L&D and Our Coyote Complex

In General L&D by JD Dillon

I introduced the L&D/Coyote comparison as part of my Transforming Users into Contributors session on user-generated content at DevLearn 2014. Thanks to Sarah Gilbert for the accidental inspiration during her DevLearn morning buzz session.

I’ve used the comparison several times since to support my position, and it seems to resonate. Here’s an outline of the concept and why I believe we, learning and performance professionals, have a Coyote complex that inhibits our ability to evolve and deliver meaningful value to our organizations.

Note – Said Coyote, fellow characters, and all related imagery are property of Warner Bros. If you don’t know who the Coyote is, here’s a sample of his work

We’re always in chase mode …


I don’t remember ever seeing a Coyote cartoon that wasn’t focused on his chase for the … other guy. That makes me wonder what he ate in the meantime given his continued failure in procuring the heavily-desired main course. Anyway, the Coyote always starts the story considerably slower than his target and must therefore determine other means to capture him given that he can’t possibly keep pace on foot.

Even if we have the coveted “seat at the table,” L&D usually isn’t driving the business. In many cases, we are positioned considerably downstream from the key decisions that will impact how we do our jobs. Therefore, like the Coyote, we will always be starting off a few strides behind the problems we are charged with solving and likely never be able to get ahead of the business.

So we make our complicated plans …


Because he can’t keep pace with his target, the Coyote must devise a complicated strategy to reach his goal. To his credit, he works through a considerable amount of planning and draws exceptionally complex design mock-ups before he puts his plan into action.

Likewise, we have turned instructional design and development into both a science and an art. We can conduct detailed needs analyses, rapid prototype, and build robust curricula that align to well-written learning and performance objectives. We construct learning strategies that take the “learner” from 0 to 100 through a pre-determined and effective series of steps.

And we rely on fancy new tools …


I hope the Coyote had some sort of ACME loyalty card given his continued reliance on the brand for his gadget arsenal. To execute his detailed plans, he orders the most advanced tools available and integrates them into his design to capture (or obliterate depending on the amount of TNT) his target. Regardless of the outcome, you have to admit the Coyote is pretty darn clever with how he slaps this stuff together via mail order catalog.

We also love toys, especially since the rise of modalities like eLearning, mobile, social, and (most recently) wearables. Given the need to scale our plans to large audiences, we find ways to integrate the latest and greatest (and most affordable) into our instructional strategies. Technology gives us the ability to scale and personalize so the “learner” can get the best-possible experience while we review progress data on the back end.

But we inevitably feel the pain …


It was a solid plan. He did his homework. He had the tools. He’s a pretty smart guy – just maybe a little too focused on the short-term. Why does the Coyote always end up pancaked at the bottom of a ravine?

Luckily, we don’t get hit with boulders and anvils in L&D (unless you work in a really unique organization with VERY high-stakes training). But we do get “hit” plenty of times during our typical design/development/implementation processes. The organization may change their requirements. Timelines shift and mess with our plans. “Learners” have other things going on (like their jobs) and therefore have to be chased down and goaded into completing our curricula. It’s almost never easy, is it? How often do we achieve the true performance changes we set out for rather than just settling for completions, seat counts, and the freedom to move on to the next project?

Meanwhile, we have unique, untapped talents …


“Dude paints tunnels that turn into REAL TUNNELS!” I still can’t believe I said that out loud during my DevLearn session. Anyway … Why does the Coyote need to catch that other guy when he could monetize this skill and eat whatever he wants for the rest of this life?!?! The Coyote is trapped in a fixed mindset that requires he do things the way he’s always/expected to do them (plus it’s obviously funnier that way). He’s so focused on his perceived goal that he doesn’t realize potential opportunities that could help him achieve his REAL objective: eating.

Meanwhile, we also fail to take time, step back, assess our true skills, and determine how they could be put to better use to drive meaningful results for our organizations. Rather than always taking the formal, instructional approach to solve a business problem, we should evolve our mindset and …

  • Focus on connecting those who NEED with those who KNOW
  • Apply technology to support learning and performance in meaningful, user-centered ways
  • Create resources meant to support the true moment of need
  • Strive to be part of the daily workplace ecosystem, not a support team that’s only called on when desired by decision-makers
  • Save the formal design stuff for right-fit problems
  • GET OUT OF THE WAY and shift accountability for continued performance improvement to the user

And so do our users …


I’m pretty sure they made cartoons that flipped the paradigm and made these two friends at some point, but I never saw them. So I’m left to wonder what could have happened if they teamed up and maximized their shared abilities. ((Creativity + Resources + Determination) + (Cleverness + Speed)) – Unnecessary Antagonism = better results than they could ever achieve alone.

Do we make the most of the capabilities within our audiences? After all, they will ALWAYS be more knowledgeable about the jobs they do than we can ever hope to be. Once we become L&D and step away from the operation, we automatically lose relevance and therefore must work in partnership with stakeholders to maintain any semblance of connection to the day-to-day. Rather than attempting to become subject matter experts or relying exclusively on SMEs (who have their own responsibilities) to get our work done, we must leverage our unique abilities in combination with the knowledge/skills of everyone in our organizations to drive meaningful, long-term outcomes. This approach should include:

  • Eliminating the word “learner” and it’s inherent sense of ownership
  • Valuing “unapproved contraband” shared between users to support performance without us
  • Creating simple opportunities to help people share what they know with their peers
  • Selecting technology that enables user contribution and doesn’t function like an information vault (aka most LMSs)
  • Focusing on utility rather than form to increase the timeliness and relevance of our work
  • Involving users in every stage of the formal design/development process

That’s my L&D/Coyote comparison! What do you think? Does it sound familiar? Like the Coyote, could we benefit by reimagining our role as L&D and therefore deliver more meaningful results for our organizations?