How to waste money and feel good about it.


Would I succeed if I tried to motivate you?

Of course not!

And here is the kicker:

If I tried to train you will you learn?

Of course not!

Spending money on training is a sure-fire way to win votes. And it is true that when you evaluate and analyse the reason why people can’t do something is because they don’t know how.

If almost all the training you could possibly want is out there and it is free, then 'training' is no more a solution than oxygen is the solution to a happy life: you need it to live, but it won't make one life happier than another.

Most people think it stands to reason that we should spend more money on training. Right?


Very little learning actually happens in a training interaction. Only about 10% in fact.

Think back to your own school days:

How many days did you arrive home thinking you learned a lot that day? Think of how many hours you doodled or gazed through the window while the teacher was talking and chalking?

When kids ask: ‘where am I ever going to use this?’ they are dismissed as not ‘understanding the importance of an education’ but we are dismissing their intuitive grasp of what it means to be fed redundant knowledge.

People who complete TAFE qualifications increase their lifetime earnings by nearly $325,000. The question is what does it cost the state – and is it worth it? Presumably society will get a third back in taxes over a 40-year period. It costs about $14 p/h per student in the TAFE system. In my estimates that mean we will spend $45K to train one person and get a $100K return over 40 years. About 5% p.a. Not great if you ask me. And comparing the TAFE cohort to the non-TAFE cohort is fraught with selection bias. Arguably the person who is ambitious enough and disciplined enough to go to TAFE would have earned more than the non-student anyway

Think about your experience with corporate training:

How much time in a 7-hr workshop do you spend learning? How did you get decide whether that workshop was exactly right for you? After attending it, how many notes did you take and how much do you remember afterwards and how much of it actually results in changed behaviour?

You’d be lucky to get an hour’s worth of learning. The rest is listening to other people show off or ask stupid questions. A good chunk is spent ‘getting to know each other’ in order to create an environment that is ‘safe’ for learning.

People attend training programs and seminars and then go back to the office and ask Nellie how to do something anyway.

Training that happens in classrooms play a role in fostering a certain culture and encouraging bonding. But so does any meeting of a group of people who engage for any the purpose.

In learning and development circles there are a few brave souls who are now advocating informal learning or social learning. Simply put, this is learning by doing – outside the structure of a class room. The general rule of thumb is that this accounts for 70% of all learning. Another 20% of knowledge/skills are acquired by coaching/mentoring (sitting-next-to-Nellie) and only 10% of learning happens in a formal environment.

This paper by Deakin University does a good job of bringing all the thoughts about informal learning together.

In practice this means that of the roughly 2400 days spent at school, you only experienced 240 days of actual learning. Arguably the other ‘skills’ you acquired at school (socialisation, self-esteem etc) and the connections/friends that you made has some value, but could equally also be acquired in a different setting.

Australian workplaces spend about half the amount on training compared to the US (1.5% vs 3%). This means that Australians are smarter than Americans (they know not to waste their money) or that the Government takes too large a role in provision of training. The Government spends about 8% of its budget on training and education (not counting economic participation expenditures).

Would you like to live in ANY of the Top 5 countries in terms of education spend as percentage of GDP? How would you like to live in:

(This is not a % of Budget but % of GDP. If you study the list you will see there is NO correlation between economic status and eagerness to blow money on education.)

The bottom line: Training (the way it is most often done) is NOT the panacea people think it is.

I see learning like I see motivation.

Motivation is intrinsic and the best you can do as a manager/leader/coach is to create an environment that is conducive to achievement. You cannot motivate anyone.

In the same way you cannot train someone; but people can learn. Your job as manager/leader/coach is to create an environment that is conducive to learning.

The training industry is being challenged by flipped classrooms and (free) MOOCs. And so it should. This is an environment that is geared for the true learners (autodidacts) and they are the ones shaping our future.

Classrooms are hotbeds of mediocrity as teachers serve the lowest common denominators.

The stuff you need to learn is out there, and you don’t need a teacher if you are really motivated.

Many people hold Zuckerberg/Gates up as examples of not needing a college/university education. That is ridiculous. For every dropout who has been successful there are hundreds of graduates who are successful. Warren Buffet for one. The percentage of successful dropouts is most likely much lower than the percentage of successful graduates.

University may provide the context for learning - or not. It depends on the individual’s commitment to learning. Wozniak (Apple co-founder) describes his experience like this:

One accident that happened to me was that I taught myself, with no books, how to design computers in high school. I loved doing it and designed computers all the time, from descriptions of them in manuals by the companies that made them. I designed the same computers over and over and made a game out of trying to use fewer and fewer parts, coming up with tricks to accomplish my task that could never be in a book. They were ’tricks‘ in my own head. I felt that some of these tricks would be used by probably no other computer designer in the world. In my game world, on paper, where I could never afford to build my designs, I felt I was one of the best in the world.
The best things I did in my young years leading up to the early Apple computers were done because I had little money and had to think deeply to achieve the impossible. Also, I had never done those technologies or studied them. I had to write the book myself. Being self-taught, figuring out how to design computers with pencil and paper, made me skilled at finding solutions that I had not been taught.

Read this article on how Richard Branson thinks training will happen, and you will not there is no reference to classrooms.

Training should be a trigger for learning and is the starting point for change and growth in a high-performance retail environment.

People, who want to learn, will - whether the training is offered or not.

Success is 0% training and 100% learning. That should be our aim. If you treat ‘more training’ as the whole solution, you are guaranteed to fail. Save your money or do it right.

Mark Twain is quoted as follows:

They Didn’t Know It Was Impossible, So They Did It’

Too much training is about conforming to what is known and the world does not need more of that right now. Too much training is offered as the solution when people don’t know what else to do.

NOTE: Compliance training required by Law may be equally stupid exercise in CYA, but that is an unavoidable fact of corporate life