April 2009
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TD Magazine

Doug Lynch

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Doug Lynch knows how to put innovation into lifelong education. He founded Corporate Learning Services—an advisory program for large organizations such as American Express and JetBlue Airways on developing corporate universities. At Penn, Lynch created the first doctoral program of its kind for work-based learning executives as part of the Wharton School. At the Graduate School of Education, Lynch encourages use of video and virtual open houses to broaden learning opportunities.

Lynch is also a proponent of outreach, as a partner with Teach for America and continued supporter of the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia. He serves as chair of the U.S. delegation to the International Institute of Standards, is commissioner of the University Continuing Education Association, and sits on both the Public Policy Council for ASTD and the Board of Visitors for the Central Intelligence Agency.


Q| What was your first job and what lesson did you take away from it?

I dropped out of college to go work on the loading docks of Jewel food stores. I made a ton of money, got in the best shape of my life, and fell asleep every night in my clothes. I learned that despite being "smart," I couldn't do everything. I was the slowest one there and I learned to greatly respect hard work and just workers in general. I went back to school and ended up doing my thesis on the nexus of technology and workers in Sweden.

Q| When and how did your interest in executive education and work-based learning first develop?

My interest is framed from several perspectives. First is a social justice perspective. Training and development folks right many of the wrongs our society causes in terms of human capital development. They touch more lives and have greater impact than any other form of education. The second frame is an intellectual one. There is so little baggage in this space and so much willingness to innovate. One of my main goals is to take lessons learned from training and workplace development and import them back within the ivory tower.

Q| What do you feel is the importance of driving innovation in learning?

I am trained as an economist. We love learning because it is a perfect good. In economics, anything that you can make is a good. There are some bad goods like nuclear weapons, but all goods have an intrinsic value. For example, if you make a watch, the value to that watch is what you pay for it. But then there are these other effects called externalities. There are certain negative externalities - pollution is probably the most famous one. You're a manufacturing plant. You're providing jobs, creating wealth, and making products that the world needs, but you're also polluting. It impacts the intrinsic value of what it is that you do.

The really cool thing about learning is that it only has positive externalities. What does that mean? So you're a learning professional; why do you have your job? Because your company basically believes that developing people is good for the company. It improves the bottom line. It also turns out that there's a really strong correlation between training and development and income. Countries that invest more in their people are more prosperous. The reason that this is all so important is that if we get this right, we help companies, countries, communities, and individuals live better lives. Therefore, we should feel a huge impetus to do something about it, and do it now. Just think of that old Langston Hughes' poem, "A Dream Deferred." We need to experiment every day to minimize the amount of deferred dreams. Heck, every crisis our country currently faces can be attributed to a learning failure!

Q| What is one future change you'd like to see in the field of workplace learning?

It's two sides of the same coin - I want to see training and development folks strut! By definition, they are both educators and business people. Training and development people are doing things that are integral to the survival of their companies, particularly now, when times are tight and everything is more complicated. And yet, they're apologetic; they don't view themselves as professionals in the way that accountants or firefighters do.

I just don't understand why they have this chip on their shoulder. At the same time, they have to hold themselves accountable. The fact of the matter is that if they start respecting themselves and really demonstrating value and believing in what they do, then people will start treating them better and they'll be able to strut.

Q| Do you have any memorable anecdotes from working with organizations such as WorldCom and JetBlue? How about from your work as the chair for the ISO?

WorldCom was fascinating. I was so honored that Breeden (former head of SEC) and Capellas (former CEO of WorldCom) picked me and a university to help them survive. It really brought home several points. First, the stakes are high. Second, the people left were good people trying to do good things. And thirdly, compliance training needs to be owned by training and development folks who look at it through a learning lens rather than compliance officers who look at it through a legal lens.

The most important thing about JetBlue is Mike Barger. He helped conceptualize the doctoral program we run here at Penn, and we helped JetBlue develop a program to train his leaders on how to be teachers. His strategy was to take the best pilots and flight attendants and make teachers out of them. That's how JetBlue U was created. We teamed up with him to help him do that, but he was driving. He is a rock star. He is one of the smartest and most decent people you could ever want to meet.

Finally, the ISO work has taught me that as complicated as things are here, in the global arena, it amounts to chaos theory. It is striking how utterly personality driven and culturally driven these endeavors are. Nobody's stepping back and saying "what is the right thing to do?" They're all thinking about it from their own view. It's so interesting to me to recognize that, in some ways, when you're trying to negotiate, to any kind of standard, a lot of it is how the negotiators get along.

Q| Based on your extensive outreach efforts, what are your thoughts on corporate social responsibility?


I think that this is a loaded question. Milton Friedman, a famous economist who won the Nobel Prize, created all of these problems with his New York Times Magazine article in the 1970s. The article basically said that the sole responsibility of a corporation is to make money. All this crap about social responsibility is nonsense. Companies' jobs are to make money for shareholders. All of this stuff that we're talking about now is a legacy of framing it that way.

The second you start teasing out social responsibility as something else, it becomes less. If you think about an organization like a diamond, it's all these facets; and if you try and compartmentalize part of it, there's a possibility that it may end up not being as important. What you see in a lot of corporations is the social responsibility officer ends up being somebody who has no juice. The department has no budget and the officer doesn't report directly to the CEO. I think it's wrong to think about social responsibility as something in and of itself that happens in this vacuum or cloister because companies who do it that way are basically doing it for lip service. This idea that somehow we are all schizophrenic, and that there are these fundamentally competing interests creates a false dichotomy.

Great organizations are great places to work, and are fiscally and socially responsible. Period. Any good CEO knows this. As long as outreach or social responsibility is delegated to the corporate philanthropic arm, then we won't see progress. Think about what the learning teams in organizations could do to develop K-12 education, and yet, the partnerships tend to exist between the community relations people and the school district. We need to change this dynamic.

Q| Are you working on any new books or projects?

Yes, I am all over the place. I've been approached by the National Constitution Center to work with them on a system of education for Afghanistan. I'm working on a game with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills folks that will teach teachers and kids that set of skills.

I have got a chapter in a book coming out of Harvard Press on Microsoft's School of the Future; another chapter on production functions in non-traditional higher education; ASTD would like to see a book on why evidence matters; and Bob Zemsky has asked me to write a book with him. I am also working on a series of studies on the size of the T&D profession for ASTD.

Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I have several hundred students and two young children; I have no free time!

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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