Principal, Jarche Consulting

New Brunswick, Canada

Harold Jarche is an international consultant and speaker, helping people and businesses adapt to the network era. He serves as chairman of the Internet Time Alliance, an international think tank on workplace performance improvement. Jarche's projects have included work for ING Bank, AstraZeneca, Cigna, and the Canadian army.

What's your background and how has it contributed to your perspective on training?

I took my first training course, Methods of Instruction, at about 14 years of age. I was in the Army Cadets at that time, which is a leadership training organization for teenagers, supported by the Canadian Armed Forces. I joined the army when I was 18, and spent 21 years in the military.

I became a professional trainer in the mid-1990s as a training development officer. The tie-in was interesting because it was around that time that I got posted to a helicopter squadron where I was responsible for getting all the new training set up. We had just purchased 100 new helicopters. At the same time I was getting immersed in flight simulation, computer-based training, and I was creating specifications for some technology-based learning projects. I also had gone back to school for a master's in education. It is this particular bent on technology, specifically as it relates to the workplace, on which I've worked for the past 20 years.

When I left the military, I worked for a university in an applied research and consulting department, focused on learning technologies. Later I worked for a small dot-com that had a learning management system. For the last 12 years, I've been a freelancer. I came from a very solid training background, and now my focus is much more on organizational design and knowledge sharing, collaboration, and social learning. It's more how learning underpins and supports work as opposed to being separate from it.

You say that we are at the beginning of another management revolution. Can you explain?

Every time we've shifted the way we communicate, we've had significant changes in how we organize. When we shifted from the spoken word to the written word 3,000 years ago, we went from tribes to larger kingdoms because the king or the ruler could write down their orders—and the written word became a control mechanism.

When we shifted from the written word to the printed word, we had another huge change. We're in a similar type of a shift today.

The Internet is only the latest manifestation of the electric communications age, which began with the telegraph. This, along with railroads, changed the way work was done. For example, standard time was invented to adapt to the new era. Now we're at an acceleration point with what's happening in this electric age.

What we're finding is that it is networks that really are driving things. One person cannot control a network. The reason the Internet works so well is because there's nobody in charge of it. The model that we're seeing with the Internet is going to be the same major model for the way we organize for work, and for learning in society.

Some people and companies have taken advantage of network effects, like Google and Amazon and Facebook, but we're also seeing nongovernmental organization networks that are growing, such as Creative Commons and charity: water. We are witnessing a significant shift from hierarchies, structured institutions, to looser types of networks—and this requires a different type of management and a different way of looking at learning.

What is learning in the workflow and how does it work?

Learning in the workflow is the result of us living in a very complex world where all the easy stuff is being done by software and machines, and all that's left for human work is the tough, wicked stuff. And that requires creativity.

We're dealing with complex problems, and we're dealing with them with other people, which of course increases the complexity because human relationship are complex. So learning has to be part of work. But unfortunately a lot of our methods are still, "Do the training, take the course, and then poof, away you go, and then you come back and do it."

How does working out loud help build trust?

Research shows pretty solidly that if we are going to share complex knowledge and things that are really important to us, we're not going to share them unless we have a trusted relationship. I'm not going to talk about my philosophy of life with somebody who I think may not appreciate it.


If we know that complex knowledge requires trusted relationships, how do you build trust? We build trust by getting to know people. And how do we get to know people? We have to have conversations. We have to know what people are doing; be a little bit vulnerable.

I see that personally, having been a blogger for about a dozen years now. I have trusted relationships with people all over the world whom I've never met but yet we've shared a lot of knowledge and events together, so now we have a trusted enough relationship that we can have very deep and meaningful conversation about something that's important to us. That's what working out loud is.

But I think that working out loud still is not enough because quite often you see people who are really just creating more noise. You have to embed learning out loud, and that's where you're trying to make sense of what you're doing. So you're sharing, "I'm trying this new..." or "How did you do that?"—more talking about the why more than just the what. We have to promote both and, unfortunately, a lot of work practices don't really enable that. As a matter of fact, there are lots of things in organizations where there are actually barriers to that.

What do you see as the future of work?

I don't think anybody doubts that automation is chewing up jobs, particularly in lower-paying jobs—the more repetitive, routine types of work. But it's doing the same thing at higher levels. We're seeing lawyers getting replaced by software. There are some people who think that surgeons will be replaced by robots because robots will be much more accurate than any surgeon could be.

I am not a techno-utopian, but if you take a look at what has happened when we added new technologies is that humans have had to work their way around it. There are no more scribes on the street ready to write down our thoughts, because everybody can write. And when everybody has a computer, we're not going to need a lot of other types of what was more routinized work.

What is remaining is complex and creative stuff that cannot be done by computers, which cannot be done by algorithms. If that is what the valued work is in an organization and what is going to make it sustainable into the future, then you have to think about how you lead people who need to be doing creative work. You can't sit down with somebody and say, "Poof, you've got to be creative."

I think a lot of the answers on what the future of work is going to look like is to look at artists, see how they work, see how they live. Jay Cross, a friend and colleague of mine, talks about the old days of working, where you went to work and you produced, produced, produced, and the next day you did the same thing.

He said, "But when we're looking at creativity, we see that the creative worker goes to work and he does nothing, nothing, nothing. The next day he does nothing, nothing, nothing. The next day he does nothing; brilliant idea worth lots of money; and then nothing, nothing, nothing. When you take a look at someone who is creative, you might say, well, they're doing nothing. But a lot of that nothing is reflection, it is doing things where you have an opportunity for serendipitous ideas, and that's where the whole notion of the job comes in.

In a lot of workplaces, you hear things like, "Hey, you're not doing your job. Stay focused on the mission," that kind of stuff. But if what we need is creativity and solving complex problems, then me with my feet up on the desk, reading something on Facebook may actually be something that's going to generate a creative idea. And that becomes an issue when you have compliance-oriented and control-oriented workplaces, which most of our organizations still are. Instead of thinking about how to motivate employees, you need to remove the barriers for them to become more creative.

Tell us about your new workshop that's geared toward talent development professionals.

It's called Moving to Social Learning, and it sort of reflects my own career, in which I moved from a training development officer to becoming a performance technologist. Later I began playing with social learning and collaborative knowledge-sharing platforms to see how they could help.

The program is about how you move from training to performance to social. What I found was that, if you have a training background, trying to go straight into social is a bit of a hurdle. But if you go from training and then into performance consulting, performance improvement, and then into social, it seemed to be an easier transition. This workshop focuses on the minimum framework that you would need to be able to move your organization in a certain direction.

It's loosely based on the 70-20-10 model, and it's about how we make sure that we get away from the push, move to the pull, and empower the learners. [It presents] nine very practical ways that the folks in L&D can remove the barriers and enable much more mobile and agile learning.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your work for relaxation?

My passion is cycling. I took up cycling about 20 years ago when we moved to Germany. Cycling through the Black Forest was absolutely fantastic. I now call it cycle therapy because I need it to help get my mind off of everything and help clear the cobwebs out. I find that if I don't get out riding or something like that, I really am not as productive as I can be.