Training for High Reliability

If we get this wrong, people may die.

Some people go to work every day and face the reality of life and death.

Maybe more than you think.

The High Reliability Organization

In 1984 Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe set out to explain why some organizations – really, what we would call “teams” today – work in the face of catastrophe every day, yet make relatively few mistakes.

Their work spawned the idea of the “High Reliability Organization.”

In High Reliability Organizations things have to be done right or people face the risk of injury or death.

Weick and Sutcliffe studied some “usual suspects:” aircraft carrier crews, nuclear power plant operators, air traffic controllers.

No question about it: In every one of those cases, failure can have literally fatal consequences.

Using those standards, we can apply “High Reliability” to a fairly wide variety of tasks, functions and jobs:

  • Any place in the health care delivery system where drugs are dispensed.
  • The emergency OR
  • “Flame jumping” firefighters
  • Ambulance crews

Who Is “High Reliability”

Notice the difference between “…any place in the health care delivery system where drugs are dispensed…” and “nurses.”

Although nursing is an undeniably important and task-specific function, using “people may die” as our standard for High Reliability shifts the application to only those interactions where people may, in fact, die.

The point? Not everyone is “high reliability.”

No disrespect intended to those of us whose workday may not involve staring into the abyss of death. But “high reliability” is a very outcome-specific concept.

It applies only to those tasks, jobs and functions where failure creates dire consequences.

The Nature of Dire Consequences

We’ve focused so far, perhaps morbidly, on the highest levels of danger people may encounter in the workplace.

Our purpose, though, is to train our concentration on outcomes.

We do this because it is very likely that someone in your organization operates somewhere in the “highly reliable” zone and you may or may not be aware of it.

If we simply crew “circles of reliability,” you could affix the various functions in your organization accordingly.

A “circle of reliability” might consist of concentric rings organized in the order of descending consequence. The closer to the center, the more dire the consequences and thus the more reliable the operator.

Ranging out from the center, we might have:

  • Loss of life or injury
  • Exposure to excessive liability
  • Economic or financial loss
  • Damage to public reputation
  • Minor embarrassment

You can intuitively see that the closer to the center of our circle, the less frequent the event. The further out, the more frequent.

Even in high mortality organizations like the military, the incidence of death is much lower than that of minor blunders or inconveniences.

Training for High Reliability

We begin this conversation about reliability at a fairly high level, and for good cause.

Training for high reliability is a very specialized activity that probably differs from any learning or training you’ve done (unless you’ve trained carrier flight crews).

It involves:

  • Evaluating reliability in jobs, tasks and functions
  • Creating a “Reliability Framework” for your organization
  • Developing training around the “Reliability Framework”
  • Managing carefully so you don’t wreck “High Reliability” teams you’ve worked so hard to create

High Reliability Resources

Our High Reliability White Paper
High Reliability Training in Bullet Points
High Reliability Training Video


Dropping Out Is Not The End

…It’s just the beginning.

Dropouts still pay a social price for choosing to leave school early. Yet the very schools they abandon have in far too many cases already abandoned them.

We will not “fix” the “dropout problem” by sending dropouts back to school. If school was effective for them, they wouldn’t have dropped out in the first place.

The only realistic option for dropouts – and for those of us in society who care about them – is to help them create new paths, new options, new direction.

Fortunately, we live in an age and economy where it is always possible to start anew. We believe the future is bright for dropouts, and we look forward to helping them create new paths.

We love dropouts.

High school dropouts. College dropouts. Grad school dropouts. Corporate dropouts.

We love people who make their way in the world without the “officially sanctioned” diploma or degree.

We love people who “opt out” of kissing the corporate ring and instead do something worthwhile.

We love GED test takers.

We love self-starting entrepreneurs.

We love self-directed careers.

We love people who make their own way in the world.

Have you dropped out? Of anything?

Us, too.

We believe in dropouts. We believe in you.

Join us in the DropOut Zone.

Training for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet

The top 10 “in demand” jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.

This trend will not reverse, or even slow. If anything it is accelerating. Most of the future’s best, most  important and most interesting jobs haven’t been created yet.

Our mission is to provide skills training for those jobs.

Impossible, you say? How could you possibly provide training for a job that doesn’t even exist?

We believe the future exists in the trends of today. The seeds of future careers exist in the breathtaking innovations exploding all around us.

Specifically, we’re watching 4 very dynamic areas of our economy and society:

– The Internet and Computing
– Automation and Robotics
– Life Sciences
– Energy, all types, but especially alternative

Check out our CareerGrid for more detail

How do we do it?

We focus on technology. Every industry is in the midst of  a profound updraft in technology. Even old school “low tech” industries are being  revolutionized by digital technology and automation.

We focus on science. Physics, chemistry and especially biology have jumped out of the textbooks and into the mainstream of 21st century life.

We focus on energy. Every aspect of life is fueled by some form of energy. In the 21st century, those forms are getting cleaner and more sophisticated.

Finally, we focus on craft. Every person has a unique contribution to make, based on finding and honing their personal craft.

We create programs that help people hone skills (their craft) in areas of emerging technology – computing and communication, automation, biosciences, green energy.

Our programs are delivered through partnerships with established schools via our Renescience Institute.

And they are offered free of charge through our network of microschools, in which we provide “School as a Service.”

Finally, for those who think the high tech economy has left them behind – no matter their age – we provide an “onramp” to tech skills through our TechSpan Academy.

The OnRamp

Sometimes it seems like today’s tech-centered economy has an express lane.

Those with in-demand high tech skills and specialized knowledge drive it while everybody else sits mired in a traffic jam of shrinking opportunities.

The difference is access to an onramp: Of high-value skills, niche opportunities, and an independent mindset.

Those in the express lane got there somehow. They took an onramp at some point. Their education or skills or their choices got them into the express lane.

There’s no reason you can’t get there, too.

But it’s not easy. The express lane requires specialized training, technical knowledge or specific skills. Most people zooming toward the future have paid their dues along the way.

Unfortunately, many of us didn’t get “express lane” training or knowledge or skills in school, no matter how long we went.

And now, maybe we don’t have the resources to go back to school. Maybe we don’t have time. Maybe we’re already paying off student loans. Maybe we just figure we don’t have the “knack” for the high tech economy.

It’s Not Just You
It’s a very real issue, not only for those stuck in traffic, but for the economy as a whole.

Imagine what would happen to a traffic jam if a bunch of people suddenly switched onto the express lane.

Traffic in the “old” lanes would lighten, things would eventually start moving faster, and those left in the “old” lanes would get where they’re going faster, too.

Getting more people into the economy’s express lane is the answer to solving our economic traffic jam.

The OnRamp
One of the biggest problems job seekers have these days is finding an onramp to the 21st century economy.

We’re in the midst of an unprecedented burst in technological and scientific progress.

Communication. Computing. BioScience. Automation. Energy.

In all these areas, and probably many more, we are zooming into the future at a breathtaking pace.

People who can participate in these industries – or find ways to serve them – put themselves in the express lane of the new economy.

Problem is, it can be very hard to find a good onramp. If you tell yourself “I’m not a programmer.” Or, “I hated high school biology.” Or, “I’m terrible at math.” It can seem like jobs and opportunity in “new” skill areas zoom past in the express lane while you wait in traffic.

And if you’ve never considered yourself good at science or technology, it can seem like the barrier is just too high.

You Can
But don’t give up. The onramp to your 21st century career might be closer than you think.

You see, we’ve spent almost 20 years looking at, thinking about and tinkering with the way people learn hard subjects.

What we’ve discovered: Beyond “learning styles” and “learning strategies” and all those ideas the gurus throw around, there’s a very simple truth:

You can learn anything – anything – if you break it into small enough chunks.

That’s not big news. People have talked about “chunking” their courses and training content forever.

But we’ve also discovered that the size of the chunks matters.

Small chunks at the beginning, then bigger and bigger until you can handle full scoops.

It’s like feeding a baby. You don’t start by shoving half a carrot in her mouth, right?

You start with a tiny spoonful, then another and another. VERY soon, you’re using a much bigger spoon, then all too soon, you’re feeding her full-blown carrots.

We believe the same thing is true of learning anything. If you can puree and liquefy the first few lessons, very soon you’ll be eating carrots!

OnRamp Jobs
Everybody has to start somewhere, even if that somewhere is “over.” Coming soon from Canis Learning Systems, OnRamp Jobs, a job board dedicated to entry and re-entry level jobs for those with onramp skills.

How do you get onramp skills?

Along with some very, very bright learning facilitators, we’ve discovered the big problem people have when they take on a big subject:

Somebody tries to feed them carrots too soon.

It’s really that simple. Pick up a programming book some time. Even a “dummies” style book or one specifically directed toward beginners.

Those suckers are huge!

And they’re packed dense with information that, frankly, isn’t useful to you. It’s theory or background knowledge.

You might need it some day. But not on the first day you’re learning how to program.

We’ve figured out that the onramp to technical skills is flat so that people can get on and pick up speed. Too steep and nobody gets going.

We’ve discovered that the onramp to technical skills is smooth, so that people can focus on just moving forward. Too many bumps and people get thrown into the ditch.

And we’ve discovered that the onramp to technical skills is straight, so that people can keep their eyes on the road. Too many sharp curves and it’s too hard to navigate.

We’ve created a set of “pretutorials” in high tech areas with the idea of making it easy for beginners to get onto the onramp.

How Pretutorials Work for You
Our pretutorials are built around a series of very brief, very focused lessons that have you actually practicing the skills you’re learning.

In the coding pretutorial, for example, you’ll learn to code by coding. Will your code be simple? Of course it will, at least at first. But you’ll be very surprised and pleased at how quickly you improve.

Same for our automation and biosciences pretutorials. (Coming soon.)

Look, it’s not your fault some teacher tried to shove an entire biology textbook down your throat. Or that some math teacher couldn’t explain *why* you’d need geometry or algebra some day.

Technology skills are the fuel to get you into the economy’s fast lane. If you didn’t get properly prepared in school, it’s not too late.

Our pretutorials can help you make up for lost time. And our programs can help you quickly prepare to tackle the 21st century’s career challenges.

(OnRamp photo credit:

School As A Service

What is the role of a school in an age when knowledge is everywhere?

Historically, “school” has been the physical and sociological place where a society educates its next generation.

School was a place where children and young adults went to be taught those things they would need to know in order to survive and thrive in the world they would inhabit.

  • Schools were storehouses of knowledge.
  • Schools were platforms for experts with rare insight and wisdom.
  • Schools were arbiters of success.
  • Schools were repositories for records of accomplishment – or the lack of it!
  • Schools were trusted to award meaningful credentials, so as to stratify the worthy.

School’s Role in the Information Age
Suddenly, we find ourselves in a world absolutely awash in knowledge. In emerging technical fields especially, the sum total of knowledge can double in less than a year.

To remain the “storehouse of knowledge,” schools would need to constantly update and revise their curriculum, almost to the exclusion of any other activity.

It simply isn’t possible.

The knowledge is available, it’s just not possible to disseminate it fast enough through the “school mechanism.”

  • Yet there is still a huge need to organize knowledge, to sift high quality providers from lesser.
  • There is still a need to provide structure and pace to learning experiences.
  • There is still a need to assess.
  • There is still a need to report, to endorse, and to provide meaningful, real credentials.

The Open Source School (or School As A Service)
School As A Service (SchAAS) consists in 3 fundamental activities:
1.) Provide a conceptual and digital platform for learning.
2.) Source the finest teaching available in the cloud.
3.) Award appropriate credentials.

1.) The conceptual structure for learning involves the lesson flow, clarity and assessment process for a course or learning event. The digital platform is software that facilitates these processes.

2.) The best teaching is in the cloud. It is free and widely disseminated via services like YouTube, SlideShare and their ilk. But there is a lot of flotsam and jetsam out there, disguised as teaching. SchAAS is about finding and presenting only the best.

3.) The best credentials are not necessarily awarded in class or after a series of classes. The best credentials are direct recommendations, referrals and references from trusted sources. SchAAS makes it possible for peers, external experts, partners and other leaders to validate actual, real knowledge and skill.

Our SchAAS Projects
So far we have launched 2 SchAAS projects, with many more in the works:, where students can learn application development for free.

Ames Media Institute (, for free film making and digital media courses.

School Bus photo credit:

Career Grid – A Matrix for 21st Century Careers

If you’ve seen the ingeniously scary “Shift Happens” video from Karl Fisch, or any of the several derivatives others have tried to create, you already know this: The world is changing fast. Numbingly fast.

(And if you haven’t seen the video, it’s well worth the look:

Poke around YouTube or other video sites if you’d like to see newer, updated stats. These are scary enough, and I like the background music for this one.)

Whither The Careers

Notice the scary information about careers? Half of this year’s top jobs were unknown just a few years ago (mobile app developer, anyone?). And “old” careers are disappearing as well, obviously.

Fisch originally put this together as a Powerpoint presentation designed to scare educators out of their lethargy. Along with his colleagues Scott McLeod and Jeff  Brenman, he assembled and posted the video and have created no small sensation.

Everybody who sees the work probably formulates their own questions. The one rattling against the side of my head ever since I saw this the first time:

What does this all mean for people’s work, careers and missions? With change happening this fast and this broadly, won’t we all get swept away?


But I think it’s much more likely that these deep and profound changes will open entirely new opportunities for people who are ready for them.

“Ready for them” means adept, alert and adaptable. And “ready for them” is a clarion call to each of us: those who need to prepare for careers and those who have the mission of helping others prepare.

If the go-to hot careers of 2015 haven’t even been invented yet, how will we help people prepare to succeed?

CareerGrid: Our WatchTower Matrix

One of our primary jobs as learning developers is to keep a watch – to climb up on our virtual watchtower, to try to see over the horizon and around the curve – to get as early an indicator on hot career possibilities as we can.

To do that, we work on two angles: Trend watching and inferential scanning.

Trend Watching
Our purpose is to extrapolate career and learning implications from larger trends. The key is to identify trends, then pull the career and learning implications from them.

To do that, we obviously have to select trends. Here is our hot list of trends to watch for the next few years (at least):

  • Software runs everything
  • The world is running out of fossils to burn
  • Miniaturization also liberates and unshackles
  • Access to information shifts decisions toward the user’s highest ROI
  • Biology is the new physics

Inferential Scanning

We currently scan a wide variety of feeds, engage a diverse group of Twitter users, and tune in to several great “big picture” thinkers to get a sense of the environment and its impact on our trends.

We are currently working on a more sophisticated scanning tool and approach. Our goal is to be able to hear the first “chirp” of a new career opportunity while it is still way out at the far edges of the arc of possibility.

More on that as it happens.

CareerShape: Our Framework

As we observe trends, we run them through a fairly straightforward filter to determine whether they will have an impact on 21st century careers. That filter derives directly from our views about the shape careers will take in the 21st century.

Bluntly, we believe the day of the “job” is over. The person who simply gets up in the morning, goes to work, and punches either a real or metaphorical clock is a dinosaur. That person will see his or her work commoditized, shipped to the lowest cost provider, or taken over by a machine, and probably soon.

The future belongs to the person who creates. Creates value, creates ideas, creates efficiency. The future belongs to the person who contributes.

To that end, our CareerShape filter consists of a few simple maxims. When we spot a trend in the larger environment, we run it past these maxims. If it fits within that framework, we watch it and begin to plan for ways to create learning programs around it.

Our maxims:

  • More knowlege leads to more niches. Dig the niche deeper and smaller (go small or go home!)
  • Places no longer matter, unless they matter! Work that can be done virtually or, if not, can be done on a mobile basis.
  • Independence rules. Freelance and entrepreneurial opportunities provide an empowering and challenging environment, while reducing labor costs for large organizations. Freelancers and independents rule the future.

We are frankly not that concerned with demographics, as opportunity is available to anyone from any age or population group. We understand that equity issues occur all over the field, but believe in the power of human spirit and the liberating effects of technology and the free market to overcome them.

We consider globalization a given. Unless a job or process is location specific (farming, mining, environmental work), it is susceptible to being packaged and shipped to another part of the world.

Note that I didn’t say it is susceptible to being shipped overseas and “done cheaper.” We believe virtual work will engage a dynamic and vibrant worldwide workplace.

Currently, Americans often associate commoditized work with “offshore” factories or call centers. In fact, we believe that process will soon become two-way.

Along those lines, for American readers, we fully anticipate a renaissance in American manufacturing. Stay tuned.

Education Ecosystem – Part I

This is the first in a series of posts in which I’d like for us to think really carefully about “education” and the role it plays in a society.

So, pretty lightweight stuff.

But if we’re going to think in terms of “reforming” education, and consider how we might do that – or if it can even be done – we owe it to ourselves to examine some fundamental principles.

Among those principles – foremost, in my mind – is its ecosystem. An ecosystem can be considered “, and its … environment.” (Lifted, selectively, from our friends a Wikipedia:

Like every other ecosystem, education exists within the flotsam and jetsam of its age and place. Its “community” and its “environment” intermingle and determine the effectiveness of its outcome.

I think it’s safe to assert, given all the conversation about “reforming” education and the distinct efforts to move away from a “19th century” model, we’re collectively not real crazy about the “outcome” we’re getting from our otcome-based education system.

If we think about education from an ecosystem perspective, one of the first things we should establish is its position, its place in the overall social organism.

Where does education fit? What is its role? I’m going to share my working definition of education:

“Education is the means by which people are prepared to survive and thrive in the world they will inhabit.”

It’s a high level description, by design. It lets us think of everything we do to help people “survive and thrive” as education. And it lets us evaluate the point of any “education” that does not contribute to people’s surviving and or thriving “in the world they will inhabit.”

Education, by this standard, must prepare people to “survive and thrive” in a world of:
– almost constant change
– breathtaking technological progress
– limited static resources (I did not say “limited resources.” There is a huge difference)
– access to information so great as to be overwhelming
– creation of new information – and reorganization of information – on a colossal scale
– global competition
– automation and mechanization
– miniaturization on every front
– shifting social compacts favoring independence over size

Think about how these very real factors of education’s ecosystem – it’s “community” if you will – have changed in just the past 5 years.

Have even the most progressive “education” organizations kept apace?

“Well, we offer our courses online!” whoop de doo

“We’ve shifted to ‘challenge based learning’!” Small progress is better than none.

“We’ve lengthened the school day!” Oh, yay. It doesn’t work, so let’s do MORE of it.

The ecosystem has changed. Radically. And that shift you feel beneath your feet is the ecosystem changing again. Today. It’ll change again tomorrow. Even more profoundly.

Can we keep up?

That’s just one of the questions we should be asking ourselves. I’ll share a few more in the next installment of this series.

Thanks for playing along.

Hacking Education

“Hacking” is very much back in vogue.

Not the “breaking into computers illegally” kind of hacking. Sadly, that’s never gone out of vogue. Rather, this is the “figure something out all by yourself” hacking.

We’re seeing all kinds of amazing technology hacks. Hack-A-Day is a daily feast of imagination and intriuge.

People are hacking biotechnology. Which, some others find scary.

Kids are hacking skateboards, hacking cars (also called “hooning” in the most disruptively delightful misuse of language since “hippie.”), and of course hacking the daylights out of their mobile phones.

“Hacker culture” as it was known in the 70’s and 80’s is making a major comeback.

There is, it seems, a new thirst for bypassing corporate and socially acceptable channels and doing a little experimentation with life.

It’s like a breath of fresh air.

There’s a ton of sociologically valid reasons for the updraft in hacking. No need to dredge through them here. Suffice it to say there will always be a significant move to counter the prevailing cultuer. And another to counter the counterculturalists. And another to counter those who would counter…well, it goes on and on.

We live in a world where most anyone can simply “pick your movement” and hang on for a wild ride. Look deeper within larger prevailing trends, and we’ll always see a good-to-great number of very interesting subtrends. Like hacking.

Amid the ensuing chaos, some people have begun to write about “hacking education.” It’s a subject I find endlessly fascinating and frustrating.

Fascination, because it so desperately needs to be done. Frustrating because it’s such a tough hack. Here are some reasons why:

– For the most part, we’ve left the education process to the “experts.” Not the execution, necessarily. A growing cabal of homeschoolers, craftschoolers and privateers are breaking the establishment’s grasp. Slowly.

I’m talking about the process of education, and its deepest operating premises. It is riddled with assumptions about subject coverage and “standards” and delivery techniques. It is overloaded with assumptions about the value of credentials and the brand identity of one’s education experience.

Say it with me: “It’s IMPORTANT that my kid get into a ‘good college.'” (Thus endeth the poor kid’s quest for their own original mission, at least until they’re 28 and have lived at your place for an extra 6 years.)

Hack This and You Can Hack Education

Hacking is all about figuring things out for yourself. Education is all about feeding information and answers to others.

Hacking is all about results and experimentation. Education is all about navigating a system and “earning” credentials.

Hacking education would require feeding information to others in such a way that they figure things out for themselves. Then assigning credentials accordingly.


Do that and you’ll have hacked education. Not talk about it. Not give it lip service.  Not set up some microspecimen lab where it sort of takes place.

Do it. Systematically. Comprehensively. Courageously.

Set up a system where everybody learns shortcuts to figuring things our for themselves. Let them investigate, explore, use intuition to solve problems and surmount obstacles.

Then figure out how to turn all that messy experimentation into neat credentials they can show to the world.

Liberate them from the tyranny of compliance, while retaining trace evidence of their genius in a form that reflects their value.

Do that. You’ll be the biggest horse’s bottom the establishmentarian educators ever knew. And you’ll unleash a global creative wave like the world has never seen.

The time is now. The opportunities are immediately before us. Let’s hack this deal.

Using Smallworlds for Learning

Smallworlds rocks.

A 3d virtual world, Smallworlds addresses a ton of the major drawbacks to its bigger competitors in the space:

– Browser based. No downloads, no installations, no patches, no reinstalls for updates. It launches inside the Web browser and can even be embedded inside Web systems. This makes the transition from, for example, a Web site or forum into out of Smallworlds nearly transparent.

– Flash platform killer graphics. The graphics look terrific. The development team has obviously coded something heavy on top of the Flash engine because the rendering is beautiful, and yet the graphics load very quickly. Continue reading “Using Smallworlds for Learning”

SLoodling Along?

Progress comes in bumps and slides, sometimes. You work along for a while with nothing to show for it, and then all of the sudden a few things start to come together. You take those few things and add a few more things; before you know it, you’ve made a little progress.

That’s how things have been lately on the PlanetGED project.

Continue reading “SLoodling Along?”