10L: Toby Harris

10L: A few simple questions about how leading professionals see their work.

About Toby:

Toby has worked in the learning technologies area for ten years and at Filtered for nearly five. His current job title is “Director of Product Marketing”. Toby is determined to understand what this really means and apply it to his work. Most of his time is spent trying to solve tricky problems involving learning strategy, content and technology.

So, what do you do dear? Describe your work to an elderly relative.

You know how they do all the training online these days? Well, there’s now so much of it that you need companies like the one I work for to sort out the mess and make sense of it.

What was your favourite learning experience (Could be work, personal, school…anything is valid)? What were you trying to do? Why did it work so well for you?

I had the dubious privilege of learning to drive between the ages of 29-30. I was able to experience the acquisition of this complex skill as a sort of participant observer, figuring out where theory, resources, simulations and practice all fit in. You can’t readily apply that experience to the kind of things I work on day-to-day, of course, yet to have quite an enriched understanding of a hard thing many of us learn to do (and then forget how we learned it) is useful in all sorts of ways. And it isn’t my experience per se but since he won’t remember it, but I am counting watching my 3 year old son learning about language and numbers as another of my ‘experiences’. The flowering of an innate skill for spoken language versus much the tougher acquisition of artificial skills to handle the ‘technologies’ of reading and mathematics – all of it driven by a relentless process of statistical modelling and some outrageously bold jerry-rigging of novel abstract concepts – that’s another instructive everyday experience we can apply to learning in organisational settings.   

Enough already…What one thing do you wish people in your industry or profession would stop doing? (What gets your goat?)

I zig-zag on this question, but right now I wish that people would stop pretending L&D doesn’t exist to design structured learning experiences and programmes. It’s awesome to borrow ideas from organisational design theory or marketing, but we also have urgent learning problems to look at and willing audiences…

Same again please…What has changed for the better in your professional world as a result of COVID working practices? Should it be retained for the future (whenever that might be and whatever it might look like)?

The flexibility to work where you want to and, what implicitly follows from that, to be valued only for your ability to deliver value rather than your means to live in an expensive city – this has a lot of potential to make life and work better, if we can adapt to it successfully.

From the good old days…What do you miss most about working life from the pre-COVID world? Do you think it will return?

The wide range of emotions produced just by being around people outside of your immediate family during life’s ups and downs and how energising and consoling it is. Sure, the office and the pub get tiresome too, but now work feels somewhat hollow, practically unreal. It’s not how reality should feel.

Theft is the sincerest form of flattery…Which part of which other industry or profession do you think we should learn from and adopt (or just steal)?

Keep paying attention to email. Far from dying out, email is becoming ever more well-understood and useful as a system of record, for pursuing life’s important goals and following rigorously curated content. As social media mutates into forms that are ever more politicized, arcanely meaningless and distracting, the humble weekly newsletter has now become so valuable it’s readily monetizable – hire a great email marketer and listen to what he or she has to say.

You know who would be great for this…Which famous person (live or historical) do you want to join your team and why?

I think I’d bring René Descartes to work one day if I could: it probably takes a Descartes to grapple a very complex world full of people who believe crazy things and still come out with pragmatic, useful solutions.

If only I had…What did you learn from your most recent mistake?
Brought the sledge. 1.5 miles turns out to be a long way to carry a toddler through heavy snow. More profoundly, just yesterday, I realised I’ve spent years learning a language I want to read in without listening to it or trying to speak it very much when it turns out those things are sort of … connected.

There can be only one…Which one tool or piece of kit would you keep if you could only use one from now on?

In my job, I would have to keep a hold of Filtered‘s technology for making sense of learning problems that have got bigger than any homespun tools can handle. But I’ll also note that, of the new breed of home-spinning, ‘do-anything’ workspace tools, Notion appears to be able to do anything.

The picture of success…Which image or picture is a good representation of how you would like to develop your practice over the next five years?

Where can we find you?

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