin to change the perception of disability in their communities.

When I graduated from Edinburgh University I wanted to find a way to scale this model and that is why I created BraveNewTalent.  We have a mission to democratise education by opening up the knowledge from within the companies in the world.

I have learnt a huge amount starting BraveNewTalent.  I would say that we have made more mistakes than correct decisions.  I often say we are the most experienced in the market on what not to do.

However, you learn in the valleys not the peaks.

Let me now share with you some of the best things I have learnt that hopefully you can apply in your careers and lives going forward.  Here are 10 things I wish I was told when I was graduating:

1. Curate advice

Throughout your life you will hear people talking like I am now. Don’t take the advice of everyone but curate it – take the best from everyone you learn from and leave the rest behind.  Know in your gut what is true for you!  I would also recommend you try to find several mentors that can guide you on your way and be a sounding board for you.

2. Hustle

It is not the smartest people that get ahead. The grades you are being awarded today won’t matter in a few months or years time.  I always believe ‘Its not how good you are that matters. It is how good you want to be.’

You need to hustle. You need to work harder than you have every worked. You need to to go beyond the competition.  But if you love what you do you will love the journey.

To quote Alain de Botton – ‘There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.’

To quote Ashton Kutcher ‘Opportunities look a lot like hard work’.

The world has changed significantly since our parents graduated.  In the past our parents were in competition with the people in their city or country.  There was a smaller Talent pool.  Today you are in competition with the world. As access to opportunity becomes a meritocracy we all find ourselves competing with China, India and other emerging markets.

3. Be audacious

The number one company value for BraveNewTalent is Humble Audacity.  You need to want to change the world, know that you can do it but do it with humility. To quote Steve Jobs – ‘The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do’, 

This is another of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes:

‘When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. 

Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. 

That’s a very limited life. 

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. 

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again. ‘

4. Fail forwards

I believe the more you fail the more likely you are to ultimately succeed. Do not fear failure but learn from it. Every journey will mix failure with success.  If you are open to failure you remain open to opportunity.

5. Practice gratitude

For me this is personally important. Every day I like to step back and think how lucky I am. For my fiancé, family, friends but also for all the opportunities in front of me.  We are all so incredibly lucky with what we have in front of us.

6. Be lucky

I often say entrepreneurship is playing the game of luck.  You need to get lucky to win.  But luck is like rain.  It does not fall equally.  Entrepreneurs share the great clouds to where it is likely to rain and make new things to capture the rain from others.  You can be a rain maker.

7. Be authentic

I learnt recently that we all have our own unique style.  We are the sum of our experiences.  It is important for you to reflect on and understand who you are and why.  From here you can begin to be yourself and lead with authenticity.

8. Give back

So many people wait until they retire before giving back.  To me giving to others and being generous is one of the most pleasurable things in life.  I recommend you collect experiences not things.  That you don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s but be yourself.  One of the greatest problems of our generation is that the whole system is aligned to have the smartest people work to get the rich richer rather than solve the world’s biggest problems.

Use your intelligence and opportunities for good.  Our generation is inheriting more problems than any generation gone before us.  We need to be a generation of leaders.  Giving back does not mean giving money.  I would incorporate giving into what you do.  I really believe the billion dollar companies of tomorrow will be solving today’s trillion-dollar problem.  Business is a very powerful way for you to create change.

9. Learn everyday

I strongly recommend you practice lifelong learning.  Too many people are I shaped people – they become specialists in one area but do not get to see how that connects to everything else. We live in an increasingly complex world.  Try to be a T shaped person.  A person that is specialist in one area but broad on top.  Try to be an aspiring Polymath.

10.  Find your Purpose

At the end of the day the purpose of life is a life of purpose.

Think to yourself – what are the two most important days of your life?  Some say the day I was born and the day you fell in love.  Perhaps it is the day you were born and the day you graduate?

My favorite answer is from Mark Twain: ‘The day I was born and the day I found out why I was born’.  Finding your purpose and passion in life is extremely liberating.  It allows you to focus and be able to say No more often than you say Yes.  But it requires a lot of courage.

My favorite quote that defines me as an entrepreneur is: ‘Dreams are not what I have in my sleep, they are what prevent me from sleeping’

To really win you need to find something you love.  Find a problem that keeps you up at night.  It will be sheer passion and grit that sets you apart from the competition.

A few final thoughts to leave you with.  Firstly I want us to reflect on the moment we are living through. When you look at history and the moments that mattered you notice two things.  Firstly, not all time in history was important.  There were whole periods where nothing much went on. Then there were the enlightenment periods where huge advances in human civilization were made that affected many centuries after.

Secondly, when you look at the people that make up the history of those times they all knew each other. They all influenced each other.  Look at Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and then Alexander the Great.  Look at DaVinci, The Medicis, Raphael.  Look at Mandela and Tutu. And of course look at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

We are living in one of those enlightenment periods – the Digital Enlightenment.  And what’s different – this is the first truly global enlightenment.

Most people graduating today as well as myself are Gen Y.  People say many things about our generation:

That many of us are lazy – after all we’ve never had to get up off the sofa to change the TV channel.  That our brains are now wired differently with the ability to multitask like no other generation.  Whatever your thoughts are about what makes our generation unique or special – we can all agree on one thing:

We are the first generation in history to graduate as an authority on something that actually matters.  You are the authority on technology, the internet, social media.  You can leverage this. The digital enlightenment is changing everything and you can seize this as an opportunity.

When your parents graduated they were not yet an authority on anything that mattered in the world of work. They were authorities on Rock ‘N Roll but you are the authority on the most important invention in human history – the internet

We now have access to all human knowledge at our fingertips – how will you use this?

You can go out and make your dreams a reality.  And remember, where there is change there is opportunity.  Thank you, it is my honor to stand here in front of you and many congratulations!

Dead Poets Society, the 1989 film starring the late, great Robin Williams, offers a view into the melding of formal and informal learning in one community. By day, the young men learn about poetry through formal instruction in Robin Williams’s class. In the evening, they gather in their clandestine, students-only, “dead poets society” for some informal learning, peer-to-per sharing and older student mentoring. The works of the “dead poets” come alive for these students who begin learning on a deeper, more profound level.

In today’s world, platforms such as BraveNewTalent are working to replicate for the enterprise that seamless transition from formal (i.e., structured, organized learning pushed to the individual) to informal learning (i.e., self-directed learning by the individual) in an online community environment. These platforms have broadened the traditional definition of blended learning (i.e., the delivery of instructor-driven materials around one topic in both face-to-face and online formats) to that of one umbrella knowledge-sharing community that supports and integrates formal and informal learning for the enterprise.

Estimates vary of the split between formal and informal learning in the professional organization. Some believe that informal learning comprises 95% of all learning with formal a measly 5%. Other experts cite the more nuanced breakdown of 70% (informal), 20% (coaching/mentoring) and 10% (formal) developed by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger in 2000. Either way, informal learning dominates.

Whether through formal or informal paths, an individual learns either way. As has been documented by such researchers as Albert Bandura, the father of social learning (i.e., learning in an interpersonal context, usually informal), cognitive processes are involved in all types of learning. Yet the irony exists that in most cases, eighty-percent or more of Learning and Development budgets are allocated toward formal programs.

Over the past two decades, organizations have tried to formalize informal and social learning by turning individual’s research, knowledge and interpersonal exchanges into content available for all. They have encouraged their members to create and share their acquired knowledge through such tools and platforms as Intranets, wikis, social media channels, Google Docs, videographed brainstorming sessions, SlideShare, and bookmarks for self-directed research.

Many organizations have found some success with these efforts though there have been multiple issues. Most notably, while some structure has been placed around informal learning and transformed ephemeral knowledge into hard content, this material usually sits in silos on multiple platforms. It’s also often divorced, both platform and program-wise, from formal learning content. Likewise, on most social channels, noise surrounds the learner (e.g., a mixture of personal and professional lives on Facebook, Twitter), which discourages meaningful sharing. These many systems and channels result in multiple costs for the organization, difficulties in measuring learning activities for the administrators, and confusion for the learner.

A platform that offers an umbrella learning community offers a solution to these challenges. An appendix to this article lists some of the extensions that the BraveNewTalent platform can add to its communities for customers to facilitate both formal and informal learning. As you can see, these extensions range from traditional, formal courseware (e.g., Articulate) to sharing technologies (e.g., Whiteboard, SlideShare) to social channels (e.g., Twitter, YouTube). All of these extensions can co-exist in one community.

So what does a blended community of formal and informal learning steeped in best practices look like? A series of courses could be built on Articulate. They could be offered in a virtual, traditional “blended” learning environment via a webinar with an instructor and the Articulate courses as a supplement. At the end of the first session, the concept and principles of the umbrella learning community could be introduced. Learners would be invited in and encouraged to share in the community.

But that’s just the beginning! All of the courseware and other relevant materials could be stored in the community. Based on the results of the courses, the organization could create individual “informal” learning programs with assignments (e.g., creation of blogs, videos). Yes, that’s the organization directing “self-directed” learning, which may seem to contradict its purpose. But it’s also fostering an environment that encourages curiosity and content creation, so critical to successful informal learning. Learners could share their completed assignments in the community and interact around it. Instructors and the better learners could become mentors. Relevant presentations from SlideShare, conversations from Twitter and videos from YouTube could be fed into the community. Everything-from the coursework to the assignments to the sharing-could be measured.

The benefits are obvious and many. The lines blur between formal and informal learning. All resources are located in one place. The silos are broken down among all types of learning. Fewer channels and platforms reduce costs. One umbrella community for all activities eliminates confusion for learners.

The social element that wraps around all these activities perhaps offers the greatest benefits. Bersin by Deloitte has noted that learners retain only five percent of what they hear and just ten percent of what they read. However, when they become more involved and social, they retain approximately half of material covered through discussion and 75% through on-the-job experience.

As Jay Cross notes in his book Informal Learning, “learning is like breathing, so much a part of our lives that we’re unaware of it until a mentor or a book refocuses our attention.” No one online community can capture 100% of the professional learner’s activities, nor should it. But platforms with an umbrella learning community, which afford the organization and the learner to both “push” and “pull” learning materials and interact them, capture a significant amount. Your learners may not be spouting Walt Whitman as in Dead Poets Society but they may be learning more, retaining more and sharing it all more.


At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, I joined 2,500 global leaders in business, government, academia and the arts to discuss the state of the world. This was my 7th visit to Davos and this time as a full participant.

I participated in conversations on the future of education, learning, employment, youth employment, gender diversity, the skills gap among many other things.  I spoke at the Shaping Davos session on Rethinking Education and gave a 5 minute speech on Knowledge sharing Communities in the Congress Centre.  This was a short interview from Edie Lush at Hub Culture:

Hub Culture Interview

How the Digital Enlightenment Has Created a New Era of Talentism

Mark Twain once said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Let’s recognize the unique moment in history that we currently find ourselves. We are experiencing the Second Human Potential Movement, and this time it has the potential to be much more inclusive. The first Human Potential Movement started in the 1960s with places like Esalen in Big Sur and people like Aldous Huxley, Abraham Maslow, and Alan Watts. It was formed around the belief that humans have extraordinary untapped potential that can be cultivated to enable our lives to be filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment.

Now we are experiencing a similar Enlightenment moment. However, there is something historically unique about this moment–technology is democratizing access to it. The internet is enabling much larger numbers than ever before to benefit from this “Digital Enlightenment” period, which is giving birth to the Second Human Potential Movement.

Not all moments throughout history were equally important. We see moments that matter, moments that shaped the arc of history. When one studies those moments we notice two things in particular:

1. Location matters. All enlightenment periods happened in a geographically hyper-located place. Think Rome, Athens, Venice, Florence, London, and so on.
2. Community matters. When we look through the history of any moment that mattered, we see that every person that played a role in shaping the time somehow was friends with all the other influential people of their time. Think about Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Think Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and the Medicis. Think Freud and Jung. Think of Paris in the 1920’s with Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Dali, and Stein.
Throughout history we can see these two points as a constant. This leads to the question: Why would this Enlightenment period be any different? I would argue that its not. We still have a small number of individuals that are writing the history of our time–people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk. Notice how they also all know each other, and location remains equally important. The difference is that the fruits of their creations are now accessible to billions of people. We are experiencing the most inclusive Enlightenment period in history.

What is the impact of this Enlightenment period on our lives? As we enter a Machine Age, we need to ask whether we are creating a positive, abundant world or if we are in danger of creating a negative and destructive world. Are we creating something the dystopian futurist writers warned us about—are we creating an Elysium, a Brave New World, or something like 1984? We are experiencing an era of unprecedented wealth creation, but unfortunately it is not as inclusive as it should be. The prospect of machines taking over the jobs of billions of people is a very real one, and one that we need to be extremely cognizant of.

Professor Klaus Schwab, Creator of the World Economic Forum, has argued that the leading economic ideology is shifting from Capitalism to Talentism—a new era where human capital has become more important to countries, cities, and companies than financial capital. Professor Schwab argued, “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate—and therefore by human talents—as the most important factors of production. If talent is becoming the decisive competitive factor, we can be confident in stating that capitalism is being replaced by “Talentism.” Just as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization, capital is now giving way to human talent.”

I remain optimistic that as our primary economic ideology shifts to “Talentism,” we are in fact giving birth to a Second Human Potential Movement. But as with any other major society shift throughout history there are winners and losers. Change gives birth to opportunity, but it is important to be on the right side of change.

Humans have always made sense of the world in which we find ourselves through the communities we belong to. In many ways technology has had a destructive impact on our communities and has left people searching for the meaning behind it all. It is my hope that we will “go back to the future” and see a re-emergence of strong and supportive communities both offline and online. It is through our communities that we can provide ourselves with the context and knowledge with which to stay relevant and be on the right side of this change.

The choices society makes about how we leverage technology, artificial intelligence, and the Machine Age will shape the whether the future of our world will be a positive or a negative experience. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” The Second Human Potential Movement should provide an opportunity to create a more inclusive and abundant world.


- This blog was originally written for Diplomatic Courier and was published here: