10L: John Helmer

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

About John:

John Helmer FLPI is a communications expert specialising in digital industries and emerging technologies, particularly in the fields of learning and education. His career includes many years working with and for organisations including Lumesse, Capita, Epic, LINE, Semantico, Towards Maturity, Ufi/learndirect, Kineo, Willow DNA, Learning Light and Futuremedia.

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

Despite years of trying, I never managed to bring my late mother to understand what I did for a living. Once at a dinner party, I spent ages trying to explain elearning to a fellow guest, not even elderly but younger than me. ‘Oh you’re so lucky to work in that industry!’ they said enthusiastically when I had finished; ‘I love the Early Learning Centre (a Toy Shop, for those not from the UK).’

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?

Learning to play guitar, which I did mostly in public, in a Punk Rock band. Punk Rock was almost the definition of ‘a safe place to fail’: nobody minded a few bum notes. There was loads of feedback (mostly from my amp lol) – and a lot of instant gratification when things went well. What was I trying to do? Participate in the imaginative life of my generation. Why did it work for me? Mastering the (very basic) basics of this skill allowed me to overcome my natural shyness and stand on stages in front of thousands of people, unleashed my songwriting abilities and got me girlfriends.

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

1. Repackaging tired old ideas under the rubric of newly minted buzzphrases

2. Vehemently championing a minor change in nomenclature as a way of appearing controversial, resulting in pointless arguments about semantics: pedantry masquerading as rigour. (I could think of many examples, but don’t want to pick on anyone – and TBH I’ve probably done it myself).

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)? 

I’ll echo something I think you said Myles: it’s made a lot of people you want to get hold of more accessible. Everyone’s at home, and able to spare an hour to talk to me for the podcast. It’s also brought digital communication more to the fore which plays, notionally, to my skillset.

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

Serendipity. Bumping into people by accident. Chance meetings that turn into lunch, lunches that flow into dinner. Overhearing other people’s conversations. Hearing the mood music. Watching the body language. Taking the temperature of a room. We’ve all had to intentionalize our socializing, which means we tend to miss out on a lot of random, accidental input that is important for creativity. Fun. It will return: it will all return.

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)?

You’d expect me to say marketing, but I’ve sort of changed my view on that, as listeners to my more recent podcast episodes might have picked up. I think L&D should take creativity a bit more seriously, and look to how writers, artists, videographers, youtubers, stand-ups, etc. exploit, transform and even contort the media they work in to connect with audiences. Business on the whole is rather afraid of the chaotic, messy side of creativity. But if you’re really serious about using digital communications media as a vehicle for learning, it’s the route to tapping into people’s deeper emotions.

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

Quincy Jones, to up the quality and production value of the music on the podcast, and to write great flute parts for my jazzer daughter Poppy to play, an area where I struggle. 

If only I had…What did you learn from your most recent mistake?

There are no mistakes. Every release is an opportunity to test what people respond to and what they might not be in the mood for right now. Production value is less important than whether or not something connects. Besides which this question is an unhelpful opportunity to brood, which I do too much of anyway!  

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

iPhone obvs.

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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