Written by guest blogger Laura Overton, award-winning L&D Analyst. Laura is an experienced international speaker, author and facilitator with a passion for exploring, challenging and sharing. She believes that the role of learning leaders in the changing workplace is to unlock the potential of business and people.
Carpe Diem - seize the day! Six out of 10 Americans plan to make this their new mantra for 2021, with seven out of 10 planning to emerge post-COVID as new people¹.
The words Carpe Diem were first used by the Roman poet Horace over 2000 years ago and continue to echo throughout the ages, with his advice clearly still inspiring many.
For others, the call to 'seize the day' may seem insensitive and even brutal. When your day is falling apart around you, there doesn’t seem much to grab hold of. A day spent in full response mode to never-ending requests provides little opportunity to be proactive!
But as a modern learning professional, looking for ways to add better business value, the disruption in our lives and workplaces means that today is absolutely the day to Carpe Diem L&D!
Many of us have been researching how L&D can better impact business outcomes and have been advocating a fresh approach to learning and development services relevant to the modern world.
Authors, researchers, and practitioners from around the globe have been advocating for decades that our reliance on programmes and courses will prevent us from being as responsive or relevant as we need to be, if we are to help organisations and individuals be ready for the new world of work.
Evidence amassed over the last 20+ years has pointed to the fundamental shifts needed in traditional L&D practice to support better business outcomes.
Our L&D response to those seismic shifts in the world of work are creating the opportunity to establish the foundations for our future.
How we respond to today’s opportunities impacts our reputation, our credibility and trusted relationships, and the way our stakeholders perceive our value.
For progressive learning leaders, there has never been a more important time for L&D to seize the day.
Disruption to work and life has created unforeseen endings, rapid beginnings, and lots of time spent in between.
For business shop doors and offices, our established routines and ways of working ended abruptly. New systems, processes, and ways of engaging with customers and delivering services had to be worked without notice.
For L&D, disruption has meant that classrooms and face-to-face programmes ended overnight. New remote working regimes and demands for online learning sprang up within days. No one had the opportunity to map out a plan for the best way forward. Some were better prepared than others.
These abrupt changes create unprecedented (yes that word again!) opportunities for L&D professionals. Opportunities to add bottom-line value to hard-pressed businesses, opportunities to equip others for a different future, opportunities to accelerate change and eliminate risk.
Disruption has provided a unique opportunity for many learning professionals to roll up their sleeves and find new ways of working and supporting individuals and teams - to become part of the business ecosystem.
Disruption has also shown us that workers can adapt, and adapt fast to change, to technology, and to new ways of working. Prior to the pandemic, many learning professionals felt their learners were reluctant to engage with learning online. Now, 71%² say that their learners are demanding it - an engagement opportunity that few of us could have predicted!
Overall, business endings and beginnings have provided learning professionals with more opportunities to connect and engage and support at grassroots levels than ever before.
Disruption, however, has also created an uncomfortable in-between space leaving us to speculate: has our old way of doing things ended, or is it just on hold? What will the new future and new normal look like for me?
What is certain in this in-between space is that we do not know what the future will hold - and this also creates an opportunity for L&D.
The in-between space that we have found ourselves in because of disruption is not a typical transition phase in a planned change cycle, where we know where we need to go but are reluctant to go there.
Instead, it is what anthropologists call a 'liminal space' - a rite of passage or threshold between what was and what will be.
In a liminal space, the psychological impact of not knowing what is to come makes life complicated!³. As a result, these transitional spaces can be uncomfortable, creating internal conflict and confusion.
They can also be liberating, releasing creativity and experimentation. And there are plenty of opportunities to seize, to grow, to develop and try something new.
For example, take the financial services trainer unable to engage in their normal classroom work and facing furlough. They might jump at the chance to volunteer to take up a front-line role alongside their peers, manning the contact centre to help relieve pressure. Who knows how this completely different perspective of the work environment and the pressures might influence the way that they design and support learning forever?
As Sarah Lindsell from PWC, one of our guests in the Learning Uncut Emergent podcast suggested, disruption has provided us with an opportunity to "Start by being bold... do something, suggest something different... accelerate your experiments and relationships with the business."⁴
In November 2019, I facilitated a Future of Learning event with 30 L&D leaders across different sectors here in the UK. As part of the session, we did an exercise that explored what you would do in January 2020 if you were 10 times bolder. The figure below shows some of the ideas that were put forward.
Each of these ideas was evidence-informed, proven to correlate back to better business value. But they were ideas back in November 2019 that pushed these L&D leaders out of their comfort zone. I often wonder if this group were better prepared to 'tap into their bold' and seize the day as they faced the realities of 2020.
Carpe Diem involves a level of boldness and a level of spontaneity where L&D leaders can spot the opportunity to make a difference in new and fresh ways. But Carpe Diem is not about recklessness; it also involves a level of insight and understanding to really make the most of that opportunity.
Roman Krznaric, a social philosopher and author of Carpe Diem Regained⁵, claims that the cry to 'just do it' has been hijacked by what he calls the existential crime of the century.
In the rush to get the best and latest, the concept of 'just do it' has turned into 'just buy it.' Our increasing emphasis on efficiency and productivity has turned 'just do it' to 'just plan it.' Our thirst for Netflix type experiences has turned 'just do it' to 'just watch it.'
As learning leaders, we don’t want to hijack our Carpe Diem response by rushing headlong into the excitement of new technology finds, halted through overplanning or driven purely by providing a tsunami of content.
Krznaric provides us with an alternative. He highlights that 'seize the day' can also be translated as ‘harvest the day.' In fact, the last line of Horace’s original ode has been translated as 'harvest the day and leave as little as possible for tomorrow.'
The ability to harvest involves the ability to understand the environment, the opportunity, and to make the most of today’s opportunities in ways that will continue to feed and sustain us in the future.
Keep an eye out for our next article from Shannon Tipton, exploring how we do this smarter. Until then, let’s Carpe Diem L&D!
One last thing - Carpe Diem is not about recklessness, it also involves a level of insight and understanding to really make the most of that opportunity.
Take the first step - download the Learning Triage flowchart from Lori Nile Hoffman and Amanda Nolan to help you ask the right questions that deliver the best value!⁶
1. For a majority of Americans, 'carpe diem' is the new motto heading into 2021: https://www.swnsdigital.com/2021/02/for-a-majority-of-americans-carpe-diem-is-the-new-motto-heading-into-2021/
2. COVID-19 L&D Research: First Take: https://www.fosway.com/research/next-gen-learning/covid19-research/
3. What is Liminal Space? - 4 Key Features of Liminality: https://helpfulprofessor.com/liminal-space/
4. Learning Uncut Emergent podcast, 'Building L&D Courage and Curiosity': https://learninguncut.libsyn.com/emergent-series-building-ld-confidence-and-courage
5. Carpe Diem Regained: http://www.carpediem.click/01/