Recently I attended  conference organised by the Campaign for Learning, and listened to Bill Lucas, a previous CEO of the Campaign, explaining his ‘Ready, Go, Steady’ model of how we learn*.  As you might guess, he placed considerable emphasis on the importance of getting ready to learn and on the importance of reflecting after learning – the ‘steady’ part of his model.  As I listened, a simple but profound truth suddenly dawned on me.  It was this: everything in life has three inescapable phases – before, during and after.

Now, you may well think that this is too obvious a truth to labour but, the more I have pondered it, the more insights it seems to generate.  It is akin to the simple truth that in order to meet a specific person two things have to coincide, place and time (if you had one without the other you’d never meet – not even with the benefts of a mobile phone).  Other simple, but profound, truths come to mind too, such as; a person’s perceptions are their reality; if you think you can and you think you can’t, you’re right; all development is self-development; behaviour breeds behaviour; today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday – and so on.  There are, as I’m sure you are well aware, loads of them.

So, what are the insights that spring from the realisation that everything falls into before, during and after phases?

The first is that ‘befores’ come in many different shapes and sizes. There are those you are aware of, for example when you are preparing to run a training session, and there are those you can only realise were ‘befores’ with the benefit of hindsight, for example after some unplanned, spontaneous event.  There are those that go on for a long time  (providing ample time to worry) such as the run up to an examination, and those where the ‘before’ is perilously short (sometimes the shorter the better, such as when preparing to do your first bungee jump!).  ‘Befores’ also offer the possibility of doing something preventative before a problem becomes a problem, rather than being forced into reactive quick fixes that tend to be remedial.

Secondly, there are insights to do with ‘afters’.  They are easier to spot than ‘befores’, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we use them properly.  The tendency, for example, to truncate ‘afters’ by rushing on to the next ‘before’ is widespread, hence the problems so many people have with finding time to reflect and review.  Also, where does an ‘after’ stop and the next ‘before’ begin?  Many times one shades into the other, making a loop rather than anything vertically or horizontally linear.

I believe, however, that the most significant insight is how ‘durings’ tend to assume a greater importance than either ‘befores’ or ‘afters’.  Take, for example, the business of running training courses.  The ratio of preparation time to delivery time is supposed to be something like 8:1, but the chances are you’ll reduce this by finding ways to cut corners at the ‘before’ stage. This is serious, not just because you are likely to be under-prepared, but because lots of the things that we know should happen before a course to ensure its success, are likely to be skimped.  Vital preparatory acts such as agreeing precise objectives with the ‘clients’ and how they will measure the worthwhileness of the training are probable casualties.  Establishing the learner’s needs, both for content and for method, are also easily squeezed out because of the pressure to get on with the ‘during’.  Giving ‘afters’ adequate time and attention is even more of a challenge.  There is a tendency to think that our responsibilities stop at the end of a ‘during’.  This means that too often we fail to follow-up or give adequate ‘after-sales’ service.  Too easily we assume that we’ve done our bit and the back-at-work ‘afters’ belong exclusively to the learners and their managers.  It also means that we fail to find time to review the ‘befores’ and ‘durings’ with a view to learning from them and continuously improving them.

Of course, I can understand why we let ‘durings’ predominate.  They are usually scheduled events giving us less room for manoeuvre than ‘befores’ or ‘afters’. And they are usually demanding, giving us an understandable excuse to breathe a sigh of relief and relax before the next ‘during’ hits us.  But, whatever our excuses, neglecting the ‘befores’ and ‘afters’ is crazy.  I would argue that they are even more important than the ‘durings’ – and that is not to belittle the importance of the latter.

The reason why training courses are so often ineffectual in bringing about lasting improvements in performance, is precisely because we do not invest enough energy in what happens before and what happens after a training intervention. If we apportioned them 3:3:3 we’d be far more effective.  4:2:4 would be even better ratio.


* Reference: Power up Your Mind by Bill Lucas, published by Nicholas Brealey, ISBN 1-85788-275-X

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