Just in Case or Just in Time?

I am trying to avoid speculation about “what happens next?” and “how we adjust to the new normal”. There is too little information about what has happened and even less about any future directions we might see. We knew precious little about actual behaviour in L&D before Covid – the foundations for conjecture remain pretty weak. Treat those who appear certain with caution, their confidence is dangerous.

Having said that, I am wondering about the possible tension between a renewed desire for stability and security, on the one hand and efficiency, on the other. How might the economic ravages of 2020 and beyond alter that balance? 

Many areas of commercial life have gathered around the theme of efficiency, as expressed in the “Just In Time” principle. The agility and flexibility to apply people and resources as and when they are needed have guided many decisions. The global food chain is a model of just in time thinking, as is the production and distribution of toilet paper, of course. 

In the digital world, the idea of “Just in Case” decision making had the ring of rigidity and waste. Why bother preparing for every eventuality when we can be more agile in delivery at the moment and point of need? Costs can be removed at each point of distribution. Our pasta and loo roll buying in March bore all the hallmarks of just in case consumer behaviour and it broke the just in time logistics. 

In the L&D world, both models have been in play, with Just in Time a more recent entrant. Learning programmes and eLearning modules have often suffered from the overload of Just in Case design. Packing everything in, regardless of likely utility, has been a common problem as a result. SME’s tend to favour this mode. Just in Case design in compliance learning is a root cause of its poor reputation, creating the click next endurance tests we all recognise and infecting the eLearning waters for over a decade.

Just in Time is a useful response and the ability to target, notify and nudge people towards answers to their problems at the point of need is progress for organisations and their workers. The challenge to this model now, though, might be the anxiety about the gaps and risks that emerge.  Can we be satisfied that sufficient possibilities are covered? When does the clock run out on Just in Time? (Again, run for the hills if anyone requests certainty. They are fools). ‘Just in Case’ feels more stable, perhaps, as risk avoidance gains the upper hand in our decisions. “What if Just in Time is too late?”

It feels like a new challenge for us to plot a route through these competing impulses (or a revival of an old challenge).  We need to satisfy the rising desire for stability without snapping back to the Just in Case design reflex. We need to meet the ongoing requirement for a useful and interesting solution to the problems we are set without predicting them so far out that they are irrelevant at the right moment. 

Some thinking to do…

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