Category: Learning

Have you got the development habit?

With the world of work these days in constant turmoil, individuals must have their own coping strategies. Here are five to keep on your agenda.

  1. Know Yourself: Stay in touch with what you are really good at. Take surveys and, above all, get others to tell you what they see, both your strengths and weaknesses. Although it is always good to work on your weaknesses, don’t forget your strengths make up your present Brand. They give you a strong platform to build on. Developing mastery in your areas of strength means you can stand out in your profession, which is always a good insurance for the future.
  2. Be on the lookout for different future possibilities: Don’t assume that the future is going to be just like the past +or- a bit. Every now and then, there will be a game changer in your industry, like an Uber or an Air BNB. Make sure you stay tuned in to what’s going on in your industry and profession, by joining networks, social media groups, blogs and magazine subscriptions. Keep talking and asking.
  3. Set up your own Personal University: There is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there. What we all need is our own network of contacts that can keep us on track. Maybe you need subject matter experts who can share their wisdom, maybe you need someone to be a coach or mentor, maybe you need someone to hold us to our commitments. Work out what help you need, and ask for it!
  4. Use work for development: Training courses are important, but your work place is where you get serious about using new ideas. Every work assignment you do can be a development experience if you do it in a way that stretches you. Reframe your project slightly so that you end up doing it differently, or simply reflect on things as they happen. There’s a world of experience out there – exploit it.
  5. Celebrate and keep moving: Please do pat yourself on the back when you’ve reached a development milestone – you may even have a member of  your personal university to help with that. But don’t forget, development is a mindset, not a destination. Once you reach a new level, you can see what else there is to know.

Watch out for new material on this subject soon and sign up to get on our mailing list here.

Does the future of your work life worry you?

Do you run a small business and want to support the on-going professional development of your key people, or are you an individual professional determined to keep yourself at the leading edge in your chosen field? Constant and radical change is the norm for every professional in every sector: a recent Deloitte video describes this as The Big Shift.

Yet most professionals these days work in small and medium sized businesses without access to the dedicated in-house personal development services provided by big companies. That leaves the professionals themselves and those who employ them with a dilemma – what can you do if you are determined to stay in step with the rest of the world and need some structured support in taking on the challenge?

Tom Peters Company’s solution is to flip the problem by drawing like-minded professionals into the dilemma. We have launched an individual professional excellence program and have piloted it for two years with existing clients. The online version of the Excellence Academy, launching later in the year, supports committed individuals or small groups of professionals to create and execute their own radical development plans.

Our early clients are reporting significant mindset shift in their participants and have seen obvious personal and professional growth over the period. Further, they believe that the approach has benefitted the whole organization in getting professional development onto the management agenda across the business.

Specific benefits have emerged:

  • Most of the learning take place by reframing existing work assignments into structured learning projects which produce beneficial results for the individual and the business.
  • Practicing action learning on real work assignments becomes a habit, which can last a life time – a fantastic investment for the individual and the organization.
  • The program has four action learning cycles over a 12 month period, with regular inputs and provocations from TPC and systematic monitoring of what is being achieved and what is being learned. This structured approach makes the learning sustainable.
  • Senior people, managers and professional associates, act as participant mentors which is a powerful personal development experience for them, too.
  • Management’s visible and active involvement in the learning process sends an important messageto the whole organization that professional development is a priority here!

So far this program has been available to SMEs in a blended learning format with a mix of face to face delivery, group video conferences, individual participant and mentor coaching, and regular on-line inputs and updates.

We will be piloting an online version of the program in early 2016. Are interested to know more?

Sign up here for our next webinar, where we will explain the program and take questions from you.

Learning that ‘Sticks’

People always come away from your events all fired up. But how do we keep that energy going for longer back at work?” CEO, Design and Build SME

Long term value added can undoubtedly come from participating in well structured training and development events with the usual mix of expert inputs, experiential exercises and group discussions. Some participants go as far as acknowledging them as life changing experiences. But client comments like the one above are more common in my experience and should give rise to serious food for thought. How can we do a better job of helping people to take responsibility for their growth and development back in the workplace, whether or not they have regular access to set piece T&D events?

Here are some of the questions we have been asking ourselves:

Why should people be bothered?

Adults (and most children, come to that!) only really learn what they want to learn. Yes, they may slog away at prescribed learning – maybe new regulations or preferred methodologies – but only if they have decided this knowledge is going to make a difference to THEM and their lives. Why bother should be the first question we ask about any subject we are trying to plug – and so should our participants.

What problem are people trying to solve?

Humans are naturally programmed to solve problems we encounter in our lives. Just think about what happens when you talk to interested colleagues and friends about something that continues to baffle you. People come up with different angles, suggest alternative ways to approach the problem, and if you are lucky, put forward alternative solutions that look good enough for you to try. Solving real life problems is where the vast majority of us pick up our most meaningful learning. If what we are trying to learn is focused on problems we really want to solve, we are much more likely to stick with it.

What do people need to learn?

How can we know what new knowledge or skill another person needs? In the good old days, when we wanted to get a cadre of people to take on a change at work, we would set up a standard ‘sheep-dip’ training program and transmit the same body of knowledge though the same medium to everyone. Engineers or accountants or production managers are all the same, right? WRONG!!

We’ve all got our own unique cache of knowledge and experience, and we’ll always begin work assignments by drawing on that. And then we realise there’s a gap. We can’t quite get the solution to work because we are missing vital pieces of the jigsaw. The learner is the only person who can describe what their gap is. They may not express it brilliantly, but they can describe what is not working for them and what they want to be able to do. “How do I?” is an open invitation for others to contribute their expertise, and their input is welcomed. If only T&D inputs were delivered and received in that context!

Helping learners to ask the right questions for them is a key skill for learning professionals.

Who really cares?

Your bosses may say they are committed to your growth, but how can you tell if they are serious? What do you see them doing to support your personal development? How much of their time do you see them devote to this? Do they help you to understand and connect with the direction the business and/or your profession is taking in the future? Do they work with you to set up work assignments that involve learning experiences that will help you? And do they devote time to connecting you to people who can help you to grow? It’s much more than writing a cheque to pay for set piece courses. Are they prepared to put some of their skin into the game? That’s how we find out if they really care!

What does 21st Century Learning look like?

The response to the dilemma posed by this SME Chief Executive felt quite bold and adventurous when we started out. We had to shift our thinking from ourselves to the learners and their motivations to learn. The energy to drive the learning forwards had to come from the participants.

Sure, we have an excellence model and use a group launch event, but the underlying purpose is for individuals to choose learning targets that they care about to take back and work on in the workplace. The topic choices are theirs. They choose a mentor from a nominated list of influential people who can help them to create relevant experiences from which they will learn and grow. The following year is spent researching, executing and reporting back on their learning experiences. It is Experiential Learning, but not as we had previously known it.

The test of success is whether the participants continue to take responsibility for their own learning after they graduate from the program. The signs are encouraging and by the end of the first year, a second group has been commissioned. The client is delighted with the participants’ progress and is making structural changes inside the company to install this approach to talent development into the company culture.

So What for You?

Speaking personally, this experience has shifted my mindset towards my work fundamentally.

How about you? If you are a manager, learning practitioner, or an individual making your way in your profession, how do you see the world of training and development changing for you?

Can I help?

Have you ever seen someone fall over in public? If so, you’ve probably also seen them pick themselves up, and hurriedly mumble “I’m fine,” if anyone approaches them offering help. I’ve done it myself on many occasions over the years. This scenario offers a microcosm of the dynamics going on in any helping relationship; as Edgar Schein describes in his wonderful book Helping, there is a complex interplay going on between helper and helped, and unless both parties get that right, the offers of help will be shunned, even when they are really needed.

The penny-dropping moment with this book came when it dawned on me that those of us offering outside consulting support are, in our own way, proffering help to our clients. If I had a dollar for every suggestion or proposal I had submitted to “solve” a client’s problem only to be told that it wouldn’t work, or that I was taking the wrong approach, I’d be a wealthier person today! Had I really taken enough time to understand the problem, or to build up sufficient trust and respect between us?

And yet, when the client/helper relationship works, it can work exceptionally well. I will never forget the first proposal with a new client following a lengthy investigation into his situation. “So you’re telling me that I am the problem,” he mused. “Well, that’s good news, because the one person I know I can change is me. It’s persuading hundreds of others to change that is much harder.” He became our best client ever. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that we struck lucky with this guy, finding each other at just the right time. He was actively looking for help and we came along with a practical approach that appealed to his belief system.

I’m seeing now that getting to the point where your help is both needed and welcome takes time, and should be factored into any intervention. It might seem time-consuming, but it is time well spent.

How are you at giving help? Or receiving it?

Why an Excellence Academy?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “white collar revolution” before—Tom Peters used the phrase in his Reinventing Work series of books. And like so many of his predictions, the idea of a revolution transforming the world of the white collar worker, in much the same way as blue collar work had been in the preceding decades, has now become a mainstream concept.

Whether your country’s economy is recovering from the ravages of the global recession or is still bumping along the bottom, the White Collar Revolution will continue unabated. We all face the challenge of thriving in a world where our work will change in ways we can scarcely imagine.

For example, Google is intent on acquiring leading-edge technology SMEs that are pioneers in advanced robotics and/or exploring concepts like machine learning and systems neuroscience. Google hit the headlines earlier this year when they bought UK start-up DeepMind whose expertise is general purpose learning algorithms. While this intellectual property can undoubtedly improve Google’s search capability, the longer term impact it could have is massive, prompting prominent observers to warn (again) of job destruction at a faster rate than new jobs can be generated with mass middle-class unemployment leading to social unrest! I.e., a White Collar Revolution!

Other commentators are predicting that future economic strength will depend on creating jobs that go way beyond logic and require a significant element of human ingenuity and creativity—jobs that are worth the high wages that we require to support our accustomed living standards!

If you weren’t already convinced, these trends up the ante for you, not your employer, to take on responsibility for your personal development. In these revolutionary times, it’s a survival imperative!

Excellence is NOT an institutional choice. Excellence is a PERSONAL choice.

Watch out for more on this topic at this blog, and sign up for a webinar on Friday 23rd April at 9am EST.

New Work Survival Kit 2012+++++

Here’s a personal improvement checklist – choose at least one area for your own improvement efforts – preferably one that makes you ‘wince’ about your current performance!

  • Mastery! (Best/Absurdly Good at Something!)
  • “Manage” to Legacy (All Work = “Memorable”/“Braggable” WOW Projects!)
  • “USP”/Unique Selling Proposition (R.POV8: Remarkable Point of View … captured in 8 or less words)
  • Networking Obsession (From vertical/hierarchy/“suck up” loyalty to horizontal/“colleague”/“mate” loyalty)
  • Entrepreneurial Instinct (A sleepless … Eye for Opportunity! E.g.: Small Opportunity for Independent Action beats faceless part of Monster Project)
  • CEO/Leader/Businessperson/Closer (CEO, Me Inc. Period! 24/7!)
  • Mistress of Improv (Play a dozen parts simultaneously, from Chief Strategist to Chief Toilet Scrubber)
  • Sense of Humor (A willingness to Screw Up, Shrug & Move On)
  • Comfortable with Your Skin (Bring “interesting you” to work!)
  • Intense Appetite for Technology (E.g.: Are you a “leading edgeuser” of Social Media?)
  • Embrace “Marketing” (Your own CSO/Chief Storytelling Officer)
  • Obsessed with Renewal (Your own CLO/Chief Learning Officer)
  • Execution Excellence! (Show up early! Leave late! Sweat the details!)
  • EXCELLENCE. PERIOD. (What else?)

Join the Tom Peters Excellence Academy for support and encouragement in your improvement efforts.

Excellence Academy 2: Coming Soon!

In Tom Peters we have a master of modern management theory who shares his insights freely in a variety of formats (Books, ebooks, speeches, papers, twitter, blog, website etc). His ideas have high currency, particularly amongst entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and new startups. The list of his literary achievements is long but equally interesting is the impact he has had on how business is done. Over the years we have come across many people who attest to having changed the way they work by Tom’s persuasive and emotional arguments. Many of them speak of life changing transformations.

In TPC, we work with clients who want to adopt these ideas and to inspire others to do the same. Our focus is almost totally on application;-) We find that the problem clients are dealing with is rarely that people lack knowledge – it’s  converting knowledge into practice that is usually the difficult part.

The things people tell us they appreciate from our interventions include;

  • Getting feedback about current performance
  • The chance to debate the relevance of the ideas to them
  • Reshaping ideas to deal with their own problems
  • Tools that help them come up with new solutions for their situation
  • Having a go at a new skill or behaviour
  • Getting moral support from fellow students
  • Having fun

We’ve been doing this in face-to-face settings for over 25 years, and the Excellence Academy moves this field of activity into virtual space. This gives us the chance to reach a much wider audience and to stay connected as virtual buddies to provoke and support over a longer period of time.

There is a groundswell of thinking about teaching and learning going on at the moment. Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenburg (Turning Learning the Right Side Up, Roger Schank (Teaching Minds, 2011), 2008) and Zoe Elder (Full On Learning, 2012), all in their own ways advocate approaches to learning that centre on practice not teaching. The age of the internet means that there is no reason for a person to be ignorant about any subject that interests them. Education should focus on helping learners to use this information thoughtfully to achieve goals that matter to them.

To make sure we aren’t just another source of content, our focus in the Excellence Academy will be:

  1. Challenging peoples’ preconceived beliefs and norms
  2. Defining fresh challenges for themselves
  3. Shaping work projects to drive activity from which they can learn
  4. Provoking, reminding and inspiring them to act and to continue acting
  5. Reflecting on what they have learned
  6. Feeling part of a community of learners
  7. Helping people feel intrinsic reward for their efforts

The Academy will have its own web platform, and the program of activities will spread over 6 months. Its focus will be on supporting people to learn about improving performance in chosen aspects of their work life with the inspiration of Tom Peters to guide us. For more information contact

Excellence Academy 1

In 2013 TPC will be launching a Distance Learning Programme designed to help people focus on Excellence in their own situation. Here is an outline of our latest thinking. All input and reactions welcome!

Target Audience:

Small/medium sized business leaders, unit/team leaders and individual professionals. People who are looking for stimulation and support to develop and improve themselves and their teams, and have a more positive impact.


The Excellence Academy is a place to focus on aspects of your business that can benefit from change.

We will explore, discuss, and try out (new) approaches to increase the distinction and merit of your (and your team’s) work.

This involves improving self-awareness, and opening your mind up to alternative ways of working.

Programme Structure:

“You can’t just do what you know you should do. Why not? Because your subconscious (that is in charge of your daily activities) isn’t listening to what you have to say” Roger Schank, Teaching Minds, (2011)

To address this learning challenge, the Excellence Academy programme will be like a slow burning carbohydrate diet – ie it contains a sustained, steady delivery of energy. It will emphasize trying things out, practicing and learning from experience and will keep theoretical discussions to the minimum.

There will be a series of asynchronous modules, the first of which enables everyone to set their own excellence agenda for the next 180 days.

Subsequent modules (4?) will deal with a series of topics, expressed as problem or challenge statements, such as:

  • “the way ahead for me/us is far from clear”
  • “we/I need more intrapreneurship”
  • “our bureaucracy is strangling us”
  • “our workforce is too one-dimensional in its behaviour”
  • “we/I don’t have enough commitment from our employees/suppliers/partners”

We’ll choose a commonly accepted issue for the second module and finalise the remaining modules with input from participants. These will be chosen to make up a balanced Excellence agenda.

A final module will sum up the progress made and invite all participant to submit/present their work to others.

Module Structure:

The following broad structure will be used for each module which will run over a month:

  • Explore your current understanding of this topic (ie diagnose the ‘problem’ and its cause)
  • Consider alternative approaches/case studies/examples (ie. challenge people to look afresh at the subject and evaluate the comparative benefits of alternative approaches)
  • Take part in an activity that develops your understanding (ie explore alternative approaches in a safe environment and work in a team to achieve a result)
  • Decide on ways to incorporate new ways of working into your life (ie experiment with actions and that are different to your normal actions and use your influence to persuade others to co-operate)
  • Review and learn from experience of applying the new ideas (ie evaluate and judge your experience)
  • Record progress in your Portfolio (ie describe your new understanding/belief)

Teaching methods include:

  • Stories
  • Case Studies
  • Simulations
  • Games
  • Practice
  • Do and copy
  • Work in a team
  • Learn from mistakes (Do, try, fail, review, re-do)

Throughout the programme, everyone will build their own Excellence portfolio, which they use to record their actions, learning and developing awareness of the specific concept being studied. Portfolios are presented for any participant to read and comment on and everyone will be encouraged to do so.

Portfolio assessment by TPC can be offered as an optional (paid-for?) extra.

A Twitter Hashtag and facebook page will provide online commentary for participants.

Web Platform:

  • Regular (daily?) inspirational/reminder quotes will be sent
  • Course materials – video, audio, book references, white papers, articles, url links assessments, tools, provided
  • Course activities/discussions via online discussion board
  • Journal webspace to keep individual portfolio records
  • Occasional live discussions/webinars provided as required/desired


An initial charge of £250 followed by a monthly charge (£100pm) for access to Excellence Academy (Total £750).

Future Shape of Education?

From the earliest days of the Web, it was obvious to many of us that the impact of the internet on education was going to be huge. An early inkling of the tectonic shift that was underway was the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Open Course Ware project ( Initiated in 1999, the project provided materials for its first set of undergraduate courses free on the Web in 2002. By November 2011, there were 2,080 MIT undergraduate and graduate level courses available online.

MIT’s groundbreaking initiative has been followed up by many other academic institutions, and the body of work that has been created is a valuable resource for people all over the world.

This open sharing of intellectual property has moved up to a completely different level with the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Pioneered in 2007 by David Wiley of Utah State University, MOOCs reached a turning point in 2011 when a course on artificial intelligence enrolled a staggering 160,000 participants!

MOOCs are now available on a wide variety of subjects and typically run for about eight weeks. MOOCs are (so far) free of charge, and access is unrestricted. MOOCS exploit the latest Web technology and accommodate a wide variety of educational content, delivery media, and learning support mechanisms. New organizations such as Udacity, and Coursera have sprung up alongside Carnegie Mellon’s OLI, Harvard’s edX project and MIT’s OCW to help fulfill the burgeoning worldwide demand for online education.

I recently enrolled in a MOOC delivered by Professor Kevin Werbach of Pennsylvania University. The subject is Gamification—defined as the use of games design techniques and games elements in non-games contexts. The professor is using feedback from the participants in a book he is writing on Gamification. So, he benefits from the interactive nature of the Web experience along with his students, and he is no doubt picking up plenty of feedback from the 10,000 participants who are still active out of the 77,000 who originally signed up for the course. This 10,000 out of 77,000 might seem disappointing, but program monitoring shows that around 44,000 people are accessing the two hours per week of video content but not submitting the course work.

I’m finding the MOOC learning process much more engaging than I had expected. There is sufficient assessment, albeit of a fairly mechanical level, to help me consolidate my learning. I feel that I’ve picked up something useful that I can apply in my work. I haven’t ventured far into the community forum of the course, as hacking my way through thousands of posted comments doesn’t feel like a productive use of my time. Maybe next time.

Critics of MOOCs are dismissive about the educational value added. They point out that there’s no credible qualification issued at the end of a MOOC. A “certificate of attendance” issued to participants who complete the course may not hold any weight in getting a job or earning credit toward more formal education. Critics say such mass access education is never going to provide the quality or intensity of focus that can be gained in a tailored academic course. Perfectly valid criticisms, perhaps, but personally I think they miss the main point.

These early manifestations of open courses are an indication of a shift in the balance of power away from educators being in control to learners taking control of their own personal development. I see these open courses a bit like a smorgasbord of educational offerings. They offer a whole new menu of exciting courses for students who want the scope to pick and choose what they spend their time learning. Life-long learning becomes a viable option for people with the resolve to do the work and access to a decent broadband service!

What will happen if providers start to charge for course admission remains to be seen, but for the moment, as an ongoing experiment in educational flash mobbing, it makes for fascinating watching.

Here are a few MOOC courses to take a look at….

Coursera: Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies

Udacity:How to build a blog

Open Learning Initiative:Introduction to Psychology

Blog post first published on

Rock On!!

Thursday 17th November was a big day for our clients, Virgin Money. By an astonishing quirk of fate, the opening of the first two of their new concept Lounges (Edinburgh and Norwich) coincided with the announcement by the chancellor, George Osborne, that the Northern Rock has been sold to Virgin Money.

This is a huge milestone for VM and one towards which they have been working for several years. They are determined to cause a stir in the world of banking – even though some in the industry are still describing their status as a minnow. If being 10th largest bank with 4 million customers makes you a minnow, it gives you some idea of the stranglehold that the big banks have on the market. Mind you, being smaller has never bothered Virgin businesses in the past – when VM first launched their internet based PEPS business  back in 1995, existing players in their market saw them as irritants – mosquitoes if you like!! And we all know how much trouble mosquitoes can cause, don’t we?!

Over the past 6 months Tom Peters Company has been running events for all existing staff to help them to see their part in building the bank of the future. The commitment in time and money to run these events was extraordinary, given the manic level of activity that was going on in the business. But Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the Chief Executive, has always set great store by keeping everyone involved – the events are designed both to communicate but also to give everyone the chance to have a say.

Virgin Money Edinburgh Lounge, November 2011

And as for these lounges – what on earth are they about? The answer is that they are all about relationships and definitely not about transacting or selling. The return on investment may be very difficult to quantify, but the stir they are likely to create may well be just what’s required in these times of financial stalemate.

It’s going to be an exciting time for VM – wish them luck!!