Breaking Out Of The Box

As Training professionals, we need to go beyond the “traditional” right answers and look for new solutions if we hope to get better results from our training efforts (or even maintain current results!).

Have you ever found a solution to a problem and then started believing it was the only solution, instead of just one of many possible solutions? Perhaps, for example, you discovered a way to convey a certain training point that worked well the first time you tried it, and you continued to stick with it. But there’s a danger in this thinking that ties into a trend I’m seeing constantly in the business world: change.

Whether it’s downsizing, the introduction of new technology, the need to roll out products and services faster, or yet another round of budget cuts, we’re faced with change—and forced to find ways to still get our work done—every day.

You might think this is just a particularly hectic time and things eventually will slow enough so you can catch your breath. Don’t bet on it, says change management consultant Daryl Conner. He believes we’ll look back on this part of our careers three years from now as the “good old days” when things were pretty slow. The people who will succeed in this new environment of constant flux are the ones who are open-minded and can adapt and react to change quickly and easily, he says.

There’s a strong message for trainers here. We are the ones who will teach people the skills and attitudes needed to perform in this new, shifting business climate. In the years ahead, more people than ever are going to be trained and then retrained to accommodate changes. As Training professionals, our success will depend on how well we adapt.


Structure can help. Paul Smith recently wrote a new book called “Learning While Working” (ATD Press, July 2018). Now, on-the-job training (OJT) isn’t new. In fact, it’s the oldest form of training. But putting structure to it so that it is scalable and creates high results across the organization is a relatively new twist that changes everything— including organization results—dramatically.

Here’s an example I’ve adapted from this valuable book. Let’s say you had 10 excellent project managers, each managing multi-million-dollar projects. And you need 10 more. Can the 10 you have mentor and coach the 10 new ones you need?

Those of you with more experience will say, “Not all of them!” And you’d be right, for the most part. Being a great project manager doesn’t mean you have the knowledge and skill to transfer your project management abilities to someone else. But some of them do—and if you develop a formal process and structure for mentoring and coaching new project managers, more of those 10 will be able to develop new, high-performing project managers. This is a brilliant way of taking something old (OJT) and making it work in a new world.

The bad news is you probably won’t be able to turn to the solutions that have always worked for you in the past and expect them to perform the same way. Why won’t they? Because conditions change. I can’t bake a great cake in Aspen using the exact recipe that created a great cake in Phoenix. Why? Because even though the ingredients are all the same, one condition—altitude—is different. As Training professionals, we need to go beyond the “traditional” right answers and look for new solutions if we hope to get better results from our training efforts (or even maintain current results!).

That may mean embracing new technology-delivered learning systems such as mobile learning and microlearning, or performance support systems. Or it might mean being the voice of reason that says, “No, multimedia doesn’t make sense in this particular situation. Instead, let’s try playing a consultant’s role.” And, yes, it might even mean admitting that training—in any form—isn’t a solution to a performance problem. The key is being willing to look for second, third, or even fourth solutions to training challenges.

Perhaps having managers participate in needs assessments as a way to increase buy-in isn’t enough. Maybe you also need to organize a management advisory board to lend credibility and support to your efforts. Perhaps the entire curriculum needs to be reformatted into shorter, 15-minute and half-hour programs so employees can get training without having to be away from their jobs longer than a coffee or lunch break.


We’re constantly trying to get our students to “break out of the box” and look at situations differently in our training courses. As trainers, we have a unique opportunity to lead organizations through the difficult waters of change, but we’ll have to take our own advice and break out of the box to do it.

Here’s a simple way to test your own “out-of-the-box” thinking. By rearranging just one toothpick in the image below, make both sides equal. Do your best to come up with a solution and then e-mail me at and I’ll send you four we’ve come up with—and I’ll share how I use this in training.

Until next time—continue to add value and make a difference.

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAESpeakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Master Trainer’s Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.